Let's cut to the chase -- the iPad 2 that Apple just released pulls further ahead in the battle with the only real competitor on the market: the Android OS 3.0 "Honeycomb" Xoom tablet from Motorola Mobility. In our previous comparison of the first-gen iPad and the Xoom, the Xoom showed its mettle as a serious contender, beating the iPad in areas such as its inclusion of cameras and ability to mirror its video display.
The iPad 2 neutralizes the Xoom's advantages, giving the iPad an overall edge. But let's not forget that the Xoom remains a strong choice for tablet buyers -- and its approach to app widgets continues to pose an advantage over the iPad 2. A software update could further bolster the Xoom's areas of strength.
[ See all of InfoWorld's mobile deathmatch comparisons and personalize the tablet scores to your needs. | Compare the security and management capabilities of iOS, Windows Phone 7, Android, and more in InfoWorld's Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF report. ]
In this rematch, the winner is a clearer call: the iPad 2. But it's also evident that there are more rounds to be fought, and Apple should not take the iPad 2's superiority for granted. (If you read the original tablet deathmatch comparison, skip ahead to the sections on the Web browsers and on the tablet hardware capabilities, the two areas where the iPad 2's changes are concentrated. There are also some changes of note related to applications.)
Deathmatch: Email, calendars, and contacts
For testing these essential business functions, I used personal accounts of IMAP, POP, and Gmail along with a work account of Exchange 2007. Both devices work directly with IMAP, Gmail, and POP; my email, email folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the smartphones, my laptop, and the server.
Both devices try to autodetect your settings wherever possible, and both do a good job. Setting up Exchange access on both devices was also simple. Unlike most Android devices, the Xoom supports on-device encryption, so it easily connected to our corporate server and passed its Exchange ActiveSync policies. My email, contacts, and calendars flowed into the Xoom's apps. And whereas the Motorola Atrix smartphone's convoluted set of email applications had problems sending email in some configurations, the Xoom's regular Email app allowed me to access and send my messages, as well as easily switch among accounts as needed.
Email messages. Working with emails is equivalent on the two tablets: Both use the large screen to provide common controls at all times, and both let you see a selected email without opening it when in landscape orientation. The Xoom tablet displays mail as black text on a white background (as does the iPad 2), not as white text on a black background in the manner of Android smartphones. Thus, the messages are much more readable.
In both devices, you can reply, forward, mark as unread, delete, and move messages while reading them. You can also delete and move emails to folders from the message lists. On the iPad 2, you can easily delete individual messages from the email list: Swipe to the left or right and tap Delete. On the Xoom, you long-tap (that is, tap and hold) the message to get a menu of options such as Delete and Open.
The iPad 2's email display keeps a folder or message list on the left and the message preview on the right, whereas the Xoom's display works more like Mac OS X's Columns view: If you tap an account, its folders appear at left, while the list of messages for the selected folder appear at right. If you select a message, the message list moves into the left column, and the right column becomes the message preview window. The iPad approach is more predictable, and the Xoom approach more flexible. For example, it allows you to drag a message from the list into a folder, which you can't do on an iPad because you can't see the folder and message lists simultaneously.
Test Center Scorecard
Web and Internet support
Security and management
|Apple iPad 2||9||8||9||7||9||9|
|Motorola Mobility Xoom||9||8||8||6||9||8||
The Xoom stumbles over not retaining the subfolder relationships in Exchange; instead, it displays all folders and subfolders in one big list. Well, not all -- some of my Exchange subfolders went missing. In IMAP accounts, you also get a big folders list, but at least the IMAP list displays the parent folder as part of the subfolder name -- such as InfoWorld/Newsletters and InfoWorld/Authors -- so that you have a clue to the original hierarchy. (Oddly, Motorola's Atrix smartphone does display IMAP folder hierarchies visually.) Also for IMAP accounts, the Xoom doesn't display your junk folders, so you can't scan for misflagged emails as you would on the iPad.
In a stupendous omission, the Xoom has no facility for searching emails. In fact, there's no systemwide Search button on the Xoom as there are on all Android smartphones such as Motorola's own Atrix. By contrast, the iPad 2 displays the search box at the top of the message list and lets you constrain your search to the To, From, or Subject fields.
Getting to the top of your email list isn't so obvious on the iPad 2, though it is easy: Tap the top of the screen. On the Xoom, there is no fast-jump capability, although you can find it on Android smartphones such as the Atrix.
In general, Android devices favor small text that is hard to read for my middle-aged eyes, and there are few controls to ameliorate their youth-oriented design. The iPad lets you specify very readable sizes for the text in its Settings app. The Xoom provides zoom controls at the bottom of your email window, but they appear only if you begin scrolling through the message. However, the zoom settings are retained for your other emails (except -- and unlike the iPad -- where the email's HTML formatting specifies a fixed size, which overrules your preferences).
Email management. Both devices support multiple accounts and universal inboxes. I prefer the way the Xoom navigates among email accounts: Just tap the account name at the top left of the Email app to bring up a pull-down menu listing each account and the Combined Account, which shows a universal inbox. The iPad 2 also has a universal inbox, as well as an inbox for each active account. Below the inboxes are a list of accounts that when opened show all the folders for that account in a nice hierarchical display. I don't think the iPad needs the two lists; the universal inbox followed by the individual accounts would be just as easy and less cluttered. This is a case where the Xoom's UI surpasses that of the iPad 2.
The Xoom separates Google email into the separate Gmail app -- a longtime Android OS behavior imposed by Google. Although you must have a Google account to use the Xoom, you don't have to go through Gmail if you don't want to.
The iPad 2 has a message threading capability, which organizes your emails based on subject; you click an icon to the left of a message header to see the related messages. That adds more clicks to go through messages, but at least finding the messages is substantially easier. (The iPad's iOS 4 lets you disable threading if you don't like it.) The Xoom has no equivalent. Instead, it lets you flag emails, then see all flagged emails via the virtual Starred folder.
Using the basic version of Quickoffice included with the tablet, the Xoom can open images, as well as PDF and Office files; after tapping the Attachments link, you get a list of attachments and an option to view or save each one. The iPad 2's native QuickLook viewer handles a nice range of formats, and it opens attachments with one tap (downloading them if needed at the same time). Of course, on either device, to edit those files you'll need an office app such as Quickoffice Mobile Connect Suite or Documents to Go Premium. The iPad 2 -- still! -- doesn't open Zip files without the aid of a third-party app such as the $1 ZipThat. For that matter, neither does the Xoom, even though opening Zip files is a standard capability on Android smartphones.
Both the iPad and the Xoom remember the email addresses of senders you reply to, adding them to a database of contacts that they look up automatically as you tap characters into the To and Cc fields. Both devices let you add email addresses to your contacts list, either by tapping them (on the iPad) or long-tapping them (on the Xoom).
Contacts and calendars. Both the iPad 2 and the Xoom offer three of the same calendar views: day, week, and month. But only the iPad 2 supports the list (agenda) view. Moving among months is easy on both, as is shifting between weeks on the Xoom, and both can display multiple calendars simultaneously. The iPad makes it slightly easier to switch through week or month views, thanks to on-screen buttons and sliders -- but this is a minor advantage. The two devices also have comparable recurring-event capabilities.
Both the Xoom and the iPad 2 can send invitations to others as you add appointments. But whereas the iPad invitations are sent immediately, the Xoom invitations take tens of minutes to show up. On the iPad 2, your invitations for Exchange accounts show up in your calendar as a pop-up; you can accept them there within the full context of your other appointments. For both Exchange and other email accounts, you can open the .ics invitation files in Mail, then add them to the calendar of your choice. On the Xoom, the Calendar app automatically adds Exchange invitations to your calendar with Maybe status, which is not apparent until you open the appointment. You can open Exchange invitations in the Email app, as well as accept or decline the invitation. But you can't open .ics invitations sent to POP or IMAP accounts.
Both the iPad 2 and the Xoom have capable Contacts apps, but it's easier to navigate through your entries on the iPad. You can jump to names by tapping a letter, such as "T," to get to people whose last names begin with "T," or search quickly for someone in the Search field by tapping part of the name. On the Xoom, a blue box appears to the side of the contacts list as you begin scrolling, and if you drag it, you can scroll through the letters of the alphabet to find the contact you seek. It's not as simple as the iPad approach, and its "secret handshake" nature means many users won't know it exists.
On the iPad 2, to search your contacts, drag up above the first contact to reveal the Search box. On the Xoom, you can search your contacts if you click the Search button. You can also designate users as favorites, to put them in a shorter Favorites list. The iPad 2 doesn't have a similar capability.
The iPad 2 supports email groups, but you can't create them on the iPad; they must be synced from your computer's contacts application. And you can't pick a group in the iPad 2's Mail address fields. Instead, you select a group, then open it up to select just one member, repeating this step to add more names. It's a really dumb approach to groups. The Xoom doesn't support groups.
The winner: The iPad 2, due to its more capable email and calendar capabilities. The Xoom's lack of email search and its awkward folder handling are surprising flaws that should not exist.
The native apps are comparable on the two devices, providing email, camera, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, browser, a music player, a YouTube player, a notepad app, and SMS messaging. The Xoom provides a third-party notes app, filling a hole in the standard Android app suite.
But the Xoom also includes the standard (still beta) Android Navigation app, which speaks directions as you navigate, as well as provides an on-screen live map and written step-by-step directions. The iPad 2's Maps app has comparable on-screen navigation capabilities but does not speak them as you drive. Unlike the iPad 2, the Xoom comes with a calculator app and instant messaging app; neither tablet has apps for weather or social networking. The Xoom also comes with the Movie Maker app for video editing; for the iPad 2, Apple's nicely designed equivalent, iMovie, costs $5.
Neither device supports Flash Player, though Motorola pushed an update meant to prepare the Xoom for Flash Player just this weekend. Adobe promises that Flash Player 10.2 for the Xoom's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" OS (and for Android 2.3 "Gingerbread") will finally be available from the Android Market on March 18. There of course won't be a Flash Player for the iPad due to Apple's prohibition.
Right now, the real issue with the Xoom is the scarcity of available apps. Longtime standby apps such as the New York Times aren't available yet, but the number of tablet-specific apps in the Android Market has more than doubled in the past two weeks, from 16 to 37.
However, only a few tablet-specific Android apps take advantage of the Xoom's larger screen; the new USA Today tablet app does. (Two weeks ago, in my original comparison, the smartphone version of USA Today wouldn't load on the Xoom, though it did install.) More typically, "tablet" apps remain stretched renditions of the smartphone version. Amazon.com's Kindle app, for example, displays one too-wide-to-read page when in landscape orientation, rather than two facing pages as on the iPad 2. The Xoom doesn't display such legacy apps in a smartphone-sized window, as the iPad 2 does, to clue you in. Additionally, I haven't found Android apps that auto-adjust their display and capabilities depending on whether they're running on a smartphone or tablet -- a feature that has quickly become very common in the iOS world.
The Xoom and other Android tablets will need a better stable of apps to foster the addiction that iPad users exhibit with their tablets. The growing selection does show some of the promise of the tablet form factor, but none is exceptional.
App stores and app installation. There are tens of thousands of apps for the iPad 2's iOS, from games to scientific visualization tools. Sure, there's a lot of junk, but you'll find many useful apps as well. Android doesn't have anywhere near the same library of apps as iOS, but its smartphone-oriented apps portfolio is now in the thousands and growing, with many relevant apps such as Quickoffice, for which the Xoom includes a basic version with limited creation and editing capabilities. I often find that iOS apps are more capable than their Android equivalents (such as the Kindle app) -- but not always (Angry Birds, for example).
Both the Apple App Store and Google Android Market separate iPad apps from smartphone apps, simplifying the search for appropriate titles. The Apple store also indicates which apps auto-adjust for the iPhone and iPad, so you know they can be run on both devices and appear native on each.
Unlike Apple's App Store, the Android Market is not curated; developers will have an easier time getting their apps listed, but the market also lets cyber thieves create phishing apps that masquerade as banking programs or other apps and steal user information. Apple's App Store seems to be less at risk to such Trojans. The Android Market is also slower to load than the App Store and not as easy to navigate within the app details.
You don't have to use the Android Market to get apps onto the Xoom. If you want to get down and dirty, you can configure the Android OS's application settings to install software from other sources.
Installation of apps is similar on both platforms: After selecting an app, you confirm your store account information and wait for the app to download and install. Both mobile operating systems let you know if you have updates available. On the iPad 2, the App Store indicates the number of available updates. On the Xoom, available updates are displayed in the notifications pop-up at the bottom left of the screen.
The Xoom uses the Android Market to remember your paid apps (but not your free ones) and a separate sync utility for handling media files transferred from your PC, but in this regard it's no match for the iPad 2. Thanks to the iPad's reliance on iTunes as its command center for managing media, apps, and documents, the iPad makes it much easier to manage your device's content. If you get a new phone, it's a snap on iTunes to get the new one up and running with the same assets as before. There's no such easy way to transfer the assets to a Xoom from a previous device.
App management. The iPad 2 has a simpler app management process than the Xoom. For example, it's easy to arrange your home screens to cluster applications both on your iPad and on your desktop via iTunes; you can also put them in your own folders. Just tap and hold any app to invoke the "shaking apps" status, in which you can drag apps wherever you want, or tap the X icon to delete them (press the Home button when done to exit that mode). You can also arrange and delete apps using iTunes on your desktop.
Like the Android smartphones, the Xoom lets you drag apps to any of its home screens, which appear in preview mode below the apps matrix. (Unlike with Android smartphones, you cannot long-tap an app to move it to the current home screen.) The full list of programs is available in the apps page, which you access by tapping the Apps button at the upper right of any home screen. But the Xoom has no groups capability for presenting apps, and you can't rearrange the roster in the apps page -- just in the home screens.
The Xoom supports the Android OS's widgets feature. Widgets are mini apps that you can place on the home screens and can be very helpful, showing the latest email message or Facebook update or the current time in a large clock. Thus, you can see at a glance the current status of whatever you want to easily track -- one of Android's superior UI capabilities. The iPad 2 has no equivalent capability. The Xoom, like other Android devices, also has pop-up notifications that make it easy to see if you have new email or other alerts, whatever you happen to be doing. Alerts appear in the lower right of your screen -- not at the top as in Android smartphones. Again, the iPad 2 has no equivalent.
Multitasking. The iPad 2's iOS 4.3 supports multitasking if enabled in the apps themselves; Apple has made specific background services available for multitasking, rather than let each app run full-on in parallel, as on a PC. As you switch iOS apps, they suspend, except for their multitasking-enabled services, which conserves memory and aids performance. By contrast, Android supports full multitasking, whereby default apps continue to run in the background when you take care of other duties. From a usage point of view, these differences aren't apparent; on both devices, apps appear to multitask the same.
The major difference related to multitasking is the UI for switching among apps. On the iPad 2, a double-click on the Home button pulls up a list of active apps, and it's easy to see what's running and switch among them. On the Xoom, a persistent menu icon provides access to all running apps at any time, and it even shows a preview window of what the apps are currently doing (like Mac OS X and Windows 7 do in their taskbars).
The winner: The iPad 2, mainly because there are so few tablet apps available for the Xoom. But the widgets and notifications capabilities of the Xoom's Android OS are very handy, and you feel their omission on an iPad 2 after you've used an Android device for a while. Plus, the Xoom's ability to show all running apps and what they're doing is a really nice feature the iPad 2 can't match.
Deathmatch: Web and Internet
Both Apple and Google are strong forces behind HTML5 and other modern browser technologies, so it's no surprise that the iPad 2 and Xoom both offer capable Web browsers. Although neither is as HTML5-savvy as their desktop versions, the iPad 2 has nearly closed the gap with Mac OS X. Based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, the iPad 2's mobile Safari scored 206 versus 208 for desktop Safari (Version 5.03), versus the iPad 1's score of 196. (If you upgrade the iPad 1 to iOS 4.3, its score also rises to 206.) The Xoom's mobile Chrome racked up 195 out of 300 (better than Android smartphones' 176) points, versus 242 for desktop Chrome (Version 9.05). Tests by mobile IDE developer Sencha suggest that the Xoom browser is inferior even in HTML4 display compared to the iPad's; I didn't notice a qualitative difference other than greater font support on the iPad 2 in my admittedly subjective browsing.
I also found in subjective usage that the iPad 2's browser felt much snappier than that of both the first-gen iPad and the Xoom. In the case of the Xoom, even though the Peacekeeper benchmarks show it to be 16 percent faster than the iPad 2, the iPad 2 felt faster. I suspect that is due to the iPad 2's faster page downloads, which on most sites compensate for the Xoom's faster page rendering.
Otherwise, the main differences between the iPad and Xoom browsers are cosmetic. Both browsers have persistent buttons or fields for Back, Forward, Bookmarks, Refresh, and navigating tabbed panes. The Xoom's browser shows a row of tabs at the top for each open browser window, whereas the iPad 2 displays a button showing how many windows are open -- tapping it opens a screen that previews all open windows. The Xoom automatically opens a Google search page when you bring up a new tab, wasting time and bytes (which matters if you're on a 3G data plan). The iPad 2 opens a blank window instead.
Both browsers can share pages via email, but the operation is faster on the iPad 2, which also lets you print the page to a wireless printer, either to an AirPrint-compatible printer or to a local wireless printer connected via one of the many printing apps available for the iPad. But the iPad 2's separate Search and URL boxes are less convenient than the Xoom's unified URL and Search box; you have to be sure to tap the right box on the iPad. The Xoom also has a separate search control, if you prefer.
Unlike Android smartphones, the Xoom's touch keyboard offers a .com button -- like the iPad and iPhone -- when entering URLs, which is a significant timesaver.
Both browsers let you select text and graphics on Web pages, but only the iPad 2 lets you copy graphics. The Xoom can save graphics to the tablet's local storage. The iPad 2 can save images to its Photos app.
Using the cloud-based Google Docs on either device is not a pleasant experience. It's barely possible to edit a spreadsheet; the most you can do is select and add rows, as well as edit the contents of individual cells. You can edit a text document -- awkwardly. Partly, that's because Google hasn't figured out an effective mobile interface for these Web apps; the Safari and Chrome browsers are simply dealing with what Google presents, rather than working through a mobile-friendly front end. It's also because the mobile Safari and Chrome browsers don't support all the same capabilities as their desktop counterparts. But things are improving on the Google Docs front. For example, you can create, edit, and navigate appointments in Google Calendar in all four of its views (day, week, month, and agenda) pretty much as you can on a desktop browser.
The winner: A tie, despite the iPad 2's slight advantage in being able to copy Web images and print Web pages.
Deathmatch: Location support
Both the iPad 2 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 2's Maps app when it comes to directions while driving.
Although both the iPad 2 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 2 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 2'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 2 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 device rather than on-screen, and the notification widgets appear only on the home screens.) This loss of screen especially matters on the Xoom in landscape orientation, where the widescreen layout already shortens its display area uncomfortably compared to the iPad 2.
Operational UI. The Xoom doesn't suffer the excessive reliance on the Menu button as Android smartphones do. The Xoom instead uses its larger display area 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 in the same awkward manner.) The iPad 2'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.
The good news is that pinching and zooming, as well as autorotation as you turn the device, work equivalently on the Xoom's Android OS and iPad 2's iOS. For text entry, I find the iPad 2's on-screen keyboard to be easier to work with than the Xoom's, with clearer keys and better contextual use of extra keys, such as in the Mail application. Although I appreciate the intent behind the Xoom's use of Tab and other keys not found on the iPad 2, the result is that the keyboard is not full size in landscape orientation (the iPad 2's is) and thus difficult for touch-typing. I'm sure I'll eventually get used to it, but it remains an annoying UI decision.
Text selection and copying. The Xoom's Android OS falls short of the iPad 2's iOS in its text selection. If you're tapping away and realize you've made a mistake not caught by the autocorrect feature, such as when typing a URL, it can be difficult to move the cursor to that error's location in the text. If you tap too long, the screen is filled with the Edit Text contextual menu; it took me a while to figure out how to tap long enough to move the text-insertion cursor to a new location without opening that menu. It is true that Xoom is not as bad in this regard as the various Android smartphones I've tested.
On the iPad 2, you tap and hold where you want to insert the text cursor (sort of like using a mouse), and 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 management
A 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 Xoom 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; 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 2 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 2'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 2 to your computer's iTunes also backs up -- and encrypts, if you desire -- the data 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 2, 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.
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. And hardware is the area where the iPad 2 has the most improvements over its predecessor. The iPad 2 sports a dual-core 1GHz A5 CPU chip, matching at the spec level the Xoom's dual-core Nvidia Tegra processor; both are based on the ARM chip architecture. The iPad 2 also adds front and rear cameras (supporting FaceTime videoconferencing and motion video capture), and it's capable of display mirroring through a $39 HDMI-out connector. It supports 3G tethering as well, another feature present in Xoom but lacking in the original iPad.
Performance. The iPad 2's new processor makes a noticeable difference in apps' load times and responsiveness, such as when panning in Google Earth or parsing documents in iWork Pages, compared to the iPad 1. The Xoom is no slouch, either, with similarly snappy responsiveness. I had significantly fewer Android apps with which to test the Xoom's speed, however, so I can't fully assess app performance across the two tablets.
The iPad 2 and Xoom performed similarly in their network usage, both on Wi-Fi and over 3G. The iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G models come in both AT&T and Verizon Wireless versions, whereas the Xoom uses Verizon Wireless only. 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 2, 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 2 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 2 ran 11 hours. That matches the iPad 1's battery performance.
Device hardware. The iPad 2's enclosure design featuring glass and aluminum is much classier than the Xoom's black blockiness. The iPad 2's aluminum, though, can feel dangerously slippery, whereas the textured plastic of the Xoom is more grippable. The thinner iPad 2 has shaved off two ounces to weigh in at 1.3 pounds, compared to the iPad 1's 1.5 pounds, making it that much lighter than the 1.5-pound Xoom. Two ounces doesn't sound like a lot, but it makes a difference: The iPad 2 is more comfortable to hold longer, especially with one hand, due to the lower weight and thinner enclosure.
Some reviews of prerelease iPad 2s said the thinner design can make it a bit harder to connect cables to the iPad 2's dock connector, whose surrounding bezel is now slightly angled, and that the angle would prevent it from working with some iPad 1 docks. But I didn't find it a problem; I had no trouble connecting a variety of cables to the dock or using the iPad 2 with a couple of docks I own. Still, it is possible some docks may have a fit issue. And I did have difficulty attaching cables to the dock port when the Smart Cover wrapped over to the back of the iPad 2 because it obscures the edge enough to make finding the port harder. The same is true with the Sleep/Wake switch at top.
The Xoom has no physical switch to turn off its ringer as the iPad 2 does (note that the switch on the iPad 2 is configurable to either turn off the ringer or to lock screen rotation). The Xoom's low-profile volume switches are hard to find, given they are black like the case, and don't give much tactile feedback when pressed. Neither device has an LED indicator to show 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 2's power button (at top) is easier to locate, and the iPad 2 wakes itself automatically if its (optional) Smart Cover is opened -- nice.
The magnetic Smart Cover is indeed smartly designed. It snaps into place easily, folds out of the way easily, helps clean fingerprints on the screen, and remained snuggly attached in my backpack tests. The cover ($40 for polyurethane and $80 for leather) does not protect the iPad 2's aluminum back, which may concern some users fearful of scratches. No doubt there'll be plenty of cases and portfolios for such folks. But I was disappointed that the Smart Cover doesn't affix magnetically to the back of the iPad 2 when turned back; it only does so to the front. There are also a variety of cases, skins, and portfolios for the Xoom should you be concerned about damaging its screen or plastic case, but none have the imagination of Apple's Smart Cover.
The iPad 2's aluminum back -- which Apple's Smart Cover was designed to expose, not hide as other covers do -- is flatter than the first-gen iPad's, so the iPad 2 doesn't wobble as you type on it when it rests uncovered on a table or desk. The Xoom's back is also mainly flat, and wobbling is not an issue.
The Xoom offers more hardware features than the iPad 1 -- but not more than the iPad 2. Those who favored the Xoom over the iPad based on hardware specs will need a new reason.
The Xoom does have 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 (about $10 online) cable. The iPad 2 uses a pricey ($39) dock-to-HDMI cable to do the same mirroring -- support for HDMI comes from iOS 4.3, which means you can also use the HDMI cable with a first-gen iPad, 2010-era iPod Touch, or iPhone 4. On the iPad 2, you can also mirror to a VGA monitor or projector using the optional $29 VGA connector that other iOS devices also support. But those other devices can't mirror via HDMI or VGA; they merely output video from apps that explicitly support video-out.
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. The only use for a MicroUSB port, 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 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 2 also comes with a proprietary power adapter that serves as its sync cable as well, but tens of millions of iPods, iPhones, and first-gen iPads use it (so you can share cables and adapters), whereas only the Xoom seems to take its particular power connector.
The basic, 3G-capable $630 iPad 2 comes with 16GB of nonremovable flash storage, whereas the $800 Xoom comes with 32GB. (For $730, you can get a 32GB iPad 2 model, and for $830 a 64GB one). Even with the higher cost of an Apple HDMI cable, the Xoom remains $50 more expensive for an equivalently capable but less sophisticated device. The difference narrows to just $20 if you add the Camera Connection kit to the iPad 2's price. That's not a huge margin -- nor a justifiable one.
I found the iPad 2's 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 2's old-fashioned 4:3 ratio is more comfortable for most apps; only when I'm watching HD movies do I wish the iPad 2 were widescreen.
Although the iPad 2 now offers a front-facing camera for videoconferencing and a rear one for taking pictures and capturing video, the quality of still photos and movies taken from the iPad 2 are not that good -- the camera seems to be the same, poorly regarded model used in the latest iPod Touch. The iPad 2's camera also lacks a flash and support for high-definition range, both of which the iPhone 4's camera does support but the iPod Touch's does not. Apple hasn't released the camera's megapixel (MP) rating, but my photo-editing software pinned it as a measly 0.7MP; by contrast, the iPhone 4's camera is 5MP. The iPad 2's camera does perform better for motion video, taking decent 720p, 0.9MP video -- fine for casual videos but no more.
The Xoom's camera quality is no better than the iPad 2's, despite its 5MP camera. In fact, it had a lower dynamic color range, resulting in flat, soft still images compared to the iPad 2's sharper and more vibrant shots. The Xoom does have a flash, a wider-angle lens, and adjustment controls lacking in the iPad 2 to help improve image quality through manual overrides. For motion video, the Xoom's 720p, 0.9MP video capture results in much better video quality than the iPad 2, especially in low-light conditions, where you get lots of pixelation. (The iPad 2's video quality is about the same as the iPhone 4's, despite the higher resolution of the iPhone 4's video file.)
For still photography, both tablets are clearly aimed at Web-oriented images, such as for posting on Facebook and Flickr. You're not at all likely to keep any for your family albums, project portfolios, or client sales presentations; you'll want a real digital camera for those. For videography, both tablets are fine for casual video -- don't buy into either Apple's or Motorola's HD video hype -- though the Xoom clearly bests the iPad 2.
The Xoom and the iPad 2 are equivalent in quality when it comes to audio output, despite the fact the iPad 2 has a single speaker and the Xoom has two. To get stereo-quality audio, connect either tablet to a stereo.
Finally, both devices use touchscreen keyboards but support external Bluetooth keyboards. To be safe, get an Apple or Apple-verified keyboard for the iPad 2 and a Motorola keyboard for the Xoom -- neither tablet would pair with the other tablet's Bluetooth keyboards. Neither the Xoom nor the iPad 2 supports mice or touchpads, but both support Bluetooth headsets such as for using Skype.
The winner: In the original deathmatch between the Xoom and the iPad 1, this category was the toughest call, given pros of the Xoom's cameras, video mirroring, and easier SD card usage versus the pros of the iPad 1's battery life and superior enclosure design and screen. But the iPad 2 erases the Xoom's advantages, even with the iPad 2's underpowered camera, making the iPad 2 the clear winner.
The overall winner is ...
The iPad 2 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, elegance, and cohesion of the iPad 2. 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. But if you're not a member of the Fandroid camp, the iPad 2 is the one to pick.
Motorola Mobility Xoom vs. Apple iPad 2
Supported U.S. networks
|Motorola Mobility Xoom||
$800 (32GB); $600 with two-year contract
Verizon Wireless, with data plans of $20 for 1GB, $35 for 3GB, $50 for 5GB, and $80 for 10GB; setup fee is $35. The use of tethering adds $20.
The first 10-inch Android tablet and the first model to use the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 OS, the Xoom packs the hardware capabilities that many users want. The Xoom's use of widgets and notifications keeps users more easily up-to-date. On the downside, the widescreen display results in awkward visual cramping, and several software and UI flaws suggest a rushed debut.
|Apple iPad 2||iPad 2 with Wi-Fi: $500 (16GB), $600 (32GB), $700 (64GB); iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G: $630 (16GB), $730 (32GB), $830 (64GB)||AT&T, with no-commitment data plans of $15 for 250MB and $25 for 2GB; Verizon Wireless, with no-commitment data plans of $20 for 1GB, $35 for 3GB, $50 for 5GB, and $80 for 10GB. For both carriers, the use of tethering adds $20.||The revamped model of the device that created the tablet phenomenon is even moreso the best tablet available, with a cohesive, elegant UI; lots and lots of apps; and a solid, well-designed enclosure. Its new inclusion of cameras and ability to mirror its display to an external monitor erase the major deficits of the original iPad. But note the camera produces mediocre still images and merely adequate video.|