Motorola Xoom Hands-On

While not an exhaustive look, I did get to play with a Motorola Xoom today at a store. After the very heavy day of use I’ve had with the iPad 2, it was quite an interesting experience.

The first impression it made is that feels more cumbersome than the iPad 2. I’m not sure, now that I’m growing accustomed to the new form factor, if I’d have thought the same if I had been using my old iPad for the last 24 hours instead. Anyway, that’s what I thought as I picked it up.

The screen is fine. Nothing out of this world, but attractive enough. Swiping from screen-to-screen is fluid, but I was struck by how it really still felt like Android. I say that in surprise, not because it’s all that bad a thing, but because I’d read about what a significant redesign the new Honeycomb revision (3.0) is supposed to be.

I played with a few sample apps, including Gmail, the Music app, the Browser app, and a few others. The pinch-and-zoom and scrolling lag in Browser, which I noted on the Nexus S I had (with the previous Gingerbread version of Android) still persists, even with the faster hardware. This really must be a software thing if this tablet with a dual-core processor and improved graphics system still exhibits it. In fact, most of my surfing complaints outlined in that article seemed to persist on the Xoom. To be fair, I only spent a couple minutes with the browser, though it was among the very first things I checked. I did like having the more traditional tab lineup at the top of the screen, and it did seem like the UI of the browser itself had been changed quite a lot, and I liked what I saw on that front. It was quick and responsive from the point-of-view of typing a URL and having the page load and render. I’d say it seemed on par with the iPad 2 there.

Gmail is great on the tablet form factor, and appeared to have been completely redesigned for this form. It seemed smooth and seamless, as it should. Of course, I couldn’t deal with my real email load on a public device, but it really did seem well-executed at first glance.

Also much improved was the formally-abysmal Music app. I didn’t play music for long, or test the sound quality of the device, but the interface to playing music was much better than the pedestrian UI of its Gingerbread predecessor. I’d be interested to see if there’s any improvement in getting media onto the device. I’m also curious if there’s any improvement in podcast support, either in this app, or via Google Listen.

All-in-all, I’d say that it felt farther behind the iPad 2 than the Nexus S was behind the iPhone. Yes, a couple of key apps seemed improved, but it just didn’t feel like the product had been polished to a perfect sheen like the iPad does. Still, it’s good to see a real competitor on the market, and it didn’t feel quite as rushed as the articles I’ve read make out. I hope to get a longer chance to play with one again in the future.