I am now in a fairly unusual position in that I own both a Motorola Xoom and Appleís iPad 2, so I feel that Iím in a unique position to compare and contrast the two. I purchased the Motorola Xoom based on reading lots of favourable reviews and comparisons between these two devices. Having used the iPad for well over a year I though it was about time I checked out this so called iPad killer, and believe me I wanted to be impressed.
Apples iPad has one major advantage over Apple, and that is that itís clearly quite a bit cheaper. No I'm not joking, for once Apple wins out in the value for money stakes. The entry level iPad 2 sells for around £399 whereas the Xoom Wifi model retails at £479.
So lets take a look at a few things that supposed to make the Xoom a better device...
1) Honeycomb Vs iOS
2) True Multitasking
3) Flash Support
4) SD Card Slot
5) Built in HDMI port
6) Built in GPS
7) Ability to simply copy files to the device without iTunes.
8) Tegra 2 Chipset and 1MB RAM.
9) Weight and Form Factor.
10) Andoid Marketplace vs App Store
11) The Touch Screen
12) Xoom: The Positives
1) Honeycomb Vs iOS
Honeycomb is definitely a huge leap from Android 2.x, and in general it does a good job of making use of the bigger screen. However, unlike the silky smooth scrolling and pinch to zoom of the iPad the Xoom seems rather laggy, and seems to get worse depending on the number of widgets you have on display. Widgets are supposed to be one of the positive things about Android and something the Anti-Apple Establishment seem to gloat about. The problem is that they do have a bad impact on system performance, and at times the home page scrolling can get quite unresponsive. This brings me to the fact that the number of useful widgets can be counted on one hand, and the marketplace is full of worthless additions which add little or no additional functionality to those few already provided.
If you can prove me wrong please send me some noteworthy examples.
One so called 'feature' of Honeycomb are 'Live Wallpapers'. Thinking this is a pointless feature that would do little more than run down your battery I performed a little test. After fully charging the Xoom and setting the screen timeout to 10 mins and full brightness I proceeded to watch the battery levels. After 10 minutes the Xoom powered off just after the battery level dropped to 98%. I then enabled the 'Symphony Of Colors' live wallpapers and repeated the test. This time the battery level dropped by 4%, double that of the pervious test. Just out of curiosity I repeated the exercise playing a movie (Shrek the Third) using MobiPlayer and again only used 2%. Concrete proof I think that the customizable features of Android come at a cost!
2) True Multitasking
Pull the other one, this seems more like task switching to me. Honeycomb has a toolbar button which displays the task manager allowing you to switch apps, but the tasks appear to be frozen (or at least most games do) and I can only find a way of switching between the last 6 accessed apps. Most Android users poor scorn on the way iOS multitasks but quite honestly I see little or no difference between the two. Apple's approach to multitasking might not be the best, but on low CPU tablets where battery life is all important it seems a more sensible approach. If apps really need to multitask they should be the exception to the rule, with most apps entering a frozen state after task switching.
3) Flash Support:
At the time of release the Xoom didn't have Flash support, and with poor HTML5 support it wasn't a good web browsing experience. The iPad seemed to work better on sites that that support HTML5, and the Xoom seemed incapable of playing in-place video clips. However, I have just downloaded a Beta version of Flash which finally brings the flash experience to the Xoom. It works well, but once a Flash applet is running it seems to make pinch to zoom and page scrolling very sluggish often lagging by a second or two.
Iíve also noticed game previews from Android Marketplace can be viewed in the YouTube app (HTML5) or in a web browser (Flash). The flash version is constantly buffering and canít handle HD video as well as HTML5.
4) SD Card Slot
At this moment in time the SD card support doesn't exist. I've heard that you might actually need to ship the device back to Motorola for an upgrade, and others say it will be enabled in a future OS update. Who knows, but it seems odd to include an SD card slot you can't use from day one.
5) Built In HDMI Port
One of the positive things is that the Xoom supports display mirroring via a micro HDMI port, whereas the iPad 2 requires a dongle costing £40. I haven't tried this yet as I don't have a Micro HDMI cable. Lets hope it costs less than £40 or I can wipe this off as a positive.
6) Built In GPS
This seems to work great and a positive for the Xoom. You only get full GPS support on the iPad if you purchase a 3G version. However, the choice of navigation software seems quite limited. There are no Tom Tom or Navigon apps, although there is a mobile version of Co-Pilot for £50 which seems expensive compared to the iPhone version (double the price). Don't forget Google maps is only any good if you have a good 3G connection and a good data plan as it is constantly pulling maps during your journey. Even if you do cache your route and you take a diversion, it will need an internet connection to pull the extra map data.
7) Ability to Copy Files to the Device Without iTunes
This is where you wish Google would create their own iTunes alternative. In theory it sounds wonderful being able to copy and paste videos, music and apps to your device via a removeable drive. Whilst most of my MP3's were copied over without problems (so long as they don't have DRM encoding) I found it impossible to get the album art to work, and the music app on Android is a joke. Thankfully there is a copy of WinAMP available from the Android Marketplace. Motorola saw fit to place the speakers on the back of the device. This is great if you are holding the device whilst playing music, but chokes the sound when placed on a flat surface. This is a design flaw in my opinion. Iím not sure if this is an Android thing but my Xoom simply will not play AVI files of any type, DIVX or XVID. I really expected an open system like Android to be able to play these common file formats without the need for third party applications. I know the iPad has its limitations, but since all my music videos, movies and training videos come from iTunes this has never been an issue. I have to say my Archos 9 Windows 7 tablet would play everything I threw at it so I was hoping not to have to use a conversion program to create compatible files.
8) Tegra 2 Chipset
This was supposed to be the bees knees of chipsets, capable of true console performance, or so they would have you believe. The truth is that the iPad 2 rendering performance is up to 4-5 times faster at shifting polygons, fill rate and texture mapping. Even the iPad 1 performance seems better than that of the Xoom even if the specifications tell a different story.
9) Weight and Form Factor
One positive is that the Xoom is actually smaller than the iPad due to the thinner bezel and the 16:9 aspect ratio. The downside is that it is much thicker and feels considerably heavier than the iPad 1 & 2.
10) Andoid Marketplace vs App Store
There is a clear winner here. Andoid market place is a complete mess, and I can't figure out how to distinguish which apps are compatible with which devices. In particular it seems there is no way to simply list compatible tablet applications, so your only options seems to be download and try every application or game you might be interested in. There is also no download charts so it is difficult to judge good apps from bad. Installation and Uninstallation is very tedious, and the quality of software is a downright embarrassment. Having experienced good quality software on the iPhone / iPad, running smoothly at 60fps, most Android games seem to struggle in terms of quality of graphics and frame rate. The Android is severely lacking in terms of industry support with very few big name companies getting involved. There are only a handful of tablet optimized games available in the Android Marketplace, and even then they may not be targeted at your particular device. At least on the iPad all titles are guaranteed to work across all devices with over 100,000+ applications available.
Another major gripe is the lack of a Bookstore in the UK, so itís absolutely useless as an eReader unless you use a third party application. Google did launch a book store in the US back in February but apparently still negotiating with UK book publishers.
I'm also wondering how future proof these Android devices are? Will there be future support and an upgrade path or will these devices be restricted to the current versions of Android due to ROM size limitations. This is a point people fail to address when it comes to Android devices, and has never really been a big issue with iOS.
11) The Touch Screen
The iPad uses backlit IPS technology which is vastly superior to the plain LCD display of the Xoom. The Xoom display seems washed out, fuzzy and lacking in contrast. The touch screen doesnít seem very responsive or scrolling is extremely poor on Honeycomb. You simply can't perform a slow pixel by pixel scrolling without sudden jumps in the display. The Xoom is a higher screen resolution, and a slightly smaller form factor, but I'd take a clearer vibrant display any day.
12) Xoom The positives
The Xoom isn't all bad! Whilst I'm sure you can feel my disappointment, there are some areas in which the Xoom wins over the iPad 2. If you've never used an iPad before. the Xoom might seem like a magical mystical device too! Just bare in mind that this is currently the best platform Andoid has to offer, and I'm pretty sure many reviewers have been given backhanders to hype up this device in order to compete... I fell for it!
The Xoomís 5MP cameras are a big improvement over the iPad 2, especially the front camera which is really lacking on the iPad. Although both can record 720p video using the rear camera the Xoom wins out in low light conditions, and has a dual LED flash to boot.
The tabbed Chrome browser is actually very useable, and possibly slightly faster than the iPad's Safari.
The battery seems to be on par with the iPad at around 10 hours of battery life.
So would I buy another Android tablet... probably not for a while yet! There are always going to be people that disapprove of Apples closed ecosystem, who claim customization is everything. What I see is something that is not ready for prime time, in places badly thought out and overly complicated to use. I say this as someone that works in IT, and not out of ignorance.
The Xoom is definitely better than any Windows 7 based tablets I've used or owned (in terms of speed), but its still a considerable way off the iPad.
To sum up, the novelty has never worn off with the iPad, it is continually re-inventing itself with constant updates and a continual supply of good quality software. Android has some catching up to do, and needs to gain support of professional software developers. Even if a quality piece of software is released, it still might not work on my Xoom. Google need to standardise these devices before it is too late. This is very similar to what happened with Windows Mobile, which died a death and has been resurrected with Microsoft taking more control over hardware compatibility. Without this Android will never be a dominant force, and will not attract major developers.
I just bought a copy of Fruit Ninja to test purchases using Market Place and although it eventually worked (servers seem over worked), the version of Open Feint that accompanied the App crashed and wanted to report to Google. Not a good start... and this is a Xoom compatible program. In fact Iíve probably had in the region of 15-20 crashes in the last few days, whereas I can count on one hand the times my iPad has crashed, and I develop software on the thing for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
The software company I work for will be releasing our first Android product shortly using Adobe AIR to help with compatibility issues. If all developers go this route, the quality of software will never improve. How many reincarnations of Angry Birds can one play in a lifetime?
Surely the goal is console quality apps, not novelty platformers.
UPDATE: The final nail in the coffin for the Motorola Xoom is that like many other none US users I have been patiently waiting months for the Honeycomb 3.1 update to actually fix the bugs and make the device usable. Unfortunately Motorola seem to have gone quiet on the update front, refusing to comment or speculate as to why only the US have seen the upgrade. Meanwhile other manufacturers are rolling out the 3.1 upgrade leaving Xoom customers like myself extremely frustrated not knowing if or when an update will happen. My advice would be to give the Xoom a wide birth until we get some concrete evidence that this device is still being supported!