Xoom Impressions

I took the plunge and bought the new Xoom Android 3.0 tablet four days ago and so far I am generally impressed.  That’s not to say there are not substantial flaws like applications that don’t know how to handle the large screen (e.g. Mint), applications that don’t yet match their iPad counterparts (e.g. Skype without video support) and applications promised and not yet released (e.g. logmein Ignition and Flash).  However, the good outweighs the bad.  The tablet is fast and responsive, the built-in applications for web browsing, email and calendar are excellent and the screen is very good indeed.

I can certainly see myself traveling with the Xoom instead of a laptop as long as I don’t have to do heavy-duty development.  For example, I was able to access a development environment hosted at Amazon with EC2 via RDP to do a little test, fix and patch for a C# application over an average broadband connection without the benefit of a Bluetooth keyboard.  Although I would not try this with the current 3G wireless, I fully expect Verizon’s 4G (upgrade available soon) to be fully up to the task.

On the negative side, quite a bit of the potential of the Xoom is untapped right now.  Besides 4G, early adopters will have to wait for Flash, support for the Micro SD slot and versions of popular applications that take full advantage of things like the front-facing camera and the large screen.  Although overall stability is good, I did experience problems with some popular applications such as Skype and Mint.

Developing for the Xoom has been a good experience so far.  I use Intellij with the Android SDK and developing against the device has been trouble-free.  The emulator, on the other hand, is ridiculously slow even when running on my otherwise fast I7-950 desktop.  For example, I experienced waits of up to three minutes when starting a simple hello world application on the emulator.  I can’t quite understand why it has to be so much slower than the emulator for the phone form factors.

If you want to develop for Android tablets or hate big-brother Apple, you will be happy with the Xoom tablet as it exists right now.  However, average users would probably be happier with an iPad 2.  It is lighter and thinner, has more applications available and has a better UI.  Although the Xoom has slightly better hardware , right now the software is a bit too rough around the edges to recommend an Android tablet over the iPad 2 for average users.  I fully expect open source, hardware competition and Google to eventually trump the iEmpire, but for now Jobs and company still come out on top.

I wrote the original version of this post on the Xoom.  Unfortunately, the open source WordPress Android application chopped up several of the paragraphs and inserted block quotes seemingly at random.  I guess there is at least one more application in need of an upgrade.