We described Android Ice Cream Sandwich as the operating system that ?Honeycomb should have been, provided Google developers had the time.? It is much more polished than latest version of Honeycomb (3.2), which was in turn, more complete than the Honeycomb launch version (3.0). It?s much more stable too, and in two weeks of testing, never once caused the Xoom to crash or freeze. Even Netflix, a one-time Android killer, ran without issue.
The Quadrant (overall performance) and Sunspider (web performance) benchmarks reveal little measurable difference between the Xoom with Honeycomb and the Xoom with ICS; but in use, the real-world performance boost is palpable.
The device now starts up quickly, web pages load fast and steadily, and all transitions are very smooth, including web navigation and pinch-to-zoom, as well as between apps and homescreens. ICS also offers new features for closing out apps from the recent apps menu and homescreen folders for app shortcuts (finally!). The new camera features outlined in our ICS review are also a welcome addition, and well beyond what Apple offers with iOS 5.
Unfortunately, none of those improvements resolve Android?s biggest weakness ? the lack of tablet optimized apps. Android tablets can run most Android smartphone apps, but the vast majority are simply scaled up in size. With ICS, users have the option of stretching the app or zooming in on it (and thus reducing its resolution) to fill the screen. It?s an awkward and insufficient solution.
The problem facing the Xoom and all other Android tablets, is that the Android Market is missing popular apps like Instagram, Flipboard, and games like the Infinity Blade series and the TellTale Games library, which are all readily available for the iPad. Of the apps available for both platforms, the iOS typically comes out on top.
There?s no doubt that Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 makes the Motorola Xoom a better device, and those in the market for an Android tablet might be wise to consider the Xoom, especially considering refurbished units are available for as little as $350 as of the writing of this re-review. We continue to believe that Android will lessen the app gap with iOS as time goes on, but it should still weigh heavily in any Android vs iOS decision making.
Compared with other Android tablets, the Xoom is one of only two tablets currently running Android Ice Cream Sandwich (as of 2/10/12), and though it?s bulky in comparison to the thin and light alternatives, the hardware holds up in terms of durability.
True, the Xoom is a year old, and its dual-core processor isn?t as impressive as the quad-core ARM chips poised to become the tablet market standard. The only problem is that we don?t know when that will happen. To date, there is only one quad-core mobile tablet on the market: the ASUS Transformer Prime, which also runs ICS. The other tablet makers have been reluctant to release, or even tease, quad-core tablets. Maybe they don?t think consumers are ready to buy another tablet. Maybe they?re wary of the GPS and Wi-Fi problems ASUS has had with the Transformer Prime. Or maybe they are waiting to see what the Apple will do with the iPad 3.
Rumors have leaked suggesting the iPad 3 either will or won?t have a quad-core processor. If it doesn?t, there is a good chance we won?t see many more quad-core Android tablets until the fall product launches. And if that?s the case, a low-cost Xoom running ICS looks like an even more attractive option.
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