Motorola Xoom vs. Apple iPad: Comparing the Tablets
Let’s get cocky and assume that next week’s Apple event brings us a new iPad—the iPad 2, if you will. Let us also assume that the iPad 2 will add front- and rear-facing cameras, and thus FaceTime to the mix. And now that Motorola’s Xoom is finally available to the masses, let’s take a quick look at how the first Honeycomb tablet stacks up against the iPad we know—and the iPad we know is coming.
We ran an in-depth Xoom pricing piece earlier in the week, and the short of it is: despite the seemingly hefty price tag attached to the Xoom, a two-year Verizon contract and a Xoom are about the same cost as two years with the iPad on AT&T. This one is more or less a draw.
Safari for iOS vs. Android Browser App
This battle had the potential to be summed up in one word: Flash. Apple is unlikely to announce support for Flash next week, while the Xoom will supposedly have Flash support in the next three weeks or so. Until Adobe, Google, and Motorola sort out the hold-up, neither tablet offers a full Internet experience, but the edge has to go to the tablet that at least promises it. If Motorola (and Google and Adobe) can’t make this happen, it will be a colossal failure.
But Flash isn’t everything. Both browsers have the disappointing habit of loading mobile sites intended for cell phones instead of the full Web site you are anticipating when you type, say, espn.com into the browser. Scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page and clicking on the link to the main site will often solve this problem, but it’s an annoyance nonetheless.
The iPad’s Safari toolbar includes basic navigation, a Tabs button (which includes a number in its icon representing how many you currently have open), a bookmarks button that takes you to a traditional pull-down Bookmarks menu, a Multi-function button (Add Bookmark, Add to Home Screen, Mail Link to this Page or Print), a Google search window, and an intuitive keyboard that pops up for entering URLs or field info. Honeycomb’s keyboard is similarly easy-to-use. Android 3.0’s revamped Browser app features tabs arrayed across the top as in a traditional browser (rather than a tabs icon), a new navigation bar for refreshes, searches, forward/backward navigation, and a quick bookmark option. Both browsers re-wrap text to fit your screen when you tap on an article’s text twice.
Honeycomb slam-dunks iOS here—sorry, Apple. Perhaps next week’s new iPad will feature updated multitasking, but as things stand, Android is the winner.
Apple requires a double-click on the physical Home button, which reveals a scrollable bar at the bottom of the screen full of icons representing the apps you have used recently. Tapping one takes you to that app, right in the middle of whatever you were last doing on it. That’s helpful, but Honeycomb one-ups Apple. An on-screen button creates a vertical, scrollable array of windows—not icons—displaying each recently used app and a thumbnail of how you last left it. In other words, there’s no way to tell, at a glance, what your apps are doing when you double-click the iPad’s Home button—you just get icons. A single tap of the Honeycomb multitask button shows your active apps and what each is doing. The very idea of multitasking is to save time, and Android bests Apple here by saving multiple taps and showing you all current activity in one glance.
The primary difference here is the aspect ratio of the screens: the iPad’s 4:3 versus the Xoom’s near widescreen ratio, making the former a better fit for general photo viewing and the latter more ideal for most movie watching. The Xoom’s 10.1-inch screen is ideal for movies that are shot in this very ratio, but both screens adapt to their content well. At maximum brightness, the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen is a bit brighter than the Xoom’s. That said, the Xoom screen offers a higher resolution of 1,280-by-800 (the iPad’s is 1,024-by-768). This is not terribly noticeable when viewing Web sites, but with HD content, the Xoom edges the current iPad—who knows if next week’s update will have a higher-resolution screen. Both displays offer excellent sensitivity and multi-touch.
FaceTime vs. Talk
The current iPad has no camera, but given how hard Apple has pushed FaceTime ads in our, well, faces, it would be a shock if the new iPad doesn’t get outfitted with at least a front-facing camera. Assuming it does, FaceTime now has some stiff competition in Talk, the Honeycomb video chat app.
Talk supports multiple chats at once—you can video chat with one friend and have a text-based chat with another without ending either (though your video does pause while you ignore the video chat buddy to write your other chat partner). Connection, as with FaceTime, takes a few seconds, but the wait is not so annoying that it’s a detractor.
Are they both easy to use? Yes. But Talk gets the edge because it works across more platforms. With FaceTime, you need an Apple product to communicate with another Apple product. Talk works via Google accounts—so you can chat on your Xoom with someone on their computer (yes, even a Mac), provided they have an account as well. Seeing as multiple platforms are invited to this party, along with any Honeycomb devices, Talk is clearly a more versatile option.
If you’re a Gmail addict, the (very) slight edge goes to the Xoom—hey, it’s a Google device. You need a Gmail account in order to use the Xoom, and your account and mail is woven into the fabric of the Honeycomb OS. It uses a dedicated Gmail app, and also has an Email app for other accounts. You can sync the Xoom with Microsoft Exchange to have corporate e-mail—and calendar updates—pushed to your desktop, alongside Gmail notifications.
The iPad is pretty similar in this regard: you can sync multiple e-mail accounts—including corporate accounts—to push e-mail to your desktop, and just like on the Xoom, Gmail conversations are threaded.
Obviously, there’s much more to compare, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, since of one the devices is still (for a short stretch of days, at least) hypothetical. PCMag will be in San Francisco at the Apple event next week with full iPad 2 coverage—and more to say about how the Xoom stacks up against it. Until then, see the Xoom slideshow below.
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