Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Review: Motorola Web Hosting ^H^H^H^H^H Xoom

As a child growing up in the '90s, I vaguely remember GeoCities, Angelfire, and of course, Xoom, so when I heard Motorola decided to name their tablet after a failed dot com free webhosting provider from my youth, I was a little reserved. Well in all fairness, I think I fell on the floor laughing so hard. But seriously, what's in a name anyway? Having attended the Google Honeycomb Event in Mountain View not too long ago, I knew exactly what to expect, so naturally when Motorola came forth and gave to the world it's new shiny, I was there early with cash in hand, ready to partake of the honey. Two weeks later, this is what I've learned.

Hardware

From a hardware point of view, the Xoom is amazing. The dual core technology in it combined with a sensible GPU means the interface is buttery smooth thanks to its copious amount of hardware acceleration. The transitions between home screens, the animations, even the scrolling and rotating effects all go off with out a hitch. The device has the power to perform, and perform it does. While I haven't tried overclocking my Xoom yet, some geeks over at XDA have done so, and managed to squeeze their tablets for even more power. The fact that the hardware shipped unlocked is such a blessing, and I really have to thank Google for their hand in making that happen. It played a serious part in deciding between tablets, and I'd likely have gone with a cheaper model and hacked Honeycomb + Android Market onto it instead, had the hardware not been as open. (Hint hint nudge nudge, Motorola!)

The Xoom features mostly everything you'd need on a tablet: Micro HDMI, MicroSD, MicroUSB, a dock port, and a charging cable port. Not everything is enabled right now, however, especially the MicroSD card, or the host mode on the MicroUSB port, but that is easily addressed with a software update that is scheduled sometime down the road I'm sure. I'd rather have them available "sometime" than never, even if I can't have them right now. An official roadmap and statement would certainly be nice, however.

Software

What I've been the most disappointed about with my Xoom is the software. How much of that is Google's fault, how much of that is Motorola's, how much of that is HTC's, though? HTC, wait, what? Yes, HTC. My problems don't come from the core Android OS itself entirely, but from applications that aren't entirely compatible from the marketplace. Some applications look funny, and that's to be expected, but others refuse to run, draw themselves half way in the corner and half way full screen for a very funky experience, or just are *missing* entirely from the market. What if HTC had released different resolution displays sooner for use with Android? What if people had to worry about MDPI, HDPI, etc, sooner. Would they have? Motorola is partly to blame for rushing the Xoom out the door - it really does feel rushed in many ways, and Google themselves as the proprietor of the operating system of course have to have their hand in the guilty cookie jar too. From lack of folder support in the home screen to lack of Flash available at release, the whole Android 3.0 has left me a little underwhelmed overall. The things it does, it does amazingly well, but the plethora of polish it's lacking leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth, especially when it has hardware that is disabled at a software level giving it a very unfinished appearance.

My biggest disappointment in the software actually stems from one of Android's core strengths - it's market openness. The Android market is full of some really amazing applications, written by some very talented developers. The creativity and function of some of them blow my mind, even, but then there's others that were obviously written by lazy coders whose applications don't work at all on the tablet, or people out to make a quick buck and in some cases are pulling some Shady Shit™. I only noticed this for the first time after purchasing my Xoom because I don't generally install the same application on different devices all the time. So I was very surprised when I go to install Worms on my Xoom, and it's asking me to pay for it. But, I paid for it on my Nexus S, and play it on my EVO. So, why is EA wanting me to buy it again? As it turns out, EA has separate copies of their games for Verizon as they do for the rest of North America, and cross-installing them isn't possible through normal channels. Doesn't this go against the spirit of the Android Marketplace's openness and concept of buying a game on your account, and being able to use it anywhere? It's great to know that if I ever switch to Verizon from T-Mobile, I'll be forced to re-buy at least 2 apps now, and quite possibly others. How many other developers are doing this for fun and profit? What is Google's stance on this?

Experience

Overall, the experience I've had with my Xoom has been great. While I get a few force closes once in a while, even of the launcher process itself, over all I've been very satisfied with most of the experience. I will state, however, that the experience has not been flawless. The location of the power button takes a high amount of getting used to, and I still think it's a stupid place for it. When I'm using my tablet, one hand is always near it, that's a plus. However sometimes I put up a video or a document I'm reading, and lay the tablet down or lean it against something and use it "hands free" for a bit, and then when the screen turns off I have to pick it up to turn it back on rather than hitting a button on the side or front. This is a minus. The volume up and down buttons are a little stiff, making them hard to press one handed if the tablet is laying down in front of me and I'm watching content on it. I also dislike the lack of USB charging, but I understand that the device needs more power than the USB spec allots for and thus I'm not holding this specific one against it.

The feature I miss the most on the Xoom is Flash support. Something I wish it had that none of my devices have right now is NetFlix streaming support, but I don't know if/when it'll get that. Google Music is another thing missing entirely, but that should be coming soon enough, likely at IO. Flash support is supposedly coming in Spring but given Adobe's track record, I'm not going to hold my breath. All the same, once the Xoom delivers on the features we're promised, and NetFlix shows up some love, I'd easily rate it at nearly a perfect score. Not to compare Android to Windows, but Honeycomb seems to just need a service pack or two to be decent.

Conclusion

Over all, I am glad I got my Xoom. Do I wish I would have waited for the missing features to appear? I can't say so - I just don't see anything better coming down the pipe any time soon. This is the Nexus of tablets, with it's OEM UNLOCK functionality, and I'm willing to bet that Google will be giving away a few of these devices at it's IO 2011 convention too. Sure Samsung or HTC or even Acer may put out better hardware soon, but by then, the Xoom will have all its features in tact, and I'd likely make the same decision I already did make - to Xoom or not to Xoom - and I'd Xoom all over again.

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