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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hardware: Xoom Review

I picked up a Xoom last week to expand my development options. Since I've already got a dual booted MacBook and an iPhone, the Xoom neatly rounds out both tablet and Android projects.

I had a tweet recently knocking the pricing and Verizon's fee to enable WiFi. The former turned out to be about $400 less than had been rumored, and I know it isn't a common opinion - but I think it's actually slightly competitive. More expensive than the iPad, but also more powerful ... the real problem is that the WiFi only version isn't out yet and Verizon needlessly tacks on another $20 to get you on their network.

It will be interesting to see how it sells. Most reviews have been positive, but most also mention that a certain company based in Cupertino might be making an announcement soon. Still, the Best Buy I went to said nearly every unit had been pre-ordered.

Pricing aside, let's take a quick gander.

The Good
Firstly, it really is a well put together device. It feels solid, has a hefty feel without feeling like you have to start lifting weights to carry it. The size is a great intersection of space and yet feeling comfortable. You get a mini USB, a mini HDMI, AC and headphone outlets out of the box - for some reason the microSD slot is disabled at the moment, but promises another storage option down the road.

For some people, the real attraction will be Honeycomb, Android's first real tablet OS. Combined with the Xoom's hardware, the OS really does sing. While the screen isn't quite as sharp as the iPhone's Retina display, browsing and email feels nearly akin to using a laptop. The UI has some quirks, but in general is very friendly and feature rich.

And from a development point of view, I compiled a quick AIR Hello World app and deployed it to the device effortlessly. Compared to iOS development, with the wrangling of certs and provisioning devices - it's simply night and day. Android is a very developer friendly OS, Honeycomb is well suited to tablets, and this tablet has some great hardware. In short - it's a very attractive device to develop with.

The Not So Good
Hardware wise, probably the only miss are the speakers, which carry too much vibration at louder volumes. They're fine for system sounds and listening to things around the medium range.

Also I found the cradle oddly difficult to work with - hard to determine where the connecting ports were.

Sadly, there's random bugs here and there. Widgets seem to occasionally take dirt naps if they require online connectivity. I've had a couple of browser crashes. Probably the most odd: I had the Xoom emit a strange hum if it was on the cradle and a system notification sound went off. There's no deal breakers and in general the experience doesn't feel overtly buggy - but you do get the impression that maybe some things still need a few round of testing.

The difference between the iTunes platform and not having the iTunes platform is palatable. Apple has made it so easy to purchase and consume media - Google and/or Amazon really need to take notes.

The Bad
If there's any real crime here, it's the fact that the device is sufficiently powerful with a well designed OS ... and yet there's so little content that even approaches showcasing the device. A couple impressive games have hit, and Google Earth is always a crowd pleaser ... but there's only a handful of apps really designed for the tablet screen and less that really take advantage of the hardware and software features.

Probably the two biggest criminals here are Facebook and Twitter. I find it rather astonishing that Pulse could take an app and so well adapt it to device for launch, and yet two of the most popular websites in the world cough up the same UI for phones.

Or in other words...
Having a Xoom right now is a bit like owning a Porsche that you can only drive in a parking lot. There's nothing about the hardware or software that I think is really a strike, or at least nothing which seems significant in a sea of positives. It really reminds me of the early days of the iPhone, when the App Store was first getting under way and development was still fresh. It's like that but - but imagine if Apple had started with the iPhone 4.

That might, and likely will, change quickly over the next few months. I feel I can recommend the device, but I understand why all these reviews mention that the iPad 2 is likely to be announced soon. There isn't so much of a mobile landscape right now as a tsunami, and the only thing that is really certain is that it's going to be an interesting year. With just device alone, we're going to get Flash and an AIR update soon, 4G compatibility and ... hopefully better apps.