Hands on Motorola Xoom: Our First Impressions

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We couldn’t resist heading down to our local Big Box retailer to examine the newly released Motorola Xoom. Here’s what we found out about the worlds first Android Honeycomb tablet.

The first thing that struck me about the Xoom was how much smaller it felt than the iPad despite having roughly the same screen dimension. It has a much, much smaller border around the screen than the iPad does, and because it is 16:9 as opposed to the iPads 4:3 aspect ratio that means it looks to be only about 2/3rds as wide as the iPad in portrait orientation while still being the same height. This overall gives the iPad the impression of being noticeably larger. They are about the same thickness, but the Xoom is a bit heavier and therefore feels a bit more dense.

I only tried a few brief applications. The web browser was nice, I prefer the Xoom’s implementation of tabs more than the iPads, and it was very snappy. It was amusing that I was unable to view the official Xoom website due to the device not yet having Flash installed, but non-Flash content was very smooth and easy to navigate just as on the iPad.

The next thing I tried was maps, which was a definite improvement over the Maps interface in iOS. The maps are vector based and therefore the loading and panning experience is much smoother with far less loading.You can also use two fingers to drag up and down to change your viewing angle, giving the whole thing a Google Earth feel. I was unable, however, to get the snazzy 3D building effects seen in so many demonstrations. I tried several major cities, toggling on and off every option I could find and leaving what I thought would be enough time for the content to load. Not sure what I was missing there.

The last thing I quickly tried was the camera application, which was very responsive and the quality of the pictures seemed very nice on the screen.

The interface itself definitely has a longer learning curve than I was afforded. I never had a clear idea of what was going on in terms of how to most easily switch between apps or even in some cases just return to the home screen.

Because there are no hardware buttons, you must always rely on on-screen prompts. On most screens you have three extremely similar icons in the lower left, one of which takes you home. I never could really figure out what the other two did, one brought up a menu I couldn’t discern the purpose of and the other dismissed it.

When these buttons are not present, there is no clear way how to get back to the home screen, I ended up just kind of tapping around until it happened.

I’m sure an experienced Honeycomb user will laugh at my ineptitude, but the fact is the interface felt more complex than it needed to be to me, and in my 10-15 minutes with it some pretty simple stuff still seemed opaque. I definitely longed for my iPad’s home button, which I now sincerely hope Apple never abandons.

The device seemed very quick and extremely capable, so those with the motivation to learn the ins and outs of the interface will surely be pleased.

I would definitely not recommend it to an average, non-Geek consumer as they would likely feel even more out of sorts here than they do with a traditional computer.

For the average consumer, the iPad is still absolutely the way to go. But for serious enthusiasts who simply must have things like Flash support (soon), and a more functional home screen, this is a very capable tablet.

Want to try Motorola Xoom? Get it today from Amazon.com! It’s on sale.

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