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April 26, 2011

Motorola XOOM Review

If you know me, you know I enjoy the latest tech toys. That’s why I picked up the Motorola XOOM the day after it was released. (I would have had it the day it was released, but I opted for a dinner date with my wife instead. Any smart man would :))

I was sold before I even held it. With two processors, two cameras, a large touchscreen, WiFi/3G/4G capability, and the latest Android OS, I was sold. I didn’t even bother playing with the floor model. I was happy when they told me there was no back order, and walked out of the Verizon store 20 minutes later, XOOM in hand. I opted to go with the $20 a month contract to save $200 on the purchase price. At $600+, the XOOM is a little pricey. I wouldn’t have paid $800 for it.

My first thought when I picked it up was, “Wow this thing is hefty.” It’s denser than it looks, probably because of the all-metal frame. That frame, along with the notebook style protective case, does its job well. I dropped the tab within the first week. I think it’s inevitable, so I was glad to get it over with and know the thing can take a drop. Combined with a screen protector, I’m confident I won’t have to make an insurance claim on it unless I somehow drive over it or drop it in a pool.

The other part of that heft is the battery. It must be big, because the XOOM can go a long ways between charges. At one point I had it streaming Pandora for over 12 hours, nonstop before I drained the battery. I had also browsed the Internet, checked & wrote email, and used the GPS location features during that time. If you have GPS in your phone, you know it kills the battery quickly. The XOOM gets an A+ for battery life.

So, what can this thing do? In a word, everything. It runs the latest version of Android, codenamed ‘Honeycomb’. It does all the things you’d expect it to do, and does them well:

  • Email - I have 4 accounts set up, and it keeps them all in sync and segregated. The interface is intuitive and fast. The keyboard is large enough to accommodate the fattest of fingers.
  • Internet - The web browser is fast, and with tabbed browsing I can be on more than one site at a time. The large screen makes squinting to see the web pages unnecessary.
  • Music/Movies – With 32 GB of storage, I can tote a large portion of my music collection around. My digital movie collection isn’t huge, but I watched Tron on the XOOM in HD recently, and it worked well, as I expected.
  • Kindle - No need to have an actual Kindle when you have a XOOM. Just download the Kindle app and you have access to all your books purchased from the Kindle store.
  • Camera/Video – The XOOM has both a front and rear camera. The rear camera is a respectable 5MP, making good quality pictures and HD videos. The front camera is a 2MP camera intended for video chat. I was thrilled when the Google Talk worked out of the box for video chat. The video chat even works on the 3G network, so you can be in your car or wherever and have a video chat with a fellow Google Talker.
  • Documents – At OTS, we store most of our documents in the Google Apps “cloud”. Accessing & editing them on the XOOM is a snap. It also natively reads PDF and other Office file types, so there is never a problem viewing/editing documents

As far as things not built in, more than likely, there is an app to get the job done. At last count I read there were over 70,000 applications available for Android. Any time I think “Oh, an app like such-and-such would be cool”, I head straight to the Android Market, and usually find 10 or more variations on that idea. I pick the one that has the closest match of features and as close to 5 stars as possible. This usually works well, and when it doesn’t, I just remove the app and find another.

I’ve found that HoneyComb is so new that some applications don’t work quite right just yet, but the application makers constantly release updates that make the applications work better on the XOOM. Expect a raft of VoIP and Video chat clients in the coming months (thanks to some awesome technology from one of Open Tier’s clients, Adaptive Digital Technologies, Inc.), which will enable you to use the XOOM to make voice and video calls as if you were in the office.

There are a few apps for the XOOM I highly recommend:

On the practical side:
Evernote - I found the built in note taking abilities of the XOOM lacking. Evernote fills that gap nicely. It allows you to make all types of notes: typed, spoken, video, and photo. These notes can be organized into notebooks. By itself, this would be great. Evernote takes it a step further and syncs the note across all your devices on which Evernote is installed. I have it on all my computers, my phone, and the XOOM. I take a note on the XOOM, and it appears on my computers and phone automatically. No transcription required!

On the fun side:
Google SkyMap, MLB at Bat, Words with Friend’s, Google Body, Google Earth, Facebook, WeatherBug, Barometer, and Compass.

I don’t have much to knock about the XOOM, other than the weight, and the fact that I’m still waiting for the 4G update. The XOOM I use is on the Verizon network. Right now it operates on their slower 3G network, and I’m (naturally) anxiously awaiting the arrival of the faster 4G update for my XOOM. I’d also like to see an SSL VPN client for it. The built in PPTP VPN client is a bit clunky, but it works.

The XOOM is overall a well built, if a bit expensive, first gen Honeycomb tablet. It’s stable, holds a long charge, and does (almost:) everything I’ve asked it to do.

Overall Rating (1 not so hot, 5 smokin hot): (yes, they are habaneros!)

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