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.
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UPDATE: I’ve updated the article to reflect new benchmarking tests performed by Anandtech.