I am a Mac fanboy. For almost 2 years, I’ve been happily pinching and swiping away on my iPad and iPhone, with no interest for the tidal wave of Android-powered smartphones and tablets flooding the market. Then 2 weeks ago, the Verizon XOOM and Thunderbolt landed on my desk for review. I wondered, could I muster up enough interest to do this? My relationship with the Apple IOS fulfilled all my gadgety desires. But, my geeky curiosity won out. I charged up the shiny new toys, swiped the familiar Guerilla Glass, and began plugging in my Google credentials to discover what the ‘other side’ had been up to these past 2 years.
Google was doing their homework. The Motorola XOOM mimics most of the endearing features of the iPad, and even adds a few twists.
Standart tablet features include:
- Exchange ActiveSync for enterprise users.
- Front and rear side cameras.
- Voice recognition for searching.
- Virtual keyboard.
- Runs the Android “Honeycomb” operating system.
Some things I like:
- Setup is fast, simple and you don’t need to connect it to a computer. With 3G, you don’t even need a Wi-Fi connection. Plug in your Google username and password – or create an account on the fly – and it starts configuring and syncing your e-mail, contacts, calendar and more.
- Easy on the eyes. The 10.1” HD widescreen display is colorful and crisp.
- Snappy response. Tapping and swiping is nearly instantaneous.
- Marketplace. It comes close to the Apple App Store in providing a large selection of free and commercial apps.
- Respectable battery-life. Twice, I left it on standby for 24 hours, and there was no noticeable drain. Standby is rated at 14 days. I didn’t test that claim, but I believe it.
- The voice-activated search feature is ubiquitous and a nice touch.
- The GMail client is slick, and I hope Apple is taking notes. The iPad Mail app is serviceable, but on the XOOM, it’s colorful and feature-laden.
Things I don’t like:
- It’s noticeably heavier than my iPad. So, it’s probably much heavier than the iPad2. At first, it’s not bothersome, but after holding it for 30-60 minutes, it’s distracting, and I found myself re-positioning it often.
- Buttons. All of them. The rear-side power button is unintuitive. The up and down volume buttons are too small. The onscreen navigation buttons in the lower-left corner are cryptic. I kept wondering, should I press the back button or the home button?
- Display Rendering. Like I said, it’s speedy, but you can perceive the device snapping graphical elements to a grid.
- Distractions. Often, when installing or updating apps, there are popups about CAB files extracting and other “computerese”.
- Overly busy and complex UI. Apps and configuration options are tucked away most everywhere. The Apple IOS – simple and intuitive – is way ahead of Android in this category.
- Marketplace. The inconsistent pricing structure is tacky. Prices like $3.22, $2.11, $5.18 are just odd.
I’m impressed how far along the Google Android tablet OS is. It doesn’t deliver groundbreaking features, but it’s not far behind the iPad in overall usability.
What I like:
- Beautiful and large 4.3″ screen. Watching videos on this is a treat – it even has a kickstand. While not as sharp as the iPhone4 Retina, the sheer size of it is gorgeous.
- 4G data network. In my side-by-side tests, it loaded web pages 30% faster than my iPhone4 on the AT&T 3G network.
- Voice search. As with the XOOM, voice-enabled features abound.
- Blazing fast swiping. A hair faster than the iPhone4.
- Tight integration with Google Gmail, Contacts and Calendar.
What I don’t like:
- Standby battery use. After a full charge, and set to standby, the battery drained 50% within 24 hours. Perhaps a defective battery?
- Camera. My 5MP iPhone camera runs circles around the 8MP Thunderbolt camera – clarity and color are underwhelming.
- Body width. For people with small or medium sized hands, it’s a little too wide for comfortable one-handed operation.
- Confusing UI. Just like the XOOM, the Google Android suffers from offering too many options and a confusing interface. Google needs to reduce the number of areas that contain phone and app settings, and make them easier to reach. Overall, general navigation feels awkward.
- Hardware buttons. Too small. Between Motorola and HTC, I’m beginning to think the design engineers dislike buttons – or perhaps they think customers dislike them.
It’s got all the features a cutting-edge smartphone should have, and on paper some of the specs beat out the iPhone4 – especially the 4G network – but, it’s the overall attention to detail where the Google Android falls behind the iPhone4.
The Bottom Line
Google is now a legit player in the mobile market. Their smartphones are maturing nicely, and now they’ve proven they can deliver a compelling tablet.
Is it enough to convert this Mac fanboy? No. If I had the spare dough, I’d still plunk it down for an iPad2, or save it for the upcoming iPhone5. But non-Mac users have a respectable selection of mobile tools, and can drop any Mac-envy they may have been harboring.
H/T to Albert Maruggi for providing the gear.