Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reviewers get their hands on the Motorola XOOM: few raves and few outright pans for the Honeycomb tablet

Last April, like many consumers, I eagerly awaited the UPS truck to deliver my iPad. Now, over ten months later we have another eagerly awaited tablet coming onto the market -- the Motorola XOOM.

But folks, I can not buy every tablet that comes onto the market, and I have not worked to get included on the list of media people who get loaner products for review purposes. So, like many of you, I am at the mercy of the tech writers.
So here is a sampling of reviews of the Motorola XOOM that might give you an answer to the big question: is this a legitimate competitor to Apple's iPad? Here goes:

Engadget: Motorola Xoom review - Joshua Topolsky.

Pretty exciting headline, huh?

"The Xoom is a handsomely built tablet Topolsky writes, "though at a glance, you'll think you've seen this before. Maybe it's that little can be done within the constraints of the tablet form factor (or Motorola isn't really trying), but the general shape and build of the Xoom comes off looking just a teensy bit like the iPad's longer, more dangerous cousin."

Later: "Unlike Apple and it's single-minded iOS, however, Android is still filled with variables and choices which make general navigation a learning process, and even though Honeycomb has made huge inroads to making that process simpler, it's not 100 percent there."

It's a good, extensive review -- one of the best one's out there. In the end, he appears a bit disappointed in the user interface.

WSJ: Motorola’s Xoom Starts Tablet Wars With iPad - Walt Mossberg.

Papa Mossberg said, to his obvious surprise, that the XOOM felt heavier than the iPad. Maybe it is the way something at first feels. I know I was surprised by the weight of the iPad in my hands.

"Though it works fine in portrait, or vertical, mode, the Xoom is mainly designed as a landscape, or horizontal, device. The screen is long and narrow, proportioned to best fit widescreen video. The HD screen boasts a resolution of 1280 by 800, versus 1024 by 768 for the iPad."

Later: "I’ve always felt that Android had a rough-around-the edges, geeky feel, with too many steps to do things and too much reliance on menus. But Honeycomb eliminates much of that."

Conclusion: "Bottom line: The Xoom and Honeycomb are a promising pair that should give the iPad its stiffest competition. But price will be an obstacle, and Apple isn’t standing still."

This is kind of a theme: the XOOM gives you a lot, and Honeycomb is a better tablet OS, but then there is that price . . .

NYT: Before Rush, One Tablet Stands Out - David Pogue

"...the Xoom costs a stunning $800, $70 more than the equivalent 32-gigabyte iPad (WiFi and 3G cellular). You can get the Xoom for $600 if you’re willing to commit to a two-year Verizon contract."

Pogue looks at the hardware, which he approves off, especially the cameras (I think cameras on tablets will be necessary for marketing purposes, but will end up being use far less than people think). Then he turns to the OS:

"So how is Honeycomb? Four words: more powerful, more complicated," Pogue says. At one point he says "these icons are darned cryptic; you’d think they were were designed by aliens."

It's a fairly positive review but he ends with this advice: "If you’re interested in a tablet, you’d be wise to wait a couple of months. You’ll want to consider whatever Apple has up its sleeve for the iPad’s second coming, of course, but also Research in Motion’s business-oriented BlackBerry PlayBook and Hewlett-Packard’s juicy-looking TouchPad tablet, which runs the webOS software (originally designed by ex-Apple engineers for the Palm Pre smartphone)." Motorola Xoom (Verizon Wireless) - Tim Gideon, PJ Jacobowitz.

Jacobowitz talks a lot about apps in his review, something that is vitally important. When Apple's iPad came out, of course, there were few apps specifically developed for the tablet. Apple said that all iPhone apps would work on the iPad, but users quickly realized that apps must be optimized for the iPad to be a good experience -- and I would add "redesigned", as well.

Jacobowitz says "The bad news is that there aren't many apps optimized for Honeycomb yet." Now we enter the chicken or the egg dilemma. If the XOOM is a hit, Android developers should be eager to launch apps in volume. If it is not, well, many will stick to developing for mobile. We'll see.

In the end Jacobowitz seems to see the Motorola XOOM as a work in progress, and does mention some crash issues he experienced. "The Motorola Xoom has tremendous potential, so it's disappointing to see it lacking key features out of the gate," he concludes.
ZDNet: Motorola XOOM and Honeycomb — not ready for prime time - James Kendrick.

Kendrick looks at some other reviews and then concludes this way: "I’m not sure Google has the luxury of time to get the tablet experience nailed down to the point it is ready for consumer adoption. The recurring mention of crashes in early reviews is not something we should be hearing about a shipping product, and with the XOOM Honeycomb is indeed now shipping. Honeycomb needed to come out swinging for the fence, but it’s still in batting practice."

CNNMoney likes the XOOM and they've posted a YouTube video. I would have embedded the video but frankly found the review inane, and rather embarrassing for a news network -- but then again, its CNN.