The Xoom Arrives

As I did when the iPad launched, I just had to see the Motorola Xoom for myself.

Did you know it launched yesterday? Did you know it’s the first Android table released running Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), the version specifically designed for tablets?

I ask because Rich (@rmanalan) didn’t know the former, and many people don’t know what the Xoom is yet or why it’s significant.

This is a problem. The Xoom was a big hit at both CES and MWC earlier this year; it’s viewed as (and really is) the first legitimate competition to the iPad, with apologies to the Kindle, the NOOKcolor and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The Xoom can be bought from Best Buy, where I ogled it, and from Verizon. Did you know that?

Whereas on iPad launch day, the usual line formed at Apple stores and Best Buy had no line but several display models in their Apple boutique area with a few people inspecting the new device, the Xoom had neither.

In fact, upon arriving at Best Buy, I searched around for several minutes to find it, questioning that they even had one to show or sell. No signage appeared on my quick walk-through.

Obviously, it wasn’t in the Apple boutique with the iPad. It wasn’t in the wireless phone section, with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak. Incidentally, the Nexus S is a beautiful phone, but I digress.

I eventually had to ask the Verizon rep.

He guided me to a spot off the main traffic paths, at the margins of the store, and the it was, next to the netbooks.

Not good.

This tells me a few things. Best Buy either doesn’t know how to market the Xoom or they’re not being appropriately compensated by Motorola/Verizon to give it better placement. Or Motorola/Verizon want to appeal to netbook buyers rather than smartphone buyers. Or Samsung and Dell have some power to keep a better tablet out of their retail space within Best Buy.

Or something. Whatever the reason, putting the Xoom in a (literally) dark corner of Best Buy kills its appeal and doesn’t bode well for sales. To find it, you really have to be on a mission.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given the sparsity of TV ad time devoted to the Xoom. Sure, there was a Super Bowl commercial, and I hear Verizon has an ad for it. Bonus, Spanish voiceover FTW! Maybe I don’t watch enough TV.

Interestingly, Verizon has taken the same Matrix-like approach to marketing the Xoom as it does with the Droid series.

What about the Xoom?

It’s awesome.

The hardware feels solid, just like the iPad’s. Honeycomb is spectacular, fast and responsive with a lot of nifty UI bits. If you’re accustomed to Android, you’ll love all the widgets. If you’re not, you’ll hate the clutter and lack of uniformity. That’s on you though.

It’s a very good tablet. I immediately had tablet envy. Knowing Android like I do, I’m confident that the Xoom could replace my iPad. It’s that good.

The only thing that bugged me was the speaker position (on the back) was easily covered with my fingers, making it tough to hear, in a busy Best Buy. Not exactly a legit field test for speakers.

The sticking point for the Xoom is the price, $599.99 subsidized with a two-year contract on Verizon, $799.99 unlocked and LTE-ready. It’s unclear if a month-to-month with Verizon is required. No wifi-only version has appeared yet. Update: The $799.99 Xoom is locked to Verizon, but does not require a contract. It can be put on the Verizon 3G network on a month-to-month basis. It has an LTE-ready receiver and will “soon” be updated by an OTA update.

In a world of cheapest-to-cheapest comparisons, the Xoom looks pricey next to the $499.00 base iPad. In a true apples-to-apples comparison, the Xoom matches up nicely with the 32GB 3G iPad, which is $729.00, but at first blush, it’s a lot to spend relative to the competition. Update: I neglected to mention that the Xoom has two cameras, front and rear-facing, as well as a higher display resolution than the iPad. So, the comparison isn’t really apples-apples. The WSJ has an estimated cost breakdown that shows the Xoom to be a slightly better bargain for the components. We’ll see with iPad 2.

The lack of a pure wifi-only version is an issue too, given the annoyance of a contract requirement with Verizon.

I guess the good news is that unlike Apple’s constant pricing, Android devices generally get discounted over time.

So, it took more than 400 words to get to a (brief) review. I spent time on the non-technical aspects because I’m afraid they’re key to the Xoom’s success/failure.

When I got my EVO, I worried about the lack of marketing for Android. Given Android’s meteoric rise, that was probably needless worry. Still, I’m worried again.

Regardless of marketing, the carriers pushed Android with their retail presences and upgrade options for existing customers. Tablets represent a less structured market that overlaps uncomfortably with laptops and netbooks.

So, I’m thinking it will require a bigger push to get Android tablets into the public consciousness.

I do find the Verizon tagline ironically accurate, “Grab it, and it grabs you,” assuming you can find it.

Comments? You know what to do.



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