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Motorola Xoom: A Disappointing Introduction to Android 3.0

As the old saying goes, "Beauty is only skin deep." And so it is with Motorola’s new overhyped Xoom tablet featuring Android 3.0. We really wanted to like this device. The form factor sounded appealing, Android 3.0 is awesome, and dual cameras plus a dual-core processor had us chomping at the bit for a chance to try out this bad boy. It’s hard to find a new toy we don’t like, but then along comes the Xoom. It may weigh the same as an iPad, but it feels much more bulky. We personally like the form factor of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab compared to this monstrosity. And the dual core processor was a disappointment as well. We noticed very little difference in performance during our real world testing. You’re not going to hold this device with one hand for very long. It’s too heavy in all the wrong places. So we kept asking ourselves, "Where would you use it?" And the most likely places would be in bed or sitting on it’s $149 speaker dock connected to a big monitor. For both of those options, there are better solutions with an Apple TV and an iMac. The biggest fail may be the power button, positioned on the back of the unit at the exact spot most folks will use to hold the device to watch a movie.

Vaporware: 3.0 Strikes & You’re Out. We’ve saved the real Parade of Horrors for last. Motorola basically ruined the introduction of Android 3.0, designed specifically for the tablet form factor, by prematurely releasing this half-baked product. They hyped Verizon’s 4G network, but there’s not one 4G component in the device. You’ll have to send it back to Motorola for a week to get that upgrade… someday. Motorola advertised Adobe Flash support which still is the Achilles’ Heel of the iPad. But there’s no Flash to be found. Talk about ironic, you can’t view Motorola’s XOOM web site from the device. Flash, too, will be an upgrade… someday. Then there’s the non-functional microSD slot. Yep, you guessed it. Someday. Sorry, but $800++ for a prototype device is insulting. It also says something about Google’s lack of control over manufacturers. Seems to us it wouldn’t be that difficult to write a license agreement that says, if you want to use our trademarks on your device, you won’t release the product until a specified list of functions actually work. And pardon us for stating the obvious but advertising should be something more than a big pile of bullsh*t.

For those that are silly enough to buy the Xoom, there is some good news. The device was rooted in a matter of hours. So you can load all your favorite utilities and functions easily. Here’s a link to the cookbook. Be aware that rooting the device may deprive you of the ability to ever get the vaporware upgraded for 4G, Flash, and a functioning microSD slot. Of course, maybe that was the plan all along.

There are many good reviews of the Xoom and Android 3.0 if you want the usual Silicon Valley PR fluff from the folks that received the evaluation units. Start here and here. Suffice it to say, it’s a major upgrade to Android. We like the new UI; however, we’re not all that keen on the lack of buttons and particularly the placement of the Home and Back icons in the lower left corner of the screen. 90% of the world is right-handed. So why you’d position the most used screen real estate in the most difficult place to access it with your right hand while holding the device in your left hand is a real head-scratcher.

Finally, a word about data plans. In order to purchase our unit at full retail from Best Buy, we had to buy at least one month of Verizon service. In our law school days, this used to be called tying in antitrust law. Since it makes corporations extra money, it’s probably fine today. Verizon, however, has taken greed to a whole new level. And this is just for 3G service. 4G reportedly will cost a few cents more. 1GB of data will cost you $20 a month. That’s about two 4-hour car trips with a teenager using the device. 3GB of data will cost you $35, 5GB runs $50, and 10GB is a whopping $80. As a point of reference, AT&T’s 2GB data plan with equivalent 3G service is $25 for the iPad. So, yes, you’ll be using WiFi a lot thanks to the greed of Verizon and AT&T. Of course, you can’t buy a WiFi-only unit. That’ll be available someday after Verizon has gotten their initial pound of flesh. And, at least for us, WiFi performance compared with the iPad and Galaxy Tab was no great shakes. What is certain is that, with this device, you probably will want to consider tethering from a cellphone that still has an unlimited data plan unless you’re willing to give up eating lunch in order to pay your monthly Verizon bill. HINT: Read our review of the Optimus V and Virgin Mobile’s $25 a month unlimited 3G data deal. Or Sprint’s Mobile HotSpot for the HTC Evo runs $1 a day and provides unlimited 4G data at a fraction of the cost of Verizon’s 3G offerings.

Footnote: Following our return of the device and cancellation of the service, we received a bill from Verizon which included an undisclosed $35 activation fee in addition to the prorated charges for data service. AT&T charges no activation fees on iPads and other tablets. With this addition, it boosts the cost of the Motorola Xoom sufficiently to make it more costly than even the top-of-the-line iPad 2. After 30 minutes on the phone with Verizon "customer care," a supervisor finally waived the $35 fee. And you thought no company could rival AT&T’s dismal track record. Think again.

My 10-year-old daughter echoed our sentiments about the Motorola Xoom: "Thanks. I’ll keep my iPad." In case you’ve forgotten, Apple will announce a new iPad later this week, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a new processor and (working) microSD slot in addition to the oft-reported camera additions. We recommend you wait for a better alternative! There will be many, not someday, but very soon. And, indeed, there now are. See our recent article.

Originally published: Monday, February 28, 2011

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  1. Thanks for the (as they say in Maine) "wicked" review of the Xoom. Not only will consumers be hurt, but so will Motorola’s reputation (if they had one to begin with).

  2. Ward,

    My sentiments exactly. It’s a thorough review of another iPad speed bump. The current iPad is ten times better than the Xoom and I expect the iPad 2.0 to be much better.

  3. I started reading this on my Xoom and finished reading it on my PC. I honestly have no idea why how you could have come to some of your conclusions. It’s the fastest Android device I’ve used so far, and I’ve worked my way up each generation since the G1.

    The "you have to buy the data plan for 1 month" issue was proven to not be true the day before release, and in fact I did NOT have to pay for a data plan to walk out of Best Buy with the Xoom. I’m running it purely WiFi only and it’s been great.

    I do most definitely wish Flash 10.2 was already there, that the 4G was already in place should I choose to use it, and that the apparently non-functioning micro-SD card update was already in place…but I think it says something that even with these drawbacks I’m really enjoying the device.

    [WM: The Best Buy experience was exactly as described. There was no option offered to purchase the unit without Verizon activation. In fact, the device wasn’t handed over until after activation. Not quite sure what the source of your information is. As for the other shortcomings, perhaps they don’t matter to you. They did to us. But, as they say, to each his own. Enjoy your Xoom.]

  4. Too expensive, near zero native apps, forked OS, no iTunes, no, no, no.

    Really other than the supposedly fast processor and HDMI port, what does this tablet have to offer?

  5. Motorola advertised Adobe Flash support which still is the Achilles’ Heel of the iPad.

    Achilles’ Heel?! Yeah. Sure, like HTML video isn’t enough . . .

  6. Funny, I didnt have to purchase any data plan with my Xoom either….and before you ask, personal experience is my source of information.

  7. Ward, I think your experience with the data plan at Best Buy says more about Best Buy than the Xoom. Even a cursory search will show that Verizon isn’t requiring a data plan. Play hard but play fair. It’s also been announced that unlocked Xooms are eligible for the free LTE upgrade — as they should be, of course.

  8. This isn’t a review, it is bullsh*t! Verizon did wave the activation 1 week after launch…

    These features that you call vaporware are just another pro Apple rant because your site knows within 3 months these selling points will be a stumbling block for Apple. Oh and yes we have to wait for these features but the iPad 2 will never have them.

    As for the Galaxy Tab, I had that for about 3 weeks and it was not as fast as the Xoom, it wasn’t even close. The fact that you recommend the Galaxy over this is amazing because both my Galaxy Tabs crashed hard within 3 weeks and I returned it for the Xoom.

    I’m sure you will reply with arrogance because there’s no substance to anything else you have to say.

    [WM: Congrats. You’ve won the free candy bar.]

    Candy Bar

  9. Verizon also charges that activation fee on iPad’s as well. Turn 3g off, and activate again on your next trip, and if it has been over 3 months (if memory serves) you will have to pay another activation fee. If I was ever to purchase an iPad 3g, it would be the AT&T variety for exactly this reason.

    I keep rooting for someone to make a great Android tablet. Still waiting.

    Great review btw.

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