A phone call…gently vibrating on my work’s desk. After 3-4 rings I pick it up to hear the voice of my wife say the immortal words – “Guess what I’ve got?”. Could it be? No surely not…I’m sure the delivery would be delayed by longer than a couple of days. She’s probably purchased something else for her own hobby and wants to rub it in my face?
Then it happens…..3 simple words. A mantra signifying the emergence of excitement I thought I’d lost. “Xoom…Xoom…Xoom”.
Well, it went something like that. I’d pre-ordered the Xoom through PCWorld back in March and was looking forward to being one of the first in Europe to get one. PCWorld stated a delivery date of 9th April. My Xoom arrived on the 13th – so all in all not too bad considering these releases normally meet with long delays and tales of Customer Service woe.
I didn’t bother with an unboxing. Partly due to the fact I wanted to get to the device and partly due to the lack of anything spectacular being bundled with the device. A charger, a usb cable and that’s that.
The Xoom was carefully placed in the box and was covered in all manner of protective plastics. The kind that produce that ever-so-satisfying sound when eased from the glass/plastic/metal body of a device. 50% battery power in the device from the start allowed me to play with the device for a good 4 hours non-stop.
The Xoom is something of an enigma in the mobile/tablet marketplace. I say this with a little cautiousness. iPad is no doubt a king in the marketplace – however it’s a scaled up version of an iPhone. There are a few additional features but the OS platform is still inherent throughout the i-products. Xoom differs in this respect sporting the brand new, optimised for tablets, Android 3.0 OS, or Honeycomb.
Greeted with the mandatory device branding on startup, it’s quickly through to the home screen stopping only to show a nice little Tron-like Honeycomb boot screen.
The home screen has the usual swipe-to-view homescreens but this time with a more 3D feel to the UI. Partially swiping to the left or the right reveals the “edge” of the adjacent screen tile giving you that shapely feel. Swiping is not as smooth and as faultless as in iOS on the iPad for example, but this is a first generation OS and it oozes potential.
Honeycomb continues in the great Android tradition of customising home screens, and has a number of pre-installed widgets to choose from. The GMail and Email widgets allow scrollable viewing of your inboxes and the new YouTube widget gently flicks across subscribed videos on the home screen giving it professional look.
The addition of widgets is achieved in the same way as other Android OS’s – tapping and holding the screen will present the user with a list to choose from. Alternatively the user can touch the “+” button at the top right to achieve the same. Dragging the widget onto the specific home screen completes the action.
The next thing to have a slight makeover is the settings and notifications. Notifications no longer appear in a bar across the top of the device. Instead the notifications are
shown along with the Time/Date at the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Tapping there will display the first set of data (Time & Date). The
buttons for settings and any notifications are also displayed. Along with them are orientation and brightness settings. This method seems much more refined that the notification bar of previous Android devices and allows the users to see more information without taking up much screen real estate. This further shows the though process surrounding the tablet optimisation process at Google for Honeycomb.
The browser deserves particular mention. If you have ever used Google’s Chrome – this is as close as you are going to come to it on a mobile device currently. It’s Chrome in all but name. Tabbed browsing and silky smooth scrolling are it’s selling points. However, as with a few applications in the Honeycomb armoury to date, it is prone to the occasional crash. I’d recommend downloading one of the many alternative browsers in order to accurately decide on the favourite for your daily use (Opera Mobile, and the recently updated Dolphin HD seem to be front runners currently).
The camera (A camera on a tablet I hear you shout? Yes, two in fact. A decent 5MP with Dual LED flash to the rear with a front facing camera for Video calling on the front no less) on the Xoom also deserves a mention too. It’s clever use of thumb controls allow you to actually see the Xoom as a viable photo taking platform – albeit not as a daily driver due to it’s size. Assuming users hold the device in landscape format whilst taking pictures/videos, the user interface allows access to (admittedly for right handed users) an array of options such as toggling the Flash, the colour balance and accessing the gallery, along with the shutter action for taking the photo/video. It’s quick a nice solution, and something I assume is able to be implemented in the UI purely due to the Xoom’s footprint (handprint?).
The video recording is good if not spectacular and I’ve managed to get some nice videos of my cat being mischievous. The Xoom is capable of 720p capture and indeed playback. The controls on the Camera application further point to the direction Google is rapidly moving with it’s tablet based Android OS. The OS might be new, and crawling in places, but it has the potential to be a World Record holding Sprinter in only a short amount of time.
Overall the device is a great first attempt to break iPad’s dominance in the tablet market space. Does it better the iPad? In my opinion, if you want something quick and easy to pick up, check emails, browse and listen to music, the iPad still has the upper hand………..at the moment.
It’s with that caveat that all purchases should be considered however. The Xoom has the potential to literally blow iPad out of the water with it’s speed (overclocking to 1.5Ghz has already begun over at XDA) and it’s development as a tablet platform. The iPad will have to look over it’s shoulder as Google ramp up the mobile device wars. I’m not sure it can break the dominance Apple have over the non-techie-Tech users….but more technically informed power users and those wishing to achieve a bit more than the average will see this as a strong device with oodles of potential.
More review rhetoric to follow when I have more time (i.e. when I’m not playing with my Xoom)