Normally it would be hard to compose a review of a tablet computer on the same day Apple's iPad 2 is unveiled, but Motorola's Xoom, the first slate based on Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system, makes it easy.
I imagine a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into making this tablet with a 10.1-inch HD screen with 1280-by-800 resolution because I'm getting a lot of joy out of using this loaner unit from Verizon Wireless. The device weighs 1.6 pounds, and measures 9.8 inches long, 6.6 inches wide and only half an inch thick.
When Verizon began selling the Xoom Feb. 24 for $599 with a two-year contract, or $799 without a contract I was skeptical. At $20 a month for 1GB of data, that drove the cost of the Xoom to $1,040 over two years.
Who wants to add another contract when folks who buy tablets are likely already bound to a smartphone plan, or when they can get a WiFi-only iPad for $499? Sure, you can go off contract, but that's still $70 more than what you'd pay for a comparable iPad. Where was the value prop?
For me, it's in the Xoom's multitasking, which is better than on the iPad. The Xoom presentation just looks and feels better than the iPad, which I've spent a fair amount of time with. The 3D graphics, courtesy of Honeycomb's Renderscript engine, make the Xoom pop.
Some folks reading this have no doubt heard about the 3D capabilities of Google Maps 5.0 on Honeycomb. Buildings on Google Maps raise as users zoom in and tilt. Very cool. The Xoom is also preloaded with games such as Cordy and Dungeon Defenders, which look and play fantastic. And you can't go wrong with the trusty Angry Birds time waster.
Indeed, the Xoom leverages Google's fresh approach in Honeycomb, which includes lively widgets that users can drag and drop with their fingers to any one of 5 customizable homescreens. "Grid widgets" appear stacked in little quadrants, and a simple tap whisks users straight to Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and other Websites. Users may also scroll through the Google Calendar widget.
A YouTube widget offers a "stack widget," sort of like a deck of playing cards. This feature was authored by none other than Matias Duarte, whom Google lured from Palms after he designed similar technology for the mighty fine webOS.
Google's eBooks app is preloaded with access to 3 million free books, as is a music app with pre-selected songs from a variety of artists. The dual speakers on the Xoom make music clear and clean to the ear. Users may also copy music from their computers to the Xoom.