How the Motorola Xoom Works

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.