Sunday, April 24, 2011

Motorola Mobility Xoom WiFi Review




     It has been a while since our last review (Jan 2011) but there was no exciting & new tablet to review until now. TabletConnect first reported in August 2010 that Verizon and Motorola were going to introduce a 10” tablet. Little was known at that time. In November, we reported more details (although we noted it was a 7”) of the tablet that would be known as “Xoom”. With the Xoom being the first table to offer Google Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), which was specifically designed for a tablet rather than a phone, the iPad was going to have its first major competitor.

     The Xoom's specs had the making of a winner but the rumors of a $700 - $800 price tag was already putting the tablet at a disadvantage before it even launches. Motorola first launches the 3G model at a high price of $799 in February 2011. Fortunately, a lower cost WiFi version became available a month later on March 27th. So is the Xoom worth $600? What about Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)? Is it better than the 2.2 tablets that were on the market. Let's find out.



Exterior
     The Xoom falls into the 9-10” size category so it intends to compete with Apple's iPad 2 (hereinafter referred as simply “iPad”). The Xoom is similar in size to the iPad. The Motorola Xoom's dimensions are 9.8” (l) x 6.6” (w) x .50” (h) compared to the iPad which has dimensions of 9.5” x 7.3” x .34”. Basically, it is longer but less wide than the iPad. Of course, the iPad is ultra-thin at .34”. The Xoom feels solid weighing in 1.6 lbs while the iPad weighs 1.3 lbs.

      The Xoom has a strong feel and has a high quality build (body is anodized aluminum). In addition, the screen is made of the tough Gorilla Glass.  The Xoom has Micro USB port, headphone jack, an unusable micro-SD/LTE SIM slot, mini-HDMI port and DC Power port.  The external speakers are very good although we are not fond of speakers on the back.  The sound is projected away from you. Even the cheap Zenithink had speakers on the bottom side.  Overall, the speakers are decent and loud.  However once you get to about a quarter of way, the sound is barely noticeable even with headphones.  Nonetheless, we played music and watched videos on a very high volume with minimal distortion. Overall, the exterior quality is excellent.

      The Motorola Xoom does include a 5MP rear facing camera and a 2MP front facing. The rear camera takes good pictures and HD videos (see video of Additional Footage). However, I am not sure how many people will use a 10” table to take pictures or video. The front camera is OK for video conferencing or using as a mirror but that is about it.

There are three physical buttons on the Xoom. The volume is on the left hand side although the buttons are tiny and not easy to find if you are not looking directly at them. The power/reset button is uniquely placed on the back of the tablet near the rear camera and LED flash. There are no physical Home; Menu; and Back buttons since Android 3.0 incorporates them into the OS.

 
     Included accessories are micro USB cable adapter, DC power adapter/charger, and user guide.  Micro HDMI cable is sold separately although you can get one for cheap on eBay.

Internal
     Under the hood, the Xoom has a Nvidia Tegra 2 dual core processor running at 1GHz. Now, the Xoom is not the first tablet to have dual core processor. Other tablets that were launched previously with dual core processors were eLocity A7, Notion Ink Adam, Viewsonic gTablet and the Advent Vega. However, the Xoom has Nvidia's newer Tegra platform. The Xoom also has 1GB of RAM which is higher than the typical 512MB that other tablets use. However, the new trend is to have a minimum 1GB of RAM which will be required as these devices handle more multi-tasking jobs. The Xoom has an accelerometer (auto-rotates 360 degrees) which works well but not as fast as the iPad. You will note in our video that there is about a second or so lag from when the tablet is rotated to when the screen orientates itself. Nonetheless, it does work well with games that uses the accelerometer.

      The Xoom also includes a Compass, GPS & a barometer (not sure why this was included). Boot time is approximately 36 secs which is slightly less than the Archos 70 running Android 2.2 (39 seconds).

Screen
     We have mentioned this many times but the screen is the second, if not, the most important hardware of a tablet. The Xoom's screen is 10” with a resolution of 1280x800 which has a 16:10 aspect ratio instead of the traditional 16:9 widescreen ratio. This should allow better viewing for widescreen movies. The screen is capacitive and is responsive. In addition, it is true multi-touch rather than a 1+1 touch. (True multi-touch means that the device can simultaneously register three or more inputs. The 1+1 is just as the name says, it registers only 2 inputs.) When typing on the standard keyboard, it responds well.  The screen is also difficult to see in bright daylight due to the very glossy screen but this is very common.  Fingerprints also continues to be a common problem among all screens.  As for the viewing angles, the Xoom has excellent viewing angles from all four sides.  Colors are bright and sharp.  Overall, the screen works as intended.

Multimedia
     As our video demonstrates, the Xoom works well with all multimedia (pictures, music & videos) types. We tested these 3 types using the included apps. As noted before, there are other better apps to use but our focus is only on the apps included. For the pictures, the quality of the images was good. For videos, we tested using MP4 format with 1250 & 1500 bit videos plus two 720p HD test files (in MOV, AVI & MP4 format). Both non-HD files played very well with no stuttering. The Motorola Xoom had no trouble processing the 1500 bit video. We used an animated movie to show the “fullness” of the video (colors, brightness, contrast, etc.). We also tested using a live action film as shown in our video. For the HD videos, the tablet had no trouble processing our MP4 test videos but cannot play MOV & AVI formats. We had to deduct points here, Motorola. Even the Archos 70 & 101 tablets can play those formats. The tablet had no problems rendering YouTube videos.

      The tablet has a mini-HDMI port which one can connect to a HDTV. Not only can you watch movies and pictures but can also simultaneously project what is on the Xoom screen. Therefore, you can play games while watching it on the HDTV.  See our video below to see. Overall, the multimedia experience was excellent.

Applications (Apps)
     The Xoom does include the core Google apps (Android Market, Gmail, Maps, Navigation, Talk, eBooks & YouTube.) Motorola did include certain apps: Cordy (cute game that is visually appealing), Dungeon Defenders (another game), and Movie Studio (video editing). One complaint we have is that no file manager was included. This is more Google's issue. Why does Android not include a native file manager?  The Movie Studio is a decent video editing app.  It is somewhat user friendly but seems that the app still requires a more powerful processor as we felt that it struggled at times with some lag.  The redesigned Camera app is great.  It is easy to use and settings are easily accessible.  No need to figure out where the different settings are at.  
 
Benchmarks
     We posted an article regarding the changes to our benchmarks so no need to repeat everything here. We benchmarked the Xoom against our baseline (Archos 70) and the Motorola Droid X smartphone. Below are the benchmarking scores of the Motorola Xoom versus the Archos 70, and the Droid X:


     As you can see, the Xoom dominated the single core Archos & the Droid X in the majority of the tests. One item to note is that the Xoom refused to run the NeoCore app which benchmarks the OpenGL-ES 1.1. However, we are replacing the NeoCore test with NenaMark which benchmarks the more current OpenGL-ES 2.0. Unfortunately, we no longer have the Archos in order to run a NenaMark test. Also you will notice that the Xoom scored low under the Softweg Benchmark GPU test. This is another test we are replacing as it is outdated. Softweg's GPU test 2D graphics and does not reflect the true performance of the GPU. SmartBench's GLTunnel & GLJellyfish test 3D graphics. Overall a dual core processor (Tegra2-Cortex A9) will dominate a single Cortex A8 processor.

     The PDF rendering test shows a fast 3.4 seconds in loading our PDF test file.  The Archos 70 rendered the PDF in 5 seconds.  In the BrowerMark benchmark which measures browser performance in JavaScript and HTML rendering, the Xoom scores more than triple what the Archos 70 scored.

(Different benchmarking apps may test different aspects of the CPU and GPU which would account for variance. One cannot look simply at one set of benchmark scores. One should view all in an aggregate.)

Battery Life
     Our standardize testing consist of two battery tests: 1) played a movie that repeated until the unit shut off (with Wi-Fi turned on); and 2) played a movie that repeated until the unit shut off (with Wi-Fi turned off). Both tests had the brightness at 50%. The battery averaged almost 11 hours with WiFi off and about 10 hours with WiFi on. The battery life is excellent and should match the iPad's superior battery life.

Support
     We have not specifically focus on manufacturer support during our review although we do consider this in our scoring. What we mean by “Support” is how much support a manufacturer provides in terms of firmware updates and Android upgrades. Manufacturers would do not provide firmware updates or even Android upgrades do not deserve your hard earn cash. Basically, they only care about selling you a tablet and not providing support. This is especially important with it comes to Android upgrades. If you have an Android smartphone, you probably know what we mean. Some manufacturers will provide Android upgrades (say from 2.1 to 2.2) several months after Google releases the update. There are smartphones that still have Android 2.1 although Google is up to version 2.3 (for smartphones). Anyhow, that is an entire article that can be devoted to this. According to a study that JR Raphael of ComputerWorld, Motorola is one manufacturer that has done a good job providing upgrades to its phones (HTC is the best one). Therefore, we should expect the same from Motorola whenever Android 3.1 or 3.2 comes out.

Conclusion
     Overall, the Motorola Xoom performed very well and is a very good tablet. However with a price of $599 for the WiFi version, this is on the high side. In addition, we feel that the Xoom was rushed to the market. It is not complete. First, it launched without being Adobe Flash ready which is a key advantage over the iPad. However by the time we received our unit, Flash 10.2 was available on the Android Market so we installed it without a problem. Second, the micro-SD expansion slot is not useable but will be with a firmware update. Although the tablet has a large 32GB built-in memory, it should still have a working expansion slot. Third, the Xoom was not easily identifiable through two different Windows 7 computers. Windows 7 installed the necessary drivers but we still experienced some problems with the computer recognizing the Xoom.

      The Xoom is the first table to run Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). Every other tablet manufacturer is probably keeping an eye on how well the Xoom does. This review did not concentrate on Honeycomb but we were impressed with its tablet-specific UI. It does the job well but it still needs to be improved upon. Our two main gripes with Honeycomb is 1) lack of a native file manager; and 2) lack of true task manager/switcher. Android is “better” than Apple's iOS because it can multi-task. However, Honeycomb still fails to easily switch open apps. RIM's PlayBook and HP webOS do this well so why can't Android? Even the Notion Ink Adam created an app switcher to easily change apps. Also there is a lack of tablet specific apps on the Android Market.

      The Motorola Xoom performs well. If the price was not so high, we may overlook some of its weaknesses. It is a powerful tablet and the best non-Apple tablet currently on the market. We are giving it a 4.22 out of 5 points which is the highest score we have given a tablet. Many other Android tablets (at a lower price) will be launching this year so it will be difficult for Motorola to become a leader unless it reduces its price.







2 comments:

  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

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