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Tablet deathmatch: Motorola Xoom vs. Apple iPad

Galen Gruman | March 4, 2011
As Apple commences shipping of the iPad 2, the first viable Android competitor packs a punch does battle with the original iPad.

The winner: The iPad, thanks to its more capable email and calendar capabilities. The Xoom's lack of email search and its awkward folder handling are surprising flaws that should not exist.

Deathmatch: Applications
The native apps are comparable on the two devices, providing email, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, browser, a music player, a YouTube player, a notepad app, and SMS messaging. (The Xoom provides a third-party notes app, filling a hole in the standard Android app suite.)

But the Xoom also includes the standard (still beta) Android Navigation app, which speaks directions as you navigate, as well as provides an on-screen live map and written step-by-step directions. The iPad's Maps app has comparable on-screen navigation capabilities but does not speak them as you drive. The Xoom comes with several apps not found on the iPad, including the Calculator and two apps that take advantage of the Xoom's camera: Camera and Movie Maker. (The iPad doesn't have a camera, though the iPad 2 does.) Neither tablet has apps for weather or social networking, though the Xoom comes with the Google Talk instant messaging app.

Neither device supports Flash Player, though Adobe continues to promise it for the Xoom "in a few weeks." There of course won't be a Flash Player for the iPad due to Apple's prohibition.

Right now, the real issue with the Xoom is the scarcity of available apps. Longtime stand-by apps such as the New York Times' aren't available yet, while other established apps such as USA Today's don't run on the Xoom, though it can be downloaded. The few apps that are on the market don't really take advantage of the Xoom's larger screen; Amazon.com's Kindle app, for example, displays one too-wide-to-read page when in landscape orientation rather than two facing pages as on the iPad. The Xoom doesn't display such legacy apps in a smartphone-sized window, as the iPad does, to clue you in. Additionally, I haven't found apps that auto-adjust their display and capabilities depending on whether they're running on a smartphone or tablet—a feature that has quickly become very common in the iOS world.

The Xoom and other Android tablets will need a better stable of apps to foster the addiction that iPad users exhibit with their tablets. So far, there are just 16 such apps in the Android Market. They show some of the promise of the tablet form factor, but none is exceptional.

App stores and app installation. There are tens of thousands of apps for the iPad's iOS, from games to scientific visualisation tools. Sure, there's a lot of junk, but you'll find many useful apps as well. Android doesn't have anywhere near the same library of apps as iOS, but its smartphone-oriented apps portfolio is now in the thousands and growing, with many relevant apps such as Quickoffice, for which the Xoom includes a basic version with limited creation and editing capabilities. I often find that iOS apps are more capable than their Android equivalents (such as the Kindle app)—but not always (Angry Birds, for example).

 

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