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?

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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 2 and Xoom both offer capable Web browsers. Although neither is as HTML5-savvy as their desktop versions, the iPad 2 has nearly closed the gap with Mac OS X. Based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, the iPad 2's mobile Safari scored 206 versus 208 for desktop Safari (Version 5.03), versus the iPad 1's score of 196. (If you upgrade the iPad 1 to iOS 4.3, its score also rises to 206.) 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). 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 2 in my admittedly subjective browsing.

A key promise Apple made for the iPad 2 was much faster browsing, thanks to improvements in iOS 4.3, the Safari browser, and the iPad 2's faster processor. The iPad 2 delivers, running 1.5 times (53 percent) faster than an iOS 4.3-equipped iPad 1 and 1.8 times (80 percent) as quick as an iOS 4.2-equipped iPad 1, based on the Futuremark Peacekeeper benchmarks. The scores were 776 for the iPad 2, 508 for the iOS 4.3 iPad 1, and 430 for the iOS 4.2 iPad 1. By contrast, the Xoom scored 897, desktop Safari on my 2011-edition MacBook Pro scored 2,812, while the Firefox browser in Motorola Atrix scored just 360 in Lapdock and Multimedia Dock use. Peacekeeper stresses media and JavaScript processing, so the indicated speed differences aren't apparent in more text-and-graphics-heavy sites.

Browser HTML5 compatibility and speed tests

I also found in subjective usage that the iPad 2's browser felt much snappier than that of both the first-gen iPad and the Xoom. In the case of the Xoom, even though the Peacekeeper benchmarks show it to be 16 percent faster than the iPad 2, the iPad 2 felt faster. I suspect that is due to the iPad 2's faster page downloads, which on most sites compensate for the Xoom's faster page rendering.

Otherwise, 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 2 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 2 opens a blank window instead.

Both browsers can share pages via email, but the operation is faster on the iPad 2, 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 2'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 2 lets you copy graphics. The Xoom can save graphics to the tablet's local storage. The iPad 2 can save images to its Photos app.

Both browsers offer settings to control pop-up windows, search engines, JavaScript, cookies, history, cache, form data, passwords, image loading, autofill, fraud warnings, and debugging. Note that many websites won't know about the Xoom's unique identifier or the subtle difference in how Android tablets in general self-report versus how Android smartphones do, and so they will treat the Xoom or other Android tablet as if it were an Android smartphone. That'll cause some full-sized sites such as to redirect the Xoom to mobile-oriented sites rather than present their desktop- (and tablet-) friendly site. (To best see InfoWorld on a smartphone, go to our enhanced mobile site, The iPad's browser ID is better known to Web developers, so this redirect issue is less likely to occur for that device. (If you're developing mobile-savvy websites, you can use InfoWorld's User Agent Check tool to read the IDs of the various devices you want to detect so can then optimize how your site works with them.)

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 -- awkwardly. 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 same capabilities as their desktop counterparts. But things are improving on the Google Docs front. For example, you can create, edit, and navigate appointments in Google Calendar in all four of its views (day, week, month, and agenda) pretty much as you can on a desktop browser.

The winner: A tie, despite the iPad 2's slight advantage in being able to copy Web images and print Web pages.

Deathmatch: Location support
Both the iPad 2 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 2's Maps app when it comes to directions while driving.

Although both the iPad 2 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 2 does.

The winner: The Xoom, for its better navigation app.

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