Dec 27, 2011 (03:12 AM EST)
Motorola Xyboards Close The Android Tablet Gap
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
I've spent a week using both Xyboards. How do they stack up as mobile computing devices, and has Motorola done enough with its second-generation tablets to differentiate them from the competition?
Both Xyboard tablets have an attractive industrial design that doesn't stray too far from that of the original Xoom and also mirrors the design of the new Droid RAZR Android smartphone. The family resemblance is fully intact. Both tablets have a comfortable feel in the hand and the mix of glass, plastic, and rubber materials feels strong and natural to grip. They don't feel cheap or chintzy.
The Xyboard 10.1's dimensions run 9.99 x 6.83 x 0.35 inches and it weighs in at 1.33 pounds. That makes it a smidge longer and wider than the original Xoom, but it is significantly thinner and lighter, so the fractionally stretched length and width are excusable. It is a perfect size to fit into a briefcase, backpack, or satchel, though only the biggest purses could contain it.
The Xyboard 8.2's dimensions run 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.35 inches and it barely moves the scale at a feather-light 0.86 pounds. The Xyboard 8.2's shrunken dimensions make it highly portable. I found it to be more comfortable to use over long periods of time when surfing the Web from my couch and I didn't much miss the extra screen real estate offered by the Xyboard 10.1.
Because both Xyboards feature a 16:9 aspect ratio for their displays, Motorola assumes that they will be held in the landscape orientation when in use (most of the time), and many of the secondary controls reflect this. Along the bottom edge of the Xyboard 10.1, Motorola has tucked in microUSB and mini-HDMI ports for charging and media sharing (these ports are on the right edge of the Xyboard 8.2). These lock into a number of accessories that Motorola is offering for the Xyboard (keyboards, docks, etc.). The SIM card is located under a hatch on the bottom edge, as well. There is a 3.5-mm headset jack on top of the Xyboard 10.1 for headphones (on the left edge for the Xyboard 8.2).
The volume and power controls are on the back surface of both Xyboards, close to the right edge. I wish the buttons were placed a little further from the side of the Xyboards, as they are a bit awkward to reach. Worse, they are covered with a soft, rubbery material and have terrible response. You can hardly tell when you're pressing them. Last, I found these buttons to be much too close to one another. It's all too easy to press the screen-lock button when you meant to press the volume-up button--resulting in an accidental screen lock.
The Xyboard 10.1's display holds 1280 x 800 pixels, giving it a pixel density of about 150 pixels per inch. It is a transflective touch display and uses in-place switching. It is perfectly capable of playing HD movies, and works well for browsing, playing games, and gasp! getting some work done.
The Xyboard 8.2's display also holds 1280 x 800 pixels, giving it a much higher pixel density of about 185 pixels per inch. It looks sharper and cleaner than its larger brother. Both displays were much improved in terms of brightness when compared to the original Xoom. I was able to use both devices in brightly lit rooms with no problem, and even outdoors under cloudy skies. Using them under direct sunlight was pretty difficult, though.
In all, the hardware of both Xyboard tablets works well. At this point, I'd give a slight advantage to the 8.2-inch model for its smaller footprint and better display.
Both devices ship with Android 3.2 Honeycomb, which is disappointing considering the availability of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Motorola has committed to updating both Xyboard tablets to Android 4.0 in 2012, but hasn't said anything specific with respect to the timing. Obviously, the sooner the better. That said, many of the user interface elements in Android 4.0 were taken from Android 3.2 and they share plenty of features.
Honeycomb presents five home screens, which can be accessed by swiping to the left or right. The home screens can be populated with whatever applications, shortcuts, or widgets you like, just as you can on Android smartphones. Widgets remain Honeycomb's main attraction. With the added screen real estate, developers have a lot more breathing room and can expand the size--and functionality--of their widgets. Google, for example, has crafted fine Gmail, Android Market, browser, calendar, and YouTube widgets for the home screen. The Gmail widget allows users to preview their inboxes without opening the full application. The YouTube widget similarly allows users to sift through the top videos of the day without opening the full YouTube application.
If you want to do more than interact with the apps, shortcuts, and widgets on the home screen, all the finer controls have been pushed to the outer edges of the display. In the top left corner, Google has placed dedicated search tools (including voice search). Applications on the device are accessed via software buttons in the upper right corner. The bottom right corner hosts all the settings for various functions, such as wireless radios, display, privacy, accounts, and so on. Notifications pop up in this spot, too. Last, the bottom left corner is reserved for on-screen navigation for jumping back a screen, to the home screen, or calling up the multitasking bar.
Both devices are being sold by Verizon Wireless, so there is plenty of Verizon bloatware when it comes to Verizon's products and services. The devices have also been given the Droid-branding treatment from Verizon, so the themes and colors reflect that.
Anyone familiar with Android will only need a few moments to adjust to Android 3.2. The flexibility offered by Honeycomb should not be underestimated. Though it isn't as seamless or intuitive as other platforms, it offers a lot and Xyboard owners who update to Android 4.0 will still feel at home with the user interface.
The Xyboard 10.1 and Xyboard 8.2 are both powered by the same 1.2-GHz dual-core processor, which features 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB or 32 GB of storage. Though I recall being impressed with the speed of the original Xoom, the Xyboards are significantly faster. I noticed no slowdowns, no lag, no hesitations. The only applications that gave me any trouble were ones which were network-dependent. Even though the system software supports multiple active widgets at one time, all the animations and screen transfers were smooth and nearly instantaneous. The Xyboard 8.2 is a bit speedier than the 10.1, however, which is likely a factor of its smaller display.
According to Motorola, the Xyboard 10.1's 7000-mAh battery provides 48 days of standby time on 3G networks and 33 days of standby time on 4G networks. In reality, I fully charged the Xyboard 10.1 once and tested it on and off with 3G and Wi-Fi active for a week without needing to recharge it. Over the weekend, I streamed video for more than eight hours before the battery went kaput (from a full charge). Bottom line, field workers and mobile professionals can expect to get a full day's work out of the Xyboard 10.1, and that's all anyone can really ask for.
The Xyboard 8.2 has a smaller 3960-mAh battery. In my tests, a full charge was depleted after five days of standby time with both the 3G and Wi-Fi radios active, and with the device hooked to my Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. In a video test, it was able to play back movies for 6.5 hours straight before dying. The Xyboard 8.2 isn't quite up to a full day's use, but it almost is.
The Xyboard 10.1 and 8.2 share the same 5.0-megapixel camera on the back and have user-facing cameras as well for video chatting. The Xyboard 10.1's main camera also captures 720p HD video, while the Xyboard 8.2 captures video in "high" or "low" quality. (Spoiler: The "high" setting tops out at 480p.)
Both devices have good camera controls, but still manage to take subpar images and video. Lighting plays a dramatic role in how good the image results are. Images taken in low light are flat-out terrible. There's tons of grain, focus is extremely soft, and the Xyboards screwed up white balance all over the place. Outdoors during the day, you have much better chances of getting a good shot. In other words, field workers can probably make good use of the camera out in an oil field somewhere, but I'm not so sure it'll be great for repair work in dark server rooms.
The Xyboard's cameras work well enough for video chat sessions and sharing what's nearby, but don't expect either tablet to replace your dedicated videocamera or point-and-shoot camera.
Thankfully, apps for Honeycomb tablets are much better now than when the original Xoom launched in February 2011. There are plenty of applications to cover the basics and even some solid enterprise-grade applications for those who need a tablet to actually work for them.
The Xyboards come with solid Google Services integration. That means if you use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and so on, you're going to be well taken care of. There are two email clients on board--the dedicated Gmail client and a generic email client for every other type of email. These two applications proffer more feature parity than their smartphone companions (meaning the generic email experience doesn't lag the Gmail experience too much). Email shows up instantly, and the client includes several different panes that help you navigate among your different folders and emails. You can star and archive Gmail just as on the desktop. The generic email client can be used to set up any type of webmail or Exchange email account for corporate users.
The larger Xyboard ships with productivity-minded apps such as Quickoffice HD, Polycom, Citrix, and Citrix GoToMeeting, Fuze Meeting, and a solid calculator. The smaller Xyboard has fewer enterprise software on board, but at least includes Quickoffice and GoToMeeting.
The Android browser is a solid tool for browsing the Web. It has improved dramatically over the past 10 months, and most websites now know how to properly handle tablet browsers and deliver the right version of the site to the tablet. Perhaps the browser's best feature is the way it supports real tabs. You can open a large number of websites and easily jump to any of them via the tab bar at the top of the browser. This makes a lot more sense than having to jump out to a secondary screen to see what websites are open and available. The visual bookmark tool is pleasant to use. Google's own increased use of HTML5 in its products and services means that they render really well on the Xyboard tablets.
What does this mean for enterprise productivity? With a solid browser, the Xyboards will be perfect tools for users who need to tunnel into the corporate network via VPN to access corporate files and much more. While no tablet can yet replace a laptop, the Xyboards both come closer to reaching that pinnacle of power.
Tablets aren't just for work, though. There are plenty of ways to use the Xyboard to entertain yourself.
MotoCast is the most critical, defining service offered by the new Xyboard tablets from Motorola. MotoCast allows Xyboard users to access the files stored on their home PC from their tablet over cellular or Wi-Fi networks. The service requires that you install a client on your home (or office) PC and activate it on the tablet. Once set up, you can use MotoCast to download that work file you forgot, stream music files as you browse, or watch a photo slide show.
The new Android Market is onboard the Xyboards and offers access to downloadable music, books, and movies, in addition to apps. Both the music and video apps are much more visually immersive and have fun-to-use graphics. The new Google Music lets users access music they've uploaded to Google's servers, as well as browse, sample, and buy full tracks.
Other entertainment options include Netflix, a bevy of games, Slingbox, VideoSurf, Skitch, and the Amazon Kindle app.
I was able to use the Xyboard as a mini entertainment center while I was visiting in-laws over the weekend. In fact, my nephews nearly made off with it. The stereo speakers do a fine job for moviewatching when you're in a small room, and you always have the option to plug in headphones for less intrusive entertainment.
Both the Xyboard 10.1 and Xyboard 8.2 are solid entries in the Android tablet space. They boast the latest specs and features, solid industrial design, and deliver good marks with respect to performance.
The user interface is easy enough to use, though it doesn't make any great strides over the original version of Honeycomb. Hopefully both machines will receive the Android 4.0 update before too long. The number of applications preloaded on both machines is good, and there are thousands more available from the Android Market.
It's a tough call to recommend one over the other. The 10.1 has more real estate to work with, but is larger, heavier, slower, and has a lower-res display. The 8.2's smaller screen makes it more portable and it is speedier and lighter as well, but battery life isn't nearly as good as its larger brother. For the working professional, the battery life of the larger tablet may be the deciding factor.
How much will these tablets set you back? The 16-GB Xyboard 8.2 costs $429.99 with a new Verizon Wireless data contract or $599.99 at full price. The 16-GB Xyboard 10.1 costs $529.99 with a contract, or $699.99 at full price. The 32-GB Xyboard costs $629.99 with a two-year contract, or a wallet-crushing $799.99 at full price. Plans start at $30 for 2 GB and range up to $80 for 10 GB per month. Overages cost $10 per 1 GB over the monthly limit.
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