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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: A tie, despite the iPad's slight advantage in being able to copy Web images and print Web pages.

Deathmatch: Location support
Both the iPad and the Xoom support GPS location, and both can triangulate location based on Wi-Fi signals. As noted earlier, the Xoom's beta Navigation app is better than the iPad's Maps app when it comes to directions while driving.

Although both the iPad and the Xoom ask for permission to work with your location information, the Xoom does not provide controllable settings for location use by the device or individual applications, as the iPad does.

The winner: The Xoom, for its better navigation app.

Deathmatch: User interface
It's often a throwaway comment that Apple's UIs are better than everyone else's, though it's not always true, as evidenced by the MobileMe service. But the iPad's iOS 4 is in fact a better-designed UI in many respects, allowing easier and faster access to the device's capabilities and information. Where the Xoom's Android 3.0 OS outshines the iPad in terms of UI is through its widgets and notification capabilities, as previously mentioned.

Android users will find the Xoom's UI both familiar and strange. Gone are two standard buttons at the bottom of all Android smartphones: Search and Menu. These buttons now appear at the discretion of each application in the upper right of the screen. The standard Home and Back buttons remain at the bottom of the Xoom screen, though they use entirely different–and ugly–icons. These two on-screen buttons and the notification widget take up the entire bottom of the screen, shrinking the available viewing area. (On Android smartphones, these buttons are in the case rather than on-screen, and the notification widgets appear only on the home screens, not in all screens.) This loss of screen especially matters on the Xoom in landscape orientation, where the widescreen layout already shortens its screen area uncomfortably compared to the iPad.

Operational UI. The Xoom doesn't suffer the excessive reliance on the Menu button as Android smartphones do. The Xoom instead uses its larger screen to make relevant controls easily accessible on-screen, as the iPad and iPhone always have.

The Android OS's Settings app can be disorienting, and the white-on-black text makes it nearly impossible to view in bright daylight. For example, there are two Wi-Fi options: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Settings. Tapping Wi-Fi turns off Wi-Fi—not what I expected. To find a Wi-Fi network, you tap Wi-Fi Settings. After a while I learned the difference, but it was an unnecessary exercise. (Bluetooth is handled the same awkward way.) The iPad's iOS doesn't let you confuse turning Wi-Fi on or off with selecting a network, thanks to a single location with clearly designated controls.

 

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