Months ago, Verizon sent me a Motorola Xoom to review. I’ll be honest. I avoided writing it. Not because I wanted to keep the Xoom longer, but because I really didn’t like it.
I’ve become adjusted, rather quickly I suppose, to a certain design aesthetic. Blame Apple or HTC, but I’ve come to expect a certain slickness, perhaps the tablet version of a race horse, in my phones and my tablets. I expect simple and beautiful and fast.
Off the top, the Xoom gave me none of this. It’s heavy, and the very hardware encourages landscape only use. I had a hard time finding the power button.
Does that give you pause?
I took it to a conference full of smart people in the learning and instructional design industry. None of them could find the power button either. While that helped my ego, it certainly doesn’t say much for the industrial design of the Xoom. And perhaps that is where my first complaint lies: the design is industrial. It is not friendly and simple, but cold and complex. The Xoom adheres to the Droid moniker; more Asimov than Number 5. (The power button, by the way, is on the back left, near the lens and the flash.)
The Xoom is fast; I certainly can’t argue that. A dual-core processor sitting in the palm of my hand … I know. Your iPad 2 has that as well. Verizon’s highly touted 4G network? You can send the Xoom away and Motorola will upgrade it to the 4G LTE network and send it back to you, but it’s not ready yet. The Xoom feels rushed. It feels as though quality and design were sacrificed to be on the market before the iPad 2 arrived and stole the show, took away everyone’s attention. With Android v 3.0, the Xoom felt half-baked.
I held onto this Xoom for far too long, mainly so that I could test drive the 3.1 update. I have to admit, the update makes a difference. Whereas with 3.0, I was unable to make the Xoom talk to my Macbook Pro, I now have no trouble. This means I am now capable of adding photos and videos on the Xoom. The 3.1 update improved the navigation, making things snappier. It brought Google Music Beta with it, instantly pulling all my music onto the device. The 3.1 upgrade, overall, made this a much more stable machine. It no longer crashes constantly. The App store and Facebook both run now without imploding. Version 3.1 is a very good thing.
But why did we have to get an update? Shouldn’t it have run this well out of the gate?
If you’re accustomed to an Android phone, you’ll need about two days to adapt to the design of Honeycomb. The tablet OS is a major departure from what you’ve experienced in your pocket for the last year. Those changes have a ripple effect on the hardware, and is why you probably won’t see the adorable original Samsung Galaxy tab upgrading to Honeycomb.
On the bottom left, you’ll find the back, home, and navigation buttons. Basically, the navigation button launches a strip through which you can view all of your open apps. (Android v3.1 made this strip scrollable.) But here is where it gets funky. A small button usually (but not always) in the top right of your apps gives you the settings for that app. Sometimes that button is elsewhere. There is no standardization. No single menu button for developers to access. Device settings are found in the bottom right, but the real settings are three taps in. Accessing your apps also requires multiple taps. It’s not intuitive. Nothing is where you expect it to be. Perhaps the trick is to go in with no expectations whatsoever. I’m human, however, and I admit my experiences with other tablets, and Android phones, influenced my expectations and interactions with the Xoom.
I don’t dislike everything about the Xoom. The integration of widgets and redesign of the Android Market are gorgeous. The transition animations and small design considerations, like drop shadows, make the user interface lovely to view. The 10.1 inch, 1280×800 screen is beautiful. And the battery life? Even with 3G on all of the time, I get several days out of this. I spent one day, trapped in the backseat of a car, sitting in traffic and trying to get home from Chicago. On my 9-hour traffic ordeal, the Xoom did not fail me. I’d have been lost without it and I never once dropped Verizon’s 3G service while I heavily accessed Skype, Facebook, and email.
Aside from the design, my biggest problem with the Xoom isn’t really the fault of the tablet. There simply aren’t enough apps out there. An advantage the smaller, non-Honeycomb Galaxy has is that phone apps aren’t awful on it’s smaller screen. But a phone app looks terrible on the Xoom; there is simply no way around it. The screen is too large, too pretty, and your typical phone app isn’t able to adapt. Just like with the iPad, many of the apps need to be re-written, both for Honeycomb compatibility and for screen size. Even with the release of 3.1, there just aren’t enough apps available.
I wanted so badly to love this tablet. I was predisposed to loving this tablet, being a bit of an Android geek. But I just can’t. My recommendation, and my apologies to the nice folks at Verizon who have been ever so patient with me, is to wait. Wait until the app market expands. Wait until there is a tablet with a lighter, easily accessible design.
One of the things I hate most in this world is wasted potential. The Xoom has a lot of untapped potential, but I don’t know if it will ever get to where it needs to be in order to compete. It’s one of the perils of being first on the market. There is always something better, shinier, coming up behind you, having learned from your mistakes.
Michelle Lentz is a freelance writer, trainer and instructional designer with a serious need for the latest and greatest gadgets. When she has time, she tries to be a wine blogger, although it may just be an excuse for free wine. She currently lives in Cincinnati but has definite designs on the Bay area.
My thanks to my friend Bryan at the Gadgeteer for the screenshot above.