Motorola's Xoom 2 arrives at a point where Apple's iPad (first- or second-generation...) still dominates the tablet market. The original Xoom was the first tablet to arrive with Android Honeycomb, an OS dedicated to the tablet form. In the months since we gave it a middling review, plenty more tablets arrived, faster, thinner, and more longevous (like the Galaxy Tab 10.1).

So what now? Well, Motorola has recast its Xoom: it's made it faster, slimmer and lighter.
They've beefed up the disappointing screen found on the original, it's now a Gorilla Glass-coated IPS screen that promises 178-degree viewing angles. But Motorola has also cut more corners than the four you see before you -- ones that it hopes customers won't miss.

However, with a certain quad-cored, ICS-imminent transforming tablet already stealing the hearts of many an Engadget reader (and editor), does this slimline sequel do enough to make up for its past mistakes? Is there now enough in the Android market to make Google-powered tablets a viable alternative to the iPad? Is £396 ($620) now too much to pay for a 16GB Android tablet that's merely dual-core? We'll be sure to try and answer all these right after the break.

Motorola Xoom 2 review

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Hardware


Do you remember the old Xoom? Perhaps it's best described as a slab; half an inch thick, it weighed in at a pound and a half. Well, the Xoom 2 has certainly gone lean, it's now 0.22 pounds lighter, and honed to mere 8.8mm thick. Those corners, apparently "strategically designed" to make the tablet easier to handle do exactly what they're meant to do. We suffered a lot less "tablet palm" from extended gaming and video-watching sessions, although we're not sure why the curves aren't reversed. As it is, the Xoom 2 is super comfortable in portrait mode, but less so in landscape. The tablet does, however, feel reassuringly rigid. Although it may lack the shiny concentric stylings of the Transformer Prime, there's no wobble in its aluminum-framed build. The tablet has also been given an all-over water resistant coating, similar to what you'll find on the Droid RAZR. The front of the tablet has a bezel that's slightly less substantial than its Android competition, around 13mm on the vertical sides, and just under 20mm on the horizontal borders. It's marginal-- we're talking fractions of a millimeter less than both the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Transformer Prime, but comparing it to tablets from the first half of this year is a testament to how far Android tablets have come.


The first Xoom's comedic digital camera stylings on the back are now, thankfully, gone. A soft plastic edge runs around the tablet's lower edge and sides, surrounding a gun metal-colored panel. A rubbery power button, now accompanied by the volume rocker, is located on the back. These are accessible by your right hand when held in landscape, and are resistant enough to ignore when you accidentally brush over them to hold the tablet.

Our review model packs the bare minimum of what we'd allow storage-wise on a tablet: 16GB. Despite this, there are also no expansion options.

Two stereo speakers are located at the top, away from the softer edge, and thus less likely to be covered while you hold the device. At the top of the rear, a five megapixel camera is now placed (more logically) in the center, with an LED flash alongside it. On the top edge, there's the customary headphone jack which is accompanied by something a little more exotic -- an IR emitter. We managed to get this easily working with Dijit, and also its broad list of compatible TVs and devices. Along the base of the device, ports include a micro-HDMI and micro-USB port that deals with both data and charging. Yes, Motorola has retired the dedicated AC pin, although you'll probably want to stick to the meatier in-box charger rather than attempt to eke out a charge from phone adapters or, dare we say it, a USB cable. Our review model packs the bare minimum of what we'd allow storage-wise on a tablet: 16GB. Despite this, there are also no expansion options - no microSD slot, let alone SD. Granted, there's a very strong trend towards cloud-based music collections, but we'll be clutching to our files until the revolution truly takes off. There doesn't appear to be any 32 or 64GB models of the ten-inch tablet incoming, so it's something to be aware of. What's even odder is that there's a hatch along the bottom edge that could certainly receive either a SIM, if not some form of removable storage. We've been in contact with Motorola to confirm exact what it's all about, and will update this review when they get back to us.

Screen


Motorola has made a conscious effort with the Xoom 2 screen. Sure, it's the same 1200 x 800 resolution, but it's now an IPS panel. Viewing angles approach the stated 178 degree mark, although you'd be hard-pressed to see much from there. The upgraded IPS TFT display makes pictures, video and, well, everything, far more vibrant. The latest Motorola tablet does, however, still have issues with bright and outdoor lighting. The screen also seems to be more hungry for fingerprints and smudges than anything we've seen before. We're talking original iPhone-levels of fingerprint magnetism: be prepared to carry a microfiber cloth, or wear long sleeves.

Camera


While it may not be a core feature for many users, the Xoom 2 still has a five megapixel auto-focus shooter. We found stills we're generally good quality, although colors were often slightly muted. One plus of photography on tablets of this size is the ability to view your shots, full-screen immediately. Unfortunately, given the greater degree of control available on a 10.1-inch screen, there's no touch to focus feature. Instead, the Xoom 2 attempts to concentrate on what it thinks you want focused. Photography options consist of a few preset modes, color effects, exposure settings, size, quality and the ability to switch between macro, infinity and auto focus. The front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera is still here. Fortunately, nine months since we first saw the Xoom, Honeycomb's app offering has expanded and compatible voice-call services (did someone mention Skype?) make this a far more valid addition than it did on the first Honeycomb tablet.

Motorola Xoom 2 sample shots

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Video capture is capped at 720p at 30fps, and the results are pretty sub-par, largely due to the poor, slow autofocus. Recording moving subjects results in some pretty hazy footage. You'll find that video recording -- and playback -- will suffer from some very pronounced clipping if you have a handful of apps running at the same time, so it's worth restarting or doing some task management before you hit record.



Performance and battery life

Motorola Xoom 2 Galaxy Tab 10.1 Motorola Xoom Transformer Prime
Quadrant 1,841 2,083 1,745 3,023
Linpack (single-thread) 45.51 MFLOPS 16.9 MFLOPS 32.5 MFLOPS 43.35 MFLOPS
Linpack (multi-thread) 68.87 MFLOPS 36.7 MFLOPS 59.8 MFLOPS 67.05 MFLOPS
Nenamark1 20.1 fps 42.5 fps 30.5 fps 60.1 fps
Nenamark2 19.6 fps 18.6 fps 19.3 fps 46.1 fps
Vellamo 1,060 886 923 953
Sunspider 0.9.1 2,229ms 2,200ms 2,192.7ms 1,861ms

The Xoom 2 manages to squeeze in an ARM 1.2GHz dual-core processor alongside 1GB of RAM, giving noticeable improvements in both the benchmark scores and daily use when compared to the original Xoom. Whether that's the 20 percent processor improvement, or testament to the Google and Moto's special relation, we don't know, but the old guard is unsurprisingly beaten across all bar one of our benchmarks. But it makes more sense to compare the sequel against its main tablet competitors.

The Xoom 2 seems to offer up some very strong Vellamo web browsing scores, besting even the Transformer Prime.

Admittedly, the quad-core Transformer Prime has a bit more under the hood, but the Xoom 2 seems to jump through the technical hoops better than the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a similarly sized and specced dual-core tablet. It's worth noting that the Xoom 2 seems to offer up some very strong Vellamo web browsing scores, besting even the Transformer Prime. Number-crunching aside, the tablet runs smoothly, able to load up graphically intensive apps and websites without much of a struggle, though it's still suffering a Honeycomb hangover of occasional stutters, and random app crashes.


Despite the slimmer style, the battery still manages to outperform its older brother. The IPS screen doesn't seem to take much toll either; with almost nine hours of continuous video playback from a full charge, running on 50 percent brightness, WiFi enabled. It's a strong performance, but the competition is stronger. On day-to-day use, it's more frugal; we got a good day and a half of casual use, with Twitter and email notifications throughout the day, and a heavy dose of Shadowgun action at lunch.

Tablet
Battery Life
Motorola Xoom 2 8:57
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad 9:33
HP TouchPad 8:33
Lenovo IdeaPad K1 8:20
Motorola Xoom 8:20
T-Mobile G-Slate 8:18
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 8:09
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 8:00
Archos 101 7:20
Archos 80 G9 7:06
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Acer Iconia Tab A500 6:55
T-Mobile Springboard (Huawei MediaPad) 6:34
Toshiba Thrive 6:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 6:09
Velocity Micro Cruz T408 5:10
Acer Iconia Tab A100 4:54

Software

Fortunately, Motorola has taken a pretty laissez faire approach to Honeycomb (version Android 3.2, to be exact) It flies in the complete opposite direction to the heavily styled backgrounds, widgets and apps found on the Droid RAZR. Pre-installed apps are lightweight, inoffensive additions. There are several business-oriented apps here, like Quickoffice HD, Twonky and Citrix, while Motorola's own music streaming app, MotoCast requires pre-registration, but is a relatively painless way to add your collection of music, photos and videos to the Xoom 2.


Motorola has added what it's calling Intelligent Grip Suppression to both the Xoom 2 and its Media Edition sibling. We're calling it a great idea; it allows you to grip the tablet's screen while still allowing multitouch scrolling and zooming. In practice, it's pretty good at detecting your grip, though the web browser will occasionally zoom, rather than obey your commands to scroll. The browser itself often gets confused by flash content, with video often clipping like the camera does when several apps are already open. The stock keyboard here is the typical fare, with buttons plenty large enough to avoid mistakes. However, the wide-screen nature of the Xoom 2 in landscape means we found that we had to stretch in landscape mode to reach the middle range of the keyboard. Again, we reverted to SwiftKey Tablet X, where a split-up board solves this problem.

Stylus


An optional extra, we managed to get our hands on the Motorola Active Stylus, priced at £22 ($34), and working exclusively with software found on the 10.1-inch Xoom 2. Motorola has told us it won't be playing with the smaller screened Media Edition. Well, it will -- it'll work on any capacitive screen, you'll just miss out on the dedicated Floating Notes app. The stylus (which requires an AAAA battery) works across the full gamut of Honeycomb apps and menus. There's a decent heft to it, and it makes a satisfying tap noise on the Gorilla Glass display. Motorola hasn't yet revealed who is responsible for the digitizer, but we'll be updating here when we do.

Hitting the ever-present notepad icon in the lower right corner will proffer a few options: launch the Floating Notes app replete with a blank canvas, open any previous sketches or annotations, or finally, Evernote. The final option is semi-integrated into Motorola's stylus software. It's a little half-baked as any stylus interactions have to be done in Floating Notes and then shared across to Evernote. Sadly, there appears to be no ability to make quick 'n dirty annotations on the top of emails, photos or webpages, something that was a boon to using the stylus-centric HTC Flyer. The lack of a native screen grab - and we know there are other ways -- also works against the stylus. Apps willing to interact with the stylus are a bit short on the ground -- Diopen is the best handwriting input app we've found so far, but that will also work with your finger.

Wrap-up


The Xoom 2 is a stylish successor to the original Honeycomb tablet. The build quality is much improved, and Motorola is on the right track with those oddly shaped corners and built-in IR emitter. There has been an explosion in Honeycomb tablets since the first Xoom launched, and while the sequel does plenty right, it isn't enough to claim the head seat at the Android tablet family table. Fortunately, the Xoom 2 has bypassed Moto's tendency to over-tinker with the core Android experience on its phones, resulting in a pretty reliable tablet, although it still behaved erratically with video content.

Competition's a lot tougher, and while Motorola's upped it's game, it's not by enough to come out on top.

While camera shortcomings on a tablet may not be a massive deal-breaker, lack of tap to focus and poor auto-focus on the video camera are frustrating. Because of a lack of expandable storage (and beefier models), users will be drawn into the world of cloud media management, whether they want to or not. It's telling that the Google Music app comes preinstalled on this UK review model -- somewhere the beta isn't yet available. While the Xoom was -- for a time -- the best Honeycomb tablet, it was also the only Honeycomb tablet. But competition's a lot tougher, and while Motorola's upped its game, it's not by enough to come out on top.
Motorola

Xoom 2

Pros

  • Lighter and slimmer than its predecessor
  • Splashproof coating
  • (Almost) undiluted Android experience
  • Built-in IR emitter

Cons

  • Only 16GB of storage: lacks expansion option
  • Fingerprint-magnet
Conclusion

The Motorola Xoom 2 improves on the original in almost every way. However, it's no longer the only Honeycomb tablet out there, and pricing seems far too optimistic.

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