Review: Motorola Xoom

Many sites review new products before they are launched, and after having maybe thirty minutes with the device.  Others are sent a test device to review, which allows for a little more time.  And even a few others buy the device outright, review it, and keep it in their “phone closet” for some future purpose.

When we were asked to write up a review of the Xoom, we had a dilemma.

PhoneCan couldn’t afford to send anyone to CES a couple months back, so that type of review was out of the question.  And the manufacturers surely aren’t going to send their products to be reviewed by a site that’s focused more on the empowerment of the customer than they are driving sales.  So, that left us with only one option left: buy a device and test it.

So we did.

And our review comes after the break.


PhoneCan Quick Review

The Motorola Xoom is an excellent tablet device.  It may not be worth the premium price tag for most people, but won’t disappoint early adopters who are willing to pay launch prices.  This device will work for most peoples’ needs.

PhoneCan In-Depth Review: Motorola Xoom

Carrier: Verizon Wireless
OS: Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
Technology: CDMA 1xEVDO Rev. A (Verizon 3G), upgradeable to 4G LTE at a later date, also includes WiFi and Bluetooth.
Manufacturer Page
Carrier Page

Overall Stats:
(Out of a possible 5 points)
Sound Quality:  4
Battery: 5
Camera Quality (back, 5MP): 5
Camera Quality (front, 2MP): 3
Durability: 5
Features: 4
Physical Layout: 5
Speed: 4
Web Browser: 5

Overall Rating: 4.5

The Motorola Xoom is Verizon Wireless and Motorola’s first Android 3.0 device, as well as their first 4G-capable tablet.  The screen quality is excellent, and the size is more like a comfortable computer screen than some competing products.  The operating system is well-designed, though obviously a little rough around the edges.  Physically, the device feels well-built, even slightly heavy, which serves to lend to it’s durable feel.  The speed of the device feels a little slow, but that may very well be due to the “rough edges” in the operating system.  Since the Verizon 4G service was not yet available on the device, we could not test 4G speeds.  However, the device performed well on 3G, and slightly better on WiFi.

The Xoom has decent audio for two small speakers on the back of the device.  We rated audio at a four for two reasons: first, we would have preferred speakers on the front instead of the back.  When watching a YouTube video, for instance, we had to position our hands over the speakers to help channel the audio to the front.  Second, the audio is very decent for such small speakers, but still a little canned.  Using a headset, however, worked excellently.  If the speakers were on the front, we probably would have overlooked the slightly canned sound and given the device a five in this category.

This device is rated for a nine-hour battery life.  We practically used the device in place of our normal laptop, and found the device worked well over the course of a day.  At first, we used the out-of-the-box screen settings, and after a day of mixed use would find the battery to still be about 65% at the end of the night.  After adjusting the screen brightness, we could the same day would run down to about 55%.  To test the battery life, we ran the device for two whole days and it worked just fine.  The device warned us once we got to 14%, but still worked for many hours.  Finally, we charged at about 8% - two hours shy of 48 hours from the last time we plugged in.  The battery rated a five out of five.
Incidentally, the USB port does not charge the device - a small gripe, but nothing worthy of making an issue out of it.  Charging off the USB would take twice as long for a battery such as this.

Camera Quality:
The Xoom has two cameras - a rear-facing 5MP camera, and a front-facing 2MP camera.  The rear facing camera is easily the best Motorola 5MP camera we’ve seen in quite some time.  While they might have gone with an 8MP camera, the 5MP works just fine.  Compared to other Motorola 5MP cameras, this one is superb.  Compared to other 5MP cameras, this one compared excellently (rare for Motorola).
As for the front-facing camera, the 2MP camera is adequate for it’s main purpose: a web camera.  The quality isn’t the best, though this is likely by design.  While we weren’t expecting Photoshopped-quality (i.e. unrealistic) images, we thought maybe it would be a little better.
The rear camera received a five out of five, while the front “web” camera received a three.

This device is hefty, but not overly so.  When you first pick it up, you’re a little surprised by it’s weight.  But after using it a few days, you get accustomed to it.  The weight, however, added with the fact that it does not feel empty inside, makes the thing feel like it could handle some roughness.  Nothing feels loose or hollow.  The Xoom has a very positive feel, and durability to boot.  It receives five out of five.

This is where the device misses just a little, but most of the miss comes from an operating system needing a little more polish, as well as a lack of apps that work correctly on the platform.  Much of the polish can be fixed simply by customization.  But a few tweaks here and there, such as being able to open the app drawer without going to the home screen, being able to play a YouTube video in the background without it pausing (other audio apps do this, too), being able to minimize (without putting away) some of the apps (like one might on a desktop), among others, would help smooth out the rough edges of Honeycomb.  Also, we would have preferred a more positive space bar - while holding it up slightly, the space bar was harder to hit, but when we left the tablet on a flat surface, we were able to type almost as fast as we can on a keyboard.  Because the platform needs a little work, yet shows a ton of potential, the Xoom gets a four out of five in our Features category.

Physical Layout:
Our only layout gripes pertained more to the operating system.  The device itself has the volume keys in a good place, outside of the area where most people seem to grip.  The charging port might have been better on the side of the device, but we have no qualms about it’s placement on the bottom (if the battery didn’t last so long, we’d have to be using it while charging, which would be an issue).  At first, the button to turn the screen on, which is on the back, seemed a little odd, but after using it for a week or more, we’ve gotten used to it.  In fact, we’re grateful it’s not within the grip area, or sitting on the top where you’d have to take your hand off the device.  The button on the back works just well with your hand’s placement on the sides of the device.  The device receives a five for physical layout.

Our only issue here is overall speed.  The device has a 1GHz dual-core processor, but the operating system feels like it slows it down a little.  The device transitions well between apps, but certain programs made for phones rather than tablets can cause some speed issues.  Somehow, there’s a small degree of slugishness.  We noticed it most while browsing the web - 3G or wiFi didn’t seem to matter, there was a slight lag either way.  Hopefully, future updates will fix this.
As for network speed, it hasn’t been any better or worse than we expected.  It hasn’t been bad at all, but WiFi is definitely an improvement.  It will be interesting to see what a 4G connection will do for the speed of this device.
The Xoom was given a four out of five for speed.

Web Browser:
We rate the web browser on any smartphone or tablet.  Let’s be honest, you’re not considering the Xoom to run Photoshop on it - you’re using it to surf the web and get your email.  It does that almost perfectly, aside from the slight delay we mentioned under Speed.  We tried to get the browser to hang up, and while we were able to do it a couple times (such as accidentally trying to zoom while doing a text selection with both fingers on the screen), the browser was quite solid.  When compared to a smartphone, the browser is a drastic improvement.  When compared to a laptop or desktop computer, the experience is mostly similar.  The lack of Flash was curious, as some Flash was working, despite the lack of Flash support on the device.  But since this is going to be fixed at the end of the week we’re writing this, it won’t be an issue for long.  Overall, the browser gets a five out of five.

Other Comments:
If we could add one thing to all this, we would say this: we think it’s a little disappointing to have had this device announced and billed as a 4G device, only to find it to be a 3G device that’s upgradeable in the future (by sending the device to Motorola, no less).  Also, it would be wonderful to be able to use the micro-SD card slot that’s hidden in with the 4G SIM card slot.  It would be much easier to take an existing memory card, music and movies on board, and just plug it into the device.  As these are future expansions, we’re hopeful that it won’t be long before they’re resolved.  But still, it would have been nice to have a completely ready device at launch.

Final Assessment

With our scoring system, the Motorola Xoom received an overall score of 4.4, which we rounded up to 4.5 because of how impressive the device is.  It deserved that last additional .1 to its score, if not more.  We might do a second review in a few months, when many of the quirks and kinks are worked out of this device.

We believe that the only drawback to the Xoom is it’s price: $799.99 without a contract, or $599.99 with a two-year contract.  Motorola has stated that this is a premium device, and as such has a premium price.  Was it worth what we paid for it?  Not entirely.  A $100 less would have made it feel more worth it’s value.  But with iPad2 outpricing the device a bit (the 32GB iPad2 with 3G is $729.99), it’s hard to justify buying a Xoom over an iPad2 at this time (even if you have to wait three weeks for it).  But once the Xoom’s 4G capability is included, and the memory expansion is activated, the device may be well worth the price difference.

Image from Amazon
Motorola XOOM Android Tablet (Verizon Wireless)