Photo: Steve Kovach, The Business Insider
For the last week I haven’t touched my iPad. Which was hard to do, considering I use it more than my laptop.Instead, I went with the Xoom, the first Android Honeycomb tablet, and easily the best answer anyone has been able to come up with for the iPad.
Right off the bat I’ll say there’s a lot I liked about the Xoom. But would I choose one over my iPad? Probably not. Would I choose one over the super-thin iPad 2? Not a chance.
It’s not a hardware issue. The Xoom has impressive specs on paper and performs very well. The real problem with the Xoom is the user experience on Honeycomb.
Here’s what I thought.
Honeycomb: The Bad
After spending all this time with the Xoom, I feel like Honeycomb has a lot of potential. But right now it’s unpolished and clunky.
There’s a steep learning curve with Honeycomb. I like the fact that the Xoom doesn’t have physical buttons on the front, but Honeycomb’s navigation is difficult to learn. Nothing is clearly labelled except for the “Apps” button at the top, so you have to play around a bit to figure out what everything does.
The Android Market is tough to use too, just like it is on Android phones. I had a hard time finding apps that were designed for Honeycomb (not all are clearly marked), and sometimes it took me multiple tries to get an app to download and install.
Once, when I attempted to download Angry Birds from the Market, Twitter launched instead. Ridiculous.
Honeycomb is also missing a library of apps optimised for the tablet. There are only about 100 right now, and only a small handful of those are worth downloading. And some of those, like Flixster and AccuWeather, are buggy and crash a lot. (AccuWeather barely works at all).
I had mixed results with the web browser. I love that Google included tabs, which is something the iPad still lacks. Switching between tabs is snappy, and it’s easy to add new ones. However, many sites I visited reverted to the mobile version, which was annoying considering those same sites display the full version on the iPad.
Other sites crashed either crashed the browser or wouldn’t display properly. I especially had a lot of trouble getting photos and other multimedia to load on New York Times.
Flash is still missing from the Xoom, although Motorola says an update with it is coming soon. In the meantime, I ran into a lot of problems playing embedded video. For now, you’re stuck watching video with the YouTube app.
A huge thing Honeycomb is missing is a way to download or stream content. There’s no Netflix or Hulu app (yet), and no online store like Amazon Video On Demand where you can get TV shows or movies. I’m sure Samsung’s Galaxy 10.1 tab will ship with its Media Hub service, but that doesn’t do much good for people using other Honeycomb tablets.
Google needs to find an answer to that problem soon.
Honeycomb: The Good
There are some things I did like about Honeycomb. The notifications are excellent. Whenever you get a new e-mail or Twitter message, a tiny box pops up in the bottom right corner with a preview. Just tap to open. It’s not intrusive at all, unlike the badge notification system in iOS.
Google Talk and Gmail are also great on Honeycomb. With Google talk, we finally have a video chat app that can work flawlessly between tablets and desktops, much like Apple’s Facetime does now. If Google Talk gets the same update on all Android and iOS devices, Facetime won’t stand a chance.
The new Gmail app has a simple and appealing design. Everything is synced with the web version, and your inbox stays neat and organised with all your original labels, stars, and threaded conversations.
My favourite feature of Honeycomb is the fully-customisable home screen. You can set up apps and widgets any way they’ll fit. The widgets are especially useful for real-time updates to your Gmail inbox, weather, Twitter, and RSS feeds. This will only get better as more developers write new widgets for Honeycomb.
Overall Honeycomb just feels “almost there.” I think after a few more months, developers will have cranked out new apps and Google will have had time to patch up any bugs.
I really like the Xoom’s overall design and feel. The screen ratio encourages you to hold it in landscape view. I thought I wouldn’t like that at first, but it definitely grew on me. It’s heavy, but the curved backing distributes the weight nicely. I never got tired holding it.
The screen isn’t nearly as bright as I’d like it to be. As I mentioned in my first impressions of the Xoom, even when I had the brightness cranked all the way, I still wanted more. But it was good enough for watching video.
The unit I tested came with Verizon’s 3G data service, which was excellent. Web pages loaded quickly, and I never lost a connection, no matter where I was. Verizon will be offering a 4G upgrade in about two months, but you’ll have to send your device in for about a week to get it.
I think the 3G service is more than good enough. It’s cheaper and a lot less hassle.
The camera, one of the Xoom’s biggest selling points, is a complete dud. Check out the video I took here if you nee proof. Video capture freezes or jerks around to the point where it’s almost laughable.
Cost could be a real killer for the Xoom. Right now the 32 GB 3G version is selling for $800 without a contract. That’s $70 more than the the 32 GB 3G iPad 2.
You can get the same model for $600 if you sign a two-year contract with Verizon, but then you’re locked in to paying for a data plan of at least $20 per month for just 1 GB of data.
Should You Buy It?
My short answer: No.
My long answer: Don’t buy the Xoom unless you really, really don’t like Apple products. The iPad is a better value with a much better user experience, more apps, and a huge library of content available to you through iTunes.
The Xoom is good, but it’s only half way there.