As Apple prepares to ship its iPad 2, the first viable Android competitor packs a punch
Apple's iPad singlehandedly created a new form of computing in 2010 and, in the process, launched the year of the tablet. Not coincidentally, 2011 is the year that everyone else is trying to catch up -- while Apple is moving its iPad to the next level.
But the next-gen iPad isn't yet on the market. Today, it's still a competition between the original iPad and the recently shipped Xoom from Motorola Mobility. The Xoom is the first Google Android-based tablet that has a 10-inch screen like the iPad and, more important, uses the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" OS. (Earlier Android tablets, such as the so-so Samsung Galaxy Tab, used the smartphone-oriented Android "Froyo" 2.2 instead.)
[ 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. ]
How do the iPad and Xoom compare? I put both through their paces for a few weeks to find out. Follow me as I walk through their key capabilities and compare them. I also point out any changes promised in the new iPad, in case you're waiting until it's available to make a decision.
As you'll see, the Xoom is a credible competitor to the iPad, even exceeding it in some areas. But it has odd omissions and flaws that Android smartphones do not, making me wonder if the tablet and smartphone teams at Google and Motorola Mobility ever compare notes. It definitely feels as if the Xoom were rushed to market to reach stores before Apple's new iPad announcement.
Deathmatch: Email, calendars, and contacts
For testing these essential business functions, I used a personal IMAP account, a personal POP account, a personal Gmail account, and a work Exchange 2007 account. 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 unlike the Motorola Atrix smartphone's convoluted set of email applications and difficulties sending email accounts in some configurations, the Xoom's regular Email app allowed me to access and send my messages and 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), not as white text on a black background in the manner of Android smartphones; the messages are thus 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, you can easily delete individual messages from the email list: Swipe to the left or right and tap Delete on the iPhone. 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'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.
Where the Xoom stumbles is in not retaining the subfolder relationships in Exchange, instead displaying all folders and subfolders in one big list. Well, not all -- some of my Exchange subfolders went missing. In IMAP accounts, you also get a big folders list, but at least the IMAP list displays the parent folder as part of the subfolder name (such as InfoWorld/Newsletters and InfoWorld/Authors) so that you have a clue to the original hierarchy. (Oddly, Motorola's Atrix smartphone does display IMAP folder hierarchies visually.) Also for IMAP accounts, the Xoom doesn't display your junk folders, so you can't scan for misflagged emails as you would on the iPad.
In a stupendous omission, the Xoom has no facility for searching emails. In fact, there's no systemwide Search button on the Xoom as there are on all Android smartphones such as Motorola's own Atrix. By contrast, the iPad displays the search box at the top of the message list and lets you constrain your search to the To, From, or Subject fields.
Getting to the top of your email list isn't so obvious on the iPad, though it is easy: Tap the top of the screen. On the Xoom, there is no fast-jump capability -- although you can find it on Android smartphones such as the Atrix.
In general, Android devices favor small text that is hard to read for my middle-aged eyes, and there are few controls to ameliorate their youth-oriented design. The iPad lets you specify very readable sizes for the text in its Settings app. The Xoom provides zoom controls at the bottom of your email window, but they appear only if you begin scrolling through the message. However, the zoom settings are retained for your other emails (except -- and unlike the iPad -- where the email's HTML formatting specifies a fixed size, which overrules your preferences).
Email management. Both devices support multiple accounts and universal inboxes. I prefer the way the Xoom navigates among email accounts: Just tap the account name at the top left of the Email app and a pull-down menu appears listing each account and the Combined Account, which shows a universal inbox. The iPad too has a universal inbox, as well as an inbox for each active account. Below the inboxes are a list of accounts that when opened show all the folders for that account in a nice hierarchical display. I don't think the iPad needs the two lists; the universal inbox followed by the individual accounts would be just as easy and less cluttered. This is a case where the Xoom's UI surpasses that of the iPad.
The Xoom does separate Google email into the separate Gmail app -- a longtime Android OS behavior imposed by Google. Although you must have a Google account to use the Xoom, you don't have to use Gmail if you don't want to.
The iPad has a message threading capability, which organizes your emails based on subject; you click an icon to the left of a message header to see the related messages. That adds more clicks to go through messages, but at least finding the messages is substantially easier. (The iPad's iOS 4 lets you disable threading if you don't like it.) The Xoom has no equivalent. Instead, it lets you flag emails, then see all flagged emails via the virtual Starred folder.
Using the basic version of Quickoffice included with the tablet, the Xoom can open PDF files, images, and Office files; after tapping the Attachments link, you get a list of attachments and an option to view or save each one. The iPad's native QuickLook viewer handles a nice range of formats, and it opens attachments with one tap (downloading them if needed at the same time). Of course, on either device, to edit those files you'll need an office app such as Quickoffice Mobile Connect Suite or Documents to Go Premium. The iPad doesn't open Zip files unless you get a third-party app such as the $1 ZipThat. Neither does the Xoom, even though opening Zip files is a standard capability on Android smartphones.
Both the iPad and Xoom remember the email addresses of senders you reply to, adding them to a database of contacts that they look up automatically as you tap characters into the To and Cc fields. Both devices let you add email addresses to your contacts list, either by tapping them (on the iPad) or long-tapping them (on the Xoom).
Contacts and calendars. Both the iPad and Xoom offer three of the same calendar views: day, week, and month. But only the iPad supports the list (agenda) view. Moving among months is easy on both, as is shifting between weeks on the Xoom, and both can display multiple calendars simultaneously. The iPad makes it slightly easier to switch through week or month views, thanks to on-screen buttons and sliders -- but this is a minor advantage. The two devices also have comparable recurring-event capabilities.
Both the Xoom and iPad can send invitations to others as you add appointments, but whereas the iPad invitations are sent immediately, the Xoom invitations take tens of minutes to show up. On the iPad, your invitations for Exchange accounts show up in your calendar as a pop-up; you can accept them there within the full context of your other appointments. For both Exchange and other email accounts, you can open the .ics invitation files in Mail, then add them to the calendar of your choice. On the Xoom, the Calendar app automatically adds Exchange invitations to your calendar with Maybe status, which is not apparent until you open the appointment. You can open Exchange invitations in the Email app, as well as accept or decline the invitation. But you can't open .ics invitations sent to POP or IMAP accounts.
Both the iPad and the Xoom have capable Contacts apps, but it's easier to navigate through your entries on the iPad. You can jump to names by tapping a letter, such as "T" to get to people whose last names begin with "T," or search quickly for someone in the Search field by tapping part of the name. On the Xoom, a blue box appears to the side of the contacts list as you begin scrolling, and if you drag it, you can scroll through the letters of the alphabet to find the contact you seek. It's not as simple as the iPad approach, and its "secret handshake" nature means many users won't know it exists.
On the iPad, to search your contacts, drag up above the first contact to reveal the Search box. On the Xoom, you can search your contacts if you click the Search button. You can also designate users as favorites, to put them in a shorter Favorites list. The iPad has no similar favorites capability.
The iPad supports email groups, but you can't create them on the iPad; they must be synced from your computer's contacts application. And you can't pick a group in the iPad's Mail address fields. Instead, you select a group, then open it up to select just one member, repeating this step to add more names. It's a really dumb approach to groups. The Xoom both supports groups and lets you create them, though the process is unintuitive: When you add or edit a contact, there's a field in which you can select or create a group. You can't start by creating a group and then adding contacts to it; instead you have to go to each contact in turn. Also, the groups capability is not available for Exchange-based contacts. And you can't send email to groups, so it's not a feature that has much value.
The winner: The iPad, thanks to its more capable email and calendar capabilities. The Xoom's lack of email search and its awkward folder handling are surprising flaws that should not exist.
The native apps are comparable on the two devices, providing email, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, browser, a music player, a YouTube player, a notepad app, and SMS messaging. (The Xoom provides a third-party notes app, filling a hole in the standard Android app suite.)
But the Xoom also includes the standard (still beta) Android Navigation app, which speaks directions as you navigate, as well as provides an on-screen live map and written step-by-step directions. The iPad's Maps app has comparable on-screen navigation capabilities but does not speak them as you drive. The Xoom comes with several apps not found on the iPad, including the Calculator and two apps that take advantage of the Xoom's camera: Camera and Movie Maker. (The iPad doesn't have a camera, though the forthcoming iPad 2 will.) Neither tablet has apps for weather or social networking, though the Xoom comes with the Google Talk instant messaging app.
Neither device supports Flash Player, though Adobe continues to promise it for the Xoom "in a few weeks." There of course won't be a Flash Player for the iPad due to Apple's prohibition.
Right now, the real issue with the Xoom is the scarcity of available apps. Longtime stand-by apps such as the New York Times' aren't available yet, while other established apps such as USA Today's don't run on the Xoom, though it can be downloaded. The few apps that are on the market don't really take advantage of the Xoom's larger screen; Amazon.com's Kindle app, for example, displays one too-wide-to-read page when in landscape orientation rather than two facing pages as on the iPad. The Xoom doesn't display such legacy apps in a smartphone-sized window, as the iPad does, to clue you in. Additionally, I haven't found apps that auto-adjust their display and capabilities depending on whether they're running on a smartphone or tablet -- a feature that has quickly become very common in the iOS world.
The Xoom and other Android tablets will need a better stable of apps to foster the addiction that iPad users exhibit with their tablets. So far, there are just 16 such apps in the Android Market. They show some of the promise of the tablet form factor, but none is exceptional.
App stores and app installation. There are tens of thousands of apps for the iPad's iOS, from games to scientific visualization tools. Sure, there's a lot of junk, but you'll find many useful apps as well. Android doesn't have anywhere near the same library of apps as iOS, but its smartphone-oriented apps portfolio is now in the thousands and growing, with many relevant apps such as Quickoffice, for which the Xoom includes a basic version with limited creation and editing capabilities. I often find that iOS apps are more capable than their Android equivalents (such as the Kindle app) -- but not always (Angry Birds, for example).
Both the Apple App Store and Google Android Market separate iPad apps from smartphone apps, simplifying the search for appropriate titles. The Apple store also indicates which apps auto-adjust for the iPhone and iPad, so you know they can be run on both devices and appear native on each.
Unlike Apple's App Store, the Android Market is not curated; developers will have an easier time getting their apps listed, but the market also lets cyber thieves create phishing apps that masquerade as banking programs or other apps and steal user information. Apple's App Store seems to be less at risk to such Trojans. The Android Market is also slower to load than the App Store and not as easy to navigate within the app details.
You don't have to use the Android Market to get apps on the Xoom. If you want to get down and dirty, you can configure the Android OS's application settings to install software from other sources.
Installation is similar: After selecting an app, you confirm your store account information and wait for the app to download and install. Both mobile OSes let you know if you have updates available. On the iPad, the App Store indicates the number of available updates. On the Xoom, available updates are displayed in the notifications pop-up at the bottom left of the screen.
The Xoom uses the Android Market to remember your paid apps (but not your free ones) and a separate sync utility for handling media files transferred from your PC, but in this regard, it's no match for the iPad. Thanks to its reliance on iTunes as its command center for managing media, apps, and documents, the iPad makes it much easier to manage your device's content. If you get a new phone, it's a snap on iTunes to get the new one up and running with the same assets as before; there's no such easy way to transfer the assets to a Xoom from a previous device.
App management. The iPad has a simpler app management process. For example, it's easy to arrange your home screens to cluster applications both on your iPad and on your desktop via iTunes; you can also put them in your own folders. Just tap and hold any app to invoke the "shaking apps" status, in which you can drag apps wherever you want, or tap the X icon to delete them (press the Home button when done to exit that mode). You can also arrange and delete apps using iTunes on your desktop.
Like all Android smartphones, the Xoom lets you drag apps to any of its home screens, which appear in preview mode below the apps matrix. (Unlike with Android smartphones, you cannot long-tap an app to move it to the current home screen.) The full list of programs is available in the apps page, which you access by tapping the Apps button at the upper right of any home screen. But the Xoom has no groups capability for presenting apps, and you can't rearrange the roster in the apps page -- just in the home screens.
The Xoom supports the Android OS's widgets feature. Widgets are mini apps that you can place on the home screens. Widgets can be very helpful, showing the latest email message or Facebook update or the current time in a large clock. Thus, you can see at a glance the current status of whatever you want to easily track -- one of Android's superior UI capabilities. The iPad has no equivalent capability. The Xoom, like other Android devices, has pop-up notifications that make it easy to see if you have new email or other alerts, whatever you happen to be doing. Alerts appear in the lower right of your screen -- not at the top as in Android smartphones. Again, the iPad has no equivalent.
Multitasking. The iPad's iOS 4 supports multitasking if enabled in the apps themselves; Apple has made specific background services available for multitasking, rather than let each app run full-on in parallel, as on a PC. As you switch iOS apps, they suspend, except for their multitasking-enabled services, which conserves memory and aids performance. By contrast, Android supports full multitasking, whereby default apps continue to run in the background when you take care of other duties. From a usage point of view, these differences aren't apparent; on both devices, apps appear to multitask the same.
The major difference related to multitasking is the UI for switching among apps. On the iPad, a double-click on the Home button pulls up a list of active apps; it's easy to see what's running and switch among them. On the Xoom, a new persistent menu icon provides access to all running apps at any time, and it even shows a preview window of what the apps are currently doing (like Mac OS X and Windows 7 do in their taskbars).
The winner: The iPad, mainly because there are so few tablet apps available for the Xoom. But the widgets and notifications capabilities of the Xoom's Android OS are very handy, and you feel their omission on an iPad after you've used an Android device for a while. Plus, the Xoom's ability to show all running apps and what they're doing is a really nice feature the iPad can't match.
Deathmatch: Web and Internet
Both Apple and Google are strong forces behind HTML5 and other modern browser technologies, so it's no surprise that the iPad and Xoom both offer capable Web browsers. Note that neither is as HTML5-savvy as their desktop versions, however. Based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, the Xoom's mobile Chrome racked up 195 out of 300 (better than Android smartphones' 176) points, versus 242 for desktop Chrome (version 9.05), and the iPad's mobile Safari scored 196 versus 208 for desktop Safari (version 5.03). Tests by mobile IDE developer Sencha suggest that the Xoom browser is inferior even in HTML4 display compared to the iPad's; I didn't notice a qualitative difference other than greater font support on the iPad in my admittedly subjective browsing.
The main differences between the iPad and Xoom browsers are cosmetic. Both browsers have persistent buttons or fields for Back, Forward, Bookmarks, Refresh, and navigating tabbed panes. The Xoom's browser shows a row of tabs at the top for each open browser window, whereas the iPad displays a button showing how many windows are open; tapping it opens a screen that previews all open windows. The Xoom automatically opens a (cached) Google search page when you bring up a new tab. The iPad opens a blank window instead.
Both browsers can share pages via email, but the operation is faster on the iPad, which also lets you print the page to a wireless printer (either to an AirPrint-compatible printer or to a local wireless printer connected via one of the many printing apps available for the iPad). But the iPad's separate Search and URL boxes are less convenient than the Xoom's unified URL and Search box; you have to be sure to tap the right box on the iPad. The Xoom also has a separate search control, if you prefer.
Unlike Android smartphones, the Xoom's touch keyboard offers a .com button -- like the iPad and iPhone -- when entering URLs, which is a significant timesaver.
Both browsers let you select text and graphics on Web pages, but only the iPad lets you copy graphics. The Xoom can save graphics to the tablet's local storage. The iPad can save images to its Photos app.
Using the cloud-based Google Docs on either device is not a pleasant experience. It's barely possible to edit a spreadsheet; the most you can do is select and add rows, as well as edit the contents of individual cells. You can edit a text document but only awkwardly, and although you can edit appointments in Google Calendar, you're restricted to day and month views (no week or agenda views). Partly, that's because Google hasn't figured out an effective mobile interface for these Web apps; the Safari and Chrome browsers are simply dealing with what Google presents, rather than working through a mobile-friendly front end. It's also because the mobile Safari and Chrome browsers don't support all the capabilities
their desktop counterparts do.
The winner: A tie, despite the iPad's slight advantage in being able to copy Web images and print Web pages.
Deathmatch: Location support
Both the iPad and the Xoom support GPS location, and both can triangulate location based on Wi-Fi signals. As noted earlier, the Xoom's beta Navigation app is better than the iPad's Maps app when it comes to directions while driving.
Although both the iPad and the Xoom ask for permission to work with your location information, the Xoom does not provide controllable settings for location use by the device or individual applications, as the iPad does.
The winner: The Xoom, for its better navigation app.
Deathmatch: User interface
It's often a throwaway comment that Apple's UIs are better than everyone else's, though it's not always true, as evidenced by the MobileMe service. But the iPad's iOS 4 is in fact a better-designed UI in many respects, allowing easier and faster access to the device's capabilities and information. Where the Xoom's Android 3.0 OS outshines the iPad in terms of UI is through its widgets and notification capabilities, as previously mentioned.
Android users will find the Xoom's UI both familiar and strange. Gone are two standard buttons at the bottom of all Android smartphones: Search and Menu. These buttons now appear at the discretion of each application in the upper right of the screen. The standard Home and Back buttons remain at the bottom of the Xoom screen, though they use entirely different -- and ugly -- icons. These two on-screen buttons and the notification widget take up the entire bottom of the screen, shrinking the available viewing area. (On Android smartphones, these buttons are in the case rather than on-screen, and the notification widgets appear only on the home screens, not in all screens.) This loss of screen especially matters on the Xoom in landscape orientation, where the widescreen layout already shortens its screen area uncomfortably compared to the iPad.
Operational UI. The Xoom doesn't suffer the excessive reliance on the Menu button as Android smartphones do. The Xoom instead uses its larger screen to make relevant controls easily accessible on-screen, as the iPad and iPhone always have.
The Android OS's Settings app can be disorienting, and the white-on-black text makes it nearly impossible to view in bright daylight. For example, there are two Wi-Fi options: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Settings. Tapping Wi-Fi turns off Wi-Fi -- not what I expected. To find a Wi-Fi network, you tap Wi-Fi Settings. After a while I learned the difference, but it was an unnecessary exercise. (Bluetooth is handled the same awkward way.) The iPad's iOS doesn't let you confuse turning Wi-Fi on or off with selecting a network, thanks to a single location with clearly designated controls.
The good news is that pinching and zooming, as well as autorotation as you turn the device, works equivalently on the Xoom's Android OS and iPad's iOS. For text entry, I find the iPad's on-screen keyboard to be easier to work with than the Xoom's, with clearer keys and better contextual use of extra keys, such as in the Mail application. Although I appreciate the intent behind the Xoom's use of Tab and other keys not found on the iPad, the result is that the keyboard is not full size in landscape orientation (the iPad's is) and thus difficult for touch-typing. I'm sure I'll eventually get used to it, but it remains an annoying UI decision.
Text selection and copying. The Xoom's Android OS falls short compared to the iPad's iOS in its text selection. If you're tapping away and realize you've made a mistake not caught by the autocorrect feature, such as when typing a URL, it can be difficult to move the cursor to that error's location in the text. If you tap too long, the screen is filled with the Edit Text contextual menu; it took me a while to figure out how to tap long enough to move the text-insertion cursor to a new location without opening that menu. It is true that Xoom is not as bad in this regard as the various Android smartphones I've tested.
On the iPad, you tap and hold where you want to insert the text cursor (sort of like using a mouse); a magnifier appears to help you move precisely to where you want to go. You then add and delete text at that location. Plus, the controls for text selection appear, so you can use those if you'd like and not worry about a screen-filling menu getting in the way.
The winner: A tie. Although iPad fans may find the Android OS too loosey-goosey and its ever-present alerts annoying, Android fans may find the iPad a bit too rigid and disconnected from what's going on. To each his own; both work.
Deathmatch: Security and management
A long-standing strike against the Android OS is its poor security. The standard Android OS doesn't support on-device encryption, and it supports only the most basic of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) security policies. By contrast, with the enhancements made in iOS 4, the iPad has become one of the most securable mobile devices available, second only to the RIM BlackBerry.
Google recognized that deficiency and has added on-device encryption to the Xoom's Android 3.0 OS. My only beef is that it takes an hour to encrypt the Xoom when you enable that capability (by contrast, the Motorola Atrix smartphone requires no time at all to enable encryption). Fortunately, it's a one-time activity. Also thanks to changes in Android 3.0, the Xoom now comes close to matching iOS 4's support of EAS policies, adding support for complex passwords, password expiration, and password history restrictions. iOS 4 has more security capabilities overall, but Android tablets are much more securable than Android smartphones.
Both the Xoom and the iPad offer remote wipe, SSL message encryption, and timeout locks. If your Xoom is lost or stolen, you can lock or wipe it via your Google account or via Exchange. (Strangely, the Xoom doesn't come with the handy service Motorola Mobility provides its Atrix users to track a lost or stolen device and lock it or wipe its contents remotely.) Apple also supports remote lock and wipe; you even get the free Find My iPad service to track your iPad's location from a Web browser, iPhone, iPod Touch, or other iPad, and disable or wipe the device if you want.
The Xoom's Android OS can back up contact, calendar, and email data wirelessly to Gmail, as well as system settings and application data to Google's servers. The iPad too can back up such data to the cloud if you subscribe to Apple's $99-per-year MobileMe service. Syncing the iPad to your computer's iTunes also backs up the data (and encrypts it, if you desire) without requiring MobileMe. iTunes backs up everything: your media, your apps, their settings, their data, and most of your preferences. (iTunes can be configured for use in the enterprise, though most companies don't know that.)
The winner: The iPad, without question. The Xoom has brought in a key business security capability (encryption) but hasn't gone as far as needed by most businesses in its EAS support -- a surprise, given that the Motorola Mobility Atrix released around the same time has those capabilities.
Although the real value of a tablet comes from its OS and apps, you can't get to them without the hardware they run on. Note that some of the hardware advantages of the Xoom will be erased by the arrival of the iPad 2 on March 11. The new iPad will sport a dual-core A5 chip that in my cursory use of a prototype iPad 2 this week does noticeably speed the iPad 2's browser at least. The iPad 2 also add sfront and rear cameras (supporting FaceTime videoconferencing and motion video capture), and supports display mirroring through a $39 HDMI-out connector. It will also support 3G tethering, another feature present in Xoom but lacking in the original iPad.
Performance. The Xoom has a dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra processor, whereas the iPad has a single-core 1GHz Apple A4 processor; both are based on the ARM chip architecture. Despite the Xoom's second core, I didn't find it any faster than the iPad in terms of how apps ran or any smoother in terms of how videos played.
The iPad and Xoom performed similarly in their network usage, both on Wi-Fi and over 3G. The iPad uses the AT&T network, whereas the Xoom uses Verizon Wireless. The AT&T network is usually faster but less available, whereas the Verizon network is less speedy but more broadly available. I did find that the Xoom usually received emails and updated its calendar slightly after the iPad, even though both were connected to the same Wi-Fi network and pulling from the same IMAP, Google, and Exchange servers.
For battery performance, I found that the iPad lasted nearly twice as long as the Xoom -- 9 or 10 hours versus the Xoom's 5 or 6 -- in regular use with Wi-Fi enabled. In light use, the Xoom stretched to 8 hours, while the iPad ran 11 hours.
Device hardware. The iPad's enclosure design featuring glass and aluminum is much classier than the Xoom's black blockiness. The iPad's aluminum, though, can feel dangerously slippery (I always keep it in a sleeve or case), whereas the textured plastic of the Xoom is more grippable. Both devices are equivalent in weight and size. The Xoom has no physical switch to turn off its ringer as the iPad does, and its low-profile volume switches are hard to find, hard to see given they are black like the case, and don't give much tactile feedback when pressed. Neither device has an LED indicator to indicate whether it's powered on.
The Xoom's power button is on the back of the case -- not a great spot. It's easy to lose track of which side is up on the Xoom, so good luck finding the power button; of course, it's not visible while you're using the tablet. The iPad's power button (at top) is easier to locate.
The Xoom offers more hardware features than the iPad. There's a rear-facing camera that can take still and motion pictures, as well as a front-facing camera that can be used with the Google Talk IM app. (As noted, the iPad 2 will erase this advantage.)
The Xoom also has a MicroUSB port and a Mini HDMI port. The Mini HDMI port lets you connect to a monitor or TV to mirror the Xoom's display through an optional cable. By contrast, the iPad's optional VGA connector displays only the contents of applications that enable video-out; you cannot mirror the iPad's display. (However, the iPad 2 will support such mirroring via both VGA and HDMI video-out adapters.) The utility of the Xoom's MicroUSB port is limited: It can't be used to charge the Xoom, as it can on most smartphones; the Xoom has a proprietary power connector. All the MicroUSB port can be used for, at least today, is to connect a USB keyboard, assuming you have a MicroUSB-to-USB adapter. There is no MicroUSB port on the iPad (or iPad 2), but the $35 Apple Camera Connection kit adds a USB connector and SD card dongle for use with digital cameras (not other USB devices). The iPad too uses a proprietary power adapter that also serves as its sync cable; but tens of millions of iPods and iPhones also use it (so you can share cables and adapters), whereas only the Xoom seems to use its particular power connector.
The basic, 3G-capable $630 iPad comes with 16GB of nonremovable flash storage, whereas the $800 Xoom comes with 32GB. (For $100 more, you can get a 32GB iPad model). The iPad 2 prices will be the same as for the current iPad, at which point the Xoom's $70 difference can't be justified by its cameras. Still, you might accept some of the Xoom's higher price by crediting its tray for a MicroSD card that can accept as much as 32GB in removable storage; to connect an iPad to an SD card, you need to buy Apple's Camera Connection Kit.
I found the iPad screen easier to read -- both in sunlight and in office lighting -- than the Xoom's screen, which suffers from excessive reflectivity. I disliked the Xoom's widescreen (16:9) display, because Web pages and other content appear too squished in landscape mode. The iPad's old-fashioned 4:3 ratio is more comfortable for most apps; only when I'm watching HD movies do I wish the iPad were widescreen.
Finally, both devices use touchscreen keyboards but support external Bluetooth keyboards. To be safe, get an Apple or Apple-verified keyboard for the iPad and a Motorola keyboard for the Xoom -- neither tablet would pair with the other tablet's Bluetooth keyboards. Neither the Xoom nor the iPad supports mice or touchpads, but both support Bluetooth headsets such as for using Skype.
The winner: This is a tough one, because the iPad is superior in its enclosure design and screen, whereas the Xoom offers cameras, video mirroring, and easier SD card usage. I'm tipping to the iPad side because one additional factor is a bigger deal for most users: its much longer battery life. (The iPad 2 will make the choice a clear one in favor of Apple.)
The overall winner is ...
The iPad beats the Xoom in most of our comparison's categories -- often in significant ways. Still, make no mistake that the Xoom is a strong tablet offering, despite some annoyances (mainly related to software). But it lacks the fit, finish, and cohesion of the iPad. After all of these years of Apple's consistency in this regard, it never ceases to amaze me that competitors haven't wised up. Quality across the board has to be a given.
Still, for many users not blinded or charmed (take your pick) by the Apple way, the Xoom is a compelling tablet. If you're in the Android smartphone camp already, it's an easy pick as a tablet. We're only at the beginning of the Android tablet wave, so if you're leaning Android but have no pressing need for a tablet today, it makes sense to see what else comes on the market before committing to the Xoom.
Motorola Mobility Xoom vs. Apple iPad
|Price||Supported U.S. networks||Bottom Line|
|Motorola Mobility Xoom||$800 (32GB); $600 with two-year contract||Verizon Wireless, with two-year commitment plans starting at $20 for 1GB per month and no-commitment plans starting at $50 for 1GB||The first 10-inch Android tablet and the first model to use the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 OS, the Xoom packs the hardware capabilities that many users want. Its use of widgets and notifications keeps users more easily up-to-date. On the downside, the widescreen display results in awkward visual cramping, and several software and UI flaws suggest a rushed debut.|
|Apple iPad||iPad with Wi-Fi: $500 (16GB), $600 (32GB), $700 (64GB); iPad with Wi-Fi and 3G: $630 (16GB), $730 (32GB), $830 (64GB)||AT&T, with no-commitment data plans of $15 for 250MB and $25 for 2GB||The creator of the tablet phenomenon remains the best tablet available, with a cohesive, elegant UI; lots and lots of apps; and a solid, well-designed enclosure. But it lacks cameras and a MicroSD slot, and can't mirror its display to an external monitor -- capabilities that constrain the iPad unnecessarily.|
This story, "Tablet deathmatch: Motorola Xoom vs. Apple iPad," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.
Web and Internet support (20.0%)
Application support (15.0%)
Security and management (20.0%)
Business connectivity (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
|Motorola Mobility Xoom||9.0||8.0||6.0||8.0||8.0||9.0|
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