Screen and Speakers
The familiar four-button Android setup has been replaced with screen icons tucked in the lower-left corner of the display, which include recent-app/multi-tasking, home, and back commands. A notification panel featuring the battery gauge, data connection, clock, and access to the quick settings sits on the right-hand corner.
An apps shortcut, home screen customization shortcut sits atop the right corner of the display, and two search icons sit on the top left corner? one for text search and the other for voice commands.
The display is extremely glossy and reflective, and image quality is stunning and highly detailed. Viewing angles are limited only by the gloss, but are more than acceptable as the Xoom maintains color and detail even at sharp angles. Viewing head on, colors look superb and the HD video is some of the best we’ve seen on a portable device. Even standard video compares favorably with iPad and Galaxy Tab output.
Touch input is smooth, precise and responsive. In our time with the Xoom, the tablet recognized the intended tap nearly all of the time and errant presses were at a minimum. The Xoom features the standard flick-to-scroll and pinch-to-zoom controls, so those familiar with touchscreens will have no trouble navigating.
The stereo speakers are impressive for a portable device in both fidelity and volume, but their placement on the back of the Xoom is a double-edged sword. Ideally, the speakers would face the front so the user could experience the sound in all its stereo glory, but that would compromise the Xoom and basic tablet design. Instead, the speakers face away from the device and predictably result in slightly muffled sound. Perhaps unintentionally however, this actually works well with two-handed gaming, as the speakers are situated in such a way that the speaker vibration adds a haptic element to the overall gaming experience.
The Xoom sports a dual-core Tegra 2 processor, and it seems the immediate Honeycomb competition will have one as well when those tablets finally ship. That’s probably a good thing since active widgets are central to the Honeycomb experience, and a puny ARM processor might have trouble keeping things fluid.
In fact, we loaded up the Xoom with numerous widgets for multiple email accounts, Twitter feeds, weather, news, and Facebook, and it performed nobly. However, performance took a slight, but still noticeable hit in the form of occasional lag when we had multiple downloads overlapping with widgets and apps. Heavy processing also produced minor amounts of heat.
Web browsing is also fast and efficient over Wi-Fi and 3G, and Flash performance is good with Honeycomb 3.1 and Flash Player 10.3. However, users will have to manually download a Flash Player from the Android Market. It is free, but requires Honeycomb 3.1.
|Benchmark (average, lower is better)|
|ASUS Eee Pad Transformer (3.0)||1908.23 ms|
|LG G-Slate (3.0)||2012.2 ms|
|iPad 2||2060.37 ms|
|Motorola Xoom (3.1)||2104.2 ms|
|BlackBerry PlayBook||2404.23 ms|
|HTC Flyer (2.3)||2470.2 ms|
In the Quadrant performance (CPU, I/O, 3D graphics) benchmark for Android, the Xoom came in dead last against some recent Android tablets.
|Benchmark (average, higher is better)|
|LG G-Slate (3.0)||2240.8|
|ASUS Eee Pad Transformer (3.0)||2209.2|
|HTC Flyer (2.3)||2099.2|
|Motorola Xoom (3.1)||1900.6|
Video chat over Wi-Fi is also a treat. The Google Talk app works great and is simple to operate. This is a big step up from the Galaxy Tab’s video chat feature because the Tab didn’t ship with a standardized chat app, and fragmentation was an issue. For example, Qik video chat worked on the Sprint Tab, but the Verizon Tab did not support it during our review.
Video chat over 3G, while possible, is buggy and choppy. Both audio and video cut out and it’s near impossible to carry a conversation.
The Xoom took roughly 40 seconds to start up, both loaded up with apps and widgets, and fresh out of the box following a basic set up. Verizon claims the Xoom will last for 10 hours of video streaming. Under reasonable conditions, we can see the Xoom hitting that mark. We squeezed out just over seven hours of constant video streaming over YouTube, but that was with Wi-Fi on and max screen brightness, not to mention multiple widgets and processes running.
Finally, the onboard cameras are both decent, but not outstanding. They are on par with most smartphones, and a step below pocket HD camcorders and point-and-shoot digicams. But the Xoom surpasses the low-end of those devices in terms of picture controls and effects.
It seems the hype surrounding Honeycomb has rivaled any major Windows release to date. And to its credit, the new version of Android is an extremely serviceable tablet operating system ? much more so than previous versions of Android. In fact, it arguably offers more customization and offers a better overall experience than iOS, but it’s still not without issues.
Functionally speaking, Honeycomb is not much different from Froyo (Android 2.2). The standard five-homescreens are still present, and a prolonged tap brings up new pages to assign various widgets, app shortcuts, and wallpapers to. Unlike mobile Android, Honeycomb allows users to place the shortcuts on any one of the five homescreens, not just the homescreen on which the user called up from the menu.
As mentioned earlier in the review, there are omnipresent shortcuts/soft keys on the bottom left corner to go back, call up the central homescreen, and see a list of the five most recent or running apps, which can double as an app setting menu. Honeycomb also offers very attractive 3D and scaling effects when navigating through homescreens or opening and closing programs.
If there’s an issue with Honeycomb, it’s that there is no simple way to manage the widgets and apps. Users have to navigate over to the settings menu to close apps and deactivate widgets. While Android has always been able to effectively manage available memory by nixing low-priority processes when resources become scarce, we’d like to see a little more control in the user’s hands.
We also weren’t very pleased with the Honeycomb keyboard. There is nothing wrong with it in utility terms, but it is extremely plain, and does not feature any haptic feedback. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has both the key vibration and Swype (swipe to text), and we would have loved to see them on the Xoom. As it stands, users have to peck away at the virtual keyboard to enter text.
The plain keyboard is most likely a causality of the Xoom being a pure Google device, which thankfully means the tablet is free of any custom skin or bloatware, from both Motorola and Verizon. Given a choice however, we’d accept a few V Cast shortcuts if they meant a Swype keyboard.