Motorola's second stab at an all-singing all-dancing Android tablet certainly has a unique shape. But that's not nearly enough to make it a genuinely compelling tablet purchase.
Why It Matters
The Xoom 2 isn't exactly a new tablet; first launched in the UK back in November 2011, as well as under the unwieldy title of 'Xyboard' in the US back in December, it's finally made it to our shores with a lick of Telstra paint applied. Available either on contract or outright for $720, it's certainly an unusual shaped tablet. Where most Android tablets are little flat black bricks, the Xoom 2 has rounded corners. You can take your pick as to whether this is because Motorola's designers wanted to be 'quirky', or if they wanted to avoid the litigious elephant in the fruit costume in the corner.
What We Liked
The original Xoom was a chunky beast, and the Xoom 2 isn't. At 599 grams it's a little over 100 grams lighter than the first generation model. That might not sound like a lot, but hold both together and you'll quickly appreciate how the thinner and lighter Xoom 2 is easier to hold. Motorola's also clearly taken criticism of the original Xoom's power and volume buttons to heart, as they've been shifted to the right hand rear and enlarged, making them easier to press.
One reason that the iPad's managed to snag so many peripheral developers has been the use of a standard port; Android tablets have had a wide array of charging ports, and the original Xoom had a terrible little pin charger that meant that practically nothing worked with it. The Xoom 2's dropped the pin charger in favour of micro USB — a much better alternative.
The inclusion of an IPS rather than TFT display on the Xoom 2 also makes for more vibrant video, picture and game playback. It's not quite up there in quality terms with tablets such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or iPad 2, but it's a solid screen.
Motorola includes its Motocast application that allows for streaming of multimedia content to the tablet from PCs or Macs running the MotoCast app. It works quite well as long as your connection is solid, and isn't limited to just music and video.
There's also an included universal remote control application, Dijit, although I was less impressed with this. The Xoom 2 has an inbuilt IR transmitter on the top, but every time I tried to sync Dijit with an LG TV, it'd either crash or not recognise that the IR sender was working. There's also the issue that a remote control that's as big as the Xoom 2 is rather more an oddity than something you might want to use on a regular basis.
What We Don't Like
It's not running Ice Cream Sandwich. Sure, you might think that's picky — Motorola's already said that it'll offer upgrades to ICS in the coming months, but ICS is a reality right now. Not only will Motorola have to tailor ICS to the Xoom 2, but it'll then have to pass through Telstra's approval process before we see it. Honeycomb's really starting to show its age, and despite the bump up in processor capabilities from the Xoom to the Xoom 2, it doesn't show in real world usage of the Xoom 2.
Despite the slight upwards shift in performance, the Xoom 2 can be a remarkably sluggish tablet, if not outright crash prone. I encountered a few lockups during testing, and a couple of applications that struggled to run.
There's not that much difference internally between the Xoom and Xoom 2, so I ran a little test, getting each tablet to run Grand Theft Auto III 10th Anniversary Edition. The Xoom 2's superior IPS panel shone when it came to visual fidelity, but something internal with the Xoom 2 made it laggy and choppy to the point of unplayability. The original Xoom didn't look as nice, but it was at least able to run it without consistent frame shudder. That's a single application — and one that might theoretically improve if Rockstar optimised it for the Xoom 2 — but it wasn't an isolated example. Other applications crashed frequently on launch, or after a small amount of usage.
Should You Buy It?
The Xoom 2 has design improvements over the original Xoom, but it's been leapfrogged by tablets such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Transformer Prime and iPad 2. It's certainly not stable enough for my tastes, although that's perhaps something that could be alleviated with Ice Cream Sandwich, whenever that turns up.
Given that Telstra's indicated that it's got at least one 4G-capable Tablet due for release in the next few months, the Xoom 2 is a poor buy at $720. Frankly, I'd buy a Xoom at bargain prices first, or at least wait until the Xoom 2 drops in price somewhat.