Hands on – Motorola Xoom and Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)

We put our fingers to the first tablet to run Google's tablet-only Android 3.0 Honeycomb

One of the most anticipated gadgets of CES, Motorola’s 10.1in Xoom tablet has made a lot of claims. We went hands-on to find out if it passes muster.

Straight out, we did not get to play with Honeycomb fully – the Xoom we saw was pre-production and while we skimmed through its delicious interface on the surface, the deeper stuff was relayed to us through a series of video demos on the device. Even so, it was a heady trip.

We got our paws on two Xooms during our meeting with Moto, both different weights and slightly different builds. But they were both iPad-solid and massively impressive. Honeycomb may be a chip off the Android block, but it feels new and fresh, managing somehow to make iOS feel like a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.

Thanks to its dual-core Cortex processing power, Nvidia graphics and 1GB RAM, the Xoom is a powerhouse among tablets. At no point did we experience any stuttering or lag and if the deeper functionality (maps, books, HD video, YouTube, Gmail) is as good in the flesh as it looked in demos, Apple may be heading to the shops to buy some new underwear.

We also didn’t get to play with the front (2MP) or rear (5MP with dual-LED flash) cameras, but it shoots 720p vids and those ought to look amazing on the 1280x800, 16:9 widescreen.

The Xoom isn’t without its quirks – the position of the headphone jack socket halfway along the long edge is odd, but Motorola points out that on a tablet there is no ideal position for a headphone/line-out jack. It’s not a pocketable device, after all, so using the top edge (in portrait) is by no means a natural choice.

And there is evidence that the company has considered the details. As an example, Motorola’s optional protective rubber skin is designed to be kept on while docking – a smart move. The stereo speakers – while predictably falling short of any realistic hi-fi standards – produce a decent image, even if they lack range and character.

We’ll reserve full judgement for a production unit we can get a bit more intimate with, but this feels like a future for tablet computing. After a year of false starts (Galaxy Tab excluded) for non-Apple flat-tops, this finally feels like a new dawn for the underdog. And that rising sun looks very bright indeed.