After Google unveiled its Android Honeycomb OS for tablets, Motorola leaped from the gates to be the first to announce a device running the new software. However, this was the only truly distinguishing feature of the Motorola Xoom, a device that was held back by its size, weight and price. It was quickly superseded by thinner, lighter and cheaper devices from all of its competitors, most notably Apple.
The Xoom 2 addresses a number of the issues of the original release, but with the tablet launching now rather than sometime last year, has Motorola repeated its mistake of jumping the gun only to be quickly superseded?
Importantly, the Xoom is slimmer than its predecessor, and about 10 per cent lighter. Weighing in at about 600 grams, the Xoom 2 is as light (or as heavy) as the iPad 2 and the 10-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, and it certainly feels far better to hold than the original Xoom.
Motorola appropriated its clipped-corners octagonal design from its recent Razr release, giving the Xoom 2 a fresh, unique appearance. The back of the tablet is mostly cool, steel-coloured aluminium, with a rubberised plastic trim for where your fingers rest when you hold it. Along the bottom edge of the Xoom 2, you'll find micro-USB and micro-HDMI ports — side by side for use with docking stations — and a microSD card slot and micro-SIM slot beneath a protective flap. The power button and volume rocker are on the right-hand side, although the close proximity of these makes it quite hard to distinguish which one will turn the volume up, and which one will turn the screen off.
The Xoom 2 has a unique octagonal shape, with soft-touch plastic under where your fingers will be when holding it.
The tablet's 10.1-inch, 1280x800-pixel resolution display looks great, with HD-IPS screen tech taking the reins from what we assumed was a VA LCD panel in the original Xoom. This IPS screen makes a huge difference, offering great off-axis viewing with decent sharpness and colour. The screen could be brighter; we found that we had to crank the brightness setting up to 60 per cent to 80 per cent before we were happy with the image, but, overall, this display is one of this tablet's many strengths.
Something that you can't see by looking at the tablet is the splash-proof water protection that Motorola has applied to it. The Moto spokesperson who we spoke to stressed that the Xoom 2 is in no way waterproof, but that the splash-guard coating on the tablet should be enough to survive being caught in the rain or being drenched by a spilled drink.
As we mentioned earlier, it's been about 12 months since we first saw an Android Honeycomb tablet, but, sadly, performance issues still plague the platform. The Xoom 2 enjoys a small boost in processing power over the original, with a dual-core 1.2GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 chip doing the heavy lifting this time around. However, there are still plenty of stutters in animation across the system, and long pauses when switching between tasks using the Honeycomb multitasking feature. Performance within applications is mostly fine, and the Xoom 2 is capable of handling the heavy-duty 3D applications available on the Android Market.
Motorola has partnered with Telstra to launch the Xoom 2 in Australia, and the model we reviewed is the 32GB version with 3G and Wi-Fi. You will notice that it has 3G, not 4G, connectivity — this is not one of the new devices showcasing Telstra's new LTE network — so if you're hoping for lightning-fast downloads, then you'll have to look to the 4G-capable Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9. That said, we've found data usage in applications to be quite sluggish, in a way that 4G couldn't have helped if it had been available in this tablet. For example, loading even the mobile version of a web page can take 15 or 20 seconds, but the bulk of this time is spent initialising the connection. Once the data starts streaming, the page loads quite quickly. Data speeds are also good when downloading apps via the Android Market, suggesting that the sluggish web browsing may have more to do with the way that the system handles incoming data, rather than a problem between the radios in the Xoom 2 and the 3G network.
The tablet includes a 7000mAh battery, and this should be sufficient for most users. The Xoom 2 lasted for approximately 5.5 hours during our 720p video-playback stress test, which is better than the Asus Transformer Prime at 4.5 hours, but a long way off the Galaxy Tab 7.7, which lasted twice as long at between 9 and 10 hours. Impressively, the Xoom 2's charge can last for several days when the tablet is not being used, even with push email active on a 3G network connection. This is great for a device that you might only use every other day while relaxing at home.
Beyond the tablet's basics, Motorola has put some thought into how to extend the tablet experience, focusing on home entertainment and multimedia playback. As with the Motorola Razr, the Xoom 2 comes with the new Motocast media-streaming software, which communicates with a server client that you install on a PC or a Mac, and streams files that you dedicate for sharing from your home machine (or work machine) to the tablet. You can choose to stream music, photos and videos, and you can download documents in any format compatible with apps on the Xoom. Considering the fact that the Xoom 2 ships with the Microsoft Office-compatible QuickOffice HD app, Motocast could give you access to all of your work documents on the move. You can even establish a connection with multiple machines simultaneously, using a single log-in.
A glimpse at the Motocast UI on the Xoom 2. Notice the tabs at the bottom that give you access to multiple connected PCs.
The user experience within Motocast isn't what we'd describe as being seamless or fast, but it is extremely useful. There a few caveats to keep in mind, though. The software doesn't compress your files before streaming them, so, if you want to watch a 1GB video file, then you'd better be sure that you have more than 1GB of data in your monthly 3G plan. This also means that the service can feel very slow to use, with long buffering times, but the end result is definitely worth the wait.
Another key differentiator for the Xoom 2 is the inclusion of an infrared transmitter, allowing you to use your tablet as a universal remote. Motorola bundles Dijit software with the Xoom 2 to take advantage of this, letting you set up multiple devices across multiple rooms in your house, and giving you a seemingly limitless universal remote experience. We tested out this feature with a Panasonic Viera TV and an Oppo Blu-Ray player, and we found it extremely easy to set up and use. The range of the IR transmitter is a tad weak, though, so be sure to keep a clear line of sight between the tablet and your A/V devices, and try to limit your distance between them where possible.
Motorola includes a 5-megapixel, HD video-recording camera in the Xoom 2, and you might be surprised to hear that this camera is actually pretty good. We haven't spent a lot of our time with the Xoom 2 taking pictures, but the photos we have taken do look good, with sharp focus and good detail.
Even under fluorescent lights, the Xoom 2 takes a nice photo.
We used the LED flash as a fill light to compensate for the bright backlight, and it worked well.
Motorola's Bluetooth-powered wireless keyboard and mouse accessories are both compatible with the Xoom 2, but, at the time of writing this review, Motorola has not released a dock for this model. We tried to connect the Xoom 2 to the docking stand we saw when we reviewed the Razr smartphone at the end of last year, but the designs are incompatible. This is a shame, as pairing the mouse and keyboard is a bit pointless unless you can stand the tablet up to read the screen without holding it. Motorola did tell us that it intends to release a dock locally, and we can see Cloves in the UK is advertising one for sale, so we'll have to check back with Motorola later on to see if we can get our hands on a dock for review.
Motorola has extended itself in this release, and it seems to be really thinking about how and where we use our tablets, and how Motorola can add to this experience. The addition of an infrared sensor is a great touch for tablet-loving couch potatoes, and Motocast is a great solution for those who will take their tablets on the road with them.
However, the constant dips in performance that we experienced when using the Xoom 2 remain disappointing, and really should give pause to anyone seriously considering this model. With devices in this category, web browsing and multitasking are two central features, and are probably the two parts of this tablet worst affected by tiresome lag. There doesn't seem to be a workaround, either; whether the tablet is fresh from booting up, or whether we used third-party task-management apps to manage memory, we couldn't put the lag behind us.
It's important to add that this lag isn't unique to Motorola or the Xoom 2; pretty much all Android tablets running the Honeycomb OS suffer in a similar way. We are really hoping that an updated Ice Cream Sandwich will iron out a lot of these bugs for Android tablets, but we'll have to wait and see. For what it's worth, Motorola has committed to updating the firmware in the Xoom 2 in Q3 this year.