This last week I checked out the Motorola Xoom from my office. I did so to get familiar with the Android tablet environment. I took it home over the weekend, and with some time on it and the help of my kids, I think I have a better understanding of how the Xoom works. Here are my impressions, though please note that I do have a clear bias toward the iPad, having owned one since they first came out.
First, the hardware design. The Xoom is smaller than the iPad, in that it's narrower though just as long. It's also significantly thicker, feeling more substantial than the iPad. It's definitely designed to be used in landscape mode, as noted by the positioning of the volume controls. But the thing that is most puzzling to me is the location of the power button. It's on the back, instead of around the side. With it flat on the table, you can't turn it on. Cases need to have an extra wide hole on the back to make it accessible. This is an unnecessary inconvenience, in my opinion.
Powering it on isn't very intuitive either: you have to hold the power button down to get it on. To put it to sleep, you have to tap the power button. Hold it down too long, and it asks you if you want to turn it off. I actually had to look up a way to power it up when I had turned the thing off. Not a very good design, in my opinion.
The battery life is curious. It seems shorter than the iPad's, as it spent a lot of time sleeping, and after a weekend was down to 45%. Based on the estimate from when I had fully charged it, and it's use it got over the weekend, it would have about 5 days worth of life. That same usage and sleep time on the iPad would last me at least 8 days. I'm not sure if this is because of the apps running in the background, or what. Still, for a tablet, it's respectable.
Once I get it on, The Android OS works well. I'm running 4.1.1 Jellybean, and it's very responsive. The only things I don't like are more, well, bare-bones functional. The keyboard is frustrating to use, more so than the iPad. As I start typing, if I go too fast it starts throwing smiley faces in my text. So that makes it very frustrating when trying to write anything from the screen. I also don't like the separation from my Gmail account and my Exchange account for work. I really don't like having to go to two different mail apps just to manage all my mail.
That ends my gripes. Let's talk about those things that were different. It takes some getting used to the Android tablet platform if you have used the iPad. The most notable thing was the virtual home button. It's no longer a way to wake the thing up, that being relegated to the power button. But once you get used to it's location it becomes comfortable. Not good, not bad, just different. And different in and of itself is a good thing.
It's very different to have widgets on the desktop, and then have to go to another screen to get to all your apps. It's about like having a hybrid of your Dock and Dashboard, with a Launchpad for all the apps. Not good, not bad, just different. Once you get used to it, it's not that difficult to work through.
That ends my adjustments. It was actually less than I thought I would need to adjust. Other than that, working through the features were pretty simple, and finding settings were pretty easy. Though I have to say that setting up an Exchange account would not be an easy task for someone not familiar with AD Directories. Is that possible, you may ask? My answer would then be in the form of a question: have you ever worked for a hospital that uses AD? So far my experience has been that most people who have other expertise's than computers tend to equate their email password to Email only, have no idea what Active Directory is, and don't know what the domain means. So while the email process is not intuitive, it just requires a little extra hand-holding for support to get it up and running.
So now the things that I liked. Frankly, the integration with my Google account is amazing. This is, well, much like iCloud for Apple. It's seamless, allowing me to access all my materials in Google without any hassle. Perhaps the only problem is the apparent lack of a Google Docs app (at least I couldn't find one so far in the Google Play marketplace). Other than that, everything is pretty clean and easy to use. Add a Bluetooth keyboard and this would easily be a replacement for a laptop, much like the iPad. I had all the basic apps necessary to do the job.
So my overall impression? If not for the non-software driven gripes that I had, I would have put it on par with the iPad easily as far as experience and functionality. The Android OS definitely has that same feel, though I would have to say iOS is more user-friendly. Of course, Android is geared more to those who are tech-savvy, so that's not a bad thing. But I will tell you my kids run to the iPad more often than the Android device after taking the Xoom through it's paces. I can't wait to see what other tablets may have in store (like the Samsung Galaxy Tab) with a different hardware design. Android is definitely a solid OS that brings a lot to the mobile OS table, and reinforces the idea that we are in a post-PC world.
Could I switch to Android? Possibly, but I don't think I would. Is it because of any deficiency in Android? No, it's purely because I have already invested so much into the iOS platform as far as apps that the switch would be painful. Do I think I'm missing out on much by not switching? Not really. The real strength that I can see in Android in usage is it's tie to the Google Gmail account, from which I am slowly weaning myself. I try to use it less than the past because of functionality changes that Google has made to their site (the loss of iGoogle was the tipping point). That having been said, I can see why someone would feel the same devotion to Android that I do for iOS, particularly if you have invested a lot into the platform.