These days, when a tablet comes across to our offices for a review, I try and feign a little bit of excitement. The truth of the matter is that there’s so little that can change from one tablet to the next, and often I wish I could just double-paste a review and change the names around. But that of course, would be grossly unfair to the fourteen people who read my reviews.
So I try not to roll my eyes slightly when I pick up the Motorola Xoom 2 and let it power up. Another Android tablet just begging to be poked and prodded, hoping to hold my attention for more than ten minutes. To be fair, I could call the Xoom 2 an oversized Razr, but didn’t people call the iPad an oversized iPhone? Look at how that turned out. Apprehensions aside, what you really need to know is that in a market that’s already swimming with Android tablets, is the Xoom 2 worth your time and money?
Build quality & Design
Motorola have really gone out of their way to erase the design mistakes they made with the original Xoom tablet, and the Xoom 2 sports a thinner profile and a lighter build, thanks to a predominantly aluminum backing. The backing provides a sturdy support to the tablet, and is surrounded by a thick black rubber strip that makes it much easier to grip in either hand. The back of the Xoom 2 features a slightly elevated section that houses the rear-facing five megapixel camera and LED flash, along with two slim speakers hidden at the top. It’s strange that Motorola would place the speakers here since they project sound away from the user, even though they are quite loud.
To the right of the Xoom 2 is the power button and volume rocker, buried deep into the rubber grip. The placement of these buttons is extremely awkward, and it’s very easy to power off the tablet at times when you wanted to adjust the volume instead. Even though the buttons have little bumps on them to make them stand out, they can still be a bit of a challenge to locate in a hurry.
At the bottom of the tablet is a connector for the charging / USB cable, as well as a mini-HDMI port. There’s also a plastic flap at the bottom which hides the SIM card slot, and that’s it. Yes, there’s no microSD card or any expansion options here, which is a real surprise. Even though my review model was a 16GB one, I could easily see myself using up that space if I downloaded a few shows or half my music library to the Xoom 2. I know that there’s a push to moving to cloud and streaming services, but I really would have liked the option to have a microSD card on the Xoom 2.
The front of the Xoom 2 is fairly ordinary, with a thick black bezel going around the Gorilla Glass display. There’s a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera as well as a tiny LED indicator for notifications. Overall, the Xoom 2 is a marked improvement from its original in terms of size and weight, and even sports cut-off corners to give it a stylized look from its competitors. The Xoom 2 also has a splash-resistant coating to keep away moisture, but don’t expect the tablet to be completely waterproof.
UI and Apps
The Xoom 2 disappointingly runs Android Honeycomb, which is now getting to be a no-no on tablets. The system still has plenty of performance issues and unfortunately they ruin what would otherwise be a fairly pleasant tablet to use. Even though the hardware on the Xoom 2 is quite adequate, it’s only after using the tablet for a while do you realize it’s the poor Android platform that brings the device down. An upgrade to ICS would be nice, but again I won’t be using this tablet long enough to wait for one to be available.
App-wise, Motorola have dubbed on some of their own creations which you can also find on their Razr phones. There’s MotoCast, which is a software that lets you connect your Xoom 2 to your PC remotely, so you can access files and media wherever you are through an Internet or data connection. There are other media streaming apps available of course, including the bundled Twonky Player, so you don’t have to use MotoCast if you don’t want to.
There’s the usual bevy of business apps such as GoToMeeting and Citrix Connect, as well as a Notes application that sits permanently in the lower right corner for instant note taking. It’s not the most accurate thing to use as it’s hard to write a legible note with your finger, so it’s best switching to text mode instead. There’s also a rather interesting app called Dijit, which turns your Xoom 2 into a Universal Remote Controller, thanks to the hidden IR transmitter at the top of the device. You simply select a type of device and manufacturer, and you’re presented with a list of preconfigured remote controls to choose from. Sadly the list isn’t very populated, and there’s no way for you to program your own remote controller such as in the Sony Tablet. But it’s a cute gimmick, and can pull off some basic controls at least, though you have to keep the Xoom 2 pointed fairly close to the device you want to operate.
The Xoom 2 isn’t exactly a powerful beast, but for the most part was able to complete our benchmarks without too much of trouble. SunSpider 0.9.1 produced a total result of 3,345.4ms, a marked improvement over the original Xoom’s score of 2,190. Tests in Quadrant were a bit of a let down, with a final score of 2,248 which fell behind the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 which earned a score of 2,677 and the Transformer Prime which scored 4,120. Glbenchmark scored a lonely 2,335 so any high-graphic apps or games that you play might fall into the 15fps category.
Screen and Touch Interface
What made the original Xoom a bit of a downer was its ridiculously glossy screen that made it difficult to use in bright lighting. The screen on the Xoom 2 still picks up a bit of glare, however it’s much less noticeable than on the original. The resolution is still stuck at 1,200 x 800 but the IPS panel now allows for better viewing angles and is good at making most pictures and videos appear bright and vibrant. In direct sunlight the Xoom 2 still had a bit of a hurdle with properly displaying text and images, so I had to crank the brightness way up in order to see the screen clearly.
As the Xoom 2 runs Android Honeycomb, there’s a variety of performance issues that crop up as you use the tablet. The most noticeable is the awkward pauses that appear when you try to switch between certain apps using the in-built task manager. While the tablet had no issues running fairly taxing 3D games and apps, it’s puzzling why a fairly simple task like multitasking seems to bring it to a crawl. And since you can’t swipe away applications to quit them like you can in ICS, you’re often left with a long list of programs running in the background, so invest in a proper task manager or learn to reboot your tablet often. The tablet also takes a while to switch from portrait to landscape, and if done from the homescreen tends to refresh most of the widgets each time, which is cumbersome.
Camera and Multimedia
The 5 megapixel rear camera takes noticeably better pictures than my iPad 2, excelling mostly at outdoor photography where colors though muted at times, came through quite clearly. In low light conditions with the flash turned on the images weren’t so flattering, so it’s clear that tablet photography still has quite a way to go. The other downside of the camera is that you have to completely rely on its auto-focus; you can’t tap a section of the screen to indicate what you want to focus on, so wave goodbye to whipping out your Xoom 2 and rapidly taking shots. The front-facing camera is really just best for video calls, as there’s precious little that you can do with its 1.3 megapixel resolution. Video recording was sub-par, mostly due to the camera having to constantly focus on objects, so anything that moves too quickly will produce a noticeable blur in the final video.
Video and audio playback worked quite well on the Xoom 2, with HD video hugging the screen for an almost letterbox-free viewing experience. Streaming content off my network was a breeze from the bundled Twonky player, and listening to music on the Xoom 2 was also quite pleasant, though as mentioned before the inbuilt speakers tend to direct sound away from the user because of their placement.
The Xoom 2 has an improved battery life from its predecessor, and with an HD clip looping on medium brightness with Wi-Fi on, I was able to squeeze about six and a half hours from a full charge before I was warned to plug in my charger. That’s not as amazing as say what the iPad can pull off, but it’s decent enough for every day use as well as on the go. The unit mostly stayed cool during usage and tests, though I did notice a slightly warmer patch towards the back near the bottom of the unit. Bear in mind, this was after a good four hours of non-stop use, so it’s not something that I’m going to hold against the Xoom 2.
After everything, the Xoom 2 is against all odds, a fairly decent Android tablet. Yes, it does have some flaws, but compared to the original this is a welcome upgrade. If Motorola can finally get around to pushing ICS to the Xoom 2, then it might actually turn a few heads. As it stands, the Xoom 2 is a capable tablet that is held back by the limited storage and sluggish OS.