Monday, May 9, 2011

Motorola Xoom: quick, in-store review:

I know this is basically old news now, but I've had this video stored in my phone for over a month, and it was time to finally do something with it.

Hanging out in one of my favorite electronics retail stores, I finally got to play with the introductory Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" tablet—the Motorola Xoom. After using it for a while, I can definitely understand the excitement surrounding the product, especially for people already using Android or who are just all-round, good ol' geeks. But it still has a lot of catching-up to do before it can truly be as mainstream and as competitive as the iPad 2. However, if you are intentionally looking up Xoom reviews, then you are most likely already a supergeek like me and will probably love it anyway.

Quite simply, the interface is really, really "geeky." It's kind of like a Star Trek fan's wet-dream, with all kinds of buttons, sliders and controls galore. Or, if you prefer, probably a better comparison would be to the holographic-looking controls of the computer systems in the Matrix trilogy (remember that crazy white control room in The Matrix: Revolutions?). Either way, it's not inherently bad, but considering that this is Google's answer to the iPad makes it a little silly. I say that, because I doubt the general public and target market, which includes kids and grandparents, will want much to do with this if they perceive it as too "techy." That is something that the iPad has going for it, and Apple knows it quite well. And my little sister knows it too. At 8 years old, she uses an iPad with ease, and only on a few occasions has she ever asked for my help to figure something out. Just being as honest as possible, the Xoom, though extremely powerful and harnessing limitless potential, can and will be hard to satisfy such a dynamic range of consumers in the market for which this is to compete.

The biggest complaint I had is the color scheming of the OS and most applications. As is common with Android, almost everything is white text on a black background. And if having a glossy screen wasn't already bad enough, now everything glares so horribly that you constantly have a mirror image of yourself as you use it. Let me just say, this is a real misstep that is easily rectified. I mean, one of the first things taught in design classes is to avoid white-on-black as much as possible. It looks bad. It's hard to read. And here it permeates throughout most of the OS.

Other considerations:
I love Android's multitasking and notifications system, although I thought all the system functions in the little tray menu on the bottom seemed a little confusing. The widgets I thought also may be too small on the home screen, and although the user can customize how it looks, too many widgets can easily make everything really cramped and nearly useless when too much information is laid out in view.

The app selection from the Android Marketplace is ever-increasing, and it includes apps for most of the functions you could want in a phone. Obviously, it will take a little more time to get the types of more immersive app experiences made possible by the higher-resolution screen. Some estimates peg the selection of tablet-specfic apps to around 100. But beyond just numbers, one should hope for and expect some developers to come around and develop something that can compete with Apple's new apps iMovie and GarageBand for iPad. Just as Apple has set to making its own highly developed app experiences, I wonder if Google has anything like that up its sleeve. But, when you think about it, Apple has a long history of music and media appliction development. Google just kinda does web stuff. Not bad—that awesome native Gmail client on the Xoom—but it may be a long while before GarageBand has any competition on the Android side of world.

There are some excellent design decisions in this form. It was made to directly compete with the original iPad, which it does quite well. On the spec sheet, the Xoom seems to win: front and back cameras, a dual core processor, larger screen resolution, and a competitive battery life and app selection. But then there is the iPad 2, which kind of sucks the air right out of that spec sheet and makes it a level playing field. The only thing left to really differentiate the Xoom depends on Google and its Android tablet operating system. Honeycomb, as it stands today, has been said to be in a public beta-like mode of development, as Google has even hesitated to release its source code, thought to be for reasons of untidiness underneath the hood. In a rush to get the product to market, Android 3.0 needs to be around 3.5 in terms of manufacturer expectations and feature set and use to really appeal to the widest audience possible.

All in all—it's good, it's powerful, but your grandmother will scoff at it.

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