16 April 2011
mere days after telling my boss that between my iphone and macbook pro, i have no need for a tablet, all employees were presented with Motorola Xooms (oops).
this is not only my first experience with a tablet, other than a few minutes with an ipad, but it's also my first experience with Android. the xoom comes with a version called Honeycomb, which i'm told is new and designed with tablets in mind.
the hardware is nice. a good size, solid, with a reasonably sharp screen. after comparing its size directly to that of an ipad, i found that the ipad is just a tad bit wider, making a big difference in how it sits in my lap. oddly, after using the xoom in my lap for a while, i discover that my abs are sore. with the ipad's tapered edge and better shape, even though the dimensional differences are slight, i do find the ipad works better in this regard.
rear camera: no better than my iphone 3gs in a couple test shots, despite the greater megapixel count (not that i put a lot of stock into that). power button: badly placed! Not only can i not find it when i want, smudging up the rear camera lens instead, but i find i'm constantly hitting it during normal use and shutting off the screen.
i also find i don't like the "neat" feature that the xoom can be used in any orientation. i like that my iphone has a button on the front, so i know which way is "up". on the xoom, any way you want is "up" -- until you need to find the power button or adjust the volume. then it's not so neat.
software-wise, i can't say i'm the biggest fan of the Android user-experience. new version glitches aside (and there are many, from brief image glitches to constant crash problems with the browser and facebook app), i find it looks better than iOS, but isn't nearly as intuitive.
there are navigation buttons on the lower-left that do have some nice features. the home button is styled as navigation button, pointing up, demonstrating some nice consistency with the "go left" button. a very nice navigation feature is that the go-left button always takes you where you came from, even if you came from a different app. it's a nice switching feature that i think iOS could benefit from. further, if you're in some kind of pop-up form, that button changes to "go down" to dismiss that form.
however, i wish the buttons were in the upper-left of the screen, closer to where my fingers are. navigation ends up being about as comfortable as hitting ctrl-z on a keyboard with your left hand.
i think Motorola had a bit of a goof on the homepage, as well. out of the box, the homepage has a cool iridescent clock in the center, with a small collection of app icons laid out horizontally below (browser, gmail, android market [i.e. app store] et. al.). It's a nice look.
But when you go to market and download your first app, by default it places it on your homepage in the first open spot, which is in the upper-left of the screen. it looks completely out of place, and congratulations you've already ruined the drama of turning on the device.
speaking of which, upon power-up, after an initial splash screen, you're presented with a horrific, eye-straining honeycomb animation that plays during boot up. it's pretty awful in any light, but if you've been using the tablet in the dark for a while, and need to reboot it (e.g. the browser likes to stop pretending there's an internet every 10 minutes or so, and i've yet to find a way to restart an app sans a reboot), the honeycomb animation can be nothing short of blinding.
the other night, in a fit or pure optimism, i broke out the USB cable and plugged the xoom into my laptop. i expected... something? iTunes to launch? a desktop icon? maybe even an offer to sync contacts and music?
silly me. nothing happened. at all. after some googling, failed experiments with DoubleTwist, and more googling, i was able to get my contacts on my Xoom by first exporting a vcard from Address Book and uploading it to GMail. hardly a "sync". i was able to transfer music by using an app that opens up the Xoom's file system on the laptop. yuck.
still, with all these issues, i find that i'm using it at home for many things i typically do with my laptop. and if i'm being honest, i'm also finding my year-old macbook pro feels a little... old-fashioned.
i will be doing some programming for the xoom (on my laptop, natch), which in Eclipse I expect will be a more pleasant, or at least familiar, exercise than using apple's iOS IDE.
from a pure user's perspective though, i strongly suspect i would be happier with an ipad.