Motorola's Xoom vs. Apple's iPad: Which Tablet Should You Buy?

motorola xoom ipadFor the past year, the tablet computer world has been dominated by the Apple iPad. Ever since the iPad's introduction, Apple's competitors have been scrambling. Last year, Samsung was the first to deliver a decent alternative with the Galaxy Tab, but it failed to gain substantial traction. Now all eyes are on Motorola's Xoom, the latest challenger to the iPad, which goes on sale Thursday at Best Buy and Verizon Wireless stores.

The Xoom is Motorola's first tablet, and builds off the company's success with Google's Android operating system. Just two years ago, Motorola was on the brink of disaster, and came pretty close to withdrawing from the mobile business altogether. The launch of the Motorola Droid line of smartphones completely turned the company around, making it one of the most dominant players in the market. But can Motorola do the same in the tablet market? So far, it looks like it just might have a shot.Xoom Vs. iPad

When you look at the big picture, both tablets are very similar -- they both have screens that are about 10 inches (diagonal), they both run apps that can be downloaded from an online marketplace and they both support full-screen playback of video.

Once you take a look under the hood though, you come across the first big difference -- the iPad runs the Apple iOS operating system and the Xoom runs the latest version of Google's Android operating system, also known as the Honeycomb operating system.

On Android, a lot of what you can do revolves around Google's services -- Gmail, Google Maps and a variety of other Google apps and services are included. This is obviously a great thing for people who already use Google for email, but if you use AOL, Hotmail or email from your Internet service provider, you may end up needing a third-party app or need to manually configure the device.

One big advantage of Google's Android operating system is that it is very open -- everything from the onscreen keyboard to the applications launcher can be configured, changed or replaced. Whereas everything you do on the iPad revolves around iTunes on your desktop. You need iTunes to activate the device, iTunes to load music and iTunes to load applications using your computer.

Applications for Android are generally of the same quality as those found on Apple's iOS and there is usually a larger selection of free apps. Android still lacks when it comes to games, but the platform has been catching up very quickly.

The Xoom has a strong emphasis on video and multimedia -- it includes a rear-facing HD camera and a front-facing camera for video calls. Its high-resolution screen is excellent for watching movies and its built-in HDMI port means you can connect it to your HDTV without any special cables.

The Xoom launches with the newest generation dual-core mobile processor, and a very powerful chip for processing video. Of course, as with anything from Apple, the year-old iPad is due for a refresh. The iPad 2 is expected to be unveiled on March 2. Rumored specifications for this new iPad include a similar dual-core processor and an HD camera.

Pricing

The Motorola Xoom will launch in one version: 3G for Verizon Wireless. When purchased without a contract, the out-the-door price is $799, plus one month of service on Verizon. This adds a minimum of $20 for data access. After that first month of data, you can continue on a pay-as-you-go basis, or add a recurring subscription. Alternatively, you can keep the device connected to Wi-Fi only.

A two-year contract option is also available, which will lock you into a data contract with Verizon Wireless. The minimum monthly payment here is $20 for 1GB of data. When purchased on a contract, the price of the Xoom drops to $599. That makes the total cost for two years $1,079 ($599 plus 24 months of $20 per month for data).

The Apple iPad is available with or without 3G -- the 3G version does not require a contract, and AT&T data plans can be purchased month-to-month directly on the device. A 250MB package costs $14.99, and 2GB is $25.

Apple iPad 32GB WiFi Motorola Xoom Wifi Apple iPad 32GB WiFi + 3G Motorola Xoom WiFi+3G
Screen size 9.7" 10.1" 9.7" 10.1"
Screen resolution 1024x768 1280x800 1024x768 1280x800
Memory built in 32GB 32GB+
MicroSD expansion
32GB 32GB+
MicroSD
expansion
Camera None 5MP back
2MP front
None 5MP back
2MP front
Expansion ports Apple dock connector
headphone jack
Dock connector
MicroUSB,
HDMI,
MicroSD memory slot, headphone jack
Apple dock connector
headphone jack
Dock connector
MicroUSB,
HDMI,
MicroSD memory slot, headphone jack
Operating system Apple iOS Android 3.0
"Honeycomb"
Apple iOS Android 3.0
"Honeycomb"
Price* $599 $599** $729 $799

* Pricing based off non-contract option
** Available later this year

How to Pick the Best One

Picking your best option depends on your budget and your needs. If you know in advance that you only need the most basic applications (web and mail) with no 3G access, then the 16GB Apple iPad will save you $300 over the Motorola Xoom.

If you know that 3G access on the road is important, along with the ability to upgrade to 4G, then the Xoom becomes a very viable option. Its initial investment is $70 higher than the comparable iPad, but data plan options are slightly cheaper.

The most important thing to remember when picking the iPad is that your purchase has to be the right one - if you pick the WiFi-only version, you can not add 3G later. If you pick the 16GB unit and realize after two months that you need more storage, your only option is to sell your old one for a loss and invest in a new one.

The Xoom is pretty future-proof; it includes a MicroSD slot for memory expansion and its 3G on Verizon will be upgraded to 4G later this year.

One final thing to keep in mind is the accessory ecosystem -- Apple always offers shoppers a massive selection of accessories. The iPad can be outfitted with a variety of cases, keyboards chargers and more. Since the Xoom is brand new, its lineup of accessories is currently limited to a handful of products from Motorola.

Bottom line -- the basic iPad is considerably cheaper than the Xoom, but when you compare the 32GB 3G-enabled iPad to the Xoom, the price difference is just $70.

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