Motorola is demonstrating its Xoom tablet, the first to be running Google's Android 3.0 (aka Honeycomb) operating system, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Macworld has had a thorough hands-on test with the new tablet and can report that it offers an interesting retort to the iPad, one that should provide for an competitive market in 2012.
In some respects the home screen for the Motorola Xoom is reminiscent of the Android phones we've tested. Present are a combination of icons to launch applications, and widgets that display information (weather, photos, mail, and so on). Touching an apps icon (now in the top-right of the screen) brings up a overview of all the apps and programs available; in top half of the screen are representations of each screen and dragging the icon to one of those displays adds the shortcut to the home screen.
When on the home screen you can swipe left and right to navigate between all the different apps and widgets. Like the BlackBerry PlayBook, the Motorola Xoom (and indeed all Android tablets) does away with the physical home button. Instead a virtual home button now persistently appears on the bottom left of the display (along with a virtual back and multi-tasking apps button).
Pressing this multi-tasking button brings up a display of open apps in a vertical list on the left side of the screen. Simply swipe up and down and pick the appropriate app. Like all other tablets the list is a preview of the actual app running, rather than just an icon (as with the iPad).
The only physical button is an on/off switch on the rear of the device underneath where your left hand sits. Although we find it rather easy to accidentally press this.
Like the iPad you can attach a bluetooth keyboard to the Motorola Xoom and when combined with the docking stand it forms a surprisingly nice looking PC lookalike (the USB connection is on the side of the device so it more closely resembles a computer when docked with a keyboard). Another interesting touch is that you can attach a mouse as well as a keyboard, although Motorola didn't have this feature on test, a spokesperson told us: "mice just go missing" although it may well be that this feature isn't ready for demonstration just yet.
There was, unsurprisingly, a wider range of apps on display for the Android tablet; at least compared to the other tablets on display although nothing near the breadth and depth of the iPad app store. But developer support will be strong for the Android tablets.
Overall though we did find the interface more confusing than the HP TouchPad or BlackBerry PlayBook, although it's worth noting that we had more time to experiment with the Xoom than we did the HP TouchPad; and the settings menu of the BlackBerry PlayBook was locked down limiting the amount of "messing around" we could perform.
The interface was snappy, however, and we experienced no crashing or errors in our time with the device. The specs are powerful with a 1GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor, 1GB DDR2 RAM and 10.1 in 1280x800 display.
We're not quite so convinced by the widescreen display form factor as we are with the iPad's 9.7in 1024 x 768 (a 4x3 ratio). The wider screen on the Xoom may well be better for watching high definition movies, but we prefer the squatter display of the iPad for holding vertically and reading websites.
The virtual buttons in the bottom left, apps in the top right, and combination of widgets and icons in multiple screens all point to a device that trades instant accessibility for wider customisation features and increased functionality; this is something that could frustrate Xoom owners as much as please them. Longer term testing will tell.