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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Although the iPad 2 now offers a front-facing camera for videoconferencing and a rear one for taking pictures and capturing video, the quality of still photos and movies taken from the iPad 2 are not that good -- the camera seems to be the same, poorly regarded model used in the latest iPod Touch. The iPad 2's camera also lacks a flash and support for high-definition range, both of which the iPhone 4's camera does support but the iPod Touch's does not. Apple hasn't released the camera's megapixel (MP) rating, but my photo-editing software pinned it as a measly 0.7MP; by contrast, the iPhone 4's camera is 5MP. The iPad 2's camera does perform better for motion video, taking decent 720p, 0.9MP video -- fine for casual videos but no more.

The Xoom's camera quality is no better than the iPad 2's, despite its 5MP camera. In fact, it had a lower dynamic color range, resulting in flat, soft still images compared to the iPad 2's sharper and more vibrant shots. The Xoom does have a flash, a wider-angle lens, and adjustment controls lacking in the iPad 2 to help improve image quality through manual overrides. For motion video, the Xoom's 720p, 0.9MP video capture results in much better video quality than the iPad 2, especially in low-light conditions, where you get lots of pixelation. (The iPad 2's video quality is about the same as the iPhone 4's, despite the higher resolution of the iPhone 4's video file.)

For still photography, both tablets are clearly aimed at Web-oriented images, such as for posting on Facebook and Flickr. You're not at all likely to keep any for your family albums, project portfolios, or client sales presentations; you'll want a real digital camera for those. For videography, both tablets are fine for casual video -- don't buy into either Apple's or Motorola's HD video hype -- though the Xoom clearly bests the iPad 2.

The Xoom and the iPad 2 are equivalent in quality when it comes to audio output, despite the fact the iPad 2 has a single speaker and the Xoom has two. To get stereo-quality audio, connect either tablet to a stereo.

Finally, both devices use touchscreen keyboards but support external Bluetooth keyboards. To be safe, get an Apple or Apple-verified keyboard for the iPad 2 and a Motorola keyboard for the Xoom -- neither tablet would pair with the other tablet's Bluetooth keyboards. Neither the Xoom nor the iPad 2 supports mice or touchpads, but both support Bluetooth headsets such as for using Skype.

The winner: In the original deathmatch between the Xoom and the iPad 1, this category was the toughest call, given pros of the Xoom's cameras, video mirroring, and easier SD card usage versus the pros of the iPad 1's battery life and superior enclosure design and screen. But the iPad 2 erases the Xoom's advantages, even with the iPad 2's underpowered camera, making the iPad 2 the clear winner.

The overall winner is ...
The iPad 2 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, elegance, and cohesion of the iPad 2. 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. But if you're not a member of the Fandroid camp, the iPad 2 is the one to pick.

Motorola Mobility Xoom vs. Apple iPad 2

 PriceSupported U.S. networksBottom Line
Motorola Mobility Xoom$800 (32GB); $600 with two-year contractVerizon Wireless, with data plans of $20 for 1GB, $35 for 3GB, $50 for 5GB, and $80 for 10GB; setup fee is $35. The use of tethering adds $20.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. The Xoom's 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 2iPad 2 with Wi-Fi: $500 (16GB), $600 (32GB), $700 (64GB); iPad 2 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; Verizon Wireless, with no-commitment data plans of $20 for 1GB, $35 for 3GB, $50 for 5GB, and $80 for 10GB. For both carriers, the use of tethering adds $20.
The revamped model of the device that created the tablet phenomenon is even moreso the best tablet available, with a cohesive, elegant UI; lots and lots of apps; and a solid, well-designed enclosure. Its new inclusion of cameras and ability to mirror its display to an external monitor erase the major deficits of the original iPad. But note the camera produces mediocre still images and merely adequate video.

This story, "Tablet deathmatch: Apple iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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