Honeycomb and Xoom: Perfect Together?

By  Martha Walz — March 01, 2011

Motorola Mobility, Inc. released its Xoom tablet last week, the first device to run Android 3.0, also known as Honeycomb. Featuring Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity (which can be upgraded to 4G LTE), front- and rear-facing cameras, and a dual-core processor, Xoom is being touted as the first solid competitor to Apple’s iPad, the market leader in tablets.
 
But does the Xoom stand up to that claim? Read on for a collection of reviews from around the Web and decide for yourself.
 
First impressions
Overall, the Xoom garnered praise as the first tablet running Honeycomb.
 
“The Motorola Xoom isn’t the first Android tablet, but in a way it kind of is the first Android tablet,” says Jonathan S. Geller at Boy Genius Report (BGR). “It runs Google’s latest OS designed exclusively for tablets, and the difference between Honeycomb and earlier versions of Android on a tablet is night and day…The Motorola Xoom packs a serious punch.”
 
“There can be little question that the Xoom is certainly a contender for the hearts and minds of potential tablet buyers in the market,” agrees Joshua Topolsky at Engadget.
 
The comparisons to Apple’s iPad were plentiful.
 
Xoom is “a legitimate threat to the only successful tablet on the market right now,” explains Jason Chen of Gizmodo.
 
“Much of what you see and feel is on par with the best on the market,” agrees Andrew Nusca at ZDNet.  “At long last, here is a worthy competitor to the Apple iPad: the Motorola Xoom. It’s not a reasonable one…It is most certainly a formidable one.”
 
“The Android tablets out on the market have been weak in the face of the iPad,” explains Wilson Rothman at MSNBC. “But after testing out Motorola's Xoom, it's clear the first Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet has what it takes to compete head to head. Though it's got some growing pains ahead, the young tablet is already a contender.”
 
Some reviewers were more reserved in their enthusiasm for the new tablet.
 
“The Xoom has a lot of features to like, and a lot to set it apart from the ever-growing crowd of tablets,” explains Melissa J. Perenson at PC World. “But it also has some drawbacks that temper my enthusiasm about it.”
 
“Despite an impressive array of hardware statistics and a novel new approach to user interface, there are many wrinkles still left to iron,” agrees ZDNet’s Nusca.
 
The OS: Android 3.0 Honeycomb
Most reviews of the new Android OS were positive, but most reviewers noted that there were still improvements to be made.
 
“So how is Honeycomb?” asks David Pogue at The New York Times. “Four words: more powerful, more complicated.”
 
“The OS is vastly superior to its predecessor and is so different to use that it's practically unrecognizable as a close relative of the Android widely deployed today,” says PC World’s Perenson.
 
“It took until version 3.0 for Google to design a user interface explicitly for tablets, and their first effort is a good one just from the way you can get around the tablet quickly,” explains Gizmodo’s Chen.
 
“The most notable difference between Honeycomb, and any other version of Android, is the user interface,” explains Blake Stimac at IntoMobile. “It’s been completely revamped to suit larger displays…The holographic UI is quite a step above almost anything we’ve ever seen on a tablet.”
 
“Version 3.0 of the mobile operating system represents a significant change for just about every aspect of the user interface, and some notable alterations under the surface as well,” agrees Topolsky at Engadget. “Android 3.0 comes together in a far more cohesive manner than any previous iteration of the software, and the changes aren't just cosmetic. Much of the obscurity in the OS and arcane functions of this software have been jettisoned or drastically changed, making for an experience that is far more obvious to a novice user... though we wouldn't exactly describe it as simple.”
 
“As much as Google’s OS has improved, I still found the software a bit clunky to use at times—not because of a lack of processing power or RAM, but because it’s not always as straight forward as alternative platforms,” agrees BGR’s Geller. “It’s almost as if Google decided to try and pack as much in as possible to advance the tablet category forward, yet I’m not sure it has succeeded entirely. I want a tablet that’s powerful and that works as it should with minimal effort, and I kind of feel like Honeycomb is a bit scattered for my taste.”
 
One of the biggest changes that reviewers noted was in the placement of the notifications bar in the new OS. This was received with mixed reviews.
 
“Notifications have been redone, and honestly, I’m a bit sad,” says BGR’s Geller. “I loved the drop down shade setup in Android, though I can see how it might not be that practical on a 10-inch tablet. Growl-like notifications now appear in the lower right corner of the device and will stack up on top of each other as they appear. Following each initial notification, messages then reduce to small icons that represent each message in the status bar. You can quickly get rid of notifications by tapping the ‘X’ next to each one, and the remaining ones will fall on each other to fill any resulting gaps.”
 
“We’ve always been a fan of the notification bar located at along the top edge of the screen in previous versions of Android OS, and we’re sad to see it go, but Honeycomb’s implementation does a great job of helping us forget about the ‘old ways,’" says IntoMobile’s Stimac.
 
MSNBC’s Rothman is a fan of the new notifications. “In Honeycomb it's more elegant, popping up from below with a tap,” he says.  “All of my mail, news feed, social, app and system updates are visible there. It strikes me as a little bit like a PC, but in a good way.”
 
“Multitasking also gets a major overhaul, and may be the best implementation we’ve seen so far,” says Stimac at IntoMobile. “Google kept it simple, and gives you a dedication soft button for multitasking, which not only shows you the past five applications you’ve accessed, but screenshots of the applications in their current state. This makes multitasking a breeze, but we do wish that the panel was scrollable to make way for more applications.”
 
This multitasking leads some reviewers to feel that this might be a solid laptop-replacement device.
 
“On the plus side (and it is a big plus), the Xoom feels much more like a real netbook or laptop replacement,” explains Engadget’s Topolsky. “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.”
 
Hardware
The look and feel of the Xoom were rated positively by the reviewers.
 
“The build quality is solid,” says Perenson at PC World. “[However], the weight is manageable for periods of two-handed operation, but intolerable for extended one-handed operation.”
 
BGR’s Geller agrees. “The black plastic bezel surrounding the display on the Xoom is a decent amount thinner than the bezel on an iPad, and while I like the idea of a thinner bezel, it makes holding the tablet in one hand pretty difficult due to the Xoom’s weight and thickness,” he explains. “I’m not saying the Xoom is thick and heavy, I’m just saying that the limited surface area to grip with your thumb makes one-handed use a tad uncomfortable.”
 
The lack of a traditional USB port for charging did not sit well with reviewers.
 
“The Motorola Xoom is unable to be charged via traditional microUSB chargers or USB and requires its own proprietary charger you have to lug around,” notes Geller at BGR.
 
However, the Xoom’s battery life was among the highlights.
 
“Battery life on the Xoom was excellent,” says Topolsky at Engadget. “Beyond excellent, actually—some of the best performance we've seen on a slate.”
 
Performance
The dual-core processor in the Xoom impressed most of the reviewers.
 
“I easily and speedily moved through menus, through large collections of digital images, and through the redesigned Android Market. Even the file transfer speeds via USB were impressive,” says Perenson at PC World.
“You can tell that the Motorola Xoom tablets running Android 3.0 are fast just from demo videos, but it's not until you actually use them that it's clear that these are responsive and usable enough to compete with the iPad,” says Chen at Gizmodo.
 
“We did experience some slowdown when transferring files from our computer or jumping quickly between lots of apps, but we were blown away by the robustness and speed of applications like the browser and some of the included games,” explains Topolsky of Engadget. “The general responsiveness of the UI and touch reaction was in line with the best the iPad exhibits.”
 
The apps are lacking
The lack of apps optimized for Honeycomb is one of the biggest drawbacks for reviewers.
 
“This last gripe actually segues nicely into a larger point: A tablet is only as good as its apps,” says Rothman at MSNBC.
 
PC World’s Perenson agrees. “Android 3.0 is easily the most polished Google software effort to date, but the random apps I downloaded from the Android Market didn't work on Honeycomb at all, let alone scale to the Xoom's large screen,” she says.
 
“Google packages some great new applications with Honeycomb that other operating systems just can’t touch,” says Stimac at IntoMobile. “That said, when it comes to tablet-optimized applications in the Android Market, it’s a sad story. This will only improve over time, and Big G has provided some great tools for developers to help bring phone applications to the big screen.”
 
“There is a ton of promise on the software side for tablets running Honeycomb given the new access to 3D tools and system tweaking that Android allows, but right now it's a small island in a sea of phone titles—and the majority of those titles do not look right on a 10.1-inch screen at this resolution” explains Topolsky at Engadget.
 
“The Android App Market…got a moniker reading ‘Android Apps for Tablets’—at least, it showed up on the Xoom's Market--and what appears under that heading will be something we'll look at in the days and weeks to come,” says MSNBC’s Rothman. “The success of the Android tablet program will be measured by what others build for it; no verdict on this premier device is worth acting on until we know more about the apps.”
 
Future-proofing the Xoom
Xoom tablets will be upgradable to 4G LTE once Verizon builds out its network. Most reviewers saw this as a big plus but note that top speeds will also come with a hefty price tag.
 
“By obtaining a 4G SIM card (when the update comes out) and performing a software update, you'll be able to surf the Web with the Xoom at lightning speeds. That future-proofing is a very appealing touch,” says PC World’s Perenson
 
“Motorola has attempted to futureproof the device by offering a free hardware upgrade down the road which will give the tablet access to Big Red's 4G LTE network,” explains Engadget’s Topolsky. “Of course, all this power comes with a cost... literally. With a list price off contract of $799, the Xoom is quite a pricey piece of technology to own. Still, with all that's packed inside—and more importantly with what Google has done on the software side—the Xoom could represent the next stage of tablet evolution.”
 
Final thoughts
Overall, reviewers believe that Xoom and its Honeycomb operating system herald a new era in tablet computing. But will it be an iPad killer?
 
“The Xoom represents the start of a real computing platform,” states Rothman at MSNBC.
 
“Does Android 3.0 Honeycomb have what it takes to dethrone iOS on the iPad? Yes. Today? Not so much,” says Stimac at IntoMobile. “If you’re looking for one of the best Android experiences on market today, jump to the front of the line, as you’ll certainly be in love with Honeycomb.”
 
“Make no mistake: this is by far the most impressive Android device to date. And it arrives to the party far, far more prepared than its forebears,” explains ZDNet’s Nusca.
 
“Is the Xoom a real competitor to the iPad? Absolutely,” states Engadget’s Topolsky. “In fact, it outclasses the iPad in many ways. Still, the end user experience isn't nearly where it needs to be, and until Google paints its tablet strategy and software picture more clearly, we'd suggest a wait-and-see approach. Honeycomb and the Xoom are spectacular—unfortunately they're a spectacular work in progress.”
 
The New York Times’ Pogue sums it up well. “The more important story here is Honeycomb, the Google tablet software,” he explains. “This is the real iPad competitor; Honeycomb tablets in every size, shape and price range will soon be arriving in stores.”

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