Motorola's second attempt at a decent Android tablet certainly reeks of the original Xoom -- even the box states "this time around we've even beefed-up the battery life". But is the sequel a real winner or is it just another also-ran?
There's quite a lot to like from the physical design of the Xoom 2. Compared to the original it's lighter, thinner, and looks edgier with its flattened off corners. It's quite good-looking in the flesh, and looks as slick as an iPad to me. Frankly on the face of it, most tablets look the same -- they're black or grey, have a chunky bezel to the screen and are under 1cm thick. With this one, the back of the device is covered in black plastic and anodised aluminium. The plastic is relatively grippy and feels really nice in the hand -- you're not in fear of dropping this tablet like you are with the naked aluminium of the iPad 2 for instance. Motorola's also made the Xoom 2 splash-proof and equipped it with Gorilla Glass, which means it should be good for carting around with you out and about -- although as it costs £380, you might want to sling it in a case or bag first.
The screen itself is a 10.1-inch IPS LCD with an HD 1280 x 800 resolution. It's vibrant with pretty decent viewing angles, which makes communal viewing a cinch. Movies look good on the screen and so does text -- the wide aspect ratio makes browsing non-tablet formatted websites a relatively pleasant experience in either portrait or landscape orientation.
Another relatively pleasing feature to be found on the Xoom 2 are two speakers with surprisingly good stereo separation. Considering the thickness of the tablet is just 8.8mm thin, they're quite impressive. I wouldn't want to listen to the Holst's Planet Suite via them, but for the occasional TV watching they'll do as well as tinny laptop speakers.
Keeping with the multimedia theme, the dual-core 1.2GHz Xoom 2 comes with mini HDMI out for connecting up to your TV, while there's the standard raft of micro USB for charge/syncing, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, Wi-Fi, a 3.5mm headphones jack, AGPS and a compass, plus an IR blaster for remote control software. There's no microSD slot, but the Xoom 2's available in both 16GB and 32GB variants. Motorola's also equipped it with a 1.3MP front-facing camera and microphone for video calling, while a rear 5MP shooter with LED flash takes care of photography duty. If you're not afraid of looking like an absolute tool holding your 10-inch tablet up to take a photo, the camera's not too bad for a tablet. It does however lack sharpness, especially in low-light conditions, producing noisy photos and slightly washed out colours. The same can be said for the 1080p HD video the Xoom 2 is capable of capturing, which although comes out smooth and judder-free, again lacks sharpness and detail -- neither are anything to write home about at any rate, but will probably do in a pinch.
Although I didn't put the Xoom 2 through rigorous battery life testing, with general usage it seemed to hold up well, matching my expectations for a tablet as defined by the 10-hour battery life of the iPad 2. Let's just say you're not going to have to charge this thing every day if you use it for the occasional movie and browsing. If you're caught short, the Xoom 2's charged via microUSB, so chances are you'll find somewhere to charge it.
Most of the stuff I don't like about the Xoom 2 is software based -- both on the device and with the bundled crap that's more or less forced on you out-of-the-box. The screen, however, is an absolute fingerprint magnet -- I've never seen a screen that displays fingerprints quite so readily (which you can see in the last photo of the gallery above). Within a couple of touches the screen becomes a smeary mess, which means you'll have to keep a cloth handy.
On the device you're looking at Android 3.2 Honeycomb -- no Ice Cream Sandwich just yet. You would have thought that Motorola should have Honeycomb totally ironed out by now, but unfortunately it doesn't. While apps load quite snappily, it can feel sluggish at times, especially when changing orientations, which is a shame. For a decent chunk of change, you'd expect something a little more slick. Perhaps that'll be cleared up when Motorola pushes ICS to the Xoom 2, which it has committed to, but for now it's just not as polished as it should be. Unfortunately we don't have a firm date out of Motorola for ICS on the Xoom 2, so if you're desperate for Android 4.0 it might be worth holding off until Motorola sets a date.
Motorola's tried to push the multimedia features of the Xoom 2, and to that end it comes bundled with a few bits of software including Twonky Mobile for DLNA, Dijit for using the IR blaster, and its own MotoCast software that's meant to make media management easier. MotoCast is both an Android app and a desktop utility that serves media up via USB and Wi-Fi. While it shows promise, it's a bit half-baked right now. What it did when trying to pull media from a Mac was interfere with the Android File Transfer Utility, which is needed to mount Honeycomb devices so you can transfer stuff to and from them. To make matters worse, trying to use the MotoCast software itself on the Mac was a sluggish, annoying affair too. It promised to sync media from my iTunes library, but couldn't tell me what was, and what wasn't supported, so it ended up failing to transfer half the stuff it said it would. Windows users will probably be spared from this fight, but it certainly wound me up enough to give it the boot in the end.
There's a lot to like from a hardware perspective about the Xoom 2 -- it's got a 1.2GHz dual-core chip; decent battery life; a good-looking screen; decent cameras; it feels nice in the hand; is splash-proof, and doesn't weigh a tonne. It's a great improvement over early Android tablets such as the original Galaxy Tab and even the original Xoom, but unfortunately it's Android which once again lets this otherwise-fine tablet down -- it's just a bit rough and sluggish around the edges.
It's not in the same league as the budget Archos tablets in terms of sluggish performance, but then it's not cheap either. It'll set you back the best part of £380 for the 16GB Wi-Fi variant, which lands it squarely in iPad 2 territory. Problem is it's just not as slick a package as the iPad 2 and is only as good as, not better than, other cheaper Android tablets. With the quad-core Asus Transformer Prime on its way too, you might do well to just to sit tight and wait. But the Xoom 2 isn't a bad effort -- it's just not quite as good as the competition.
For a quick video overview from our sister site, TechRadar, check this out: