updated 12:15 am EST, Thu January 6, 2011
We check the Motorola Xoom and Atrix 4G first-hand
After Motorola's keynote, we had the rare opportunity to see and (in one case) test two of the brand new devices, the Xoom tablet and the Atrix 4G. Although it wasn't considered ready for hands-on time, the Xoom was clearly in working order and had Android 3.0 in full swing. What we got to see suggested that Google has made much better use of a large screen than on the Galaxy Tab; the home screen used a mix of apps and widgets well, and the e-book, media and YouTube apps all took good use of the space, even if they were sometimes overly flashy.
The tablet is already fast enough with its dual-core Tegra 2 chip to play HD video, which was much more in evidence on the 1280x800 screen. Motorola reps reminded us that the 16:10 ratio screen helped address complaints about thumb typing on devices like the iPad: it's narrower and thus easier to reach the full keyboard with your thumbs, but it's still very large when watching movies in landscape.
Our main misgivings were over the potential feel. While we liked the textured grip, the prototypes looked somewhat lower rent than Apple's iPad, even if it was well put together. We would also have liked to see how well it handles downloads on its current 3G connection. Users will have 4G as an option later, but it would be unique to get the full potential of the device in a test today.
The Atrix 4G we had real if brief time to use. While 4G speeds weren't available to gauge, the NVIDIA Tegra 2 isn't quite as fast as it might seem. Based on a quick navigation around the main interface, the phone still had a slight stutter for visual transitions. We also have misgivings about continuing to use Blur; the Atrix 4G is a power user's phone, and the UI not only gets in the way but will invariably delay upgrades to Android 2.3 or later.
Having said this, the phone is an excellent example of hardware design. Its four-inch screen is large without being ungainly, and it's very color rich. The design isn't metal but feels reassuringly solid and comfortable in the hand.
We simultaneously had the opportunity to see the two key accessories for the Atrix 4G in action. The webtop mode is quite simply, surprising: dock the phone in either a dock or the notebook add-on and it really does turn into more of a computer, complete with a Mac OS X-style app dock and a windowing system for certain apps. Performance in this mode did take quite a hit -- you wouldn't want to play a 3D game on a bigger screen -- but it would definitely be a more comfortable environment if you just wanted to work on an office document or browse the web with more screen area and USB peripherals.
The notebook add-on itself is fairly well thought-out and hides the docked phone in the back. It uses a well spaced chiclet-style keyboard and a fairly colorful 11.6-inch display; we were surprised to see some cleverly hidden speakers on the back corners. The HDMI dock doesn't need much explanation; it works well displaying video in 1080p. We didn't have as much of an opportunity to see it, but it does have a custom media interface designed for the larger screen.
Overall, we're fairly convinced that, while there are still noticeable issues that likely won't be addressed in time, Motorola just turned itself into a serious competitor. Two years ago, most had largely written it off as a victim of the iPhone. It now at least shows that it wants to be clearly better, not just different, and has taken some of its first clear steps on that path. Apple is likely to catch up in at least speed and may still be preferable to some in software, but that it might even have to worry is a good sign for Motorola.
The Xoom and the Atrix 4G should be available through Verizon and AT&T respectively before the end of March, with prices to be set later.