Take a closer look at the latest tablet adventure coming from Google and Motorola.
Motorola impressed the thousands of journalists who descended on CES last month, walking away from the event with the Best of Show title. Motorola somehow managed to do it by showing fantastic hardware but not sharing much about the software that powers it.
Luckily, Google invited journalists to its headquarters this week to get an up-close-and-personal look at Android 3.0, the software that makes the Xoom one of the best iPad competitors yet. You may remember that I said I was most interested in the Notion Ink Adam, but after getting to touch, test, and experience Google’s first tablet OS, I’ve upgraded the Xoom to the top of my Tech Want List.
Android 3.0 (nicknamed Honeycomb) is a complete overhaul of what you’ve come to expect in an Android tablet. While the Samsung Galaxy Tab took existing software and tweaked it to look better on a large screen, Honeycomb is a complete rework designed specifically for large screens, powerful processors, and new multimedia experiences. Let’s take a look at some hands-on videos I grabbed while visiting Google.
Honeycomb follows the tablet tradition of blending desktop with mobile. It features a beautiful dashboard that can be customized with widgets, apps, and shortcuts to see the information that you need. A navigation bar will make it possible to quickly go home or bar, and an action bar always provides access to menu shortcuts.
Android is built for consumption. Users will find that the browser looks similar to Chrome, a near-full-web experience is possible thanks to Adobe Flash support, and the Google Books e-reader looks much better than any app currently available for Android. However, Books may prove to be inferior to other options like Sony or Kobo because its library may sometimes not have titles available in the larger stores.
Google is traditionally not known for its looks, but the typically-boring designs of Google products are not present in Honeycomb. The music player is a wall-to-wall improvement over the current Android app, and the new YouTube application is perfectly-suited for Android. You’ll find organized video listings, easy access to content, and HD streaming when available. There’s even a clever home-screen widget that can stack new videos and scroll through.
And when it comes to communicating with others, you won’t have any trouble. The Xoom has a front-facing camera that supports video chat through Google Talk, which even enables users to chat with someone using GTalk on a desktop computer. When it comes time to e-mail someone, you’ll find a two-pane Gmail app that provides all of the access available on the desktop (though the Google rep I spoke with was unsure about Priority Inbox support). Whether in Gmail or GTalk, users will find a smooth look and subtle enhancements like seeing a contact’s photo ID when a notification for chat appears.
These entertainment options are welcome, but we all know what truly makes the iPad such a great device is that Apple has given developers a strong platform to build some incredible apps. Google has done the same with Android 3.0. Several companies attended the event and showcased upcoming apps that unleash Android’s power. Among them were:
- We Rule – the Farmville-like We Rule is a game that lets users control a kingdom. Users will be able to play on their entire screen and integrate with their phone.
- WeatherBug - what’s the weather like in your hometown or place you’re traveling next week? Use this app to see a beautiful display of weather conditions, get live camera views of different areas, and get notifications about how the weather will affect your travel plans. [View video]
- QuickOffice – How would you like to download the documents you have stored in Dropbox, Box, or other places? QuickOffice lets users create, view, and edit Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, then upload them back to their online storage. It also does this for locally-stored documents, supports speech-to-text, and imports web data. The preview QuickOffice showed me makes me believe that the Xoom will be a better enterprise device than I expected.
- Fuze – Speaking of enterprise, Fuzebox will support multi-party video chat. We’ve covered Fuze previously as an app for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but the latest version of the app will have full-hosting capabilities if you want to run a team meeting directly from your tablet.
There were many more companies on-hand, including Intuit’s mobile payment processor, Zynga’s Words With Friends scrabble game, and Pulse’s beautiful news reader. All of these apps, along with the already-impressive package unwrapped by Google, show that the Motorola Xoom may be as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside.
Motorola has not confirmed when the Xoom will be released in Canada. It’s likely to appear in the U.S. this month or in early March, with international support to come at some point in the first half of 2011.