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Motorola Xoom ‚ the fattest of them all

Motorola’s Xoom tablet was the first tablet to run Android Honeycomb when it was announced in August. It was also one of the most expensive, boasting serious hardware. In the short time since then though, new tablets with better features and specifications have been introduced. SEAN BACHER finds out how the Xoom compares by putting it through Gadget’s Ten Question Tablet Test.

When Motorola announced its Xoom tablet in August of this year, it was the first tablet to run the Android 3.0 or Honeycomb operating system ‚ the Android OS especially designed for a large format tablet.

The Honeycomb operating system is said to improve on many Android features, such as widgets, multitasking, browsing and communication. However, because the Xoom was the first to use Honeycomb, many felt that the device lacked features and functions that new tablets sporting updated versions of Honeycomb now offer as standard.

We put the Motorola Xoom through the Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test to see how it rates today.

1. The sound of one-hand tapping (Can you comfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other?)

For a 10.1‚ sized tablet, the Xoom’s form factor is surprisingly compact. Motorola has kept the distance between the edge of the active screen and the device to the absolute minimum, meaning that the tablet measures an additional 3cm in width and in height. This still means that you can comfortably grip the device between your thumb and palm without accidentally tapping or touching parts of the active screen.

The tablet is, however, a little on the heavy side, weighing 730g, but this can be attributed to the cool aluminium shell that gives it its rigidity and durability. But it’s also one of the fattest tablets around. In this case being fat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its bulk gives you something to hold onto when typing and the extra bulk will be negligible when it is in your briefcase or notebook bag.

Handling it with one hand won’t be a problem, both in landscape and portrait modes, and the virtual keyboard is easily legible, with the keys being large enough for you to easily tap away while on the move.

Score: 9/10.

2. The Angry Birds test (How responsive is the device in interactive tasks?)

The Motorola Xoom uses a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, which is coupled with 1GB RAM. This translates to a tablet that speeds ahead of the rest.

Installation of Angry Birds was a breeze and catapulting the birds into their targets was a fluid and smooth processes. There were no hiccups, freezes or lags.

The accelerometers and gyroscopes installed on the Xoom also offer a smooth transition from portrait to landscape modes. Our motion testing application ‚ Lane Splitter ‚ ran as well as on the best tablets we’ve tested. Even the slightest tilt to the left or the right would see the bike tilt in that direction.

Not all good however.

When I first started using the Xoom, swiping between home screens was seamless. However, after a few weeks of use, with numerous applications installed on the device and many customisations made to the various widgets, the home screen took some time to come to life. It lagged every time the device was switched from landscape to portrait, with the screen taking some time to re-orient itself.

Overall, the Xoom handled itself well when playing games, but the lag on the home screen was annoying.

Score: 6/10

3. The tablet gender test (Can it multi-task? Hint: males can’t.)

Much like several other Android tablets, the Xoom handled multitasking beautifully. Applications could be opened one after the other without the tablet showing any signs of taking strain. Switching between the applications was also quick and easy as the Xoom provides a virtual button that, when tapped, displays thumbnails of all the open windows on the tablet. From this list, you simply select which application you want to switch to, which is shown in a fraction of a second.

Unfortunately, and in common with other tablets, there is no easy way of closing open applications. Yes, Xoom does offer you Android’s Application Manager under the Settings option, but getting there is rather time consuming.

The only other way of exiting an application is by switching to the one you want to close and then using its in-application menu to select the Close or Exit option.

It would have been great if there were mini ‚Xs‚ on the thumbnails of the open applications that, when clicked, shut down the application immediately.

Overall, multitasking is handled well, but there are no additional features that put the Xoom ahead of its competitors in this department.

Score: 7/10

4. Testing by the book (Can it replace novels and textbooks?)

Rather disappointingly, there are no e-readers included with the Xoom, unlike with most other Android tablets. However, you are able to download any of the readers available on the Android Market.

I installed the Amazon Kindle reader for Android on the Xoom and the novels downloaded were easily legible.

The lack of a built-in reader or, more to the point, the lack of a reader with any special features means the Xoom does not do well in this department.

Score: 4/10

5. Live long and prosper (How’s the battery life?)

According to Motorola, the Xoom’s built-in battery will provide up to ten hours of continuous video playback, or a standby time of up to 14 days or 3.3 days of MP3 playback.

In testing, the Xoom lasted for an eight-hour working day on a single charge, with enough power left to download a few applications and games to fool around with in the evening. It used a mere 20% of battery life when it played a full two-hour movie non-stop, with the screen set to its brightest level and the speakers set to full volume.

Impressive battery life, and definitely not a device that leaves you wishing you hadn’t forgot your charger at home halfway through the day.

Score: 8/10

6. It’s all about You(Tube) (How well does it handle online video sites?)

Online video was handled well. Included on the Xoom is a YouTube application that lets you search directly from the device for a video.

Ripped DVDs were played without any jolting or freezing and felt as if they were being watched directly from the DVD.

The Xoom also offers Flash support, but Motorola advertises the device as being Flash ready, meaning that you need to download the Flash application from the Android Market before you can view any Flash content.

Other Android tablets come pre-installed with Flash. While this step was painless and only had to be done once, it was an additional step that shouldn’t have been required.

Score: 6/10

7. The retro test (Can it replace your radio? TuneIn Radio reveals all.)

Included in the back of this tablet are two speakers, designed to give you a decent stereo effect. The speakers worked very well, producing a solid bass and treble sound without feeling like they were going to rip like secondhand tinfoil.

The speakers were the loudest and gave the richest sound of all the tablets reviewed so far. When combined with TuneIn Radio, which installed and ran without a glitch, there was no faulting the Xoom’s sound capabilities.

A 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the tablet and Bluetooth functionality makes it compatible with both wired and wireless speakers or headphones.

Score: 9/10

8. On target (Is the on/off switch easy to find and use in the dark?)

The Motorola Xoom’s Power switch is one of the worst-placed buttons on all tablets. Positioned at the back of the unit next to the speakers, it is relatively easy to find by just feeling your way around but, because it as at the back of the unit, you need to lift it up to push the button every time it goes to sleep. This is infuriating when the tablet is lying on a flat surface.

The default screen timeout setting is set to an absurd 30 seconds, but can be quickly adjusted to your preference. The culprit here, though, is Android and not Motorola.

In addition to the badly placed Power button, the Xoom takes an exceptionally long time to power up from being completely off. In sleep mode, turning it on is almost instantaneous but, when completely off, it takes more than 30 seconds for the device to boot up.

Apart from the Power button, the only other buttons you will find on the Xoom are for volume control.

Over all, it’s just one disappointment after another in this regard.

Score: 4/10

9. Keep control (How effective are the control buttons ‚ hardware and software?)

The Xoom doesn’t feature any hard buttons. Instead, it employs the three virtual buttons found on any Android. You get a Home, Back and Open Window button on the bottom left of the screen. A Menu button pops up when in an application that lets you perform in-app changes and which also lets you close an application. On the right of the screen, a quick swipe up with your finger reveals the clock, control panel and other notifications, such as new e-mails and new tweets.

When you first start using the Xoom, there is something distinctive about the user interface. Motorola have not skinned it with its own style, which is by no means a bad thing. Almost every other Android tablet vendor has kitted its tablet out with an original skin, so the lack of one on the Motorola makes it, paradoxically, different. There are also no pre-placed widgets, applications or feeds on any of the five home screens, meaning the Xoom is ready for you to customise as you go. No need to delete manufacturer-placed widgets before you can place your own, as you inevitably have to do on other tablets.

Overall, the Xoom’s crisp, uncluttered layout counts in its favour.

Score: 7/10

10. The iPrice Test (Is it competitively priced? And we all know which device we’re comparing.)

At the time of its launch earlier this year, the Motorola Xoom 32GB tablet retailed for R6 500, making it one of the most expensive tablets available in South Africa. The equivalent-spec iPad will cost you R6 700 and an entry-level iPad a mere R4 500. Motorola has clearly overpriced the Xoom, especially when you consider that you are not even getting any included premium apps, such as Polaris Office.

Score: 3/10

The bottom line

Overall, the Xoom performed well. Its excellent battery life and uncluttered user interface really make it a pleasure to use, but its price is a major drawback.

Motorola has, however, realised this, and last week announced a ‚baby‚ or Family Edition. The Family Edition Xoom is a WiFi-only version and comes with 16GB of storage space. But it is less than half the price of the original Xoom ‚ retailing for $400 ‚ the equivalent of around R3 200. It remains to be seen whether it will arrive in South Africa at the same price point.

Read here to find out more about the Family Edition.

Overall score: 63/100

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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