Motorola Xoom debuts Honeycomb in U.S. launch

To buy or not to buy? That’s the question right now as the Motorola Xoom, Google’s first Android Honeycomb tablet, gets ready to make its grand debut.

The Xoom launched south of the border Feb. 24, Verizon and Motorola have officially confirmed. The 3G/4G tablet will be available for $800 at Best Buy and Verizon Wireless stores. You can also get the gadget for $600 through Verizon, if you’re willing to sign a two-year contract for mobile data service (plans start at $20 a month).

As with most new gadgets, Canadians have to wait a bit longer. But Bell Canada is expected to offer the Xoom for sale in March.

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The one thing missing from the equation: the Wi-Fi-only edition of the Xoom, which Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha has said will cost about $600 off-contract. What Jha hasn’t said is when the Wi-Fi-only Xoom will launch in the U.S.; at the moment, we really just don’t know.

All put together, then — and considering the wave of Android tablets expected to launch later this year — is it wise to buy the Xoom now? Or would you be better off taking a wait-and-see approach?

Here are some things to consider if you’re still on the fence.

Motorola Xoom: If you’re champing at the bit for a Honeycomb tablet…
…get the Xoom. As Google’s inaugural Honeycomb tablet — and the device the Android team actually used to develop the Honeycomb software — the Xoom has a huge advantage in the timing department. Other Honeycomb tablets are still undergoing testing and development, with release dates limited to fairly vague terms; LG’s T-Mobile G-Slate, for example, is “expected to be available this spring” (some rumors have pointed to late March, but that date has not been confirmed). The recently announced Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 also has no firm release date so far.

If you’re excited about Honeycomb and want to get your hands on a high-quality Android tablet ASAP, the Xoom is the way to go.

Motorola Xoom: If pricing is a big concern…

…hold off. The Wi-Fi-only Xoom will be here sooner or later, and you’ll be able to get it for $200 less than the current contract-free model. Verizon is also adding an annoying data-activation requirement onto the 3G/4G Xoom — if you want to buy one, you’ll have to activate data for at least one month, after which point you can cancel it — so you’ll end up saving $20 for that month plus $35 for the carrier’s data activation fee if you sit tight till the Wi-Fi-only edition arrives.

Something else to consider as far as pricing: The Xoom is available only in a 32GB model; other still-under-development Android tablets will come in both 16GB and 32GB varieties, creating additional options for lower-priced alternatives.

The question comes down to whether you’re willing to wait an unknown amount of time to save a couple (or perhaps a few) hundred bucks; it’s really just a personal judgment call.

Motorola Xoom: If a 10.1-inch tablet seems about right for you…

…get the Xoom. The upcoming G-Slate is a slightly smaller device, at 8.9 inches. Other Honeycomb tablets, like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, will match the Xoom’s size — but (a) they aren’t here and (2) we have no indications that they’ll offer any significant advantages other than subtle design differences. The Tab, for example, lacks a memory card slot and USB port, both of which are present in the Xoom. It does, however, have a slightly slimmer profile — by 0.07 inches — and weighs about 0.3 pounds less.

Put it this way: If you’re interested in the Xoom, head to a Verizon Wireless store on or after Thursday and check it out. If you like the way it feels, take the plunge; if you think one of the future tablets’ designs might suit you better and you don’t mind waiting, hang tight till you can properly compare.

Motorola Xoom: If you’re sold on the idea of a smaller tablet…
…wait. As more and more Android tablets arrive on the market, we’ll see plenty of options in terms of sizes. The Xoom is likely to remain on the larger end of the spectrum; if you prefer something with a smaller screen that’s easier to lug around, it might not be the right tablet for you.

Motorola Xoom: If you value a ‘pure’ and regularly updated Android experience…

…go Xoom. While some other manufacturers are promising to keep their clunky proprietary UIs off of their Honeycomb tablets — thank goodness — the fact remains that the Xoom is the device Google’s Android team is using to test and develop the Honeycomb OS. If any tablet is going to have an advantage when it comes to timely Android upgrades, the Xoom will be it.

As for the heavily modified tablets, like HTC’s Flyer — forget about it. The Flyer is launching with a version of Android Gingerbread that has HTC’s Sense interface baked into the OS. If you like what it has to offer, that’s great — but if you want Honeycomb and you want Google’s future updates to the platform, a “pure” Google device is the way to go.

Motorola Xoom: If you aren’t sure whether you want Android or iPad…

…wait. Apple’s iPad 2 could debut next week, according to a report published by All Things Digital on Tuesday. The iPad 2 is expected to be similar to the original iPad but with a thinner profile, an improved display, a front-facing camera, and a faster processor.

Provided that the iPad 2’s hardware is in the same ballpark as the Xoom’s, the biggest differentiator may ultimately come down to software: Any iPad is going to run Apple’s iOS, which provides a drastically different experience than the Xoom’s Android operating system. Which is better is largely a matter of personal preference: On the one hand, the iPad’s OS is generally simpler than Android; on the other hand, that also means it’s far less customizable. By their nature, too, Apple’s mobile products are significantly more restrictive than their Android counterparts. Some people think that’s a good thing; others can’t stand it. If you aren’t sure how you feel, head over to a Best Buy or Verizon store this week and spend some time playing around with an iPad and with a Xoom. Odds are, you’ll figure out which platform you prefer pretty quickly.

Motorola Xoom: About that whole Flash thing…

While we’re on the subject of iOS vs. Android, there’s one final point worth mentioning: A minor uproar has spread around the Web this week over the fact that the Xoom will launch without Adobe Flash support — one of the tablet’s key selling points, particularly compared to Apple’s famously Flash-free approach.

According to Adobe, a software update will enable Flash for the Xoom “within a few weeks” of the tablet’s launch. Provided that this timing holds true, the delay — while still mildly annoying — is probably not a huge deal for most consumers. If the presence of Flash is a key part of what attracted you to the Xoom, you could always wait a few weeks to make sure the update arrives as promised. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry about it too much; the Flash support will certainly make its way to the tablet soon, even if it isn’t there on day 1.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

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