Device of the week: Motorola Xoom

Introducing Dan's Device Of The Week. Today: the Motorola Xoom, the first tablet-optimized Android Honeycomb device.

Today we are going to add a new weekly feature to the Mobile Platform – Dan’s Device Of The Week.

Every Friday I will pick out a device or a mobile application or some type of service or social website to highlight here on the Mobile Platform. For right now it will be called Dan’s Device Of The Week because I like alliteration and it has a snappy tone to it. Next week it might be the App Of The Week, I do not know. Since I came up with this idea this morning, we will see where it goes.

This week it is indeed a device: The Motorola Xoom.

What is it?

The Xoom is the first tablet to ship running the Android 3.0 Honeycomb designed specifically for tablet PCs. Outside of the Dell Streak (a weird little tablet/giant phone thing launched in January), and perhaps a couple of other less noteworthy devices, it is the first large tablet to run a dual-core processor to compete directly with the iPad. It has a 10.1-inch screen, 32G of memory (with a 32G expandable option), a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel back camera.

It comes with 3G connectivity and it is upgradable to 4G within a month, and Wi-Fi (though only activated with a data plan from Verizon) and will also eventually support Flash 10.1.

Honeycomb brings some improvements to Android and employs almost a completely new user interface from those used to Android phone versions such as Éclair, Frozen Yogurt or Gingerbread. It has added security features within the software developer kit that will enable third-party security teams to operate within the kernel to improve security (such as 3LM, which was acquired by Motorola last month).

What is the buzz?

The geeks of the world are understandably excited by the first tablet-optimized version of Android. The specifications are great, which makes the nerds of the world's hearts go pitter-patter at the mention of the Xoom. The Nvidia Tegra 2 processor along with the 1G of internal RAM make for a snappy user experience and a very responsive touch interface.

It is also expensive. The Xoom starts at $800 without a contract with Verizon. It is subsidized to $600 with a two-year contract with data plans starting at $20 for 1G a month. In retrospect, though, especially in comparison with the iPad 2, the price can be justified by the specs. The comparable iPad 2 is listed at $729 but does not have expandable memory or the ability to do 4G. A Wi-Fi-only version of the Xoom with the same specs is rumored to be coming for less than $600, which would put it well within range of iPad competition.

But, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs said when announcing the iPad 2, he does not care about specs. It is all about apps and ecosystem. Yet, when the original iPad came out, it had basically zero tablet-specific apps. A year later it has 65,000. So, as of right now, there are very few Honeycomb apps. But the Google ecosystem has developers are lining up to design apps for Android, and it stands to reason that tablet apps are right around the corner.

Why does the government care?

As of now, it does not. Well, not yet. Android is a security concern that is in the process of being resolved, though Honeycomb does take steps toward eliminating that problem. If an employee buys a Xoom and brings it to an IT department, they could probably make it function well enough to check enterprise e-mail and maybe enable the use of some other communication-based features. But if the iPad and its vaunted application store has little in the way of enterprise apps, Android is completely devoid of them.

That will change, perhaps soon, as Honeycomb and its ecosystem mature. NASA prefers Android a bit over Apple's iOS and Research in Motion (BlackBerry) products because Android is open source and NASA is (naturally) filled with a bunch of geeks. NASA engineers will have no problem cracking open the Honeycomb SDK or boot loader (or the whole device itself) to make it fit their needs. The less technologically savvy agencies -- the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for instance – probably won’t be boot-loading a Honeycomb tablet anytime soon.

Why do I care?

Hi! I am Dan, and I am a giant dork.

I went out to Best Buy last weekend and played with the Xoom for a long while and I like it. It is not as intuitive as an iOS device but it feels more robust. I did not buy it, but that has less to do with the device itself (I am confident that the app ecosystem and various initial reported bugs will be worked out) than the Verizon aspect of things, which makes me hesitant. A two-year contract on a tablet seems like an eternity to me, and my recent experiences with my Samsung Captivate (upgrading to Android 2.2, the fact that I would have to spend a lot more than I want to switch to a Motorola Atrix 4G) give me with buyer's remorse before I even make the buy. The iPad 2 is tempting, but Apple and its walled garden can be infuriating at times, even if the device is spectacular.


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