One day after the Xoom is officially released, there are already numerous reviews out in the web hyping the device with glowing specs. Video reviews are even more convincing that iPad finally has a real contender competing in the tablet space, currently dominated by the iPad. With so much hype out there, I noted-to-self that I have to go out there to a Verizon store to check it out. Perhaps I won’t have to live with the confines of Apple’s locked-down approach to doing things anymore. Maybe, as Motorola’s superbowl ad recently suggested, we finally have choices, and are no longer limited only by what Apple offers us. The prospect of not having to deal with annoying notifications that I must respond to (in iOS) sounds nice. Having task switching views, virtual buttons, youtube video walls, 3d Google maps, super smooth user interface (UI), etc., sound even nicer.
But really, what do I want to do on a tablet on a day-to-day basis? After years of using the iPhone and a brief four months of using an iPad, I have a good idea of what I do on phones and tablets daily: I’d check emails, browse the web a bit, play some games, and read a book or flip a few pages.
Out I went, today, to a Verizon store to check the Xoom out.
After arriving at the store, I was filled with excitement and feelings of liberation (from Apple). After clicking on the virtual home button, and then on the app button in the upper right corner of the screen, the app grid appeared. I swiped left; I swiped right. Smooth UI, not bad so far, though, not as nice as the iPad page-flicking experience. iPad seems to have the least amount of lags. When you flick, its icons just follow you within a ten of a second after you moved your fingers. The Xoom, on the other hand, feels a bit more laggy, like, about 2 or 3/10 of a second chasing after your index finger. Not a show-stopping experience – it’s tolerable.
So far so good…so, it was time to dig deeper – time to check out other apps to see if my ‘experience’ would stay consistent – consistently smooth and intuitive, as it is in the iPad, where UI and Apps all have an intuitive UI and a consistent smoothness feel to it.
The first thing I wanted to check out, invariably, was Angry Birds, lol. But hey, it’s not bad, though, not great either. The first bird I catapulted flew across to the right. As soon as the angry dude hit, the pigs flew. But soon after the wood fragments & glass shatters blew around, the smoothness of frame rates began to suffer a little, which was not unlike the gen one iPad’s performance. But wait, I did the same thing on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I remembered there was no slowdown then! Plus, that Galaxy Tab runs on a single CPU, just a bit faster than the iPad. Yet, it was buttery smooth! And the Xoom, an Android 3.0 Honeycomb platform, with dual-core 1GHZ CPU, speedier GPU, and 1GB of RAM to boost – everything should be super-smooth, much smoother than the Galaxy Tab or the iPad’s single CPU system should be able to deliver. Yet, it was just not the case here. Samsung 1CPU / buttery smooth; Xoom 2CPUs / stuttering & laggy. This is not exactly something you’d shell out eight smackers just so that you can have the most impressive specs on an incohesive device, in order to become the new kid on the block with da xoom xoom (ok i went off a little here). I’d call that Strike One, Xoom.
The second thing I wanted to gauge my ‘experience’ from was to find out if the Mail (gmail) app is semi-decent. As soon as it opened, having iPad’s mail app I’ve become accustomed to, I was thoroughly disappointed. The gMail app felt almost as if I were using webmail (accessing mail through a browser). It was clumsy, slow, buggy, did not flow smoothly and intuitively as the iPad’s mail app does. Darn! I wanted to believe! I wanted to believe that there are alternatives out there, finally. It’s just not the case here with the Xoom/ Android 3.0 system. My excitement was beginning turn into disappointment. This was Strike Two, Xoom.
Next, I tapped on the globe – the web browser. Pages loaded OK in Verizon’s 3G network in downtown Manhattan, around 2 PM on a Friday afternoon. Not too shabby, I thought. Let’s try flicking the pages up and down…not too bad either. Having been spoiled by the great iPad UI experience, although it was not as smooth as the iPad, things weren’t so jittery as to ruin my experience. Next, let me ‘X’oom in and out with the pinch/zoom finger gestures. Unfortunately, this was where my experience was beginning to get ‘ruined’.. The frame rate was at best 3 – 10 frames per seconds. This simply did not compare to iPad’s almost consistently smooth 30 – 60 frames-per-second zoom/pinch gesturing ability. The quicker I changed my zoom/pinch movements, the worse Xoom’s frame rate became. Now, I must say that this was almost strike three, Xoom. The only reason I couldn’t call it strike three is, in real life, no one zooms & pinches on webpages the way I was while testing this thing. OK, Strike Two Point Five, Xoom.
Finally, so that I could play with the book-reading experience, I tabbed the book app to open a book. Well, the book app was almost an exact copy-cat of iBook on the iPad (what wasn’t copied from iPad, you may ask?), except, it’s just not as buttery-smooth with its page curling animation during a page-flip. The animation was not as smooth; the orientation switching response was quite laggy, by 1 – 2 seconds after you turn the tablet 90 degrees. Another missing feature well done on the iPad is that I could not double-click on a word to look up its definitions. Hum…I think that made it Strike Three, Xoom.
Three Strikes, You’re Doomed.
What I am seeing is, I guess, Google can copy the iPad’s surface (smoother UI), but they simply cannot copy iOS’s core kernel functions. iOS is a derivative of OS/X, the best and most usable implementation of a unix flavor – BSD, coupled with the most intuitive user interface ever. Apple has spent years coding it’s Core kernels: CoreImage, CoreVideo, CoreAudio, CoreMidi etc. iOS perhaps is really five years ahead of competition, as stated by Steve Jobs during his introduction of the first iPhone to the world.
After all the hypes, Honeycomb doesn’t sound very organic or sweet after this experience, just as Google TV wasn’t going to change the way we watch TV in our living room. In fact, who owns Google TV?
My prediction is Xoom will just be another also-ran iPad killer, already knocked out in round one.
Now, I will wish I don’t have to wait several more days to see what 3/2/11 will bring to us the 2 of iPads.