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Tech Report – Motorola Xoom

The long-awaited Motorola Xoom finally went on sale Thursday and much is expected of this high-powered versatile tablet. Many commentators are describing it as the first real competition for the iPad but it’s really much more than that. It’s the first of a wave of second-generation tablets that are expected to transform these fledgling devices from novelty multimedia platforms into essential everday workhorses.

The Xoom is sleek, compact, and attractively packaged. The 10.1-inch screen is actionally larger than the iPad but the device still feels lightweight and very comfortable in the hand. Without a home button on the front, the Xoom has a natural landscape orientation, as opposed to the iPad’s default portrait position.

A number of hardware features clearly leapfrog the Xoom over the iPad, at least until the updated version of the iPad comes out later this summer. On the back, there’s a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash for photos and high-definition video, and on the front, there’s a low-resolution camera for video chat. The Xoom also has a USB port and an HDMI jack, although you will need Motorola’s $129 HD docking station to get the full Xoom experience on your TV.

The Xoom has a standard headphone jack and stereo speakers and an expansion port for additional storage. Thinking ahead, there is also a place for a 4G SIM card, which will let the Xoom take advantage of Verizon’s 4G network after a software upgrade later this year. Another big plus: a much longer battery life than you might be used to with Android devices. The Xoom allows up to 10 hours of continuous video playback.

But perhaps the biggest hardware feature is one you can’t see. The Xoom is powered by a 1GHz dual-core processor. What does that mean? Lightning fast response times, super-fast refresh rates on gaming apps, and none of the hiccups or interruptions you get on other mobile devices, even with multiple apps running at the same time.

Talking of apps, the Xoom is the first device to run Google’s new Android operating system for tablets, codenamed Honeycomb. Unfortunately, while Honeycomb is undoubtedly slicker, faster, and more versatile than previous Android operating systems, it’s also more complicated. Don’t think that just because you have an Android phone you will be able to jump right into the Xoom. It’s almost a completely new learning experience, with unfamiliar icons, widgets, and shortcuts all requiring a patient trial-and-error approach before you can start using the device efficiently.

This isn’t a case of adapting an existing phone OS to fit a tablet; it’s a complete makeover. However, once you get used to it, the improvements are obvious. Mail, iBooks, Maps, navigation, and all the other Google programs have been adapted to work seamlessly with a touchscreen tablet. So far, about 10,000 third-party apps have also been redesigned for Android tablets but tens of thousands more are expected to be added over the next few months.

Although the Xoom is clearly top of the tablet class in both specs and performance, there is one serious drawback: price. The Xoom costs $799.99 as a stand-alone device, or $599.99 if you commit to a two-year Verizon contract. At those prices, the Xoom is not just competing against the iPad but also against a vast range of high-performance netbooks and notebooks.

However, both its lead over the competition and its price may be fairly short-lived. Apple is expected to preview the updated iPad as early as next week, and serious competition is also expected from RIM (BlackBerry PlayBook), HP, Sony, and numerous other contenders.

If you’re an Android fan and you like being an early-adopter of the latest and greatest tech gadgets, then the Motorola Xoom is a must-have. If not, then you might want to wait until the competition and the economy inevitably reduce the price to a much more affordable level.

Comment by geekbabe, posted 2/24/2011, 8:30 PM:

IMHO Motorola truly produces terrific devices & coupled with the awesome service offered by Verizon,makes me want to buy one. The price tag though makes this early adopter pause, as Xoom is a bit spendy for a device I'll use for 2 yrs at most.
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