Tablet deathmatch: Motorola Xoom vs. Apple iPad

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On the iPad, you tap and hold where you want to insert the text cursor (sort of like using a mouse); a magnifier appears to help you move precisely to where you want to go. You then add and delete text at that location. Plus, the controls for text selection appear, so you can use those if you'd like and not worry about a screen-filling menu getting in the way.

The winner: A tie. Although iPad fans may find the Android OS too loosey-goosey and its ever-present alerts annoying, Android fans may find the iPad a bit too rigid and disconnected from what's going on. To each his own; both work.

Deathmatch: Security and managementA long-standing strike against the Android OS is its poor security. The standard Android OS doesn't support on-device encryption, and it supports only the most basic of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) security policies. By contrast, with the enhancements made in iOS 4, the iPad has become one of the most securable mobile devices available, second only to the RIM BlackBerry.

Motorola Mobility recognized that deficiency and has added on-device encryption. My only beef is that it takes an hour to encrypt the device when you enable that capability (by contrast, the Motorola Atrix smartphone requires no time at all to enable encryption). Fortunately, it's a one-time activity. The Xoom doesn't go much further than standard Android in its support of EAS policies, so if your business requires complicated passwords with timeouts and history restrictions, you'll face the same issues as with other Android smartphones.

Both the Xoom and the iPad offer remote wipe, SSL message encryption, and timeout locks. If your Xoom is lost or stolen, you can lock or wipe it via your Google account or via Exchange. (Strangely, the Xoom doesn't come with the handy service Motorola Mobility provides its Atrix users to track a lost or stolen device and lock it or wipe its contents remotely.) Apple also supports remote lock and wipe; you even get the free Find My iPad service to track your iPad's location from a Web browser, iPhone, iPod Touch, or other iPad, and disable or wipe the device if you want.

The Xoom's Android OS can back up contact, calendar, and email data wirelessly to Gmail, as well as system settings and application data to Google's servers. The iPad too can back up such data to the cloud if you subscribe to Apple's $99-per-year MobileMe service. Syncing the iPad to your computer's iTunes also backs up the data (and encrypts it, if you desire) without requiring MobileMe. iTunes backs up everything: your media, your apps, their settings, their data, and most of your preferences. (iTunes can be configured for use in the enterprise, though most companies don't know that.)

The winner: The iPad, without question. The Xoom has brought in a key business security capability (encryption) but hasn't gone as far as needed by most businesses in its EAS support -- a surprise, given that the Motorola Mobility Atrix released around the same time has those capabilities.

Deathmatch: Hardware Although the real value of a tablet comes from its OS and apps, you can't get to them without the hardware they run on. Note that some of the hardware advantages of the Xoom will be erased by the arrival of the iPad 2 on March 11. The new iPad will sport a dual-core A5 chip that in my cursory use of a prototype iPad 2 this week does noticeably speed the iPad 2's browser at least. The iPad 2 also add sfront and rear cameras (supporting FaceTime videoconferencing and motion video capture), and supports display mirroring through a $39 HDMI-out connector. It will also support 3G tethering, another feature present in Xoom but lacking in the original iPad. 

Performance. The Xoom has a dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra processor, whereas the iPad has a single-core 1GHz Apple A4 processor; both are based on the ARM chip architecture. Despite the Xoom's second core, I didn't find it any faster than the iPad in terms of how apps ran or any smoother in terms of how videos played. 

The iPad and Xoom performed similarly in their network usage, both on Wi-Fi and over 3G. The iPad uses the AT&T network, whereas the Xoom uses Verizon Wireless. The AT&T network is usually faster but less available, whereas the Verizon network is less speedy but more broadly available. I did find that the Xoom usually received emails and updated its calendar slightly after the iPad, even though both were connected to the same Wi-Fi network and pulling from the same IMAP, Google, and Exchange servers.

For battery performance, I found that the iPad lasted nearly twice as long as the Xoom -- 9 or 10 hours versus the Xoom's 5 or 6 -- in regular use with Wi-Fi enabled. In light use, the Xoom stretched to 8 hours, while the iPad ran 11 hours.

Device hardware. The iPad's enclosure design featuring glass and aluminum is much classier than the Xoom's black blockiness. The iPad's aluminum, though, can feel dangerously slippery (I always keep it in a sleeve or case), whereas the textured plastic of the Xoom is more grippable. Both devices are equivalent in weight and size. The Xoom has no physical switch to turn off its ringer as the iPad does, and its low-profile volume switches are hard to find, hard to see given they are black like the case, and don't give much tactile feedback when pressed. Neither device has an LED indicator to indicate whether it's powered on.

The Xoom's power button is on the back of the case -- not a great spot. It's easy to lose track of which side is up on the Xoom, so good luck finding the power button; of course, it's not visible while you're using the tablet. The iPad's power button (at top) is easier to locate.

The Xoom offers more hardware features than the iPad. There's a rear-facing camera that can take still and motion pictures, as well as a front-facing camera that can be used with the Google Talk IM app. (As noted, the iPad 2 will erase this advantage.)

The Xoom also has a MicroUSB port and a Mini HDMI port. The Mini HDMI port lets you connect to a monitor or TV to mirror the Xoom's display through an optional cable. By contrast, the iPad's optional VGA connector displays only the contents of applications that enable video-out; you cannot mirror the iPad's display. (However, the iPad 2 will support such mirroring via both VGA and HDMI video-out adapters.) The utility of the Xoom's MicroUSB port is limited: It can't be used to charge the Xoom, as it can on most smartphones; the Xoom has a proprietary power connector. All the MicroUSB port can be used for, at least today, is to connect a USB keyboard, assuming you have a MicroUSB-to-USB adapter. There is no MicroUSB port on the iPad (or iPad 2), but the $35 Apple Camera Connection kit adds a USB connector and SD card dongle for use with digital cameras (not other USB devices). The iPad too uses a proprietary power adapter that also serves as its sync cable; but tens of millions of iPods and iPhones also use it (so you can share cables and adapters), whereas only the Xoom seems to use its particular power connector.

The basic, 3G-capable $630 iPad comes with 16GB of nonremovable flash storage, whereas the $800 Xoom comes with 32GB. (For $100 more, you can get a 32GB iPad model). The iPad 2 prices will be the same as for the current iPad, at which point the Xoom's $70 difference can't be justified by its cameras. Still, you might accept some of the Xoom's higher price by crediting its tray for a MicroSD card that can accept as much as 32GB in removable storage; to connect an iPad to an SD card, you need to buy Apple's Camera Connection Kit.

I found the iPad screen easier to read -- both in sunlight and in office lighting -- than the Xoom's screen, which suffers from excessive reflectivity. I disliked the Xoom's widescreen (16:9) display, because Web pages and other content appear too squished in landscape mode. The iPad's old-fashioned 4:3 ratio is more comfortable for most apps; only when I'm watching HD movies do I wish the iPad were widescreen.

Finally, both devices use touchscreen keyboards but support external Bluetooth keyboards. To be safe, get an Apple or Apple-verified keyboard for the iPad and a Motorola keyboard for the Xoom -- neither tablet would pair with the other tablet's Bluetooth keyboards. Neither the Xoom nor the iPad supports mice or touchpads, but both support Bluetooth headsets such as for using Skype.

The winner: This is a tough one, because the iPad is superior in its enclosure design and screen, whereas the Xoom offers cameras, video mirroring, and easier SD card usage. I'm tipping to the iPad side because one additional factor is a bigger deal for most users: its much longer battery life. (The iPad 2 will make the choice a clear one in favor of Apple.)

The overall winner is ... The iPad beats the Xoom in most of our comparison's categories -- often in significant ways. Still, make no mistake that the Xoom is a strong tablet offering, despite some annoyances (mainly related to software). But it lacks the fit, finish, and cohesion of the iPad. After all of these years of Apple's consistency in this regard, it never ceases to amaze me that competitors haven't wised up. Quality across the board has to be a given.

Still, for many users not blinded or charmed (take your pick) by the Apple way, the Xoom is a compelling tablet. If you're in the Android smartphone camp already, it's an easy pick as a tablet. We're only at the beginning of the Android tablet wave, so if you're leaning Android but have no pressing need for a tablet today, it makes sense to see what else comes on the market before committing to the Xoom.

This story, "Tablet deathmatch: Motorola Xoom vs. Apple iPad," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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This story, "Tablet deathmatch: Motorola Xoom vs. Apple iPad" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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