Who will be king?
The Xoom we were shown at CES was little more than a big fancy screen with video of the Honeycomb interface. But the tablets Motorola brought to CES 2011 are actually functional, with Android 3.0 loaded up and running. Yesterday, I sat down with two Motorola reps to play with the Xoom (and accessories). Since Apple is the tablet team to beat, I used them as my basis for comparison.
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Interface: Current-gen Android tablets cannot compete with iOS. Android 2.3 is not tablet optimized and, to be frank, any slate running it is basically a giant smartphone. Honeycomb is the first we've seen of real Android tablet functionality. And it blows iOS out of the water. The new multitasking button allows quick control of your open apps, and the focus on keeping center-screen real estate open gives the Xoom a feeling of space well-suited to the tablet form-factor. Honeycomb feels "grown up". It suits a device with more power, and much more screen real-estate, than a phone.
Media Consumption: First off, let's just go ahead and assume that the iPad 2 will have a processor capable of full 1080p display. Full HD looks fantastic on the Xoom, and I am a big fan of the 3D media library. But the iPad has and- for the foreseeable future- will have a an unquestioned edge here. As nice as the Xoom looks, the iPad looks just as nice. And it has access to iTunes, and everything that implies. We've heard numerous rumors that the iPad 2 will also have an improved near-retinal display. If these prove true, Apple's tablet will have an edge in e-reading as well. It's worth noting that the Xoom weighs roughly 1.5 pounds. Equal to the current iPad, but more than the next-gen is likely to weigh. So yeah, I'm giving Apple the edge in this category.
Feel: Motorola wins big points here. From the second it hit my hands, I knew the Xoom was something special. It is sleek and smooth, like the iPad, but with just a few shots of the "industrial" feel Android is famous for. I won't say the Xoom feels better in your hands than an iPad, but the two are definitely neck and neck.
Overall: Expect the "Xoom" to be for Android tablets, what the Droid was for Android smartphones. It won't outsell the iPad or the iPad 2, not even close. But it will sell well enough to "prove the market", as it were. And subsequent devices- from Moto and beyond- will refine things further. MWC is proof that the Xoom can stand toe-to-toe with the iPad (and the theoretical iPad 2) without looking shabby. That's an important first step for Android as a platform, and it didn't take long to come.