Motorola Xoom Review (part 1)

We’ve been talking about the Motorola Xoom quite a bit here on GBM recently and I decided to pick one up. After playing with the device for a few hours I’m even more impressed with it than when I saw it at CES 2011. There’s a lot to like the Xoom, but my initial impression is that it’s not quite ready for general consumption.

In the first part of the Motorola Xoom’s multi-part review, I’m simply going to describe my first impressions. For background, I’ve owned an Apple iPad since the day the product launched and have used Tablet PCs for years. The slate form factor is nothing new, but I’m a relativel newbie when it comes to Android.

The Motorola Xoom Buying Experience

I drove to Best Buy at lunch time to try and buy a Xoom. Unfortunately, all that was there was a Xoom placard next to a demo Galaxy Tab. The biggest Best Buy store in San Francisco had quickly sold out of the device. A Best Buy sales rep told me that another shipment would be arriving early next week, but I’d have to just come in early as they weren’t going to take reservations. They’d sold a handful of the devices in the morning and were only expecting to get another 11 Xooms in the next shipment.

I had MyAssist, my virtual personal assistance service, check other Best Buys in and around San Francisco. There was only one store with available units at 1pm, but they were sold out by 5pm, which was done with my meetings for the day.

I called the Verizon outlet closest to my house and a salesperson put a Xoom aside for me. When I arrived, he told me that they’d only sold two Xoom tablets all day out of a total of four available. He said something about people ‘looking forward to the device…and just not being ready for it to come so quick,’ but I took it with a grain of salt. Other Verizon stores apparently had many more Xooms in stock at the end of the day. Doesn’t sound like a blockbuster launch to me…

I’m on the fence as to whether or not I’ll actually keep the Xoom, so I didn’t want to get locked into yet another two-year wireless contract.  I opted to pay $799.99 upfront, forgoing a $200 discount on the Xoom so I could have the freedom of switching or canceling data plans. I still had to clear a credit check since I wasn’t a current Verizon customer and wanted to activate 3G. The reps weren’t entirely sure how the setup process would work if I just walked away with the device and wanted to activate later.

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One thing that was interesting was that the Xoom was displayed right next to the iPad + MiFi bundle, which cost about the same as a subsidized Xoom.

Motorola Xoom Out of the Box

The Xoom has a pleasant out of box experience and you can get up and running almost instantly.

The box has a photo of the Xoom and a bit of text that reminds the buyer that they did indeed buy a touchscreen tablet.

Removing the top of the box reveals the Xoom, which has an adhesive layer of protective plastic. One nice touch is that there are a few labels on the sheet of plastic that explain where the camera and buttons are. It’s a sort of disposable quick-start guide.

Beneath the Xoom tablet is a small pike of pamphlets, including a short instruction manual. There’s also a plastic bag with the AC adapter and a USB cable.

In that pile of pamphlets is some not so welcome news for Xoom buyers. The Motorola Xoom needs to be upgraded to 4G LTE, which means you have to go for a few days without your shiny new tablet soon after you buy it. I’m not too keen on sending any device containing personal data anywhere and will end up having to setup the device twice when it’s time for the upgrade.

Another piece of paper explained that the microSD slot didn’t work yet, but that’d be fixed in a future update. Really? I don’t think most consumers will care for either of these two conveniences and it makes the Xoom feel like it was rushed out the door in a half-assed attempt of meeting a deadline. Perhaps Motorola should have waited until these issues were resolved before unleashing it on the masses.

The battery on the Xoom seems to last forever. While web browsing several minutes go by before the battery meter drops a single percentage point. This is a key feature for any mobile tablet and reminiscent of the iPad. For when the Xoom does run low on juice, you can plug in with the included power brick with its proprietary charging tip. Get ready to buy multiple chargers for the office and car if you’re going to travel a lot with the Xoom. The AC adapter should be smaller in my opinion.   A micro USB cable is also included.

These are the ports at the bottom of the Xoom for the USB cable and the optional dock.  The Xoom is a very clean device and it appears that a lot of effort went into the industrial design.
With the iPad, you have to set the thing up to sync with a Mac or PC. As with Android phones, there’s no need to do that with the Xoom or any other Android 3.0 tablet. Tablets deserve to stand on their own and it as refreshing to setup a tablet independent of a laptop as I’ve done with several iPads.

Setting up the Xoom is pretty straightforward. I quickly set up my Google Account, all my stuff was imported and I was ready to explore the Xoom. The UI is the best that I’ve seen so far and better than the iPad’s in my opinion, at least from a geek’s point of view. Applications and media players are more immersive and it’s a joy to use. That being said, it’s much more complex than iOS 4. There are a lot of ways to customize the experience and dig into settings. It’s nice, but perhaps unnecessarily complex.

The audio player comes pre-loaded with a handful of songs. First up is a Wyclef Jean song about Obama running for president or something. I hit play on this song and  a few others and could barely make out the words. I turned up the volume and the music distorted like crazy. It appears Motorola cheaped  out in the audio department and slapped the speaker on the back of the Xoom simply because it couldn’t find room elsewhere. Headphones are a must with the Xoom.

Xoom Android Apps

If you’re a Google fan you’re going to love the Xoom. The Xoom syncs with all your Gstuff and it’s a truly seamless experience. If you’re not into Google services this probably isn’t the device for you, unless you’re willing to make get a re-education Google style.

The YouTube client on the Xoom makes the iPad’s look like child’s play. It’s immersive, fluid and looks like a media browser out of the future next to the iPad YouTube app.

Unfortunately, there’s only a dozen or so apps available for the Xoom in Android Market. Of course you can run any app designed for an Android phone on the Xoom, but I’m talking about tablet apps designed for the bigger display and beefier specs. But what’s there looks pretty solid. CNN’s news app presents stories in a clean tiled format. Angry Birds is exactly what you’d expect, nothing more.

We’re looking forward to more apps for the Xoom and we’re sure developers are already busy coding away. Hopefully Xoom owners will actually be willing to pay for apps, unlike their Android phone brethren. Otherwise Android tablet apps are going to play second fiddle to iPad apps, being released long after the iPad versions.

My initial impression of the Xoom is very positive, but I think average consumers will find the iPad more comforting for the time being. From the lack of 4G to the lack of Flash (at launch), the Xoom feels a bit disjointed. Once those updates are in place I think there’s a serious contendor to take a slice of the tablet market from Apple. Unfortunately for Motorola, Apple’s going to have a whole new iPad to sell by that point.

I’ll be following up with additionalparts of this multi-part Xoom review soon.

  

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