XOOM and Thunderbolt close the gap on iPad and iPhone

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.

Motorola XOOM

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.

HTC Thunderbolt

Another impressive offering that falls just short of the iPhone.

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.

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Author:Craig Berry

Craig Berry is a Catholic web developer and musician.
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  • Brad

     I’m a huge Android user and love it.  I hear you with some of the quirky things compared to iOS.  The strange pricing for apps I believe comes from the international sellers and monetary conversions.  I’ve held off on actually buying a tablet although we have an iPad my wife won.  I’ve been keeping a close eye on the Android tablets, but had issue with their initial price offerings and concern over app selection which is far better with Apple.  I want to see Samsung’s 10.1 tablet coming out, but have been a bit disappointed in my Galaxy S phone with some of the tweaking they did which caused issues with updates.  

    Great to hear someone with real hands on use of an Android tablet especially one that is a typical iOS person.  Great info.

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  • http://www.providentpartners.net/blog Albert_Maruggi

    thanks for the Hat Tip, I do love what you are doing on this site.  see you soon