It's a little ironic that I get a demo unit from Verizon Wireless of the Motorola Xoom the day before Apple's iPad2 launch. Since I was planning to stand in line for the iPad2, I felt I had ample time to check out the features of Motorola's new tablet. It is uncanny how these two devices are release at right about the same time and there is good reason for that. The Xoom is the top contender for the spot currently being held by the iPad. As you can imagine comparisons are popping up all over the place. To Apple's advantage, the iPad's been around for more than a year and it's going to take a lot of fire power to unseat the iPad. Out of the box the Xoom seemed a little heavier than the iPad but the NVIDIA Tegra dual core processor is much more snappy and Android's Honeycomb operating system is optimized for the tablet. I like how you can flick from one screen to the next and have different content elements on each screen, like videos on one and apps on the next. The screen is like a browser. In the lower left hand corner is the back, home and window buttons for easy navigation. With a brand new Xoom the first thing you are going to want to do is load up your favorite apps from the Android Market. Purely for testing purposes, I loaded up Angry Birds, Twitter and Facebook, yes in that order. Angry Birds played just the way I expected it to. I was reliving the joy I had playing this addictive game. Prying my fingers off the Angry Birds slingshot I moved on to Twitter. With Twitter, I am accustomed to the tiled columns so when the Android version only presented the landscape format for my tweets it was a little disorienting. I could not easily view @replies, DM, and custom searches in the same window. TweetDeck had this same problem. TweetDeck even crashed a couple of times. The Facebook app also had a similar problem. Facebook initially launches in News Feed mode and presents it in landscape (if you are holding it horizontal). When you tap the Facebook logo in the upper right hand corner it forces the screen in portrait mode, whether you are holding the Xoom that way or not. There is no reorienting it to landscape. This was a little annoying but I suspect it was because the apps have not caught up to the new release of Honeycomb. You will have to wait for upgrades to your favorite apps before experiencing the intended user interface. Another function I tested on the Xoom was the ability to create a blog post. I found the experience limiting with the original iPad since it would not properly display the visual option from the WordPress dashboard. With the Xoom the WP dashboard looked and functioned identically to my laptop. I like the idea that the Xoom is getting close to laptop functionality. Unfortunately, Flash support on this version of Honeycomb did not work so any embedded videos would not play. Just another indicator that this tablet race is all about timing. Motorola and Google Android can't wait for the software to catch up and potentially lose more ground to Apple. Finally I got a kick taking a few pictures with the Xoom at the iPad2 launch. It's a little conspicuous shooting pictures with a 10in tablet. It's also not exactly the easiest thing to whip out for the quick snapshot or video and heaven forbid you start fumbling around and drop that thing while shooting. Nevertheless, that front facing camera will come in very handy for the video voice calls and video conferencing. In summary, given the price points with the new iPad2 (same as the iPad) and the maturity of the apps and the Apple ecosystem, I would stick with getting the iPad2. With that said, the Xoom is a definite contender and as the software and OS catch up, Apple's market dominance will start to erode. But isn't that what makes this business so exciting. I can't wait for the iPad3 rumored to be out this Fall.
At this month's Bytemarks Lunch, I invited Paul Dickey and Edward Wright from Verizon Wireless to talk about Motorola's new Google Android phone, Droid X. I did get to see (and touch) one back in June but it wasn't until now that I actually get to play with one. On first appearance, the feels big. I am used to the iPhone 3GS and the Droid X is about 10% bigger in size, but the two phones weigh about the same. The 4.3 inch 854x480 display is much better than my 3GS screen resolution but iPhone 4 users are already enjoying crisp viewing with their new hardware. The Droid X comes with an 8 megapixel camera with flash and can shoot HD movies. It also has an HDMI port that you can plug into your television for content viewing. Paul showed us a video he took with his Droid X of an F-18 landing on the USS Ronald Reagan. It looked as good as any hand-held video camera. Moore's Law, which states that computing power will double every 18 months seems to apply directly to smartphone capabilities. The Droid X demo unit I have is running Android 2.1 (Eclair), not Froyo (Android 2.2) which is not slated to come out until late summer but I also heard as late as November. A couple of cool features with Eclair is the Live Wallpaper. Instead of a static photo you can now have clouds wafting across your screen or in my case autumn leaves floating in a pond. But this is just eye candy. More interesting is the voice to text feature. As an input option, you can speak your messages into the Droid X. Where ever the keyboard comes up, there is a selection for microphone. The key to its operation is short, well articulated phrases. You can't as an example dictate this blog post. The speech recorder is sensitive to pauses so will automatically stop once a second of silence is encountered. It works great for phrases like "are you available for dinner tonight?" or "where is the nearest Starbucks?" The translation feature is cool too. You can speak Japanese to it and it will give you an English translation. Great for the next time you are in Harajuku ordering sushi. You can also use the voice feature for navigation. GPS knows where you are so when you tell it where you want to go, it will give you directions on how to get there. Another feature of the Droid X is Motorola's integration with Swype. Thank goodness Motorola dropped the physical keyboard. It was built into the original Droid and I thought it make the phone heavy and the keyboard, to me, was unusable. Swype is a text input selection and allows you to draw the words on the keyboard. Well, when I say draw, it more like connecting the dots or letters. So if you were to want the word "lunch" you would connect the letters with your finger. For those of us that are used to typing with two thumbs, it takes some getting used to. But, if you a new to these screen keyboards, Swype beats the one-finger hunt and peck. Right now I am enjoying Pandora on the Droid X. Downloaded it from the Android Market. Droid X is a fun phone which we will be talking more about on this week's Bytemarks Cafe (Wed. 8/4 at 5pm on KIPO 89.3FM) when we talk about smartphones in general with Angela Keen and Brian Dote. In the meantime I am going to kick around the tires and see what else the Droid X has to offer.
These Android phones are coming out fast and furious. Late last year I got to touch a Motorola Droid. It was a little heavy compared to the iPhone and it had a built in keyboard that nobody liked. Next up, the Nexus One was sold by Google early this year with quite a bit of fanfare as the tech pundits predicted how Google was going to disrupt the cell carriers distribution model. Less than four months later Google pulls the plug on their online sales strategy. Despite all these fits and starts the Android phone, independent of manufacturer, is gaining fast on the iPhone. Obviously people are looking for an alternative and the competition is good for the smartphone marketplace. What I like about Android is how Google and the carriers are willing to try new models and offerings. Some things work, others don't, but innovation continues. In spite of its clunky keyboard, Verizon Wireless and Motorola are now pitching Droids for a special two for one sale. Over the past two weeks, Verizon Wireless loaned me a demo HTC Incredible to play around with. I will admit, I am a staunch iPhone fanboy but am a little infatuated with the Android operating system. Its Google app (Voice, Goggles, Maps, Gmail) integration and open architecture are enticing. And now, with HTC's streamline design I am about to come out of the closet. The HTC Incredible does not have a hardware keyboard making it a very light unit. Lighter in fact than the iPhone. Anybody used to typing on the screen will easily adapt to the Incredible. The 480x800 touch screen is very sharp. Some of my geek friends complaint about HTC Sense, the overlay UI (user interface) that connects you to Android, but I found it quite responsive. The power/lock button on the top of the unit is slight to the touch (compared to the iPhone) and I found myself putting the device in sleep mode inadvertently. I love the 8 megapixel camera that comes equipped with a flash. The addition of an FM tuner was also a nice treat. What I did not like about the HTC Incredible was the lack of Mac support for syncing. I connected the USB cable to my Mac Mini and the unit indicated it was recharging. Outside of that there, was no recognition by my Mac of the device. Others on the HTC Forums seem to have similar problems. One person suggested a third party application for syncing to the Mac but paying for an app that I think should be a basic feature with the phone goes against everything I believe in. All in all a nice job engineering the HTC Incredible in to a compact package but still lacking elements that make it ready for prime time. If HTC/Google fixes the syncing problem I might reconsider, but for now I am sticking with my iPhone. Update: 6/1/10 - I got a chance to talk to Verizon Wireless today and found a way to connect to the phone's disk drive. Forget what they say in the Quick Tips Guide. To get to the drive you need to plug the USB in and watch the top menu bar on the phone. You can drag that bar down to reveal additional options. One option is "Disk Drive". Once selected you can see the unit in Finder and it also automatically launchs iPhoto for picture downloads. Not too intuitive but it does work. My appreciation for this phone just went up a notch.
For the past week or so I've had the pleasure of using a Motorola Droid courtesy of Verizon Wireless. It's a loaner so I have to return it shortly. As these are my first impressions, I am going to make the obvious comparisons to the iPhone 3GS which I will admit I am in love with. The first question I have is without an iTunes like interface, how does one sync all the content to the Droid? At first take it is not intuitively obvious. Neither is it on second take. I thought I might be able to drop content into the Droid if I plug it into my laptop but Finder on my MacMini did not see any Droid device or storage. The Droid did recognize the Mac as a power source, though. So loading music and podcasts will have to wait. The next thing I did was search for applications. The Droid menu includes something called a Market launchable from an icon that looks like a little briefcase. Clicking that brings up the Android marketplace. From here you can search and select from thousands of Android apps. The big difference from the iPhone is Google is not restricting any apps from being made available for the Droid. The vetting process that Apple subjects all the apps getting into the iTunes Store is a big sore point for many developers. As will all things there is a plus side and a downside. For Google Android it is open to anyone wanting to develop for their Droid phones. The downside is that there exists the possibility for some nefarious applications to be downloaded to your phone. In the Apple case, they control access but with the promise that it will be a user friendly environment. Once you find an application you like in Market you just click on it and Install. The app gets downloaded directly to your phone from the Verizon 3G network. I tried a few of the popular titles like Seesmic for Twitter access, Yelp for restaurants and ShopSavvy for barcode reading. All worked fine except Yelp did not have the augmented reality feature as found on the iPhone version. I did like the Google Goggles app just announced last week. With it you can snap a picture of a book, a product, a landmark, even a face. Goggles will then scan the image and return search information based on your image. Very cool. The Motorola Droid phone is solid, even a bit heavier than the iPhone 3GS. I've heard a lot of people complain about the physical keyboard but people complained about the iPhone screen keyboard when it first came out. My only comment is since the Droid has a screen keyboard, it could do away with the physical keyboard and reduce some weigh and complexity. The screen for the Droid is very crisp making for clear images. I also like the Voice activation capabilities with the Droid. I must also mention, last week there was an upgrade to the Android operating system to 2.0.1. The phone automatically prompted me of the update and proceeded to download it. Quite seamless. All in all a very nice phone. One that will be a major player in the smartphone market. Right now though IMHO, the Droid is more suited for the early geek adopter. The true test is the Mom test. Moms are more incline to get immediate benefit from the iPhone before the Droid. I'll update this post as I get more information. Unfortunately I will have to return this phone shortly. Stay tuned to the Dec. 30 edition of Bytemarks Cafe where we will have a couple of gadget geeks on to talk about their impression of the Droid.