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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 Xoom supports the Android OS's widgets feature. Widgets are mini apps that you can place on the home screens. Widgets can be very helpful, showing the latest email message or Facebook update or the current time in a large clock. Thus, you can see at a glance the current status of whatever you want to easily track—one of Android's superior UI capabilities. The iPad has no equivalent capability. The Xoom, like other Android devices, has pop-up notifications that make it easy to see if you have new email or other alerts, whatever you happen to be doing. Alerts appear in the lower right of your screen—not at the top as in Android smartphones. Again, the iPad has no equivalent.

Multitasking. The iPad's iOS 4 supports multitasking if enabled in the apps themselves; Apple has made specific background services available for multitasking, rather than let each app run full-on in parallel, as on a PC. As you switch iOS apps, they suspend, except for their multitasking-enabled services, which conserves memory and aids performance. By contrast, Android supports full multitasking, whereby default apps continue to run in the background when you take care of other duties. From a usage point of view, these differences aren't apparent; on both devices, apps appear to multitask the same.

The major difference related to multitasking is the UI for switching among apps. On the iPad, a double-click on the Home button pulls up a list of active apps; it's easy to see what's running and switch among them. On the Xoom, a new persistent menu icon provides access to all running apps at any time, and it even shows a preview window of what the apps are currently doing (like Mac OS X and Windows 7 do in their taskbars).

The winner: The iPad, mainly because there are so few tablet apps available for the Xoom. But the widgets and notifications capabilities of the Xoom's Android OS are very handy, and you feel their omission on an iPad after you've used an Android device for a while. Plus, the Xoom's ability to show all running apps and what they're doing is a really nice feature the iPad can't match.

Deathmatch: Web and Internet
Both Apple and Google are strong forces behind HTML5 and other modern browser technologies, so it's no surprise that the iPad and Xoom both offer capable Web browsers. Note that neither is as HTML5-savvy as their desktop versions, however. Based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, the Xoom's mobile Chrome racked up 195 out of 300 (better than Android smartphones' 176) points, versus 242 for desktop Chrome (version 9.05), and the iPad's mobile Safari scored 196 versus 208 for desktop Safari (version 5.03). Tests by mobile IDE developer Sencha suggest that the Xoom browser is inferior even in HTML4 display (www.sencha.com/blog/motorola-xoom-the-html5-developer-scorecard/) compared to the iPad's; I didn't notice a qualitative difference other than greater font support on the iPad in my admittedly subjective browsing.

 

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