Rethinking the Motorola Xoom: Does ICS Make it a Tablet Contender?

by Reads (15,825)

Few tablets launched with as much hype as the Motorla Xoom. It was touted as an iPad killer and it marked Google?s first official foray into the tablet market. Yes, numerous budget Android tablets and the Samsung Galaxy Tab came first, but those ran versions of Android designed for small-screen smartphones, whereas the Xoom launched with Honeycomb, Google?s version of Android designed specifically for large-screen tablets.

Unfortunately for Motorola and Google, the Xoom failed to deliver for various reasons. It was only available through Verizon at launch, and was priced $600 with a two-year agreement ($800 without). The tablet was released before its high-touted 4G LTE support was ready, and the microSD card slot simply didn?t work. In addition, Apple cunningly announced the iPad 2during the Xoom launch week, and the iPad 2 was much thinner and sleeker than the Xoom. Starting at $500, it was cheaper too.

Motorola XoomUnderlying all that was Android Honeycomb 3.0. It simply wasn?t ready for tablet primetime. Compared to iOS, and even Gingerbread (Android 2.3), it was unstable and had only a handful of tablet-optimized apps. It was particularly lacking in movie streaming options. While subsequent updates smoothed out some of the rough edges, added cool features like USB hosting, and Netflix as well as Google’s own movie streaming service came on board, Honeycomb still lacked polish, and it was tough to make the case it was a better tablet operating system than iOS. 

Now, close to one year from its launch, the Xoom is second tablet to receive the Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 update, which is a much more stable and improved operating system. With Xoom prices now much lower than at launch, and with ICS on board, is it time to reconsider the Motorola Xoom? Is it now a viable tablet?

Build & Design

The Motorola Xoom was designed and built before the iPad 2 kicked off the thin and light tablet craze. At 1.6 pounds and half-an-inch thick, it?s relatively big and bulky for a 10.1-inch tablet. But that?s not necessarily a bad thing. The Xoom feels more durable than the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and can probably better withstand a drop. The Xoom also has a semi-rubberized body, which the team at TabletPCReview near universally prefers to plastic (Galaxy Tabs) and even aluminum (iPad 2).

Motorola Xoom

We lauded the Xoom display in our initial review, because, well, there wasn?t much to compare it against. But with the iPad 2, new Galaxy Tabs and Motorola?s own Xyboard tablets sporting stellar displays, the Xoom screen looks drab and dim by comparison. The Xoom display isn?t horrible, but it won?t compare well at all against the high definition displays (1920 x 1080 resolution and up) on the next generation of tablets.

The Xoom speakers are mediocre, but so are most tablet speakers, including the iPad?s. The speakers are also poorly placed, residing on the back of the device. But again, few tablet makers have gotten speaker placement right, typically opting for the sides or back.

Motorola Xoom

The Xoom includes a now-functioning microSD card slot as well as microUSB and microHDMI inputs. It charges through a small pin input, and not the USB. That?s lame, but the port selection is not, especially considering Samsung and Apple have both jettisoned most in favor of a proprietary input. Plus, Ice Cream Sandwich supports USB hosting, a feature first introduced in Honeycomb 3.1. That means the Xoom works with USB gamepads, trackballs, mice and keyboards, provided you have a micro-to-full USB adapter.

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