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Two Android tablets take on Apple: One is up to the task PDF Print E-mail

Comparing Apple's iPad 2 with Motorola's XyBoard and Amazon's Kindle Fire is fraught with peril. But here goes anyway.

Let me preface my review by saying that a few overzealous readers (I'm being charitable with that description) almost invariably call the writer (me) an idiot for not being as savvy and/or perceptive as they claim to be. That's par for the course. But let's get a few things straight here.


 

First, this isn't an official review. Like the kind you would find at CNET Reviews. Second, I don't favor one manufacturer over the other. So, let me state the obvious (though, I realize, this will never satisfy conspiracy theorists). If Product X makes what I need to do easier, then I will favor it over Product Y.

And, third, as a corollary to the above, I have personalized needs, like anyone. A graphic designer will place a very different set of demands on a tablet than I would. So, my use case doesn't necessarily apply to everyone.

That said, I have used the iPad 2, the Motorola XyBoard (aka Xoom 2), and the Amazon Kindle Fire long enough to understand their strengths and weaknesses for my particular needs.

I've had the iPad 2 for 10 months (and if you count the original iPad, that's about 22 months of iPad use). The XyBoard for about 2 months. The Amazon Kindle Fire for a little more than 2 months.

And availability addresses an important point. Apple has been making 10-inch-class consumer tablets longer than anyone. That gives Apple an advantage. Based on my own personal preference, I had to wait until Motorola came out with the second-generation Xoom to justify the purchase of a 10-inch-class Android tablet. (Motorola didn't ship its original Xoom until about a year after Apple announced the original iPad.)

So, here's my (admittedly somewhat cursory) evaluation.

Xyboard with Android 3.2 is in dire need of performance tweaking: Web browsing is probably the most basic task that anyone can ask a tablet to do. Unfortunately, the Xyboard doesn't do that basic thing well.

The stock Android browser on the Xyboard can be deceiving. In the first few weeks I used the Xyboard, Web browsing seemed fast. That's because, as it turns out, I wasn't using it for extended periods of time. In other words, when I picked up the Xyboard and played with it for 15 minutes or so--which I tended to do in the first few weeks because I couldn't immediately wean myself off the iPad that I had customized over the previous ten months--it seemed fast.

But once I started customizing the Xyboard and used it for long stretches (as I'd been doing with the iPad), it broke down.

News Web sites, which tend to have a lot of graphics, began to refresh too slowly. YouTube became very erratic: sometimes working OK (i.e., refreshing pages at acceptable speeds), sometimes not--tempting me to drop-kick the tablet across the room. Keep in mind that this is predicated on all things being equal with the iPad and Kindle Fire, i.e., not related to connectivity.

And, bizarrely, the Xyboard can't access the mobile versions of some Web sites, despite relying on a mobile browser. (Browsers like Skyfire solve this particular problem but introduce others. And Opera Mobile can be faster, but it too has its own problems.)

Even a simple thing like typing in a Web address in the stock browser can become so slow (molasses comes to mind) that you have to wonder what Motorola and/or Google were thinking. (Google, after all, is slated to become Motorola's parent company).

And it gets worse. My Xyboard, despite being announced just as Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) was being released, came with Android 3.2. And it won't get Ice Cream Sandwich until "Q3" (third quarter) of this year. If, in fact, Motorola doesn't delay the update (not unheard of in the annals of promised updates).

I don't know if ICS would solve the performance problems, but it might at least be a start.

I could go on, citing other negatives (text input), but I won't because I've covered the most serious shortcoming for me: browsing.

 

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