Motorola made a big bet on the original Xoom tablet in early 2011. Developed with Google, it was supposed to usher in the Android tablet era much as the original Droid helped usher in Android smartphones. Unfortunately, it’s been a rockier start for Android than Motorola and Google had wished. Nearly every Android tablet faced low sales last year. Now that prices are dropping, more people are buying them, but the market was so bad here in the US that Motorola and Verizon have decided to rename the successor to the Xoom (the Xoom 2) as the Xyboard 10.1. We’re not sure the new name will help, but hey, it’s still the same Xoom experience, and that’s not a terrible thing. The 4G LTE speeds aren’t bad either.
Hands-on video overview
Design and feel
The Xyboard hardware retains some of the odd characteristics of the Xoom, but it’s a definite improvement in most every way. Motorola has taken steps to make the Xyboard almost as thin (8.8mm vs. 8.6mm) and almost as light (21.13oz vs. 19.75oz) as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. This is an achievement, especially considering the iPad 2 is 8.8mm thick and weighs 21.28oz. Not bad, but we look forward to even lighter tablets. Using the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, which weighs under a pound, really felt a lot nicer, despite being just a few ounces lighter. There is room for improvement in this area, but Motorola is definitely keeping up.
The Xoom had a body made mostly of metal, but the Xyboard sacrifices its looks for a bit of grip. Motorola has added a lip on the two sides (when held in landscape orientation) of the Xyboard and covered the back edges with the rubberized coating it’s known for, making the Xyboard one of the nicer tablets to hold. Its edge digs into your hand just enough for you to know you’ve got a grip, but not enough to be terribly uncomfortable. 10.1-inch Android tablets are an odd size, and only really exist because Apple chose 9.7 inches as the size of the iPad. (We prefer sizes in the 8-to-9-inch range, which still offer all the benefits of a larger screen, but are small enough that you can do a bit of thumb typing if you’d like.) Between the rubberized edges, the back of the Xyboard is all metal and has a nice, premium feel to it.
Thankfully, Motorola has ditched its proprietary charging port in favor of USB charging, meaning you can use any phone charger in your house to juice the Xyboard up. The micro USB, micro HDMI, and micro SIM ports are all on the bottom when in landscape mode (the default for this tablet). The audio jack and an infrared sensor are on the top, along with two speakers and the front (1.3-megapixel) and rear (5-megapixel) cameras.
The oddest part about the Xoom has returned too: All the buttons are on the back. We’ve never gotten used to the odd positioning of the power button on the back of the Xoom, and the awkwardly small volume toggle on the side, but the Xyboard has a much better setup. Because the edges of the tablet are so sharp, the power button and volume toggle are on the back of the tablet, but are placed quite well. Both buttons sit near each other and are placed right where you naturally grab the tablet, allowing you to naturally press them whenever you wish.
Despite Android 4.0 being available, the Xyboard 10.1 still runs on Android 3.2. This isn’t a huge deal as the operating systems look quite similar, but there are a few nice enhancements that should come to Xyboard owners when Motorola finally releases an update for the tablet. Being able to swipe away running apps, track data usage, more easily place widgets, and access an improved unlock screen are a few of the outwardly visible enhancements.
Android Honeycomb has always been kind of a bore to use since its debut. It has a bland Tron look to it and doesn’t utilize touch in unique ways by allowing swiping or other intuitive gestures. Mostly, you end up tapping the screen a lot. Motorola has made some minor changes to the user interface (UI), sprucing up the onscreen navigation and clock fonts and including some of its own widgets. But like all Motorola and Verizon devices, the Xyboard is loaded with dreary grey and red backgrounds and widgets. Seriously guys, there’s nothing wrong with colors that aren’t dull and bland. Luckily, you can change the background if you’d like.