Hello and welcome to our official slick and clean review of the Motorola XOOM Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet. We're pretty much totally used to titling the tablet right alongside the name of the first operating system to function upon it, Android 3.0 Honeycomb, since Google worked closely with Motorola to make this tablet the optimal environment to show off what their first tablet-centric OS was meant to do. This tablet is also set to be hooked up with Flash player and 4G LTE connectivity via Verizon in the near future, though since this tablet is being released now without either, we must go on to review without! But there's plenty to speak about - a while new piece of hardware and a whole new age in Android, all rolled up into one. Let us discuss our initial judgement for this singular window into sweets.
Hardware and Performance
This is a machine that has been released with its hardware ready and raring to go. Isn't that supposed to be something that goes without saying? Yes, of course! You might find that the same cannot entirely be said about the software, though, thus the pre-mention here - more on that in the next section. What we've got to speak about here first is the loveliness in the physical bits.
This device is black. It's very clearly supposed to be a blank canvas on which you're meant to paint your first tablet experience. Because this tablet is being released in a world where one slate's dominated the market for the first full year of the market being a reality, there's two situations the vast majority of consumers are in. The first possible situation consumers are in whilst thinking about the XOOM is one where they've had an iPad - the second is one where they've never had a tablet at all. Thusly, the hardware choice is more than likely one where a consumer has been holding a tablet that's basically the exact same size and weight as the XOOM, or they've had a much smaller smartphone and will be what they see as moving upward.
When one handles the 10.1-inch WXGA display with 160dpi, 1280 x 800 resolution, they instantly must consider the .8 x 6.61 x 0.51 inch device holding it, one that weighs in at 25.75oz (1.61lbs,) as it's not especially realistic to be holding the device with one hand for more than a few minutes at a time. Then there's the glossy, glossy screen. It's so very glossy, it's basically impossible to use anywhere near sunlight or a lamp. On the other hand, if you're going to be using this device on your couch at home, at your desk in school, or for odd events like using it to show the 4D-sonogram doctor some 2D-sonogram pictures in a gallery. For that it works exceedingly well, indeed.
It doesn't seem to our fingers that the screen's response time and touch sensitivity could possibly be any better, and the monster motor inside is more than ready to back this situation up. You'll find the NVIDIA Tegra 2 inside, a dual-core 1GHz SoC paired with 1GB of DDR2 RAM and 32GB of integrated storage. If that's not enough to flip your lid, connections include EVDO Rev.A, WiFi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, along with USB 2.0 and mini HDMI ports. In the future you'll be able to have the following instead and/or as well: a functional LTE SIM slot, a functional microSD card slot, and a whole separate Wifi-only version of the device.
At the moment you'll see some super cute transparent cards in the slot where the real cards will be inserted in the future.
Also inside you'll find a laundry-list of additional features able to work in your current functional apps as well as apps that haven't yet been invented: GPS, an accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, and yes, even a barometer for measuring air pressure. I can't WAIT for that to be utilized by the first intrepid developer wishing for great pressure readings.
Along the back you'll find stereo speakers, one in the upper left, the other in the upper right. We're hoping for an age in the future where speakers can once again be placed on the front of devices instead of relying on the sounds bounced off of whatever happens to be behind the device. Because these speakers are on the back of the device, whenever we're using it for music, we place it face-down. This is of course when we're not using the speaker dock, which we won't go into here.
Also along the back near the speaker that'll generally be near your left hand, you'll find the power/standby button. The placement and form of this button is superior to most we've seen as of late on smaller smartphone devices. In the time we've been using it, over a week, we've not once hit it accidentally. This coming from me, yours truly, who is notorious for losing at Angry Birds on every device I've tried it on because I'm hitting the power button - iPod Touch, iPad, Inspire 4G, ATRIX 4G, and more! Those power buttons man, not the best. The power button on the XOOM - tops!
The volume rocker is up near the top on the lefthand edge of the device and was terribly difficult to find when we first wanted to utilize it. This is a good thing, because again, it's not easy to accidentally hit. The headphone jack, on the other hand, is in the center at the top of the device - aka a very aesthetically unappealing place. The rest of the ports are all together along the bottom of the screen - all happy together and in perfect alignment - see how happy our little electric assistant is?
As for benchmarking, we got very similar results to what Vincent got over on SlashGear, with averages running right around the following:
BenchmarkPi: 544, 513, 506 miliseconds
Linpack: 35.568, 35.75 MFLOPS
Quadrant: 1838, 2268, 2316
SunSpider: 2098.2, 2060.2 ms
It might be important to mention that we're at a point where it's almost as if we expect these speeds - speeds that allow us to move back and forth through menus and screens without lag, opening and loading apps with no time at all between screens, and graphics which essentially have no chop whatsoever. It is what we'd call nearly impossible to slow this machine down whilst working in an everyday manner.
The biggest complaint Android devices receive, on the whole, as far as software goes, is that they're full of junk. Carriers across the board are guilty of filling their phones with apps they feel will either be helpful to their customers or at least make them feel like they're put a big effort into giving them a unique experience. The Motorola XOOM comes with less than a full grid screen of pre-boxed apps, and without a doubt, that's a good thing. Because Google has worked so closely with Motorola to make this machine the optimal environment for running Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the machine is basically barren, ready and willing to work with all of your favorite downloads from the Android Marketplace AND 3rd-party locations.
What this means is more than one thing. The first and most oddly appealing of these things an essentially nude system means is that updates to the OS will almost certainly come to this device first. One of the main reasons updates do not push to certain devices as Google releases new versions of Android is the overlays placed on phones by the groups that carry them. Not only will this not be a problem for you non-hackers, there's a leak of the stock SBF file for those adventurous enough to mess with the insides of the device via unlocking and rooting and such. This SBF file, which will return your device to stock, will be helpful for you if you plan on upgrading to Verizon 4G LTE.
We've tested several amazing applications on the Motorola XOOM so far, including a couple that can be found in NVIDIA's Tegra Zone app, which you can go ahead and check out [here] if you wish, or just check out the video of the demo and mini-review here:
The greatest games you'll be finding thus far on this device are almost certainly those in the NVIDIA Tegra Optimized suite, a set of games worked on by amazingly talented studios teaming up with NVIDIA to create games meant to show the power of the processors. Take a peek at one of them here, a game by the name of Monster Madness, a hack-and-slash game with no short of monsters and their blasted corpses:
Then there's Galaxy on Fire 2, a game that's not yet technically released, one we got our hands on in preview form that's massively impressive nonetheless. Behold the outer reaches of space, and the blasting of ships therein - this isn't just your everyday edge-of-space destroy-all-enemy-fighters attack run:
And this is only the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Imagine the first few weeks that Android 1.0 was out. That's essentially where we are now, but with the massive power of brand-confidence in the air. It's a VERY exciting time for gaming on not only this platform, but in the greater market as well because nothing drives great gaming better than some competition in hardware AND software.
Cameras and Multimedia
There are two cameras on the XOOM, one on the back for photos and video, and another on the from primarily for video, but also for not-quite-great photos if that's what you'd like to use it for. The back-facing camera is a 5-megapixel unit with auto-focus and dual-LED flash. The front-facing camera is 2-megapixels strong, has a fixed-focus, and can be switched to at the tap of a button. What you're about to see here is a video example from both the front and the back cameras filmed by yours truly. Note that you have to stop the camera before switching to the other view, we had to splice these videos together in post-production:
The back-facing camera is capable of capturing 720p HD video at 30fps, while a 1080p upgrade is promised for the future, while the front-facing camera's recording capabilities really aren't worth pecking about. Allow the video above to speak for itself as far as how this all translates to the web. As far as how well it plays back on the device, you've got the capability currently of displaying 1080p video on either the device's screen or via the HDMI 1.4 output which you'll be shooting out with the cable bundled with the tablet.
If you want to play any video you didn't film with the device outside the web, it'll need to be MP4, WebM, 3GP, or H.264/H.263. You could, on the other hand, download a third-party media player and roll with whatever format you can get working on your own. You'll be rolling strong plopping videos on the device if you're working with Mac OS X by working with the brand new Android File Transfer, which, if I may be so bold, makes the whole process of accessing the files on your Android device a WHOLE lot easier. Hopefully it works on all versions here on out (currently it works with Android 3.0 only.)
Of course, there's the lack of Flash player. You'll need to wait at least another week or two(?), or so, to be sent the update for this and the other things you'll need to have a "fully" functional device. The ability to work with and watch movies with Flash player has been a big fat point of contention on devices over the past year or so - it's no less a situation here. But it's on the way!
The battery is amazing. The battery is slick, works amazing, and can basically sit around working forever. The longest we've had it working with HEAVY use was over 14 hours - while I'm writing this review, the unit has been on almost 20 hours with no charging and moderate usage, and the battery appears to only be a half-empty. A full recharge take a total of around 3 hours - that's starting at zero and ending up at completely full.
Connectivity and Price
You'll be attaching to the rest of the world via EVDO Rev.A, WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and USB 2.0. You wont be able to make voice call out of box, and your plan with Verizon won't be including voice calls, thusly if you'd like to call someone up you'll want to hook yourself up with a voice over IP (VoIP) client or something along the lines of Skype. I'm sure you know the situation you'll be in here as it'll be very similar to what you're doing with your desktop or laptop for calls.
You're working with a 3G connection here for at least a couple of weeks if you purchase one at the same moment I write this review, and ith that you'll be able to activate a mobile hotspot to connect the rest of your devices. Currently you're able to purchase the XOOM direct from Verizon for $599 just so long as you attach it to a 2-year plan that starts at $20 per GB and $20 per additional GB, after which it's $10 per additional GB on higher plans: 3GB for $35, $50 for 5GB, or $80 for 10GB -- none of these has any sign of an additional fee for the hotspot, which means you'll just be paying for the data no matter which way you're utilizing it.
This is the benchmark against which all future tablets will be measured. Not only Android tablets, but Apple, BlackBerry, Palm, and whatever else comes down the pipe. How could I possibly say that the iPad 2 isn't the new top tier? Because as with everything else Apple, you either decide to buy the iPad 2 or you don't, the rest of the tablets are in a different world altogether. Apple gains this distinction by continuing to market themselves as a standalone platform and brand, the titan that all but brought down the Windows PC as the dominant "cool" home computer, the group that brought us the world's most popular digital music player and had at least a giant part in paving the way for the smartphone market that dominates mobile connectivity today. There's a market out there for people who've been waiting to work with a tablet-sized-device for over a year now who don't feel like the iPad is going to do it for them, and here comes the hero.
This tablet is Google's first attempt at showing off their ground-up built mobile OS made specifically for the tablet - and what a whopper it is. The hardware is magnificently solid, aesthetically pleasing at all angles, and most important of all, feels great to hold and work with. The Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system takes everything Google has learned from wave after wave of mobile OS versions on smaller screens and odd devices and situations and forms an instant masterpiece here with Honeycomb. This is the next big step in tablet warfare in both hardware and software, mark my words.
I remember when I first laid eyes and hands on Android as it was applied to a smartphone - I saw a magnificent system, one that was a healthy alternative to again, the dominant Apple, one that I enjoyed using and felt free to modify without fear of compromising. When I first started messing around with the XOOM, I got that feeling all over again. Here's a brand new system that you Android lovers will feel comfortable using and that those of you new to Android will have no trouble getting used to. This is a user interface that's second to none - made for everyone from beginners to hardcore developers and hackers.
If you're familiar with reviews by yours truly, you know I don't often have too many terribly bad things to say about a device, but I rarely come out and say: go buy now! I'm saying that right now. At the risk of playing favorites, I'm telling you to check this device out at the store and spring a few weeks checks on one. I won't tell you which model to buy, obviously, but all those looking to get a glimpse of the cutting edge of everything that's great in mobile computing, look no further.
And don't forget to download the Android Community and SlashGear apps - they work great in Honeycomb! PLUS check out our featured guide of the Motorola XOOM as it works with Honeycomb in [Q and A form!]