Let’s face it; Apple currently dominates the tablet world and it’s about time it had some competition. Some analysts claim Apple will continue to do so until at least 2015, and so far Samsung and the others haven’t made much of an impact.
The first Galaxy Tab, and the many low-cost tablets, have merely given Apple ample ammunition to use against Android.
But, even Apple’s iPad is in many respects little more than an iPhone or iPod touch blown up, so the tables may have turned now Google has launched the new Android Honeycomb operating system specifically with tablets in mind.
At least that is the theory, as it is still early days and Motorola’s XOOM may struggle to be accepted when it is carrying the flag for Honeycomb single handedly for now. This is because Google chose Motorola to produce the XOOM as its ‘reference device’, to not only showcase the OS to the public, but also developers who get to buy something real to work on.
This is fine, and Motorola will no doubt sell many XOOM’s to developers as a result, but the OS still doesn’t look completely finished. Whereas Apple waits until it gets everything just right, Google likes to give people access to things in advance. Remember how long Google Mail was in beta, along with many other services that still are? If you don’t mind being an unofficial tester, you’ll not be put off but many will.
The tablet itself looks like any other tablet from the front, with only the Motorola text to enable you to tell it apart from other tablets, Apple excepted. On the rear, you’ll find a simple Motorola logo in the middle and a 5-megapixel camera (with dual-LED lamp) above. It’s quite an increase on the 0.7-megapixel sensor on the iPad 2, but you’re very unlikely to want to take photos with something of this size.
A camera can fit in the ‘nice thing to have for a rainy day’ box, then.
The XOOM also has stereo speakers on the back, which are very loud in use, plus a power button that is easy to press with your index finger when held as Motorola would expect you to hold the tablet – firmly and with both hands.
At the top of the XOOM is a 3.5mm headphone jack, while at the base of the tablet are a few different sockets. I initially made the mistake of assuming that the micro-USB socket allowed you to charge the device. With most tablets having proprietary connectors, I was very pleased that I could use the many chargers and USB leads I have accumulated in the last year or two.
Sadly, you can only use the USB socket for transferring data. For charging, you’ll need to use a separate, higher-power, mini-DC cable that fits in further along. For travelling, this means you’ll need to pack a separate power supply or invest in a second travel charger. Suddenly, I’m not so excited.
In addition to these sockets, there’s also a connector to allow you to hook the XOOM up to your HD TV. The Motorola doesn’t use the new MHL connector standard which combines the ability to carry HD video and audio with a cable that fits a micro-USB socket, nor does it come with the separate HD cable in the box.
Honeycomb may look substantially different, but it can still run almost every app designed for existing Android smartphones. That means plenty of apps to choose from, but – just like the iPad scaling up iPhone apps – the results may not be too pleasing on the eye.