Android This Week: Xoom Lands; A Faster Firefox; Gingerbread Flies

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Google’s tablet platform has arrived in the form of Motorola’s Xoom, the first available tablet to run Android 3.0. Reviewers, including myself, found much to like ranging from an effective notification system to an outstanding experience with the core Google apps, such as Mail, Music, and Maps, to name a few. You can get a peek at both the Xoom and Android 3.0 in my video overview. The Honeycomb user interface is huge leap forward compared to Android on the smartphone, but is more computer-like and as a result, some consumers may find it challenging on a tablet.

After the core Google apps, however, the Honeycomb experience lacks depth. As of late this week, only 16 applications specific for Android tablets appeared in the Android Market. While Android smartphone apps do run on the Xoom and other expected Android tablets, many of them are simply stretched to fit larger screens and waste much space. This suggests Honeycomb will take time to mature and that perhaps Motorola rushed the Xoom to market. Additional indicators of the early launch include a non-working memory card expansion slot until after a software upgrade and Verizon’s procedure to add 4G support to Xoom: Consumers will have to send their device in to Motorola and wait up to six business days for a return.

While Honeycomb may sound like a beta, I’ve used some Android software that actually is a beta, and been impressed nonetheless. Mozilla released the fifth iteration of Firefox for mobile devices this week, and not only is it a solid app; it’s speedy too. Indeed, my benchmark tests showed a 218 percent increase in JavaScript performance, making for a fast mobile web experience on my Samsung Galaxy Tab. Even the dual-core Xoom tablet gained speed with Firefox’s browser, which tested faster than the native Honeycomb browser.

This wasn’t all about tablets though; after two months of waiting, Google Nexus One owners began to see the Android 2.3.3 update for Gingerbread via an over-the-air delivery. Since I have a custom ROM on my Nexus One — I’ve probably had more than 100 of them installed over the past year — my phone won’t see the update from Google. Instead, I’ll need to revert back to the stock firmware and then wait for the update to be sent. Or will I? Instead of waiting, folks like me can install the update themselves with a small download found at the XDA-Developers site. I’ll still have to “downgrade” from my custom ROM to a stock ROM, but there’s no wait involved. And since Gingerbread brings a much improved copy / paste function that also found on Honeycomb tablets, I’m certain this will be my next weekend project. That is if I can put aside my other hobby and stop controlling robots with my Android phone.

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