Is this fast and furious tablet the one that will snatch the tablet market away from Apple? Clocking in at around £480, the Xoom is sold as a premium product – confidently priced to challenge, not undercut, the iPad 2.
And in a first for Android-based tablets, it just about succeeds. The 10.1in Xoom sees a debut for the latest Android 3.0 operating system – better known as ‘Honeycomb’ – as well being the first Android tablet to boast a dual-core processor. That dual-core Tegra 2 CPU gives it the edge of Apple’s iPad 2, performance-wise, but how does it compare as a physical specimen?
A look around the Xoom
The Xoom’s screen is a third of an inch bigger that that of the iPad 2. It has an aspect ratio of 16:10 and a resolution of 1280×800 pixels (the iPad 2 has 1024×768). It has 1GB of RAM (Apple’s baby has 512MB) and it weighs 730g (heavier than the iPad 2′s 680g), though these specs don’t tell the full story.
Cameras are probably the most obvious advantage over the iPad 2, with a rear-facing camera (alongside a LED flash) that manages five megapixels and 720p HD video, and a front-facing two-megapixel camera for video calls.
Volume keys are on the right side, a headphones jack and a microSD card slot (version 2.0, though this will only be usable after a future firmware update) on the top. A micro-USB, mini HDMI out and the charger port are ranged along the bottom. Taking about three hours to fully charge in our tests, the Xoom provided us with a battery life of around 10 hours.
The version we tested had WiFi , Bluetooth and 32GB of storage, putting it up against the almost identical specified version of the iPad 2 purely on price. Still, it must be said that the iPad comes in more flavours than the Xoom (and up to 64GB of storage), which comes in ‘WiFi’ or ‘WiFi with 3G’ (£579.99) versions only.
A taste of Honeycomb
Of course, content is king – and the shortage of apps in the Android Marketplace tailored specifically for tablets running Honeycomb could still prove its Achilles’ heel. We suspect not – developers are often quicker than expected to tweak their apps – but the Honeycomb-only apps we tried, USA Today and Google Sky Map, were impressive, the latter a full-screen augmented reality app that overlays constellations and the like as you move the Xoom. Best of all, it supplies this information without a hiccup.
As promised in early demos of the Xoom at January’s CES, the Maps app is something else. Pulling two fingers down the screen changes the orientation of the map, so you can suddenly be looking at 3D maps in a hugely dynamic way. Not surprisingly, the Xoom also sports GPS.
Honeycomb is a very business-like OS; nicely presented and thoroughly logical, more ambitious and bigger’ than the iPad’s iOS – so it does take a tad longer to really get to know. The Xoom itself lacks any buttons on the front – the button used to ‘wake’ the device is rather oddly placed at the rear, and rather inconvenient for right-handers.
Chrome users on a PC or Mac will find it very easy to use, but it’s a vast improvement; email can be dragged into folders in Gmail, ‘incognito’ tabs created instantly, and Honeycomb’s five customisable screens can be instantly furnished with everything from a shortcut to, say, your Gmail’s draft email, to app shortcuts and even a cropped picture from your linked Picasa account set as a dynamic wallpaper image.
Key to its success is multitasking and the sheer speed it takes to switch between apps. Touching an icon in the bottom left-hand corner brings up a graphical list of previous apps, web pages and services. Touching the bottom right clock creates a list of apps that can be entered or closed in one touch.
Another bonus when compared to Apple products is the presence here of Adobe Flash 10 (though it’s not installed – downloading Adobe’s Flash Player 10.2 app from the Android marketplace should be your first act), making those videos on BBC’s website (among trillions of others) playable.
Sensibly, the Xoom plays AAC and AAC+ music formats as well as MP3, though oddly the sound quality from the built-in speakers improves immensely if you tip the Xoom away from you. However, holding the Xoom at even a slight angle creates problems with contrast and colour while watching video, which is otherwise handled very well indeed.
The native Camera app features an auto-focus feature that only kick-in when you physically take a photo, but produces decent enough still images (in 4:3) and HD footage (in 16:9) if left on the superfine (for photos) and high quality (for video, as opposed to low’ or YouTube’) settings. Changing from the rear to the front camera is a one-touch operation, with a noticeable drop in resolution. During our review the Camera app closed of its own accord several times.
The write stuff
We tested the Xoom’s text entering skills by using it to write this review, and only ran into slight problems with its occasionally flamboyant word replacements, and copy and paste functions, which although aren’t as annoyingly manual as on the iPad, also are not as accurate. It’s also hard to place the cursor exactly where you want it.
The touchscreen isn’t bad. There’s a tad too much friction, but that’s in line with all other tablets we’ve taken a look at. A virtual button takes you back a page when browsing when a swipe would be better, and when scrolling down to the end of a page it stops dead in its tracks rather than bouncing’.
Accessories include a dock (£39.99), speaker HD dock (£89.99) and a wireless Bluetooth keyboard (priced at a very Apple-y £59.99).
Contact: 0870 9010555
- Higher performance that the iPad 2; better cameras.
- Honeycomb's sophistication means a steeper learning curve.
Not only is the Xoom faster than the iPad 2, but it's also a lot more personal thanks to its widgets and an OS that's highly customisable. The Android platform has been a slow-burning work in progress for far too long, but the employment of Honeycomb here helps the Xoom launch a meaningful challenge to the iPad for general users as well as those who'd rather avoid Apple.
In some ways it's not as polished as Apple's iOS; touchscreen gestures aren't used much, it's more complex, and tablet-only Apps aren't common, but there's no doubting that with hardware of this quality the Xoom has the potential to be the Android platform's breakthrough product.