By John Shryock| March 4, 2011 at 11:33 PM CST - Updated June 23 at 1:32 PM
By Jeffrey Van Camp Provided by
Thursday, Apple showed off its fancy new iPad 2. The unit has quite a few new features and upgrades, but how does it stack up against the newly released Motorola Xoom in all the ways that count? Well, we've got the answers for you. We've compared the two units in a few ways, dueling them in sexiness, screen quality, processing power, camera quality, software availability, accessories, and price. If you're in the market for a new tablet, look no further. We're here to give you an idea of what each tablet brings to the table. Enjoy!
Winner: iPad 2
It's hardly fair to start out with looks, because even if you hate Apple, you have to admit that the company definitely has hardware design down pat. Few products look as good as Apple's minimalist designs. The iPad 2 takes the great features of the iPad and smoothes them over. With a flatter and beveled back, alternate white color scheme, rounded front border, and a thickness of only 8.8mm (thinner than the iPhone 4), we can't help but get excited looking at Apple's new tablet.
Still, though we give the edge to Apple, the Xoom is not hard on the eyes. The unit is fairly thin at 12.7mm, which almost the exact thickness of the original iPad. In addition, the lack of a big home button on the Xoom means the unit can more easily be used in any orientation imaginable. No matter how you hold a Xoom, it will reorient itself and its in-screen home screen buttons will pop into the lower left of the screen. Apple has won this round, but many will like the blacker, more industrial look and feel of the Xoom. Good job, Motorola.
The iPad 2 features a 1GHz dual-core A5 processor, and the Xoom has a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. Which is better? Hell if we know. For all intents and purposes, both units match the current trend of 1GHz dual-core processors. They both pack some power. However, if reports on the iPad 2′s RAM are to be believed, the Xoom's 1GB of Random Access Memory (on-the-fly memory needed for multitasking, running games and apps, etc.) may be double that of Apple's tablet. In many situations, this RAM may not be noticeable, but when doing graphically intensive things like video editing, multitasking, and gaming, the added RAM will come in handy. However, when it comes to actual storage, Apple sells iPad 2 units with 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB of storage included. Xoom owners will have to accept 32GB of storage out of the box. There is a MicroSD card slot on the device, which could support memory cards up to 32GB, but Motorola has not enabled the slot yet. An upcoming software update should allow SD card use on the Xoom.
Apple made a lot of improvements in the iPad 2, but the screen was left entirely untouched. The iPad 2 features the same LED backlit 9.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1024 x 768. Unlike most modern laptops and TVs, Apple continues to stick with a 4:3 aspect ratio, meaning its screen is a lot more squared (like a sheet of office paper) than the Motorola Xoom. This isn't necessarily bad, but it is uniquely Apple at this point.
The Xoom has a ratio very close to 16:9, the standard for widescreens today (the Xoom is WXGA, techies). Thanks to its slightly larger size of 10.1 inches, the Xoom also boosts a higher pixel count at 1280 x 800 pixels. In terms of total brightness, the iPad 2 probably edges out Xoom by a small margin, but Xoom's aspect ratio is better for watching HD-widescreen content. What can we say, we like wide screens and here the Xoom wins out.
Both the iPad 2 and Xoom feature front-facing webcams and more powerful rear cameras. However, Apple did not list the specifics of its cameras on its website, which likely means that they don't stack up as well as other features. From what we can extrapolate, Motorola has a better front and rear camera. The iPad 2 appears to have a VGA-quality (640 x 480) front-facing camera, while the Xoom has a more competitive 2-megapixel cam. The only statistic Apple has released about the rear camera is that it can record 720p video, meaning it might be as little as a 1.3MP camera. This seems anemically weak and we're hoping it's better, but with a solid 5-megapixel rear camera, autofocus, and a dual-LED flash (the iPad 2 has no flash), we have to hand this category to the Xoom.
With that said, we're still not sure exactly how much users will need a rear camera on their tablets. A front-facing webcam is useful, but can you imagine a lot of scenarios where a really good rear camera (with flash) will be vital? Judge the importance for yourself, but either way, Motorola wins.
Winner: iPad 2
While Apple's iPad has been out almost a full year, the Xoom is the first tablet featuring Android Honeycomb, Google's first tablet OS. As such, Apple CEO Steve Jobs made a point to say that there are roughly 65,000 apps in the App Store that are designed to natively run on the iPad 2. Google has less than 100 tablet-specific apps in its Android Market, Jobs claims. He's definitely right about one thing: The iPad 2 has a big head start. Still, the Android Market will catch up fast, as it has on smartphones. Also, keep in mind that nearly every iPhone and Android phone app will also run on tablets — they just won't look as good.
Google is working hard to counter some of Apple's software advantages. A few weeks ago, CEO Eric Schmidt showed off an iMovie-like video editing program called Movie Studio. However, yesterday Apple took it one step further, unveiling iMovie for iPad as well as a new version of Garage Band, a music creation program. Google and Apple are also battling it out in the video chat space, where Google Chat with Video is now the Android equivalent of FaceTime. We look forward to spending time with all of these new apps in the near future.
While we love Smart Covers, the Xoom offers a lot of hidden features and accessories that make it a more intriguing buy. For starters, the Xoom has a direct HDMI out (iPad will cost you $39 for an add on), a cool speaker dock that props up your screen, a standard dock that can turn your tablet into a picture frame, and a decent custom-fit case that protects and helps prop up the device. Both tablets have wireless keyboards as well. Moving internally, the Xoom has more sensors inside it than you can count. The iPad 2 may have an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, and gyroscope, but the Xoom also has a proximity sensor, digital compass, and barometer inside it. Pretty cool, right?
When it comes to connection speed, the Xoom and iPad 2 are both 3G right now, but Motorola will offer a (supposedly free) LTE 4G update if you mail in your unit. Flash support is also on the way (hopefully soon), which won't ever be available on the iPad 2. However, the Xoom is stuck on Verizon's network for the time being, so if you roll with another network, the iPad may be a better bet. There are Wi-Fi only versions of both devices.
Winner: iPad 2
Traditionally, Apple is not a company that offers the cheapest products, but thanks to its foresight and market lead with the iPad (it's been a year and there are still only two competitors), the folks in Cupertino have been able to lock down massive supply deals that almost ensure that the iPad 2 will remain the most affordable tablet on the market for its size and feature-set. The iPad starts out at $499 for a bare-bones 16GB Wi-Fi only unit, while the cheapest Xoom (also Wi-Fi only) costs $599, though you do get 32GB of storage for that price. Currently only the Verizon 3G model is on shelves, which costs a hefty $799. The most expensive 3G iPad (64GB storage) runs for $829. The 32GB 3G iPad 2 costs $729, or about $70 less than the 3G Xoom.
There are a thousand ways we could reorganize this battle and give the trophy to Apple. The fact is that both of these tablets are extremely competitive and offer some unique benefits. Both claim a 10 hour battery life as well. However, despite the beautiful design of the iPad 2 and software and price advantage it currently has, we think Motorola's Xoom is a healthy competitor and worthy of a look. If you're an iPhone lover, chances are the iPad 2 will win your heart, but if you're not, give them both a try. You may be surprised at some of the differences between the two units.