Tablet deathmatch: Motorola Xoom vs. Apple iPad
As Apple prepares to ship its iPad 2, the first viable Android competitor packs a punchFollow @MobileGalen
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.