Motorola Xoom Android Tablet Review - Honeycomb Debuts
Introduction and Honeycomb Overview
Early this year Google teased the next version of their mobile device operating system, Android 3.0 (codenamed Honeycomb). Now we finally have our hands on the first Honeycomb device, the Motorola Xoom. Read on to see how much the face of Android has changed.
While the Motorola Xoom may not be the first tablet that has been released with Android, it marks a major shift in the paradigm of mobile computing. Tracing back the history of Android, Google seems to release new software platforms with a specific hardware partner. While the original G1 phone was developed by HTC, Google decided to launch Android 2.0 (Eclair, known as 2.1 on other phones) with Motorola and their original Droid product. The success of the Motorola Droid is a hallmark moment for Motorola, who had been slowly dying after the massive success of their RAZR phone years ago.
With 2.2 and 2.3, Google decided to partner with hardware partners to develop what they considered the ideal platform. From this we got the HTC built Nexus One, and Samsung built Nexus S. Both of which have been heralded as phenomenal devices.
This brings us to Google’s newest and most ambitious mobile operating system yet, Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). Once again, Google has partnered here with great hardware companies, giving us a Motorola built device, powered by the NVIDIA Tegra 2 ARM SoC.
One of the things that veteran Android users will notice right away when looking at a Xoom in action is the lack of the standard Home, Menu, Back, and Search buttons of Android devices of the past. This is actually due to a Google decision, and not one on Motorola’s part. In Honeycomb, the way you navigate through the operating system has been reworked, and these buttons integrated into the UI, instead of the device itself. This allows Google greater flexibility in displaying these navigational items when needed, and flexibility to change their appearance or function down the road in later revisions of Android.
This isn’t the only major revision to the user interface in Honeycomb. Another major change that the Honeycomb UI design is more landscape oriented. This even marks a shift in the general tablet market as well. With the most popular tablet being the iPad, which is more portrait oriented, Honeycomb seems to make better use of the tablet form factor. However, this also exacerbates the eternal issue of attempting to hold a 10” tablet, while using it at the same time.
Multitasking in Honeycomb
In general, Honeycomb feels like almost a completely different operating system than Android versions of the past. Between the new Menu bar, moved to the bottom of the screen, redesigned Apps section, or all of the tweaked Google apps and widgets, it feels like the most polished Android experience yet. It becomes evident that Google has really taken their time with this release, and thought it out well. The preinstalled apps, such as the new Music app, YouTube app, and Market are all great examples of how to construct a great user interface for a tablet. Part of the improvement is due to the 3D acceleration and effects made possible from such mobile chips as the Tegra 2 platform.
The impressively redesigned YouTube app in Honeycomb
However, all of the user interface improvements do not come without a price. One of the major issues of Honeycomb is backwards compatibility with applications. Be it the new Tegra platform that this device is running, or changes made in Honeycomb, we kept running into apps that would just break or not work at all on the Xoom. The degree of brokenness ranged from running in a small window, the resolution of a phone, to crashing on launch. While admittedly, 3.0 has been available for only a short period of time, developers seem to not have put forth much effort into making sure their apps are compatible with the new release.
Beyond incompatible apps, there is another issue concerning the number of tablet optimized apps. From the time we got the Xoom to the writing of this article, only the same 16 apps have been listed under the “Android Apps for Tablets” section of the Android Market. This can be taken in contrast to the iPad, which launched with many more tablet apps, and saw a faster release of them after launch.