How the Motorola Xoom Works


The Motorola Xoom hit the market in early 2011 and is the first device to run the tablet version of the Android operating system. See more gadget pictures.
Motorola Mobility, Inc.

With a growing number of people buying smartphones and notebook-sized laptops, the tablet form factor seems to be the perfect hybrid of the two. When the iPad hit the market in April 2010, techies took notice and questioned whether people would buy it. Though the iPad was far from the first tablet, its release was a bold statement about the tablet market: A company like Apple was willing to put its reputation on the line for it. Since then, Apple has sold millions of iPads worldwide, and newer models continue to improve on the original.

In February 2011, the Motorola Xoom zoomed onto the tablet market as an Android-powered answer to the iPad. The biggest buzz around Xoom focused on the tablet's impressive hardware features. Motorola met or exceeded the technical specifications of Apple's iPad, the benchmark tablet device as of this writing. The following is a brief list of the Xoom's hardware specifications [sources: Motorola, Detwiler]:

  • Dimensions: 9.8 by 6.6 by 0.5 inches (249 by 167.8 by 12.9 millimeters)
  • Weight: 708 grams (730 grams for the 3G version)
  • Display: 10.1 inches (256.5 millimeters), 1280 by 800 pixel with 150 pixels per inch
  • Processor: 1 GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2
  • Storage space: 32 GB, expandable by adding a microSD card
  • Video: 720p capture and playback
  • Camera: 5 megapixel back-facing camera, 2 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Wireless connections: Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n), Bluetooth, optional 3G mobile service with Verizon and space for an upgrade component from Motorola to 4G LTC
  • Connectors: Micro-USB and HDMI micro
  • Other features: Stereo Bluetooth, accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, light and proximity sensors

The Xoom is a sleek and powerful little package, but it's the software that really makes it stand out in the crowd. The iPad, like other mobile devices from Apple, is powered by the Apple iOS mobile operating system. Inspired by the iPad's success, other manufacturers developed tablets that use iOS's biggest competitor, the popular and highly customizable Android mobile operating system. Those early Android-based tablets had varying success. For the development of the Xoom, though, Motorola partnered with Google, whose developers went back to the drawing board with the Android operating system and optimized it for use in tablet devices.

Together, Motorola and Google aimed to create a product that could truly stand toe-to-toe with the iPad. Did it work? To find out, let's take a peek at the Xoom's hardware and software along with some of the challenges it faces on the tablet market. We'll start by zooming in on what's happening inside the device.

Zooming in on Xoom's Hardware and Software

The first-generation Motorola Xoom hardware has some impressive advantages over its competition.
The first-generation Motorola Xoom hardware has some impressive advantages over its competition.
Motorola Mobility, Inc.

We've already scoped out the Motorola Xoom's 1 GHz dual-core processor, 32 GB of storage space and additional hardware features. The Xoom also comes in two different models. The Wi-Fi-only model runs $599. The Xoom with Wi-Fi plus Verizon 3G costs $799.99, or just $599 with a two-year contract for a Verizon data plan. The only difference between the two models is Verizon's proprietary 3G networking components.

For early Xoom 3G adopters, Motorola promised a free hardware upgrade, which will allow users to connect to Verizon's 4G LTE network when it becomes available. As of this writing, Motorola plans to release the upgrade in late 2011. Unfortunately, to get it, owners will have to ship their Xoom to Motorola, which leaves them without their tablet for about six business days [source: Verizon]. The upgrade in cellular networks may also mean an upcharge in data services, though Verizon has yet to release information about any changes to its Xoom data plans.

When it came to developing the Xoom's software, Google took the lead. The Xoom was the first device to feature Google's Android 3.x software. Nicknamed Honeycomb, Android 3.0 is a fork of the Android code rather than traditional update. That means that the 3.x series is not an upgrade from the Android 2.x operating system used in smartphones; it's just built differently. Google's idea behind the 3.x fork was to rebuild Android from the ground up as a tablet operating system [source: Burnette]. Some early adopters celebrated both fixes and new features in the Android 3.1 update in May 2011 [source: Melanson].

Besides Android, Google has included many of its own applications in the Xoom, such as Gmail and Google Maps. The Xoom can run most other apps from the Android arket as well. Many existing Android apps can take advantage of the newer features in 3.x with just a bit of tweaking by developers. Some apps will require more extensive changes than others, however. To take full advantage of the 3.x application programming interface (API), some developers choose to completely rebuild their apps so they're optimized for Android-based tablets [source: Burnette].

Although the Xoom is pretty powerful by itself, there are plenty of accessories available to enhance your tablet experience. For example, Motorola markets a Bluetooth keyboard for the Xoom, which includes shortcut buttons for launching some of its built-in apps like Gmail. Add a dock or a stand, and you might get the impression that you're using a small but powerful desktop PC. Other accessories include a full range of headsets, cases and docks to customize your tablet.

Before you go out to get your own Xoom, it's important to know how it stacks up to your other tablet options. Next, let's examine how the Xoom compares to the iPad and other tablets.

How the Xoom Stacks Up

The Apple iPad 2 still tops the tablet reviews, but the Motorola Xoom is bringing competition to the market.
The Apple iPad 2 still tops the tablet reviews, but the Motorola Xoom is bringing competition to the market.
Apple, Inc.

The first buzz among techies when the Motorola Xoom hit the market was how it compared to the benchmark tablet of the time, the iPad. Reviewers noted the Xoom's improvements over the original iPad, and they looked forward to seeing how it would compare to the iPad 2, scheduled for release a few weeks afterward. Now that both the Xoom and iPad 2 are on the market, let's take a quick look at how they compare:

  • The Xoom weighs about 3.5 ounces (100 grams) more than the iPad 2.
  • The Xoom has a larger display with a higher resolution than the iPad 2.
  • The iPad 2 has a mute switch on the side separate from its volume controls.
  • Both devices have 1 GHz processors, 720p video recording and playback, front and back cameras, and similar radios and sensors.
  • The Xoom has 1 GB of memory versus the iPad 2's 512 MB.
  • The iPad 2 comes in models with 16, 32 and 64 GB of storage space with no options for expansion. The Xoom includes a microSD slot on the side to expand on its built-in 32 GB of storage space.

When making this side-by-side comparison to the iPad 2, Xoom reviewers were impressed with Motorola's superior hardware specs. The Xoom's software received more mixed reviews. Critics praised its speed and attractiveness, but they criticized the interface for being more complicated than necessary, requiring owners to spend way too much time reading the user's manual.

Looking at the Xoom on its own, reviewers' most common concern was its price. Android devices originally earned a reputation for being less expensive than Apple's mobile products. The Xoom seems to be changing that trend. The Wi-Fi-only Xoom is priced the same as the 32 GB iPad 2 at $599. When buying the same 32 GB models with 3G hardware built in, the price for the iPad 2 goes up to $729 while the Xoom jumps to $799.99. As mentioned earlier, though, you can get a discount back to $599 on the Xoom by entering into a 2-year contract with Verizon. In contrast, Apple doesn't include discounts for contract services with either of its providers, AT&T or Verizon.

Will the Xoom supplant Apple's iPad and become the dominant force in the tablet market? Only time will tell. Whether you're ready to purchase a tablet, or just to keep tabs on the market, move on to the next page for more information about the Motorola Xoom.

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Sources

  • Apple, Inc. "iPad Technical Specifications." (May 11, 2011)http://www.apple.com/ipad/specs/
  • Bell, Donald. "Review: Motorola Xoom." CNET. CBS Interactive. Feb. 23, 2011. (May 12, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/motorola-xoom/#reviewPage1
  • Burnette, Ed. "Android 3 Honeycomb: Why this changes everything (and nothing)." ZDNet. CBS Interactive. Jan. 27, 2011. (May 12, 2011) http://www.zdnet.com/blog/burnette/android-3-honeycomb-why-this-changes-everything-and-nothing/2169
  • Detwiler, Bill. "Motorola XOOM (Verizon) Teardown." Feb. 26, 2011. (May 12, 2011)http://www.techrepublic.com/photos/motorola-xoom-verizon-teardown/6197743?seq=12
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  • Melanson, Donald. "Google announces Android 3.1, available on Verizon Xoom today." May 10, 2011. (May 12, 2011)http://www.engadget.com/2011/05/10/google-announces-android-3-1/
  • Motorola. "Motorola Xoom, Tech Specs." (May 11, 2011)http://www.motorola.com/staticfiles/Consumers/xoom-android-tablet/us-en/techspecs.html
  • Reisinger, Don. "Motorola Xoom vs. Apple iPad 2: 10 Reasons to Pick Xoom." eWEEK. Ziff Davis Enterprise Holdings, Inc. Mar. 7, 2011. (May 12, 2011)http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Mobile-and-Wireless/Motorola-Xoom-vs-Apple-iPad-2-10-Reasons-to-Pick-Xoom-685496/
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  • Verizon Wireless. "Motorola Xoom 3G to 4G LTE Upgrade, General Information." (May 12, 2011)http://support.vzw.com/faqs/Equipment/xoom_upgrade.html