Distinctive and stylish, the new angled edges of the Xoom 2 reference the RAZR phone and introduce a neat industrial design language. The new model is light and easy to hold
The power button is not as easy to find as it should be but the tablet is fast and effective, with little dawdling for an app to launch
The hardware looks different but many of the features are directly carried over from the first Xoom, so there are fewer upgrades than might have been desired. The stand-out is MotoCast, which is a great music and video streaming service
The faster processor means this is a slicker product than its predecessor, but the inclusion of the latest Android software would have made a big difference and turned this into a more striking upgrade
There’s plenty of juice in the Xoom 2 so you can rely on it performing for ages, whether you’re playing back or streaming movies and music or surfing the internet
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,11/7/2011 10:02:36 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Cool design, MotoCast is a great music and video service, strong battery life, faster processor
Android interface not as slick as iOS, only minor upgrade on original Xoom, power button hard to find
A year ago, there were precious few tablets to choose from, especially when it came to big screen machines like the iPad. Earlier this year, Motorola released the first Android tablet to use the latest Honeycomb software, the first platform designed just for tablets. Now, just 10 months later, Moto is back with a new gadget as it tries to break Apple’s vice-like grip on the market. But will it succeed? Or is the iPad still the only device anyone wants?
There’s no mistaking the Xoom 2 for its predecessor, or any other tablet for that matter. It’s like someone has taken a sander and angled the corners. Those corners are still gently rounded, as they were last time, and only the long edges are straight – the shorter sides have a delicately curved edge. If it looks familiar, you may be thinking of Motorola’s recent RAZR smarphone. The same angled curves represent a new design language for Motorola and give it a distinctive styling with plenty of potential. The manufacturer wants you to see this change up front: even the box has shaped corners to match.The design makes the gadget feel inviting and friendly; something you want to hold in your hands, especially as the flat silver-grey plastic back tapers gently into rubbery edges that are easy to grip – no slippy aluminium case as on the iPad 2. Perhaps it’s all part of a strategy to keep it in your mitts, because Motorola has insisted on the power button remaining on the back of the device – a notable design failure of the first Xoom. This time it’s nearer to the edge and the button falls more or less naturally under your right index finger. Even so, you can all too easily find yourself pressing the volume rocker that sits just below it. Worse, since there’s a slight delay between button-press and screen-wake, you can be tapping away repeatedly until you twig your finger has been misplaced. I’d still prefer an edge-mounted button or even better a front button to launch the screen like on the iPad or the late HP TouchPad. While you’re holding it, you’ll notice that it’s significantly lighter than the first Xoom. At 599g it’s shaved 130g off last year’s model and even weighs a smidgen less than the iPad 2. It’s also catwalk slim, just 8.8mm thick from front to back, the same as the iPad 2 but around a third thinner than the original model.
Many other specs are the same as before, from the 10.1-inch screen with 1280x800 resolution to the 1GB of operating memory and five-megapixel camera. It would have been good to see a boost in screen resolution: whenever you hear talk of what next year’s iPad might offer, the central hope is for a much higher resolution display. The Xoom 2 is slightly better than Apple’s 132 pixels-per-inch – Moto’s screen is 149 ppi – but this would have been a chance to steal a march on Apple.There are upgrades, like the dual-core processor, which has gone from 1GHz to 1.2GHz. But if you were expecting a game-changer, it isn’t, though it keeps everything ticking along nicely. Core applications such as web browsing and email perform better than on the original Xoom, though only marginally.There’s also the 3D virtual surround sound effect the audio specs promise. Oh, and two downgrades – the front-facing camera is now 1.3 megapixels, not two-megapixels as before. Realistically, though, you’re unlikely to notice much difference unless you’re self-portrait crazy. The other is the removal of the SD card slot, so you’re stuck with 16GB capacity. This is less serious than it might appear as thanks to MotoCast you can stream music and video content instead of storing it, which we’ll come to shortly.
The Xoom 2 uses Android’s latest tablet software, Honeycomb version 3.2. But while the first machine was pure vanilla Android, this edition has some Motorola specialities. There’s no MOTOBLUR, the social networking aggregator that was a breath of fresh air when first launched but less cutting edge now. It’s on some phones but not this tablet.However, the big fanfare element is MotoCast, which streams music, photos, video and even documents from your PC or Mac to the Xoom 2. Setup is straightforward: attach the device by USB cable to the computer with your music on and the Xoom 2 will transfer the appropriate software to it. The software is downloadable if you lack the right cable. Then you create an account and choose which files you want the Motorola tablet – or phone – to access. This part isn’t always as simple as it should be, and the Xoom 2 stalled a couple of times during setup. Eventually it worked though, and from then on it was plain sailing. Launch MotoCast and you’re taken to a screen with all the streamable media on it. Press play and a track starts after a second or two and in our tests played flawlessly. Video took a little longer to buffer but looked good on the large 10.1-inch screen.
Everything is streamed direct from your computer, not uploaded anywhere. This means it’s safe, though it also means the computer has to be switched on and online for the program to work. It’s flexible, though. If you don’t have your phone or tablet with you at a friend’s house, for instance, you can log on to mymotocast.com and still have access to the music and other files via your friend’s computer, which is neat. If you want to download tracks, this is wonderfully simple, too. Tap the triangle under the album art, then choose download. Done. Remember, however, that you only have 16GB of capacity.
The latest Honeycomb OS feels slicker than before, though one wonders why the newest software, Ice Cream Sandwich, isn’t on the Xoom 2 at launch, leaving phone-and-tablet users struggling between different systems (see box).On both versions, interface comparisons to the iPad are inevitable. The Android system still feels a little geekier and less intuitive than Apple’s iOS, though it benefits from a greater variety of interactions and the Recent Applications virtual button that sits bottom left of the screen alongside the Back and Home buttons is handy. The shortcut icons lack the gloss of their Apple’s equivalents, but the fact that you can lay them out as you wish rather than in Apple’s standard top left to bottom right, no spaces format is a definite bonus.
Battery life remains strong as, thin though it is, there’s room for plenty of rechargeable cell inside. Since the rear camera is the same spec as last year’s model there’s no difference here except for a faster shutter courtesy of the beefed up processor. If it is faster, there’s not much in it. Motorola claims the new screen is splash-proof. I only tested this gingerly – there are plenty of places where liquid could seep in, from the headphone jack to the micro USB connector – but certainly water didn’t cling to the display.
There’s no question this is a cooler-looking, faster tablet than the original Xoom and it’s certainly pleasant to use, even if the hidden power button still rankles. But it’s not that much faster and it has software that’s only marginally different from the beginning of the year. The hardware is now as good as the iPad, so the software is crucial. With Ice Cream Sandwich on board – and it will follow – this would be a much more attractive proposition.