The first Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet hits stores Thursday
for $600 -- and missing a couple of popular features

Motorola Xoom

The Motorola Xoom (or XOOM for you brand-conscious folks) is the first of the next generation of Android tablets to hit the market. It runs the new Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" version of the operating system, which was tailor-made for larger screens.

If you're just catching up, here's the deal: The Motorola Xoom goes on sale tomorrow, Feb. 24. It's a 10.1-inch Android tablet with a 1280x800 resolution display, powered by the new Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. And it's a dual-core processor at that, much like what you'd find in many laptops today. That means it can do more things at once -- like rendering graphics or outputting video -- and not have to work as hard to do it. And that means better battery life.

Other hardware specs you need to know are 32GB of storage, 1GB of RAM, a 5MP camera on the back and a 2MP camera on the front for video calling. The rear camera will record in 720p high-definition, and the Xoom can connect to your television and output movies in full 1080p.

And the Xoom is pretty darn good, too. We first got a look at it at CES in January, got some more time with it at Google's Honeycomb event earlier this month, and again (in silver!) at MWC in Spain. It's a fine piece of hardware -- albeit a tad heavy at 26 ounces -- and it's going to be plenty snappy on Verizon's 3G network.

But the Xoom also will eventually be able to take advantage of Verizon's new 4G LTE network, with really fast data speeds. It's not launching with 4G (though it does have 802.11 b/g/n Wifi for when you're near a hotspot), but it'll be upgradeable in about three months, according to an unofficial screen shot. The really bad news is that you'll have to physically send your Xoom to Motorola to be upgraded -- it's not just a software thing. That's pretty much unheard of for any smartphone or tablet, and  we've got our fingers crossed that it doesn't become a logistical nightmare.

To hear Verizon talk (erm, Tweet) about it, that the Motorola Xoom tablet will have to be taken into the shop (for free!) to be upgraded to LTE is a feature waiting to happen, not a feature missing at launch. Maybe our glass is half empty, but we're not exactly looking forward to handing over new our $600 (or $800 off contract) tablet for a week's worth of work. On the other hand, it is free, and we're very much fans of Verizon's LTE data speeds thus far.

And speaking of features we really expected the Xoom to have -- Adobe Flash is missing, but it should be available in a few short weeks.

That's not to say the Xoom is a disappointment -- far from it. The LTE upgrade's going to be a hassle, but it's coming. And Flash will be here in short order. Other than that, we've been very impressed with the Xoom.

But at this point, the same old tablet question remains: For $600 (or $800) do you really need that form factor? And does the prospect of having to physically send away your Xoom for an LTE upgrade make you want to hold off? We'll find out this week as they finally go on sale nationwide.