Xoom vs. iPad

Xoom vs iPad by Sir.Christopher Of Baltimore, on Flickr

I’m a regular (some might say obsessive) iPad user, but recently had the opportunity to use a Xoom Android tablet for a few days. The experience made me think a lot about what’s necessary for me in a tablet, and I’ve been mentally evaluating how each option measures up. It’s impossible to review tech like this in a vacuum, and I always find it most useful to look at competition side by side. I’ve broken it down into a list of the things I most need a tablet to do – here’s how each option measures up:

First, productivity-related tasks:

Instapaper has become the centerpiece of almost all my professional reading.
-iPad: Instapaper has an official app, which is one of the best-produced apps I’ve seen anywhere.
-Xoom: There’s still no truly great Instapaper Android app, either for phone or tablet. Instant Fetch is functional, but can’t compare to the iPad app.
Victor: iPad

Google Reader is the source for much of what I read in Instapaper, and helps me filter down an incredible array of sources.
-iPad: Reeder, like the Instapaper app, has a beautiful UI that’s a joy to use. It fully integrates with Google Reader.
-Xoom: While nothing’s quite as fun to use as Reeder, Feedly functions well and does the job.
Victor: tie

-iPad: The mail app gets the job done, but in a clunky fashion. I’m continually annoyed that I can have either a delete or archive button, but not both.
-Xoom: The Gmail app is everything I could want it to be. It beats Apple hands down.
Victor: Xoom

SimpleNote is the repository for all my text notes – work, trip planning, random thoughts, meeting notes, drafting blog posts etc.
-iPad: Once again there’s a beautiful official SimpleNote app.
-Xoom: Andronoter, while unofficial, is just as good.
Victor: tie

Dropbox is amazing. Enough said.
-Here the iPad and Xoom are fundamentally equal – both have great official Dropbox apps.
Victor: tie

Then there’s of course the slightly… less productive side of tablets. The fun things I need a tablet to do:

-iPad: There’s no contest here, the Apple App Store is chock full of great games.
-Xoom: There’s Angry Birds, which is admittedly at the top of my list. But other than that Android has a long way to go catching up.
Victor: iPad

I use Google Maps all the time, on both tablets and phones. I don’t know how I’d navigate or plan trips without it.
-iPad: The Google Maps app is embarassingly out of date. It hasn’t substantially changed since the original iPhone launched in 2007. The ipad-optimized webapp is actually a far superior experience with all the nice features Google has added in the last 4 years.
-Xoom: As expected, Google has packed Android full of amazing Google product apps. Their tablet-optimized Android map app is a shining example of what the platform can be.
Victor: Xoom

I don’t listen to music on tablets a lot, but it’s still nice to have the option:
-iPad: There’s iTunes, which I honestly haven’t used for purchasing music in years. The default music player works, but I find some of the UI elements confusing. And since I almost never sync the iPad with my computer, it’s a pain to put music on it. I can also use the Rdio app, but it’s designed for the iPhone and doesn’t look great here.
-Xoom: Between Google Music, Amazon’s Cloudplayer, the Rdio app and more I have almost too many good options to pick from. All without being tied to iTunes or my computer.
Victor: Xoom

I watch movies a bit more than I listen to music on tablets. But here it’s almost no contest:
-iPad: Besides the iTunes store’s movies, a number of the blu-rays I own came with ipad-compatible copies of the movies that are easy to load. Netflix and Hulu work very well too.
-Xoom: Google just launched Android movie rentals, and I admittedly haven’t tried them yet. But I’ll guess it works fine. The Xoom doesn’t have Netflix or Hulu, and I haven’t managed to quite figure out what video formats it can and can’t play yet. It’s confusing to say the least.
Victor: iPad

The Overall UI plays a role too. It’s one thing to have all these apps, but what about using the OS that ties it all together?
-iPad: iOS just plain works. It gets me from point A to point B with a minimum of fuss but with pretty transitions.
-Xoom: The Android Honeycomb UI, while highly customizable, isn’t quite as polished. I like the ability to put widgets on my homescreen a lot, and the notification system is very well executed, but otherwise it’s not quite there yet. Where iOS gets out of the way and lets me work (or play), Android Honeycomb takes a bit too much active thinking to use.
Victor: iPad

Totaling it up:
The iPad wins out in 4 categories
The Xoom wins out in 3 categories
Another 3 categories were ties

For such a new product, I was impressed to see how well the Xoom holds up. Give the Android app ecosystem another year to evolve and I think a lot of the iPad’s wins will shift into ties. There might be actual competition for tablet marketshare! I can’t wait.

Amazon CloudPlayer – Better than free?

For years I’ve seen a lot of very smart people refer to how the industry of your choice (music, movies, games, etc) can beat rampant piracy: Offer a service that’s better than free. That is, provide features that piracy can never match. For music, I think Amazon’s Cloudplayer has finally found a way to provide a service better than what piracy provides for free.

Amazon’s Cloudplayer lets me do a number of very handy things, including:
-Access my music from mobile devices, without needing to sync ahead of time
-Back up my music off-site
-Re-download my Amazon MP3 purchases, which are automatically stored online for free(!)

I think the second and third features are most important here – I could theoretically pirate all my music, but what happens when I accidentally delete a song or my hard drive dies? (Or what if I simply get a new computer and want to easily transfer my stuff to it?) With a few clicks, I can re-download all my legally purchased music.

I have reservations about a lot of Amazon’s moves recently (see Kindle and their Android app store), but Amazon MP3 with Cloudplayer provides an amazing service. I’ll gladly pay their reasonable prices rather than waste time tracking down music through sometimes dodgy methods. I’m even considering cancelling my Rdio subscription. I love Rdio, but I could take that $10 per month and put it toward building my own streaming music catalog in Cloudplayer instead; a streaming music catalog that doesn’t shut off if I stop paying every month. I can’t see myself ever leaving for another music store or ecosystem, piracy-based or not. But even if I do, I can still get all my old music to take with me.