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6/8/2011
04:52 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Xoom LTE Upgrade Coming 'In Near Future'

The promised free upgrade of the Xoom tablet from 3G to Long Term Evolution 4G is still to come, but coming soon, says Motorola.

According to an email sent to a Motorola Xoom customer, Verizon and Motorola have started the upgrade process for the world's first Honeycomb tablet. The new data radios were promised by summer, which means Motorola and Verizon are making their deadline by the skin of their teeth.

UPDATE: Motorola issued a statement at 7PM announcing that the email had been sent to Xoom customers by mistake. It explained, "A very small number of Motorola XOOM users recently received an email from Motorola regarding the 4G LTE upgrade process. While we are very excited about being able to offer the upgrade this summer, and know our customers are equally excited about the benefits that 4G LTE speeds will bring to their Motorola XOOM, the email was sent in error. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused, and look forward to being able to share more specifics on how -- and when -- users can take advantage of 4G LTE on their Motorola XOOM in the near future."

The Motorola Xoom, first announced in January of this year and made available in February, shipped with a 3G cellular radio inside. (A separate Wi-Fi version is available, too.) From the start, Motorola and Verizon Wireless said that the device would get a 4G boost in the form of an LTE radio. The process, unfortunately, won't be without pain.

Xoom users will need to ship their tablets back to Motorola, where a technician will have to pull it apart, swap the data radios, reassemble it, and then ship it back to the user. Motorola hasn't indicated (recently) how long this process will take, but originally suggested between 8 and 10 business days.

That's a terribly long time to be without a piece of hardware, especially for corporate users. If you managed to purchase a Xoom through Verizon's business sales channels, you might want to see if there's something in your SLA that might help speed up that updating process. The last thing you want is your work force to be sidelined during the cellular data switcheroo.

One thing worth noting (again). Users who have rooted their Xoom will be eligible for the upgrade, too, though Motorola warns that things might not go as smoothly.

Motorola explained in a forum post earlier this year, "All Motorola Xoom tablets on the Verizon Wireless network are eligible to receive an upgrade to support 4G LTE. This includes those that have been unlocked; however, those units must be submitted for upgrade with the original factory software reinstalled and the device relocked in order to receive the upgrade."

In other words, root users are going to have to completely back-up their Xoom's settings and then revert it to its original condition.

Don't feel like doing all that work? Motorola said it will at least attempt to upgrade rooted devices, but it isn't making any promises. "For devices that are returned unlocked, Motorola will attempt to complete the upgrade, but may be unable to update the software," it explained. "In these cases, the device will be returned to the consumer with just the 4G LTE modem installed. More details on the process will be available closer to the upgrade availability."

Given the speed boost offered by Verizon's LTE network when compared to its 3G network, the upgrade is probably worth giving up your machine for a week or so, but there are plenty of unanswered questions. The biggest? Battery life.

So far, all the Verizon Wireless LTE devices I've tested have miserable battery life. This includes the HTC Thunderbolt, Samsung Droid Charge, and both LTE-equipped mobile hotspots available from Verizon. None of these devices lasted more than three hours when exposed to LTE.

How will Verizon and Motorola manage the Xoom's new 4G radio? Will it be as much of a battery suck as it is on phones and other devices, or will it have less of an impact on the Xoom's larger power source? And what about a software switch to turn the 4G radio off completely in order to conserve power? Neither the Thunderbolt nor the Droid Charge can turn off the LTE radio. Some straight talk from Verizon and Motorola on this subject would be helpful.

Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi based Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 goes on sale in New York City today and elsewhere next week. The HTC EVO View 4G (with WiMax on board) also goes on sale toward the end of the month.

Employees have more ways to communicate than ever, but until the mishmash of tools gets integrated, productivity will suffer. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: A buyer's guide to enterprise social networking. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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