I’ve been dogfooding one since December, through ever-so-many builds of Android 3.0. I’m way too close to this story to write what any sane person would call a “review”, but I can share some impressions.

On Tablets in General · A lot of big rich manufacturers sure are gearing up to ship ’em by truckloads and boatloads and trainloads; I haven’t the vaguest idea how they’ll sell. The iPad has proved that there is a substantial market for tablets, but we have no idea how elastic or price-sensitive or Apple-focused it is.

I use the Xoom for lots of things, but my production day-to-day machine for reading mail and books and the Web remains mostly the Galaxy Tab. I just like the form factor better; it fits in my jacket pocket and I can carry it in one hand. I really hope we see some Honeycomb goodness on something south of iPad/Xoom dimensions. Judging by what the big consumer-products folk are shipping, I must be in some weird fringe-case minority in liking the 7" option.

Mind you, while I’ve been dogfooding, I haven’t been able to share the Xoom with anyone; I’ve argued before that it’s the right form factor for passing back and forth, so we’ll see if I still believe that now that I can.

The Xoom · It feels good in my hands, if a bit heavy. I got a soft-touch wraparound Moto case and that makes it friendlier on the hands. It works fine in all four orientations, which makes for a certain amount of feeling around to find the on/off on back and the volume nubs on the side; a bit of asymmetry might help with this.

The most important thing about this device is its size. You pay the price in weight and bulk, and you make up for it in full-screen videogames and movies and emails and so on. Whether that’s a fair bargain depends on where you’re sitting and what you’re doing and who you are and the answer won’t always be the same.

My pictures look very pleasing on the screen, but the size helps; I don’t have an iPad or any of the many other imminent Android tablets handy to compare with.

One thing I like a lot is the big length/width ratio; normally you want it in landscape, but there are a few things here and there on the Web were being able to go really tall and thin is a win.

If you want a tablet, the Xoom is a good one, and good on Moto for taking the big bet and being the first to launch. It’ll be fascinating to watch the competitive hardware landscape.

Honeycomb · I’m not a contributor in any significant sense but just by being here still feel part of the effort, so I’m not even close to neutral. This is a fairly radical re-imagining of what how a person might interface with a bunch of software and the Internet. I think there’s a lot more right than wrong; impressive particularly for a Release 1.0.

Some of my take-aways:

  • Here we learn that the right number of buttons for the front of this kind of device is zero; when you have this much real-estate, soft buttons are the ticket.

  • The soft button that pops up thumbnails of recently-active apps is a huge win. Every geek knew that you could get this effect by long-pessing the Home key, and that it was useful; but not a single civilian. You only have to show this to someone once and they get it right away.

  • Android has always had widgets and I never used them much on my handsets; I use them all the time here, in particular the wonderful bookmark and calendar implementations.

  • In the depths of the ugliest part of the Honeycomb bring-up, one of the core engineering team was heard to mutter “Tegra 2 is wonderful as long as your application has the characteristics of Doom.” Which means sliding rich graphics back and forth and up and down real fast. Which is what the browser and calendar and Gmailer and Reader and plenty of games do quite a bit; it’s smooth as silk and very fast.

  • Go out on the Web right away and find a nice nature scene to replace the sharp-edged blue-and-black Gnarfang-the-Avenger wallpaper; I’m using one of my own pictures with good results.

  • My scores in Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are way up, my 11-year-old boy is surgically attached to Reckless Racing, and Robo Defense HD is just totally addictive.

  • I’m not sure the new notifier setup, parked down in the bottom right corner with the clock, is intrinsically better than the classic and deeply intuitive pull-down-the-blind we’ve had on handsets. But it does seem in better harmony with the expansiveness of the tablet screen.

  • The Calendar app is a triumph.

Road Trip · At Christmas we packed the kids in the van and drove 20 hours over two days to Saskatchewan. I ripped a bunch of movies with Handbrake and dropped some on the Galaxy Tab and some on the Xoom and issued the tablets to the kids; many hours of highway peace and quiet were thereby achieved. This is a good outcome.

Last Words · I’m 100% convinced that the market, given Android’s radical flexibility to work with, will converge on a few combinations of form factor and hardware features that hit big sweet spots, while we smooth off whatever of the Release 1.0 artifacts prove to be lasting irritants. It’s going to be fun.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Janne (Feb 23 2011, at 22:13)

The iPad size and weight is a complete no-go for me. There is no way I can hold something like it in one hand for fifteen-twenty minutes at a time, which is exactly what I need to do in my daily commute.

A newspaper works nicely every morning, as does a pocket book; and reading my RSS feeds on my smartphone is decent but could benefit from a larger screen. The Tab looks and feels like just what I want except for two things: It doesn't seem to ever become updated to an actual tablet-format OS; and NTT Docomo wants me to get another whole monthly subscription - new, separate phone number and all - for a second device.

Give me a Tab with 3.0 on it, and give me some kind of reasonable dual-device mobile subscription and I'd be content.


From: Kevin (Feb 24 2011, at 07:45)

If you hold it in your hand while driving you are breaking the law (assuming you are in the US). A friend used to read the newspaper while stuck in DC traffic and was ticketed.


From: Scott Lewis (Feb 24 2011, at 08:46)

Battery life?


From: jammypup (Feb 24 2011, at 17:28)

Kevin: Janne did mention NTT Docomo which is a Japanese carrier. He also mentioned a newspaper for a commute. Both make it sound highly likely that he takes mass transport to work.

Having said that, my NYC subway commute flies by with single handed iPhone operation with twitter (if I have pre-loaded the time line) or instapaper and I could not imagine finding anything bigger to bw comfortable. iPad (similar size and weight to xoom) otoh is great for couch/bathroom surfing


From: Norman Walsh (Feb 24 2011, at 19:28)

I'm fond of the Tab's smaller form factor too, FWIW. Not that I've held a Xoom in my hands, much less used one in anger.


From: Miles Bader (Feb 24 2011, at 20:58)

What's funny about tablets, is that although they're very sexy and definitely trigger one's "OMG i need one!" gadget reflex, nobody I see in cafes with one seems to really do very much with it -- they'll set the tablet up on the table before them and then sort of look at it, go do other stuff, look at it a bit more, maybe touch something, drink their coffee, look out the window, glance back down at the tablet and ... it's very striking compared to typical laptop users, who often seem to be obviously engaged (staring intently, typing away, etc).

The resulting impression is not so much of _use_, as it is of _exhibition_. Kinda like somebody driving a Lamborghini on an extremely crowded urban street...


From: Janne (Feb 25 2011, at 06:32)

@kevin, @jammypup, I do indeed take the subway and local in Osaka every morning; I don't have a license, much less a car.

And in the crowded morning train one hand goes to keep yourself steady, leaving one hand for reading. A phone works nicely, except the screen is small enough that it becomes hard to read in a shaking train where you constantly get bumped by fellow commuters.

To tell the truth, I have my eye on the Sony Reader rather than a tablet. It's inexpensive, surprisingly open for being Sony (supports all formats I want) and far more readable than any LCD screen.


From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Feb 28 2011, at 19:56)

How about a more expansive post on just the calendar? I remember sometime back you wrote about the challenges of family calendaring. Calendaring is nowhere near as easy as it should be but I do believe there are smart people working on it.


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