Q: So what’s your opinion of Motorola’s XOOM vs Apple’s iPad 2? — Kirsten
A: Tablet-based computing has been around for over a decade, but it got a big shot in the arm last year when Apple released the original iPad.
An estimated 16.1 million tablet computers shipped in 2010 and with lots of other companies getting into the game, projections are that nearly 150 million will ship by 2015. As of this writing, the Motorola XOOM is the first real contender to the iPad dynasty, but most of the reviews compare these two on a technical level. I prefer to look at them from the functional differences, so let’s take a look at those.
They both provide a wonderful mobile platform for email, web surfing, mobile apps and photography, but how they do in each category could greatly influence your choice.
Apple’s email client is clean, flexible and great for those of us with aging vision because of Apple’s backlit screen and easily increased font size but the major difference for me was the ability to search messages. The XOOM uses Google’s Android platform that assumes that everyone uses a Gmail account for email (which has the search feature) so the built-in generic email client is pretty basic. Anyone required to use a corporate email account will not be happy with this limitation on the XOOM.
The web surfing experience is pretty similar until you start working with more than one webpage. The XOOM has tabbed browsing, which makes it easy to flip between sites and the copy/paste function is much more conducive to us users with “fat finger syndrome.”
Switching between webpages on the iPad 2 requires that you flip back to a menu of open sites and the copy/paste controllers are small dots that can easily get missed.
Mobile apps are truly the best reason to own a tablet, and in this area the iPad platform blows the Android platform out of the water. Since Apple had a 10-month head start, there are over 65,000 tablet-specific apps for the iPad, while the brand-new Android tablet platform has a couple hundred apps written specifically to take advantage of the larger display.
In the picture-taking arena, the technical specs and the elaborate controls on the XOOM make it much more appealing to anyone serious about taking pictures. The XOOM’s 5 megapixel rear-facing camera and the 2 megapixel front-facing camera capture much more detail than the iPad 2’s 1 megapixel rear-facing camera and the VGA (less than a third of a megapixel) front camera.
The XOOM also has a built in LED flash and various controls for white balance, color effects, scene mode, macro focus and more. The iPad 2’s camera is useless in low-light situations and the “take it or leave it” attitude towards images is surprising.
Some additional pros of the iPad 2 include its lighter weight and size, the ability to buy a wi-fi only version or a 3G version from either AT&T or Verizon, and various storage options (16, 32 or 64 GB). It’s much easier for a novice to pickup and start using and it’s cheaper (prices range from $499 to $829 versus the XOOM’s one model at $799 or $599 with 2-year Verizon data contract).
Some additional pros of the XOOM include expandable memory (base model is 32 GB with a soon to be activated micro SD expansion slot), it’s able to show Flash content on the web, free future upgrade to 4G (on the Verizon network; no wi-fi-only version yet) and it uses the much more open Android platform.
In general, I see the iPad 2 as the better choice for the average nontechnical user that isn’t too concerned about taking pictures or video. The XOOM is clearly more appealing to the more technical crowd that is interested in tweaking and modifying what it can do.
One other consideration for first-time tablet buyers: The original iPad is $100 cheaper than the iPad 2 and provides virtually the same user experience, so if taking pictures and video aren’t important (very useful for the social media crowd), opt for the “old” model and save money.
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.