Motorola Xoom Launches, Promises Painstaking 4G LTE Upgrade

Motorola's Xoom launched from Verizon Wireless Feb. 24 for $599 with a two-year data deal, starting at $20 a month for 1GB of data. Will people buy it with the iPad 2 coming?

As promised, Verizon Wireless launched the Motorola Xoom tablet based on Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system Feb. 24 for $599 with a two-year contract.

The 10.1-inch, 32GB Xoom is the first tablet based on Honeycomb, which has been equipped with 3D rendering to improve performance of applications such as Google Maps and games.

The hardware is powered by a dual-core Tegra 2 1GHz processor, and sports dual cameras for video chat. The tablet, which is expected to receive an Adobe Flash upgrade next month, will also be upgradable to support Verizon's 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network later this year.

While the $600 Xoom price tag appears reasonable, the data plans, starting at $20 a month for 1GB of data, will push the cost of owning and operating the tablet to at least $1,040 over the life of the contract. The Xoom costs $799 without a contract. A WiFi-only version is expected later this year for around $600.

Alternatively, consumers can purchase a WiFi-only iPad for $500 for the 16GB WiFi version, while the comparable 32GB version of the iPad costs $729 for the WiFi+3G model. AT&T data plans start at $15 a month for 250MB.

To wit, the Xoom's contract pricing won't endear itself to consumers who expected the Xoom would cost less than the iPad.

Many prospective Xoom buyers may also take a wait-and-see approach now that they know the iPad 2 is coming. Apple is expected to unveil the new, thinner tablet with dual cameras March 2 in San Francisco.

While free, the process of upgrading the Xoom to LTE is a tad painstaking, according to this support Web page.

Verizon will give users a shipping box and prepaid FedEx envelope to send the device back to Motorola for the LTE bump, and it will take six business days from the time it's shipped. Of course, users must back up all of their data on the Xoom.

Verizon's splash page is here, though it's also available from Verizon stores and Best Buy.

eWEEK expects to get a review device soon to drill down further into the features. In the meantime, blogger/pundit Robert Scoble, who loves his iPad, has enjoyed testing the device. His take is a must read. GigaOm's Kevin Tofel offered his early account as well.