The Xoom Wrap: Reviewers Praise Software, Wince At Price, Wait For iPad2

The Motorola (NYSE: MOT) Xoom today officially went on sale today at Verizon. The Android-based tablet has been called the first viable competitor to the iPad, but with a new Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) tablet expected to launch next week, does the Xoom pack enough of a punch to keep competition at bay? We take a look at what the gadget pundits are saying:

One of recurring positive are remarks on the the smooth, “3D” graphic elements in the interface: scrolling through music, YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG), or other native apps are smooth and multidimensional, with icons appearing as if they are coming out towards you (something that Verizon and Motorola have tried to play on in their recent advertisements and “Grab you” slogan). It’s interesting to note that the camera is on the wide side of the device, and many of the promotional pics are landscape, too — implying more horizontal rather than vertical use (somewhat of a differentiator from the iPad).

One common negative is the pricetag: $800 off-contract, or a still-high $600 with a two-year contract. The device will be supported on Verizon’s 4G network later this year, so that gives it another unique selling point against the iPad (at least for now).

Ever-present are two facts: this is the first big tablet to be released commercially using Honeycomb, the new Android OS optimized for tablets; and the iPad is coming out next week. Will this cause hesitation from buyers or early-mover advantage for Motorola and Verizon? “Until Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 and LG’s G-Slate reach shelves, the XOOM has the Honeycomb space all to itself. Still, neither Motorola nor Google can afford to rest on their respective laurels. The iPad 2 is expected to debut a mere week after the XOOM goes on sale, and considering the first-gen version is still the benchmark by which new tablets are measured, the second-gen model is only going to raise the table stakes,” writes Slashgear. More from them below.

Battery life is “beyond excellent” but navigation is a “learning process”: “We did experience some slowdown when transferring files from our computer or jumping quickly between lots of apps, but we were blown away by the robustness and speed of applications like the browser and some of the included games. The general responsiveness of the UI and touch reaction was inline with the best the iPad exhibits…Battery life on the Xoom was excellent. Beyond excellent, actually — some of the best performance we’ve seen on a slate…Someone is steering the ship with far more resolve than ever before witnessed in this OS. From a purely visual standpoint, Android 3.0 comes together in a far more cohesive manner than any previous iteration of the software, and the changes aren’t just cosmetic… Unlike Apple and it’s single-minded iOS, however, Android is still filled with variables and choices which make general navigation a learning process, and even though Honeycomb has made huge inroads to making that process simpler, it’s not 100 percent there.” (Engadget)

Key strengths are how the tablet utilizes Google’s native apps; weaknesses are the lack of other apps: “For the past few days I’ve had a Motorola Xoom. I accepted a loaner because I wanted to prove that it would suck next to an iPad. One problem: I’m falling in love with it…The browser feels closer to Google Chrome than Safari does. It has one box for URLs and search, which I really love (the two box system Safari has feels lame in comparison) and it has tabs, just like my Chrome does on my desktop…Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Calendar apps are WAY better than the ones on iPad. As you might expect…Will I recommend my dad get one? No. Not this year. Why? No apps that have been specifically designed for the 10-inch tablet, which in my experience does demand new apps. Yes, Android phone apps “stretch” to bigger sizes a lot better than iPhone apps did when stretched up, but sorry we haven’t seen great apps like the History of Jazz, Aweditorium, NPR, BBC, Flipboard, Heritage, etc, like what you see on iPad.
The apps are ALL that matters for the market and Android does NOT have them yet.” (Robert Scoble)

Big is beautiful? “The Motorola Xoom tablet is easily the best competition Apple’s iPad has ever seen…With a 10.1-inch screen, you’d think Xoom would feel larger than the 9.8-inch screen-wielding iPad, but it actually comes off as slightly smaller. As tablets go, the Xoom carries its weight in its hips, stretching its screen area out to a more wide-screen-worthy 1,280×800-pixel WXGA aspect ratio…The Xoom’s keyboard, in general, deserves a round of applause. With its ample size and well-spaced virtual keys, typing performance is excellent in both landscape and portrait orientations.” (Cnet)

Half-baked. “In its haste to reach Verizon shelves, the XOOM could seem a little half-baked; it doesn’t get Flash Player support for another few weeks, and won’t have 4G until an update sometime in Q2. Still, as the iPad has shown, there are undoubtedly benefits to being first out of the gate… Stills from the 5-megapixel main camera are good, though not outstanding. The biggest surprise was how comfortable taking photos is on a tablet; while the 7-inch Galaxy Tab felt like a somewhat ridiculous, oversized smartphone, the 10.1-inch XOOM doesn’t feel awkward, and the large on-screen controls make it straightforward.” (SlashGear)