Tablet deathmatch: Apple iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom

The Xoom gave the original iPad a strong challenge, but does the iPad 2 knock it back down?

Let's cut to the chase -- the iPad 2 that Apple just released pulls further ahead in the battle with the only real competitor on the market: the Android OS 3.0 "Honeycomb" Xoom tablet from Motorola Mobility. In our previous comparison of the first-gen iPad and the Xoom, the Xoom showed its mettle as a serious contender, beating the iPad in areas such as its inclusion of cameras and ability to mirror its video display.

The iPad 2 neutralizes the Xoom's advantages, giving the iPad an overall edge. But let's not forget that the Xoom remains a strong choice for tablet buyers -- and its approach to app widgets continues to pose an advantage over the iPad 2. A software update could further bolster the Xoom's areas of strength.eas

[ See all of InfoWorld's mobile deathmatch comparisons and personalize the tablet scores to your needs. | Compare the security and management capabilities of iOS, Windows Phone 7, Android, and more in InfoWorld's Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF report. ]

In this rematch, the winner is a clearer call: the iPad 2. But it's also evident that there are more rounds to be fought, and Apple should not take the iPad 2's superiority for granted. (If you read the original tablet deathmatch comparison, skip ahead to the sections on the Web browsers and on the tablet hardware capabilities, the two areas where the iPad 2's changes are concentrated. There are also some changes of note related to applications.)

Deathmatch: Email, calendars, and contacts
For testing these essential business functions, I used personal accounts of IMAP, POP, and Gmail along with a work account of Exchange 2007. Both devices work directly with IMAP, Gmail, and POP; my email, email folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the tablets, my laptop, and the server.

Both devices try to autodetect your settings wherever possible, and both do a good job. Setting up Exchange access on both devices was also simple. Unlike most Android devices, the Xoom supports on-device encryption, so it easily connected to our corporate server and passed its Exchange ActiveSync policies. My email, contacts, and calendars flowed into the Xoom's apps. And whereas the Motorola Atrix smartphone's convoluted set of email applications had problems sending email in some configurations, the Xoom's regular Email app allowed me to access and send my messages, as well as easily switch among accounts as needed.

Email messages. Working with emails is equivalent on the two tablets: Both use the large screen to provide common controls at all times, and both let you see a selected email without opening it when in landscape orientation. The Xoom tablet displays mail as black text on a white background (as does the iPad 2), not as white text on a black background in the manner of Android smartphones. Thus, the messages are much more readable.

In both devices, you can reply, forward, mark as unread, delete, and move messages while reading them. You can also delete and move emails to folders from the message lists. On the iPad 2, you can easily delete individual messages from the email list: Swipe to the left or right and tap Delete. On the Xoom, you long-tap (that is, tap and hold) the message to get a menu of options such as Delete and Open.

The iPad 2's email display keeps a folder or message list on the left and the message preview on the right, whereas the Xoom's display works more like Mac OS X's Columns view: If you tap an account, its folders appear at left, while the list of messages for the selected folder appear at right. If you select a message, the message list moves into the left column, and the right column becomes the message preview window. The iPad approach is more predictable, and the Xoom approach more flexible. For example, it allows you to drag a message from the list into a folder, which you can't do on an iPad because you can't see the folder and message lists simultaneously.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Web and Internet support (20.0%)
Usability (15.0%)
Application support (15.0%)
Security and management (20.0%)
Hardware (10.0%)
Business connectivity (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Apple iPad 2 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.5
Motorola Mobility Xoom 9.0 9.0 8.0 6.0 8.0 8.0 8.0
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