Apple still has Android beat when it comes to tablet apps, and it’s not even close. While the number of Honeycomb apps increases every day, Apple’s lead is measured in tens of thousands. Of course, Android smartphone apps work as well, and developers have been hastily updating them to fit in the full Xoom screen. Still, too many apps we downloaded were limited in some form. They either didn’t fill the screen completely (which absolutely crippled them on the large screen), featured tiny icons, or were stuck in portrait mode.
Thankfully, the Gmail and other default apps that ship with the Xoom are much more polished, with Gmail featuring the most drastic update. Those familiar with the old Android Gmail app will be pleased to see the Honeycomb app is much more robust, offering columns that allow users to easily navigate folders, read messages, and drag and drop emails.
Google maps, which is essentially the same as the recently-updated smartphone version, looks superb on the big screen and is also very responsive. The Android Market, YouTube app and Google Books have all received graphical overhauls for the better, and the Movie Studio app is robust for a portable program, giving users basic video editing tools for cutting and splicing footage. The browser sports an extremely clean interface and, assuming it gets Flash support soon, compares favorably with any other mobile offering.
Entertainment is a different story. Netflix and Hulu apps are still MIA in the Android Market, though available for the iPad. (Editor’s note: Netflix now supported for Android 3. x devices, read our full Netflix for Honeycomb review) Xoom owners can rent movies through the Android Market, which charges $4.99 for popular new releases, and in between $1.99 and $3.99 for everything else. Users have 30 days from the time of rental to watch the movie, but only 24 hours to finish it once started. Also, movies can only be watched once. One cool feature is that they can be purchased and downloaded from a PC through the online Android Market for playback on the Xoom, and they can be played back even when the Xoom is offline, like on a flight. Google reps claim they offer “thousands” of titles, and the selections seem deep enough that you’ll find a movie worth renting in a pinch. Still, it doesn’t make me miss Netflix any less.
By Grant Hatchimonji
There are only a few tablet apps and even fewer games, but I was able to spend time with three of them: Gun Bros, PewPew, and Dungeon Defenders: First Wave Deluxe, which came pre-loaded on the Xoom. The first thing that stood out to me is that they are still exceedingly simplistic.
It’s difficult to make a case for gaming on tablets when two of the three games I played?Gun Bros and Dungeon Defenders?were basically just tower defense games, while PewPew was just a take on Asteroids. We’ve seen the peak of tower defense games (Plants vs. Zombies) and now it’s time to move on and come up with something new for tablets.
Another issue was the control schemes, which are inherently doomed in tablet games given the button-less design of the devices. For example, Dungeon Defenders’ choice of having a singular directional ?pad? that, by design, forces your character to always move while you frantically try to point him in the right direction like a cruise missile out of control was a poor one.
Simplistic games and crummy control schemes aside, the visuals may have been the biggest disappointment of all. Despite the Xoom’s powerful internals, the graphics are akin to those of the Nintendo DS. Textures are bland and character models are blocky in a look that is easily outshined by the PlayStation Portable.
On a more positive note, the game menus are generally sleek, well animated, and work well in the tablet format. And sure, the games ran smoothly and visuals were free of any lag, but I wouldn’t expect any less with the way they looked.
Finally, the best part about my gaming experience on the Xoom was the sound. The twin speakers that adorn the back of the device gave the games’ sounds a certain level of respectability, making them far richer than anything I’ve heard on tablets before.
In our original conclusion, we said that it’s hard not to think the Xoom was released too soon. It’s not that it seemed rushed. On the contrary, the Xoom was and is a darned fine piece of hardware. The dual-core processor keeps things humming along smoothly, and though we tried with widgets and apps, we couldn’t overwhelm the Tegra 2.
What the Xoom and Honeycomb do well, they do exceedingly well. Honeycomb lives up to the hype, touch navigation is superb, the display is gorgeous, and Google Maps, Gmail, video chat with Google Talk, and every tablet app we tested are extremely well realized, Grant’s gaming observations notwithstanding.
The recent Honeycomb 3.1 update rounds out some of the Xoom’s rough edges, brings stable Flash and movies. Still, we stand by our original assertion that the Xoom is a good tablet with great promise.
- Honeycomb OS lives up to hype
- Amazing display
- Great Tegra 2 performance
- Android tablet apps still limited
- Basic on-screen keyboard
- Awkward app management in Honeycomb