Posted by: Eddie | March 28, 2011

A subjective comparison between the Motorola Xoom and iPad 2

As of this Sunday I now own both an iPad 2 (32gb/wifi/black) and Motorola Xoom (32gb+/wifi). I won’t delve into the gadget addiction that leads me to own 2 tablet devices, but suffice to say that I got a nice discount on the Xoom and recently received a decent bonus and raise from work.

There are plenty of formal reviews of each device out there, so I’ll assume readers have already seen the formal specs for each.  There are also plenty of comparisons (many seeming partisan to me), and I’m writing this comparison as someone who believes he is relatively agnostic when it comes to Android vs iOS.  I tend to “lean Android” in general, but think each approach has advantages and disadvantages when compared to the other.  This post will be a subjective “user experience” comparison between the two.

I’ve owned my iPad 2 since launch date, and have used it constantly since then. I’ve only had the Xoom two days. I used it almost all day Sunday, and showed both tablets off to several people at work today who expressed interest in one or both of them. After my experience with both has deepened I’ll have one or more follow-up posts on the current state of which I’m using most, but here is my initial assessment of each.  I’ll touch on topics in the order I experienced them as I used the tablets.

Look and Feel

The iPad 2 is noticeably sleeker, both to look at and in terms of width and weight. The Xoom has a solid, clean albeit plain appearance. The iPad 2 (I’ll just refer to it as the ‘iPad’ from here on) more immediately felt like a cutting edge product, and the Xoom did not have as strong a “wow I really am living in the 21st century after all” feel to it, at least at first.  Neither one would be comfortable to hold in one hand for long, and in most situations when you’ll have it propped on your lap, stomach, armrest, or whatever, the thickness and weight does not differ enough to be a critical advantage for either one.

The Display

Once again the iPad had more of an immediate “wow factor” to it. Its display is brighter, the colors are noticeably more vivid, and it retains that brightness better as you look at it from different angles.  Seen alone the Xoom’s display is still very good, but when first put next to each other there’s no denying the iPad makes a more positive first impression.

However, with a bit of exploration that advantage is lessened by a couple things. First, the Xoom’s auto brightness level is set to be dimmer than the iPad’s.  Going into its settings and adjusting the brightness shows that the Xoom’s display is more capable than you may initially have thought.  Further, using apps or viewing web pages that have small text reveals that while the Xoom’s screen resolution is not much higher, that difference is noticeable and sometimes important.

I’ve found the Xoom’s display clearly shines (no pun intended) when it comes to reading ebooks.  When using the Kindle app on each, especially with a small font selected, I (and everyone else I showed it to) had a clear preference for the Xoom’s display.  Text was noticeably crisper and easier to read on the Kindle app for the Xoom.  The clarity of small text on web pages seemed to vary more, with the iPad looking sharper in some cases, and the Xoom in others.  However, overall, the Xoom’s display extra resolution is noticeable.

Unfortunately the Xoom’s display is undermined by how reflective it is. Yes, it has sturdy Gorilla Glass for peace of mind, but it is much more prone to having glare from light sources above or behind you interfering with a clear view of it.

Each tablet’s screen size (the Xoom’s takes a more “widescreen” approach) will also affect your impression of it.  Certain web sites and apps fit more naturally into the Xoom’s wider form factor, and others seemed to work a better in the iPad’s.  Videos, on the other hand, seemed more at home with the Xoom’s screen ratio.

Anyone planning to read lots of ebooks or watch lots of videos should take a closer look at the Xoom, but those concentrating on web browsing, e-mail, and/or running apps that are not e-book or video related would most likely prefer the iPad’s display.

Basic Tablet Operations

The conventional wisdom is that Android is a “harder”, “more confusing” operating system.  It may not be quite as simplistically layed out as iOS, but unless you’re a technophobe unwilling to put 15 to 30 minutes into learning something, I can’t see how it could remotely be thought of as “confusing”.  It has a few core concepts that once understood make it as easy to use and appreciate as iOS.

Yes, Android has more options than iOS, but after a few minutes of use these options make sense, and are generally well laid out.  It is these extras that really make Android shine in comparison to iOS for me.  iOS’ simplicity is a strength for the non-technical: it does tend to behave more consistently, and apps seem in general to be better behaved in adhering to UI standards that keep things flowing smoothly without lots of need for “figuring things out” on the part of the user.

But, Android’s advantages are significant: first of all there are widgets.  On the iPad you live in a world of little squares. Each little square either represents an app, or a folder containing multiple apps. That’s it, end of story.  You want something that stretches for all or part of a row, or a larger square showing more info? Forget it.

On the other hand many Android apps also come with one or more widgets that can be placed in any one of your home screens. CNN has a widget that scrolls through top stories, either at a fixed rate or flips through stories at your touch. Music players can have VCR-like controls right on your screen to control your music. A view of your mailbox will let you quickly review new messages, or a widget of your day’s calendar could show you the day’s agenda and let you quickly scroll through it to see what’s up next.

The power of widgets is that you can access this sort of fundamental information at a glance without entering and exiting a variety of apps. Instead of going into my calendar to see my day’s schedule, then going into my e-mail to see what messages have arrived, then going into my news app to see top stories, etc., I can see it all layed out on my home screen in whatever arrangement I’d like and review it all at a glance without app-hopping.

Widgets show that the iPad, in contrast to its sharp, forward thinking physical appearance and design, can feel positively dated and outmoded in this respect.

Another area the iPad seriously lags is with notifications.  The iPad’s notifications consist of crude dialog boxes that always pop-up in the middle of your screen and you must immediately follow them to another app, or close and remember to follow-up on later.  Android, on the other hand, has an elegant notification bar in the lower right (in the case of Honeycomb) that accumulates all your notifications as they come in, with a series of small icons showing what awaits you.

You can quickly touch the notification area to see a list of all these notifications and either dismiss them, ignore them, or touch to follow them whenever you choose. You aren’t left making a choice between immediately interrupting whatever it is you’re doing at the moment or risking forgetting about the notification later on.

Like the iPad, the Xoom & Honeycomb allow you to have multiple screens full of icons (and widgets in the case of the Xoom.)  When placing icons, the Xoom has a much more sophisticated system that shows you all 5 screens in an overview, and lets you place multiple icons at once to one or more screens, or you can drop individual icons to your screen of choice.  If you drag & hold an icon/widget over a screen it zooms in to let you precisely place it if you wish, and then brings you back to the overview to place more icons/widgets.

As with widgets, the greater number of options may be a touch confusing at first, but the whole system works very well, and a few minutes of practice will make it second nature in no time.

In terms of scrolling, touch responsiveness, etc., the iPad had a slight advantage.  It was more common to see (slight) hitches and pauses while scrolling on the Xoom, while the iPad was usually buttery smooth.  On the other hand the greater operating memory of the Xoom made it quicker to switch between tasks, and less likely that you’d see the equivalent to the “page loading checkberboard pattern” that you’d see on the iPad if you too-hastily scrolled through web pages.

Overall, much as the physical beauty of the iPad makes a strong first impression, the greater flexibility and sophistication of Android’s approach makes a strong later impression as you dive into the capabilities of each device’s basic operations. I strongly prefer Honeycomb to iOS in terms of the options it provides.


Both devices zip along quite nicely.  I had no complaints about either one, with no clear advantage one way or the other.


In initial reviews the Xoom was knocked for being glitchy & unstable at times, something that was not apparent in my experience so far.  Perhaps a month’s worth of bug fixes has ironed the most egregious of those problems out, because I was quite comfortable with the Xoom’s reliability.  It wasn’t perfect, and some apps (e.g. Dolphin HD, an alternative browser) force-closed quite a bit, however that was the exception rather than the rule.

In my past month of using the iPad I regularly have apps suddenly close on me, and have to restart them. I wouldn’t say it happens frequently, but it also happens enough that I don’t feel particularly surprised when it does.

Overall the iPad is more stable, but the Xoom must have made some significant strides in the last few weeks because it’s working quite well in my experience so far, and the difference is negligible.

Battery Life

From reading most reviews I expected the Xoom to have good-but-not-great battery life. The iPad has superb battery life, and I was surprised that my first couple of days of heavy use of the Xoom has shown its battery life to be just as good as the iPad’s, when left on the (IMHO too dim) auto brightness. Bumping up its brightness to better levels has made it’s battery life nudge a little closer to the 8 hours or so most reviewers seem to be saying, but either device is fantastic when it comes to long lasting runtimes.  The iPad does still seem to have an edge to me, but in my experience so far it’s less than I expected after reading initial reviews.

App Selection

Everyone knows the App Store has many more apps than the Android Market. However, as Android’s share of the OS pie grows by leaps and bounds that gap is closing. In the world of cell phones the significance of this gap is not nearly as great as it used to be. It is now routine for most major apps to show up on both eventually, and it’s much less common to have something only come out for one or the other, it’s just a question of which it comes out first for, and when the next version will follow.

Android tablets on the other hand have a more significant gap.  The iPad’s one year advantage has lead to a much greater selection of tablet-optimized apps that dwarfs the handful out for the Xoom.  Anyone buying the Xoom has to make a leap of faith that Android tablets will gain enough of a foothold that developers will begin to release apps for it with greater frequency.

However, I’m disappointed that many reviews of the Xoom, and comparisons of Android tablets to the iPad overlook one significant fact: Android apps developed for cell phones are much more likely to scale well to a tablet than iOS apps.  The iPad can run apps written for iPods and iPhones, but the manner it does it is quite crude: you either see the app taking up a small centered area of the screen, or it is inflated to fill the screen, but usually that also means text and graphics  look fuzzy and unattractive.

On the other hand many Android apps seem to scale much more intelligently than their iOS kin. Perhaps this is one advantage of the much more greatly “fragmented” Android ecosphere: even basic apps have to be much more “device-aware”, and adjust accordingly to a wider-array of screen resolutions and so on. The Xoom and other Android tablets are just another resolution added to the mix.

For example, Verizon has an app that lets you view FiOS TV schedules and control your DVR from your Android phone. I installed and ran it on my Xoom, and it scaled up beautifully and worked well.  There’s one little part of the guide that doesn’t refresh properly when you scroll, but other than that the  app seems to work quite nicely for me. Other than that one minor glitch the designed-for-cell-phone Verizon app works as well on the Xoom as the iPad-specific version does for it.

So, while the Apple app store has an undeniable advantage when it comes to sheer volume of tablet-optimized apps, it’s not quite as dire as most comparisons would make you think. You’re still making a leap of faith with the Xoom, but even if you don’t see lots of tablet-optimized apps, you still have a good shot at having many Android phone-targeted apps work quite well on the Xoom.

Taking a step back and looking at app quality, I’d say most iPad apps have an advantage.  In a purely anecdotal and subjective perusal of a few news, music, and entertainment apps, the iPad apps generally felt more polished to me.  That’s not to say the Xoom’s apps were slouches, it’s just that the iPad apps tended to have smoother user experiences overall.  Once again, potential Xoom owners would have to take a leap of faith that Android app developers will grow in sophistication as they learn to take advantage of all that Honeycomb & Android tablets have to offer.


Showing the tablets to people at work confirmed the general consensus that people who are less tech-oriented, and want to use their tablet for a few clear, simple tasks such as web browsing, e-mail, etc. gravitated towards the iPad and said they’d prefer to get it instead of the Xoom.

My more technical friends who saw both appreciated the widgets, notification system, multi-tasking, and greater flexibility of Android as I did.  All of them said they would be hard pressed to choose between the two, as am I.

I think the iPad is a gorgeous device that deserves many of the superlatives Apple uses to describe it. I’ve been *very* happy with mine so far, it really is lovely.  On the other hand I’ve found the Xoom, in its current state, does not deserve much of the criticism it has received.  It provides stiff competition for the iPad 2.

If you find my write up skewing towards the Xoom, it’s because I feel I need to counter lots of the prevailing “wisdom” regarding it. My experience so far has been quite positive with it as well.  The iPad 2 is much more commonly written about, and in all but the most tablet-phobic or Android-centric fan sites seems to be assessed reasonably accurately.

Next Steps

I’ve spent the last month heavily using the iPad 2, and enjoying every minute of it.  I’m going to concentrate on using the Xoom extensively for the next month and see how it fares.  Of course right now I’m consistently reaching for the Xoom more, but I’ve only had it for a couple days so that’s natural. It will be interesting to see if I start chafing to get back to my iPad 2 after a couple weeks, or if it increasingly remains neglected in a corner while I continue happily using the Xoom more.  I’ll keep you posted!


  1. Excellent and objective analysis!

  2. Nice review. I agree that for those non-techie types,the iPad 2 is the way to go. I’ve considered returning my Xoom but will ride it out as Honeycomb is brand new and needs time to simmer.

  3. One of the best (impartial) reviews I have come across. I decided to go the Xoom route because in my usage, any tablet without a card reader and a USB port is just lousy design. Difficult to understand how Apple could have been so moronic as to design these out!

  4. Very informative and objective review. I would be great to get your perspective after a month or 2 of xoom use.


    • Thanks Maarten, I plan on posting another update in a week or so, and then one more a week or two after that.

  5. Really glad I ran across an unbiased opinion. I cannot understand why no USB on the ipad. The memory is expandable on the xoom, which I like, instead of buying a new ipad to get more memory. I am still in the pre-buying phase. I think I will wait to read your next review before I leap in. I do like the feel of the ipad. What is the deal with flash player? One review (CNN) said xoom does not support flash either.

    • When initially released the Xoom did not yet have flash support implemented, but since then the Flash Player app has been added to Android Market and if you download that it plays flash fine. I’ve downloaded it, and it definitely handles flash now!

      I’ll post again in another week or so with my longer term impressions.

  6. Excellent review of both the Android OS and the Xoom!

    I waited for an Android tablet for a long time because the iPad’s OS and UI although simple and very easy to use are a little too boring for me. I didn’t care much about the limited apps since it wont be long before they follow.

    However, as a photographer I ended up buying a first gen iPad as a place holder for a Samsung 10.1 tab. The main reason for me, was the color accuracy of the display. Not only the contrast but the color saturation and brilliance of the iPad’s display. The colors look almost exactly as on my computer, and that is very important for a photographer, especially if you are going to use it to show your work. Otherwise I would own a Xoom.

    • The iPad’s colors are definitely richer, and I can see how for a photographer that would be a big plus. I hope things work out well for whatever tablets and other fun gadgets you end up using for your photography!

  7. Same positive impression as other commentators, Yasi-san, thanks for your unbiased opinion & excellent review of the 2 germ techies that hard to choose. I might have to buy both as you did to play with.
    I’ll revisit in few weeks to see how you long term impression change to these 2 exceptional products
    P.S almost call you Sire, Ms Eddie

    • Glad you liked my review, Indy Lee! And, I am a ‘Mr.’, so you were right the first time. I kind of like the sound of “Mr. Eddie”, actually, though people old enough will remember the show “Mr. Ed” about the talking horse, so I probably shouldn’t go by that. 😉

  8. This is BY FAR the best and most comprehensive review of the Xoom I have read. I own a 32GB iPad, and a Xoom as well, and have been angry at most of the comparisons I read as well.

    Although I think you may want to change your wording… I think you mean “objective” rather than “subjective”.

    A couple of things I think you missed out on…

    1. The requirement for the use of the virus iTunes.
    2. The ability to wirelessly synch with your PC, without the use of applications.
    3. The lack of flash on the iPad. (I know, it’s been beat to death, but sadly, most iPad users have NO IDEA how this affects their browsing experience… especially if they are interested in any form of adult content.)

    I loved my iPad, it is a wonderful piece of technology… but… like you said, it’s more for the simple…. it would be great for my 75 year old dad.

    Anybody who takes 15 minutes to learn how Android works can tell you how much more customizable it is.

    I’m not a big fan of having Steve Jobs’ cold hand gripping my testicles…. telling me what I can and can’t do with my device.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Scott. I did deliberately pick the word ‘subjective’ because much of my review is based on my personal reaction to the two devices, although I do try to be objectively factual as well when I can. Thanks too for highlighting the features that are important to you in shaping your preferences.

      It’s tough for the Xoom because many of its virtues are best understood after extended playtime and experimentation with it, and are most appreciated when someone knowledgeable is walking you through it. It’s less likely that someone casually goofing around with one in a store will appreciate them when a colorful iPad with some sleek apps is sitting nearby.

      I did laugh at your last analogy. I think many people see it as a protective hand on the shoulder instead. One person’s safe environment is another one’s prison! 🙂

  9. Thank you for your unbiased review.

  10. By far the best “real world” comparison. Finally, a comparison that truly makes sense from the user’s standpoint. I’m getting a XOOM.

  11. Fantastic Job! I have sent the link to many friends that are still leaning to the iPad even though some have android phones. I amazes me how people will take “a friend heard that…..” as gospel instead of doing a little research themselves.
    I would be getting one of these but unfortunately I am between jobs and already in the dog house for the $20 a month unlimited data plan i got with my new android phone (Mytouch4g). I really hope the at&t – T-Mobile buyout gets blocked.

  12. Nice review. I am a die hard Apple junkie (25 year habits die hard) but have nothing against the Xoom and can appreciate the advantages. I personally rarely miss flash but the more flexible home screen displays that the Xoom implements would be nice. I also think a rear camera on a tablet is a waste and I’m pleased that Apple didn’t spend much on their camera….wonder if motorola is wishing they could shave a few bucks off the selling price of the Xoom by having a cheaper camera on the back.

    BTW – having owned a number of iOS devices, I think the continual (at least for a few years) iOS free upgrades is an under appreciated perk. My iPad is much more functional (air play to an apple tv is awesome!) than at purchase less than 1 year ago. Time will tell if android tabs offer the same upgrade experience.

    I’m also very interested in the HP tablet running web os. Should be a great buyers market in another year 🙂

    Here’s to great competition creating great choices for all of us. Even the most die hard apple hater out their should say a quiet “thank you” to Apple for leading us here….

  13. Do you have any more reviews on gadgets? I am considering a netbook for my computer illiterate relative. He needs simple, cheap, easy. Basic office 2010 and internet for college purposes.

    • Sorry Lori, I don’t have many gadget reviews, especially for netbooks. I hope your relative gets something he likes! I do tend to read up a lot on gadgets, and own a few too many of my share of them too, so if you do have a specific question in the future feel free to run it by me. Good luck!

  14. This is a great review. Thanks! I recently purchased a Zoom wireless tablet. I was brand new to android and after a day of playing around with it have it down nicely. I think now that the wireless only version has been released sales will soar as many folks like me do not want a carrier data plan. This should push developers to update apps for the honeycomb system.

    For what its worth the zoom is $589 at Costco and it includes a case. Costco also said it could be returned in 90 days and also extends the warranty for an additional year as they do with all their electronics.

    If you get one give it a day of use and I hope you love the zoom as I do!

    • I got mine at Costco too, same deal. Their very generous return policy also made it a much easier decision to give it a shot! I hope you continue to get much fun and enjoyment out of yours, Mike.

  15. Interesting perspectives. As a Libertarian (which could mean damn near anything)… I think you need to do some more research before classifying us as just a bunch of “Republicans”.

    Here’s a good start…… in reading this, you will find that the term “Libertarian” has a definition in EVERY political ideology.
    But for the sake of argument, I will concur that the majority of those who call themselves “Libertarians”… in current times… are more the “Tea-Party” crowd…. which is an assortment of mostly Christian Conservatives that have basically set “social” issues aside to come together for the sake of “fiscal” issues, and concern over the size, scope and influence of the federal government. I would venture a guess that most of this came about not just because of President Obama… but a combination of Obama, the national debt, and the tripling of the budget deficit, and fears (quite possibly unjustified due to mis-information) over what will happen with Obamacare.

    If I were forced to label them, it would be “Small Federal Government Fiscal Libertarians”. And while they aren’t for new taxes, polls have shown that a vast majority of Americans are for the CURRENT tax rates.

    That being said, a little about me… I am what would be classified a “classical” Libertarian… on social issues I am very liberal, I am against the death penalty, I support the legalization of “most” drugs, I support a woman’s right to choose (with reasonable restrictions), I don’t support any government sanction of marriage… for either homosexuals or heterosexuals (the government shouldn’t be in the marriage business at all), I support the right of every American to keep and bear arms (with reasonable restrictions), I believe in a small federal government, and state’s rights.

    I am an Atheist… not a Christian Conservative… although I am a white heterosexual male.

    And your statement :
    “I’ve always found it rather odd that most Libertarians say how much they want government out of our lives yet, as this person alludes, consistently vote for the party that would so gleefully trash so many personal freedoms.”

    Seriously made me laugh.

    While I’m not a Republican, they are often times the only choice I have that fits most closely to the aspects of ideology that I value. And if the thought process of believing in personal responsibility and denouncing the “nanny” state is “trashing personal freedoms”… then I will be more than happy to trash them with the Republicans.

    I, along with my Democrat friends, denounced the Patriot Act… and President Obama not only EXTENDED it, but EXPANDED it. Yet I’m sure you will be voting for him… I was joined by my Democrat friends in my anti-war rally’s… yet abandoned when President Obama started yet another war.

    My Democrat friends gladly joined me in denouncing the raising of the debt ceiling in 2006… yet now all I hear is CRICKET… CRICKET… CRICKET…
    All of this hypocrisy from the left… yet I’m guessing you will vote for President Obama.

    That’s fine, I have no ill will towards you for your beliefs… but please, don’t bash individuals for finding their “Libertarianism”… when the VAST majority of Democrats will be selling out their votes to a president who’s initial promises of “Hope and Change” have done nothing more than morph into the status quo.

    Seriously… the funniest part is that anybody believes what EITHER of the two major parties are telling them nowdays. Neither party acutally cares about the people or the nation. Both parties are not only beholden to corporations/unions/special interest groups…. but are corrupt as well.

    Good day.

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