The other tablet

Ars Technica, always a reliable website, has posted its lengthy Motorola Xoom review and I’m not surprised by anything they have to say.  It’s got excellent specs on paper – far better than the iPad 2 in just about every respect. The processor is about the same but it has easily twice the RAM as the iPad.  It’s got I/O ports like micro-USB, mini-HDMI, and an SD slot.  The screen is 16:10, which is much better for watching movies than the iPad’s 4:3 display, and it boasts a higher resolution. At this point, you might be asking yourself “Why do I not have this, and why would I ever consider the iPad?” Read on.

As many of you know, the Xoom runs Google’s Android 3.0 “Honeycomb,” which is optimized for tablets rather than phones.  By all accounts, it’s a solid upgrade with background widgets, easy task switching, and good built-in apps. Good built-in apps. Since the Xoom is brand-new, there are hardly any third-party applications available for it, and phone apps simply don’t work well on a huge screen.  Don’t worry too much, I’m sure there will be at least a passable amount of software for the Xoom soon. That is, until the next greatest tablet is released, at which time the Xoom will likely become obsolete in the eyes of developers.  This happens with all tech, but much faster than usual with Android handsets.

That screen is something else – it looks great in landscape, and movies pop on the high-resolution screen.  Want to do anything else on it besides watch movies?  Prepare for some disappointment – the aspect ratio is great for films but not ideal for reading or productivity.  With such a short horizontal screen space, the keyboard takes up more room, and you can’t really turn it to portrait. Of course you can if you want to, but by all accounts it’s very awkward to hold and use.  Just look at any press shots of the Xoom and you’ll notice they’re all landscape.

Many people have lamented on how heavy the iPad is – it’s just not light enough to tote around like a Kindle.  Motorola apparently decided that big was in this year and made their tablet heavier than last year’s iPad, and substantially weightier than the iPad 2.  That’s not to say anything about the thickness, which is significant. If you don’t mind carrying a rather pudgy tablet in order to get those killer specs, go for it.  I also find it hilarious that the ports have transparent plastic protectors in them – it’s like a netbook all over again.

So the bottom line is this – if you prioritize raw power and flexibility over design, polish, and ease-of-use, go for the Xoom.  Right now, it’s by far the most capable (in theory) tablet, but the iPad trumps it in actual use.  Without software, the Xoom can only hum menacingly to itself, and its thick body limits its portability.  Wasn’t that the point of a tablet anyway?

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