At launch, the Xoom was unfinished — which was quite an effort, considering it was the launch device for Android 3.0 way back at CES in January.
Its microSD card slot didn't work, with the reason why never being detailed. At the time, we speculated that since Acer, Samsung and Asus all had working microSD card slots, and that XDA-Developers had hacked in support, it was due to some partner deal gone wrong.
Now it's all water under the bridge, as the Xoom is now running Android 3.1, enabling the microSD slot and host USB support along the way. It's also had a healthy price drop, from the unpalatable AU$840 down to the more sane AU$648, at least through Telstra. That's still significantly more expensive than the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, which retails at AU$599 without its dock. You can go cheaper, too, if you choose to dance with the likes of Acer and others. Still, the Xoom has a few luxury perks — it supports 5GHz Wi-Fi where many others will only do 2.4GHz, and it has a gorgeous aluminium backing.
While the outright cost has dropped, Telstra's bundled plans for the device remain unchanged:
|Payment plan||Plan cost||Device cost||Data included||Contract period|
(-AU$10 if qualified for MRO bonus)
(-AU$10 if qualified for MRO bonus)
(-AU$20 if qualified for MRO bonus)
The 24-month lock-in is particularly unappealing, considering how quickly the market segment is travelling. Still, Telstra is undeniably the market leader in network coverage, so it may be worth it to those who want to stay connected as often as they can. Unlike in the US, there are no plans to upgrade the Xoom to LTE locally — we daresay that this may be a feature of the Xoom's successors, which are expected soon.
While Optus was meant to step in as an alternate supplier after June, it seems the flirtation was brief: its web page states the Xoom is no longer in stock.
The device itself is amazingly solid, an excellent mashing of aluminium, glass and rubberised plastic that's easily on par with the iPad 2. It's 117 grams heavier, though, matching Acer's Iconia A500 at 730g; a weight that some may be uncomfortable with.
Thanks to its 1280x800, 16:10 aspect ratio screen, at first glance it's a more attractive form factor than Apple's 4:3 iPad 2 — slightly longer but not as bulky. This illusion soon dissipates as you look at the thinness, with Apple's game-changing device measuring in at 8.8mm compared to the Xoom's 12.9mm.
The Xoom has quite a different form factor to the iPad: slightly longer, squished a little but quite a bit thicker.
(Credit: Motorola, Apple)
Buttons are kept to a minimum, with the power button on the back and volume buttons at the top left side. While the power button feels natural once you actually find it, the volume buttons are small and far too difficult to press.
The 1280x800 screen is attractive, but it definitely doesn't have the vibrancy of its competitors. There are two different screens floating around the US: one from Sharp and the other from AU Optronics. Ours seems to have come from the AU Optronics stock, and while it definitely isn't TN-based, it's not IPS, either. The lightening of screen colours and reduced contrast as you move off axis suggests a VA panel.
A dual-LED flash is featured on the back, next to the 5MP camera, while a 2MP front-mounted camera does your webcam-style duties. While this configuration makes sense for mobile phones, we've often felt that it should be reversed or at least equalised for tablets, where video chat is likely to be more important than taking still photos or movies. Doing the latter on phones is all about the convenience; by the time you get to tablet size, you may as well use a dedicated camera to do the job.
The whole thing is powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2, meaning a dual-core 1GHz CPU and a decent whack of graphics performance. Complementing this is 1GB of RAM, support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n, Bluetooth, 32GB of internal storage, GPS, a 3.5mm audio jack and micro HDMI-out. Despite facing away from you, the speakers are much better than expected for the size of the device, offering a decent, well-rounded tone.
There are four accessories, although there have been some daft decisions made along the line. The Bluetooth keyboard is self-explanatory, and works as you'd expect it to. While Android supports some keyboard shortcuts, they're by no means extensive, and not necessarily supported system wide. Holding down shift and using arrow keys doesn't select text in all applications, and many of the Ctrl/Option combinations that usually work with Windows or Mac, such as bolding or italicising text, don't work here. The limitations are rather frustrating, but we expect Google to add more options to Honeycomb with time to better accommodate physical keyboards.
There's also a charging dock (AU$69), which, surprise surprise, charges the device. It also includes a 3.5mm audio jack on the rear. The dock really only achieves placing your Xoom vertically; its functions are otherwise replicated on the Xoom itself.
There's a "portfolio" case (AU$59) that's really quite nice, except for the fact that there's no hole in the spine, meaning that you can't charge your device while it's protected — you have to have the case open.
Finally, there's the speaker dock (AU$149) — an upgraded charging dock with its own speaker. It also has a micro-HDMI port, so you can replicate what's on your Xoom to your TV, minus the black menu bar. Once again, the value is questionable — Motorola doesn't include a micro HDMI to HDMI cable, and, if you have such a beast already, you can just hook up the Xoom directly. It would have made significantly more sense to implement a full-sized HDMI port here, and there's certainly room.
Android 3.1 is a gorgeous, incredibly well thought out OS, with its presentation, apps and data organisation extremely well executed. Gone are the required home and back buttons on the device, only to be included on the interface, along with a button to show your most recent apps, in a scrollable overlay. This also functions as a way to multitask between currently open applications, and it works quite well.
The default apps, like Gmail and YouTube, have been updated to take advantage of the extra room afforded by the higher-resolution tablet, and they look great, even if Gmail's priority inbox doesn't work properly yet. The browser is also light years ahead of its Gingerbread counterpart.
Flash on Android, despite all of the hullabaloo surrounding it, isn't the most positive experience. It mostly works, but performance isn't great. Making a switch to the third-party Skyfire browser improves things compared to the default browser, but there are still some oddities where things don't work as expected. When a Flash window is active, for example, often you can't scroll further down the web page, with the Flash container now trapping all input until you can manage to touch outside it.
Some problems are more of a design issue than the fault of Flash — for example, JJJ's video player uses mouse-over to show and hide the player controls, a concept that doesn't transfer at all to tablets, leading to frustration.
Playing back a DVD resolution XviD file in software mode in RockPlayer, the Xoom gave about 6.7 hours of battery time. We tried playing back a 720p H.264-encoded file to give a baseline on how Tegra 2 hardware-accelerated video would affect battery life, but it didn't work, offering only jerky, lagged video. Most likely it's because we, like a lot of people, have a bunch of high-profile H.264 files, and the Tegra 2 most certainly doesn't like that.
Thanks to a price drop and Android 3.1, the Xoom has had a little more life breathed into it, bringing it almost in line with competitors. It's nice enough and beautiful to hold, but we suspect that most will still go for cheaper Android tablets, or give in to the iPad 2 and never look back. With Motorola Mobility's purchase by Google, we look forward to seeing what the upcoming Xoom 2 can do to pull ahead of the pack.