updated 10:55 pm EST, Wed February 23, 2011
First Xoom reviews show mixed but positive
The very first, pre-release reviews for the Motorola Xoom (our hands-on) have surfaced and provided mostly positive looks but with significant flaws. The WSJ's Walt Mossberg, often a champion of Apple hardware, noted that Android 3.0 is much improved; it takes much of the "geeky feel" out of Google's OS, he said. He enjoyed the browser's Chrome-like interface, with tabs and private browsing, and the much improved notification system.
He singled out, however, important issues with battery life and ergonomics. Where Apple is often conservative with iPad battery claims and can exceed the 10-hour official figure for video, Motorola's claims to the same were optimistic. The Xoom could only muster 7.5 hours. He felt the Xoom also focused heavily on its landscape mode and was "unbalanced" when held vertically for a long time.
A CrunchGear look was more optimistic about battery life and gave it 18-20 hours of real use, although the test avoided video playback.
The same test, and most others, agreed that the Xoom's Tegra 2 was "lightning fast" and could easily beat the iPad even in areas where Android has usually fallen short, such as scrolling through a website; it can play 1080p video. Google hadn't properly restrained the OS, however, and led to the OS becoming unwieldy after a significant number of apps were active. Apple's selective multitasking was held up as an example since it kept the performance and stability in check.
"The horrors that Apple seems to have avoided in iOS are readily apparent here. I had quite a few app crashes and many apps designed for [Android] 2.x devices crashed," the site said.
Software was more of a double-edged sword for Engadget. It said the OS still had glaring issues, including an interface that required shifting attention too often to the top and bottom as well as a "UI overload" that had a tendency to overwhelm with too many or sometimes unclear UI elements. Movie Studio, an attempt to compete with iMovie, was slow and "obtuse." The OS nonetheless was cohesive, showing the "work of a single mind" like interface lead Matias Duarte. It was powerful and, unlike the iPad, felt more like it could be used independently.
"The Xoom feels much more like a real netbook or laptop replacement," it explained. "Being able to multitask in the manner Google has devised, having properly running background tasks, and real, unobtrusive notifications feels really, really good in the tablet form factor. Additionally, the fact that Google has included active widgets that plug right into things like Gmail makes monitoring and dealing with work (or play) much more fluid than on the iPad."
App variety was a serious problem. Where Apple launched with over 1,000 iPad-native apps, very few have been made available on the start and included iPad ports such as Pulse News Reader. Android 2.x apps were also mixed and sometimes worked poorly.
Cameras were seen as not being quite as valuable as hoped by most, owing both to the image quality for the front camera but also in the relative impracticality of taking photos and videos with a 10-inch tablet. Video chat was a help but needed Wi-Fi to work smoothly without the immediate presence of 4G. Video viewing, an intended strong point, had problems through a lack of codec support and the comparative certainty of the iPad.
Every review criticized the price. At $800 contract-free, the price was hard to take, and the contract $600 price obligated users to spend at least $480 more over two years. Verizon's decision to effectively force users to stay at least one month to unlock the Wi-Fi was also seen as deceptive and an "Achilles' heel" that could keep it back. Apple here had an advantage, especially as many would be fixated on the iPad's $499 Wi-Fi price, which didn't have an answer even with the upcoming $600 Wi-Fi version.
A consensus also emerged that rushing to adopt the Xoom wasn't necessarily wise. It "outclasses the iPad in many ways," Engadget wrote, but the site and peers still gave it modestly positive reviews, warning that it wasn't necessarily the best Android 3.0 tablet. The next iPad also loomed overhead and could lead some to regret buying too quickly.
"The Xoom and Honeycomb are a promising pair that should give the iPad its stiffest competition," Mossberg said. "But price will be an obstacle, and Apple isn't standing still."