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Motorola XOOM WiFi only version coming to Sprint May 8?

Motorola Xoom

You all remember that Sprint branded Motorola Xoom right? Of course you do — back then, we had no idea of when it would be showing up on Sprint for people to purchase but now, that’s a slightly different story if the info seen in this image is any sort of accurate. May 8, is the expected release date for the WiFi only Motorola Xoom on Sprint but again that $599 price tag is lingering. With other tablets such as the HTC Flyer and the ASUS EeePad Transformer now or soon to be on the scene, is anyone still going to be picking up a Xoom from Sprint?

A Half-Baked PlayBook is the tip of the Firmware Nightmare

If there’s one message that comes through loud and clear about the BlackBerry PlayBook – both in our review and in others – it’s that RIM’s first tablet is half-baked in its current state. The 7-inch slate is dependent on a phone for half of its key apps, glitchy in more places than it should be, and has left reviewers warning would-be early-adopters that it might even be too early for them to consider, well, adopting. Welcome to the firmware nightmare, where every device is a work-in-progress and nobody is ever quite satisfied.

The PlayBook is just the latest in a growing number of devices pushed to market before they’re fully cooked, with manufacturers selling us on the promise of what their shiny hardware will do however many months down the line, after they’ve had a chance to similarly buff the software. Motorola’s XOOM is another good example, with a non-functioning memory card slot and missing Flash support at launch, but we’re increasingly seeing it in phones and other devices too.

Once upon a time, we’d buy a phone, live with it – and its stock feature-set – for the length of whatever agreement we’d signed up to, and then upgrade to The Next Big Thing. Now, there’s an expectation that our devices will evolve in features, functionality and stability over time: become better tomorrow than the gadget it is today.

That accelerated software cycle has, however, given manufacturers a green card to release before things are entirely ready. Consumers are treated as beta testers, hooked in with hardware and the promise of what that hardware is capable of, with the firmware to actually make all that a reality delivered somewhere down the ownership line. As our own Vincent Nguyen said, buying RIM’s latest is very similar to buying on credit: “Buy our PlayBook now, and we promise to deliver later.”

On the flip side, meanwhile, there’s a fresh sort of upgrade anxiety, a sense that the next great firmware for our phone, or our tablet, or some other gadget is just around the corner. It’s the new obsession, and it leads to all manner of paranoia when that next update isn’t quite as timely as we’d like it. Most carriers and manufacturers have told me horror stories of frenzied consumers baying frantically for the newest software release, whether that be Gingerbread on their phone or iOS on their tablet. The device you have today – the device you chose to buy in the first place – isn’t good enough any more; it’s a short, if obnoxious step to blaming OEM and network for purposefully undermining your user experience. I know of at least one PR person who, after a disgruntled and impatient smartphone owner managed to discover their direct number, called them repeatedly throughout the day accusing them of deliberately withholding their upgrade.

We’re all complicit – users chasing the holy grail of functionality, manufacturers chasing sales – but I can’t help but think that the pendulum has swung too far. When impatience, our own and that of vendors, shifts us from the occasional glitch to entirely absent apps, when we have hardware proudly mentioned on the spec sheet and yet that we can’t actually use, that’s not future-proofing but a false economy. Give me a device that serves its purpose 100-percent of its life, rather than something I’m expected to coddle until the potential catches up to the promise. In the meantime, I’m going to try to expect less from tomorrow and insist on more – even if that means more moderation – from today.

Only 100,000 Motorola XOOM tablets sold so far, Deutsche Bank claims

Motorola Mobility has sold 100,000 Motorola XOOM units through the tablet’s first two months of availability, Deutsche Bank analysts claim. The firm arrived at the 100,000 figure by using the Android developer site to see how many people are currently using the Honeycomb OS. Dow Jones’ Shara Tibken notes in her wire report that Apple’s original iPad sold 300,000 units on its first day of availability alone, rendering sales of the XOOM less than impressive. Comparing XOOM sales to iPad sales makes for good chatter of course, but a sell rate of 50,000 units per month is certainly respectable for the Honeycomb tablet. Deutsche Bank states that the current estimated sales pace is in line with its estimates of 50,000 units in the first quarter and 150,000 in the second quarter of 2011. Motorola has not revealed official sales figures for the XOOM.

Motorola XOOM and ATRIX 4G sales failures claims analyst

Motorola’s XOOM tablet and ATRIX 4G smartphone sales have reportedly “been disappointing” according to one analyst’s channel checks, with sell-through trends suggesting that the smartphone in particular has been impacted by cheap, $49 rivals. Pacific Crest’s James Faucette, quotes Forbes, claims the popularity of the iPhone 3GS and HTC Inspire – each of which undercut the ATRIX significantly in AT&T’s smartphone line-up – has meant sales were “well below forecast.”

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Motorola is yet to announce any official sales figures for either the phone or the slate. Both products scored reasonably well in reviews – you can find our ATRIX 4G review here, and our XOOM review here – though are perhaps suited more to technically advanced users than, say, the iPhone or iPad 2.

Of course, the XOOM is yet to hit retail outside of the US, which might partially explain for any mediocre sales. The WiFi-only version of the tablet is expected to arrive in the UK this week, while the 3G-enabled version is due in mid-April.

Android 3.0 and hardware acceleration

Xoom UI

Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) provides full 2D hardware acceleration in applications, andRomain Guy explains the ins and outs of enabling it in your app at the Android Developers Blog.  Mr. Guy is a software engineer for Google’s Android project, and is heavily involved in the graphics rendering code for both Gingerbread and Honeycomb, and seeing him take the time to further application development for Android is great.  He’s also one hell of a photographer, and some of his work has been used as the stock backgrounds on Android phones.

Developers should check out the source link for all the details, but we’ll keep it a little more end-user friendly here.  Hardware acceleration has been around for a while in Android for things like OpenGL games, but now normally coded apps can use and benefit from it as well.  On the Motorola Xoom, all the stock applications already use accelerated 2D graphics, and third party apps can take advantage of it with a single line added to theAndroidManifest.xml file in the source code.  If the app is using the standard set of drawables, all operations will then use the GPU when drawing them on-screen.

There are some other things to consider if you’ve written custom drawing code, which is why hardware acceleration is disabled by default.  Mr. Guy takes the time to explain what you need to do as well as what operations are supported if you need to go this route.  Looks like we’re going to be seeing some awesome third party apps coming up for tablets running Honeycomb.  [Android Developers Blog]

MOTOROLA XOOM WIFI PRICED IN UK

We already know that European retailer Carphone Warehouse has clinched the exclusive on the Motorola XOOM 3G, but it seems PC World has snatched up the WiFi-only version of the Android 3.0 Honeycomb slate. The retailer is advertising pre-orders for the XOOM WiFi, priced at £449.99 ($734).

However, it doesn’t seem that you can actually pre-order the slate yet, and there’s no sign of a release date. Carphone Warehouse has previously suggested the UK XOOM 3G will arrive in April 2011, but that’s not to say the WiFi-only version will drop at exactly the same time.

[via Coolsmartphone]

Motorola XOOM Review

Motorola’s big launch of CES 2011 and the first Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet on the market, the Motorola XOOM has a lot to live up to. In its haste to reach Verizon shelves, the XOOM could seem a little half-baked; it doesn’t get Flash Player support for another few weeks, and won’t have 4G until an update sometime in Q2. Still, as the iPad has shown, there are undoubtedly benefits to being first out of the gate, and there’s undoubtedly plenty on offer. Can the XOOM bypass pricing skepticism? Check out the full SlashGear review after the cut.

 

Hardware and Performance

Motorola’s design is sober and discrete, and where the iPad shows off its brushed metal the XOOM seemingly prefers to let the 10.1-inch display do the talking. It’s a 160dpi, 1280 x 800 WXGA panel with a capacitive touchscreen supporting multitouch gestures, and while it doesn’t use the same IPS technology as the Apple slate, it still manages decent viewing angles. We’ve had no issues with touchscreen responsiveness, though at 9.8 x 6.61 x 0.51 inches and 25.75oz it’s a somewhat heavy device, and one-handed use can get tiring.

Inside, NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 is calling the shots, a dual-core 1GHz SoC paired with 1GB of DDR2 RAM and 32GB of integrated storage. Although the XOOM has a microSD card slot, currently the tablet doesn’t support it; similarly, there’s an LTE SIM slot – filled with a blanking card – but that won’t be used until Verizon updates the tablet to 4G in Q2 2011. Instead, you get EVDO Rev.A, WiFi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, along with USB 2.0 and mini HDMI ports. Motorola is readying a WiFI-only XOOM, but that isn’t expected until later in the year.

We’ve seen sensors of various types proliferate on smartphones, and the XOOM ups the ante. As well as GPS, an accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor and gyroscope, there’s a barometer for measuring air pressure. So far there’s no actual use for it in Honeycomb, but since it’s available for third-party developers to tap into via the Android 3.0 APIs, it’s only a matter of time before somebody takes advantage.

On the front is a 2-megapixel fixed-focus camera and a tricolor notification LED, though no physical controls, while on the back is a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with a dual-LED flash. It’s flanked by stereo speakers and the power/standby button. The only other hardware control is the volume rocker on the left hand edge. A 3.5mm headphone socket is on the top edge of the slate.

Benchmarking Android devices is something of an inexact science, with various tools – synthetic and real-world – in common use and lingering issues around multicore compatibility. We ran Quadrant on the XOOM, and the Tegra 2 based slate scored 2,126. Meanwhile, in Linpack the XOOM managed 36.166, and BenchmarkPi crunched through in 559 milliseconds.

Perhaps more importantly, however, the XOOM whipped through everyday tasks with hardly a pause. Panning through the 3D-style homescreen was lag- and jerk-free, the app menu opened without delay, and apps themselves sprang to life as fast as we’ve seen on an Android device. In comparison, the single-core 7-inch Galaxy Tab feels sluggish. The healthy chunk of RAM meant that heavier webpages still rendered successfully and panned/zoomed without protest, even with multiple tabs open.

Software

We’ve already covered Android 3.0 Honeycomb in our separate review of the new tablet OS, and – in keeping with a Google Experience device – Motorola has left the software well alone on the XOOM. It’s a sensible decision, given Honeycomb’s degree of polish. In fact, the hardest part for most people has been finding the power button, which Motorola has put on the back of the slate.

The untampered OS should also mean that, as Google rolls out newer versions of Android, the XOOM is hopefully first in line to receive them, something that can’t be said the same for Motorola’s smartphone range. Considering the attention Android fragmentation gets, that’s a big element in the XOOM’s favor.

Cameras and Multimedia

Motorola has outfitted the XOOM with two cameras, a 5-megapixel unit on the back, complete with auto-focus and an accompanying dual-LED flash, and a 2-megapixel fixed-focus camera on the front that’s primarily intended for video calls. They take advantage of Honeycomb’s new camera app, complete with various effects and shooting modes, and are easily controlled with the new circular shortcut wheel (though there’s no dedicated camera shortcut key on the slate).

Stills from the 5-megapixel main camera are good, though not outstanding. The biggest surprise was how comfortable taking photos is on a tablet; while the 7-inch Galaxy Tab felt like a somewhat ridiculous, oversized smartphone, the 10.1-inch XOOM doesn’t feel awkward, and the large on-screen controls make it straightforward. Currently the Motorola tops out at 720p HD video recording at 30fps, though an update to support 1080p HD is promised at some point in the future. Clips are on a par with Motorola’s smartphone range, with generally jerk-free footage that only shows smearing on faster pans. The dual-LED flash can be used as a video light, but it’s only really of use in mildly darker environments.

As for the front camera, while it can be used for stills and video, it’s unsurprisingly not adept at either. Motorola has tuned it for video call duty, and in that it does well, producing a reasonably crisp picture that manages to keep detail even when compressed for a 3G stream. The fixed-focus does mean you lack sharpness, however, not so noticeable in video but making vanity shots unimpressive.

Photos, video and audio can be played back either on the slate itself – with the XOOM’s stereo speakers proving underwhelming for all but the most casual of listening – or, using the HDMI 1.4 output and bundled cable, on a nearby big-screen TV. The entire interface is mirrored on both the external display and the touchscreen, making for easier control, and the XOOM can handle up to 1080p Full HD playback. We’ve commented on Android 3.0′s paucity of native codec support in our OS review, but thankfully there are various third-party media players in the Android Market that do a better job with video content other MP4, WebM, 3GP and H.264/H.263. Footage is crisp, as you’d expect, and with 32GB of onboard storage there’s a decent amount of capacity for media. It’s worth noting that, if you’re a Mac user, you’ll have to install the new Android File Transfer tool, since Honeycomb won’t be recognized by OS X as a USB drive without it.

What you don’t get, at this stage, is Flash support. Adobe is busy working on Flash Player 10.2 for Honeycomb, but right now there’s not even 10.1 for backward compatibility. It’s another reason the XOOM feels somewhat rushed to market, and it knocks an important selling point from the Motorola’s roster. Yes, Flash is on its way, but with the iPad 2 launch imminent, Motorola really needed all its strengths in one place to take on the iOS slate.

Connectivity and Battery

The XOOM isn’t short on connectivity, with EVDO Rev.A, WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and USB 2.0, along with a 4G LTE update in the pipeline, but it’s worth noting that it won’t make voice calls. Verizon’s agreement is for data only, which means that if you want to actually talk with someone using the XOOM you’ll have to pick a VoIP client. Still, with Skype, Fring, Qik and others in the Android Market, and Google Talk preinstalled in Honeycomb, most users should find something to fit that gap.

As well as using the 3G connection for onboard surfing, Honeycomb comes with a mobile hotspot app that can be used to share the data out with up to five WiFi-tethered clients. It’ll likely incur a surcharge, however: Verizon has only said that data access will start from $20 per month for 1GB, and we’re assuming that, like the carrier’s phones, hotspot service will be a higher-tier package.

Verizon is also yet to detail the 4G update, which means we don’t yet know how early-adopters of the XOOM will convert their 3G tablet into an LTE one come Q2 2011. It’s possible that this is a modem firmware update, which could be released OTA or as a sideloaded install, or alternatively owners may have to take their XOOM into a Verizon store or even send it off. Still, Verizon has said it will be a free update, though it hasn’t confirmed whether there’ll be a 4G surcharge on top of the regular 3G data package.

Battery life, meanwhile, has been very impressive. With very heavy use, the XOOM lasted over 14hrs – over 8hrs of which the screen was on – before shutting down. Bear in mind that’s undergoing testing for this review, meaning a combination of browsing, media playback (both using the XOOM’s display and via the HDMI output), both WiFi and 3G connections, streaming media and photography. With more casual use, especially if predominantly browsing, we’d expect to see 9hrs or more. That’s a little less than an iPad, certainly, but still enough to be considered a strong showing in our opinion. A full recharge takes around 3.5hrs.

Accessories

Verizon provided two official accessories with our review unit, the Speaker HD Dock and a Bluetooth Keyboard. The dock is, surprisingly, more basic than that offered for the Motorola ATRIX 4G, having only power and mini HDMI connectivity. It will charge the XOOM and allows you to have a wired connection to your HDTV permanently hooked up, but we’d have preferred it if Motorola had used a full-sized HDMI port. We’re guessing the choice of a mini connector was so that the cable bundled with the tablet could be used with the dock as well, but given most users aren’t going to want to keep swapping a single cord between their bag and the dock, opting for the more common (and cheaper) full sized HDMI would have been a more sensible decision. The integrated 5W stereo speakers are more powerful than the XOOM’s own, which makes for stronger audio during video playback together with more easily audible video chats.

As for the Bluetooth keyboard, that also works as you’d expect it to, hooking up wirelessly with no issues and then allowing for easier text entry than the on-screen ‘board. It’s worth noting that, since the XOOM supports the standard Human Interface Device (HID) protocol, you can use a non-Motorola Bluetooth keyboard you might already have. Motorola’s ‘board is actually the same as offered for the ATRIX 4G, which means it adds in shortcuts to various Android apps. It’s also reasonably comfortable to type on.

Motorola also offers a Portfolio Case for the XOOM, though we didn’t have that on hand to test. As with similar examples for other tablets, it basically allows you to prop the XOOM up for easier on-screen typing or watching videos, as well as folding around to protect the display during transport. Finally, there’s a Standard Dock, which props the XOOM up and recharges it, which we also didn’t have in to test.

 

http://asset.slashgear.tv/sgplayer.swf

 

Pricing and Value

Cost is likely to be the XOOM’s most contentious aspect. Verizon and Motorola have priced the slate at $799.99 without a contact or $599.99 with a new, two-year agreement on a data-only plan. With the cheapest data package Verizon offers – $20 per month for 1GB – that adds up to almost $1,080 over the course of the contract.

In contrast, Apple’s 32GB iPad WiFi + 3G is $729. That’s less than the unsubsidized XOOM, but more than the on-contract version; however, AT&T allows iPad owners to activate and deactivate 3G service as they see fit, rather than locking them into a monthly commitment. You also get more for your money on AT&T, with iPad 3G plans offering either 250MB per month for $14.99 or 2GB for $25.

The XOOM is likely to fall in price after a couple of months – there’s always an early-adopter premium to be paid – but it’s not the home-run we’d hoped it might be. It’s worth remembering that, even if you don’t want to use Verizon’s data and only rely on WiFi to connect, you’ll still have to pay for a month’s worth of service and the activation fee.

Wrap-Up

Despite the absence of Flash support and the absence of 4G, there’s a lot to like about the Motorola XOOM. It’s a solid, discretely handsome slate, with strong battery life and whip-crack performance. Against it are the premium price tag and the ridiculous mandatory first-month data fee; frankly, Verizon have missed a trick by not giving buyers a free first month in the hope of getting them hooked to the convenience of 3G.

Much of the XOOM’s strength comes from Android 3.0 Honeycomb, and there’s little doubting that Google’s tablet-centric OS is the star of the show here. As we found in our full software review, it’s a convincing and polished platform, which brings a highly usable multitasking environment to the tablet marketplace, neatly distinct from the “oversized smartphone” accusations levied at previous Android slates.

Until Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 and LG’s G-Slate reach shelves, the XOOM has the Honeycomb space all to itself. Still, neither Motorola nor Google can afford to rest on their respective laurels. The iPad 2 is expected to debut a mere week after the XOOM goes on sale, and considering the first-gen version is still the benchmark by which new tablets are measured, the second-gen model is only going to raise the table stakes.

Nonetheless, we’re impressed by the XOOM, and by Honeycomb. Neither feels like a compromise, and with the heft of the Android Market behind them, the gap between Android and iOS has narrowed drastically. The XOOM may only be the first Honeycomb slate, but it’s a strong start to what’s going to be a fiercely competitive race.

ALSO have a look at our Android Honeycomb Review as well as an informative post by our sister site Android Community: Motorola XOOM and Honeycomb Review [All Questions Answered].

Finalized Honeycomb SDK released for Android 3.0 developers

The Android 3.0 Honeycomb SDK has been finalized, with Google pushing out the polished version on the eve of the Motorola XOOM‘s retail debut. Accompanied by an updated set of developer tools – that includes more accurate previews of how final apps will look on-device – the new SDK has the finalized 3.0 APIs.

 

A list of 3.0 Honeycomb platform highlights are here, and there’s a breakdown of differences between APIs here. Meanwhile, details on how to download and get started with the 3.0 SDK – or how to check your existing apps for compatibility with the XOOM and other slates  are here.

[via Android Community]

Motorola XOOM pre-order at Best Buy: February 24 release

Motorola’s XOOM is on track to be the first Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet commercially available, with Best Buy stores now accepting pre-orders of the 10.1-inch slate ahead of its retail release on this coming Thursday, February 24. Priced at $799.99 complete with embedded Verizon 3G broadband – and set for a 4G update later in the year – the XOOM is also being offered with a range of accessories.

 

They include the Motorola XOOM desktop dock, priced at $49.99, and the Motorola XOOM speaker dock, priced at $129.99. There’s also a portfolio case which flips into a stand for the tablet, at $39.99, and a Bluetooth keyboard for $69.99.

Unfortunately online pre-sales aren’t supported, so you’ll have to head down to your nearest bricks & mortar Best Buy if you’re interested, and currently the 3G version is the only XOOM on offer. The WiFi-only model will follow on in Q2 2011. More details in our hands-on with the XOOM.

Motorola XOOM to be $800 tips Best Buy advert; due February 24

Motorola’s XOOM Superbowl advert is already prompting arguments about whether the whole thing was all too iPod-esque, but we’d wager not as many arguments as leaked pricing details for the Android 3.0 Honeycomb slate. According to a Best Buy advert passed to Engadget – which suggests the XOOM will land in-store on February 24 – the 10.1-inch tablet will be all of $799.99 with a month-to-month data agreement.

Four data plans are offered by Verizon, ranging from 1GB per month for $20, through 3GB and 5GB for $35 and $50 respectively, and finally 10GB for $80. According to the fine print, “To activate WiFi functionality on this device, a minimum of one month data subscription is required.”

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