Motorola has chosen an odd time to release it's latest Android tablet — the Motorola Xoom 2 — given a certain "fruit" company is about to unveil a third generation of its market leading device. Perhaps its logic is to get in before the inevitable publicity storm but either way, the Xoom 2 has an extremely tough fight on its hands to remain relevant in an increasingly crowded market. It may be thinner, lighter and faster than the original Xoom, but the Xoom 2 is unfortunately let down by outdated Android software and does little to justify its expensive price tag. Visit Group test: what's the best tablet PC?
Motorola Xoom 2: Design and display
One of the biggest criticisms of Motorola's original Xoom was its size. It was widely panned for being too heavy and bulky, had an oddly placed power/lock button and was uncomfortable to hold for long periods. Motorola has clearly listened to these complaints as the Xoom 2 is both thinner (8.8mm) and lighter (599g) than its predecessor. This makes it relatively comfortable to hold with two hands, but the wide form factor means the Xoom 2 stills feel like a chore to hold single-handedly. Adding to the feeling that this has been designed primarily with two handed operation in mind, Motorola has moved the power/lock key and volume buttons from the centre of the back to the right side. This makes them easy to find when you're holding the device with two hands, but they aren't ideally placed if you happen to be holding the Xoom 2 with one hand. The buttons also require a firm press to activate and in our opinion are sunk too deep into the body. See also Group test: what's the best tablet PC accessory?
Motorola has given the Xoom 2 a distinctive look, which is a rarity amongst Android tablets that all seem to look like boring, black slabs. The device has angled corners that are clearly borrowed from the design of Motorola's RAZR Android phone, while the edges taper inwards in order to provide a more comfortable grip. Motorola's choice of materials also deserve to be commended — the Xoom 2 feels superbly constructed and is the sort of device that you wouldn't be too worried about throwing in your bag amongst other items. On the back, an aluminium finish occupies the centre and soft feeling plastic adorns the edges, providing a comfortable grip. The Motorola Xoom is also coated in a splash-guard solution that makes it water-repellent. See also: New iPad review.
The Motorola Xoom 2 has the same sized 10.1in screen with the same 1280x800 resolution as its predecessor. However, Motorola has opted to use an IPS panel rather than the regular TFT panel that adorned the original Xoom. This makes the Xoom 2's display both brighter and clearer than its predecessor and equips it with much better viewing angles. It not quite as vibrant as the display on the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime or Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7, but the Xoom 2's screen is certainly not a weak point of this tablet.
Motorola Xoom 2: Software and performance
Android tablets constantly use fast processor speeds as a key selling point. The problem with this is that a tablet can have the fastest processor in the world but it's ultimately how efficiently the software works with the processor that will determine if the device is actually fast or not. The Xoom 2 is a prime example. It's powered by a dual-core, 1.2GHz processor. While this is only a mere 200MHz speed increase over the first Xoom, and not as fast as the quad-core processor that powers the Eee Pad Transformer Prime, it should still be fast enough to provide a slick user experience. Sadly, it is not.
The Xoom 2 takes over a minute to start-up. The unlock screen is terrible as the unlock icon doesn't smoothly glide across the screen with your finger. The browser is slow and still automatically switches to mobile versions of many Web sites. The home screen jitters if there are more than a few widgets on the screen and transitions between screen are choppy. The GMail app feels slow and unresponsive.
To be fair to Motorola, many of these issues are common with all Android tablets, and not just the Xoom 2. The main reason for the Xoom 2's (and many other Android tablets) questionable performance is the fact that it comes with Google's now outdated Android 3.2 "Honeycomb" operating system. Like every other Android manufacturer that ships a tablet with outdated software, Motorola says it will eventually upgrade the Xoom 2 to the latest 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" version of Android, but it has refused to specify when this will happen (it's expected to come in the second half of the year). Considering that Google bought Motorola for a cool US12.5 billion back in August, its surprising that the company can't keep up with Android updates. Until the Xoom 2 gets an official Ice Cream Sandwich update, we simply can't recommend it.
Ice Cream Sandwich is expected to fix many of the problems we outlined above, but it won't resolve one of Android's most significant tablet issues: third-party apps. There are minimal apps that have been designed with a tablet in mind, so most of them simply expand to fit the larger display of the Xoom 2. There is also no easy way to quickly determine if an app in the Android Market is designed to work on a tablet. Google quickly needs to create a filter in the market that only shows apps specifically designed for tablets in order to create a better user experience.
Despite its sluggish performance, the Xoom 2 does have two good pieces of software that give it an edge over competing devices. The first is Motorola's excellent Motocast application, a pre-loaded app that allows the streaming of multimedia content (music, videos, images and documents) from a PC or Mac. Unlike many other Cloud storage services, you don't need to move the files you want to access on your computer to the Motocast application: you simply need to select the folders and files you want the service to access. It's easy to install and set-up and quickly becomes a great inclusion given the Xoom 2's 3G capabilities.
The second app is Dijit, a universal remote control app that uses the Xoom 2's built-in infrared port to act as a remote control for all your devices. It's easy to use and we got it working with our Panasonic Plasma TV in just a few minutes. Sony's Tablet S is the only other tablet on the market that includes similar functionality, though it developed its own app instead of using the Dijit one.
Motorola Xoom 2: Other features and battery life
The Motorola Xoom 2 has 32GB of internal memory and comes with a microSD card slot for extra storage. The tablet also has a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera for video calls and a micro-HDMI port that allows users to connect it to a high-definition television or projector. Images snapped with the Xoom 2's camera aren't great, but are of a significantly better quality than the comparatively poor iPad 2 camera.
Motorola claims the Xoom 2 has a battery life of around 10 hours but the figure you achieve will depend on your usage patterns. On average, we managed to drain the battery in about six with heavy use. This suggest Motorola's figure is rather inflated, but with moderate use the Xoom 2 should definitely push closer to a more respectable eight hours. Unlike the original Xoom, which used an AC adapter port for charging, the Xoom 2 uses the regular micro-USB port instead.