By JR Raphael
It's been months in the making, but it's finally here: the Motorola Xoom, Google's inaugural Android Honeycomb tablet.
Launching today, the Xoom will be the first in a tidal wave of Android tablets set to hit the market this year. It's essentially Google's flagship device, kickstarting the category and setting a golden standard for all the high-end Honeycomb products on the way. Android engineers actually used the Xoom to test and develop the Honeycomb OS, and it's considered a "pure Google" product -- meaning you get what Google created, with no manufacturer-added skins or interfaces getting in the way.
As I've covered the Xoom and Honeycomb these past several weeks, I've heard plenty of questions -- questions on everything from the technical nitty-gritty to the truth about those irksome Verizon data plans. It's time for some simple, straight-forward answers. Here's a Q&A-style guide to everything you need to know.
What is the Motorola Xoom?
Come on -- that's just too easy. The Motorola Xoom is an Android-based tablet that runs on Google's new Honeycomb platform.
How's the Motorola Xoom different from previous Android tablets, like the Galaxy Tab?
Aside from differences in form, Honeycomb -- the operating system debuting on the Xoom -- is the first version of Android that Google actually built with tablets in mind. The software was written from the ground up in order to optimize the Android experience for larger-screen devices.
With Honeycomb, the devices' hardware buttons are gone and replaced with on-screen buttons that change position based on your orientation. There's a whole new notification system that puts desktop-style alerts at the bottom of your screen. Android's multitasking system is revamped to make it easier to switch between running applications. And speaking of apps, Honeycomb allows developers to split their programs into multiple panes -- like in Honeycomb's Gmail app, where you can actively scroll through your inbox while simultaneously viewing (and scrolling through) individual messages.
Put simply, it's a very different interface -- and, if you ask me, a drastically improved one. Check out my Android Honeycomb hands-on impressions for a deeper dive into the Xoom experience.
How 'bout hardware -- what kind of specs does this bad boy have?
The Xoom has a 10.1-inch, 1280-by-800 display. It runs on a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 1GHz processor with 1GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and SD card support for additional storage space. As of now, the Xoom supports 3G and Wi-Fi connections; Verizon promises, however, that you'll be able to get a free hardware upgrade that'll enable 4G access by this spring.
The Xoom comes with a 5MP rear-facing camera and a 2MP front-facing camera for video chat (which Honeycomb natively supports via Google's Google Talk system). The tablet records 720p HD video and supports 1080p playback. It has HDMI and USB 2.0 ports. And according to Motorola, its Android battery life can give you up to 10 hours of video playback on a single charge.
So how can I buy this Xoom, and how much is it?
The Xoom is on sale in the U.S. as of today, February 24. It's available for $800 at Verizon Wireless or Best Buy stores. Verizon is also offering the Xoom for $600, if you sign a two-year contract for data services; those will run you a minimum of $20 a month.
Do I have to get a data plan?
Verizon is requiring you to sign up for one when you buy a Xoom -- obnoxious, I know -- but you can cancel it immediately after. So basically, you'll have to pay $20 for one month, plus a $35 activation fee (sigh). But there's no obligation to continue paying for data beyond that point; once your first month is up, you can use your Xoom via Wi-Fi only and never pay Verizon another nickel.
UPDATE: Verizon Wireless has changed its mind on this policy as of Thursday morning (thank goodness). I've just confirmed with a Verizon spokesperson that if you purchase the Xoom for $800, without a contract, you will not be required to pay the $35 activation fee or sign up for a data plan. As of now, the Verizon Wireless website is not reflecting this change; however, an online customer service representative tells me you can contact customer care to have the data plan removed after making your purchase.
UPDATE #2: Best Buy has now revised its policy and is allowing Xoom purchases without data plans as well.
So what if I want to activate data for a month here and there as I need it? Will I get charged an activation fee each time?
I've been wondering that very thing myself (how coincidental!). I checked with Verizon Wireless yesterday. The annoying answer is that yes, they'll charge you 35 bucks every time you activate data service. So you can switch the data plan on as you need it, but you'll have to pay that fee each time.
Isn't there supposed to be a Wi-Fi-only Xoom, too?
Yes -- but it isn't here yet. Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha has said a Wi-Fi-only edition of the Xoom will sell for about $600; he hasn't said, though, when it'll launch. So if you want the Xoom now, you'll have to spring for the full 3G/4G version, even if you're planning to use it only over Wi-Fi; otherwise, you can wait, but it's anyone's guess how long the wait might be.
Can I just use my phone's data plan to get my Xoom online?
Maybe. Standard Android tethering -- where you use a program like PdaNet to connect your phone to another device via USB or Bluetooth -- won't do the trick, as those kind of connections require a Windows- or Mac-based client to work.
If you're able to create a wireless hotspot from your phone, though -- either by subscribing to your carrier's hotspot option or by going the underground route and rooting your phone -- then yes, you can use that connection to get the Xoom online. It would be no different than connecting the Xoom to any other wireless hotspot.
What's with all this Flash talk? Will the Xoom support Flash or not?
The Xoom will support Flash, but not immediately; Adobe is still putting the finishing touches on its Flash Player 10.3 software, which the Xoom needs in order to play Flash-based content. Adobe promises, though, that the software will be sent to the Xoom as an over-the-air update "within a few weeks" of today's launch.
Should I get the Xoom or wait for one of the other upcoming tablets?
That, my friend, is a tricky question; I take a stab at answering it here.
Okay, Mr. Smartypants, tell me this: Can you eat the Motorola Xoom?
Technically, yes, but it isn't advisable.
Sure, but you probably wouldn't want to.
Can you legally marry it in the state of California?
Right -- I think we're done here.
Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.