Hands on with the Motorola Xoom 2 10.1in Android tablet
And the 8.2in Xoom 2 Media Edition too
First Look Motorola will be selling its new Xoom 2 tablets - a 10.1in model and the 8.2in "Media Edition", both unveiled today - primarily through Dixons' stores and Carphone Warehouse. Those are both consumer-oriented outlets, so why will so many business apps - Citrix, GoToMeeting and QuickOffice, for instance - be pre-loaded onto the tablets?
I can't wait to be a fly on the wall watching some CW operative trying to persuade a punter to part with their hard-earned for Xoom 2 by outlining the benefits of FuzeMeeting...
A tale of two tablets
Are the new Xooms for business, or are they for consumers? The easy answer - and the one given by Motorola - is that they are aimed at both, but that leaves the company looking indecisive, unsure which way to leap and not convinced that either category is the right one to go for.
Uncertainty abounds. "Will the devices have 3G?" I ask. The response: we're just launching Wi-Fi only tablets today. Yet the models I played with this afternoon had micro Sim card slots. Whether these are indicative that a 3G model is in the works - there was a 3G Xoom, after all - Motorola couldn't or wouldn't say.
The Media Edition
Ditto whether the 16GB of Flash storage built into each Xoom 2 is expandable. No, I was told. So why is there a Micro SD slot in the ten-incher? How about bigger Flash drives? We've nothing to say today, came the reply.
What Motorola clearly has decided is not to risk the wrath of Apple. Gone are the Xoom's rounded corners, replaced by gently angled ends reminiscent of the way Acer has styled its Iconia tablets. In fact, these new Xooms look a lot like the Acer products - perhaps the Taiwanese company will sue instead. The Xoom's edges aren't rounded either, but they are covered with a rubbery plastic for a better grip.
The 8.2in tablet is designed to be primarily used in portrait mode
That's aided by the tablets' thickness: fractionally under 9mm in each case, so better than the Xoom but no thinner than the iPad.
Do punters prefer to use tablets in landscape or portrait orientation? Unsure, Motorola again opts to deliver both. Of course Android can auto-rotate, but the Xoom 2 is clearly designed to held in landscape mode: the webcam is along the longer side, ditto the rear-facing 5Mp stills-and-video cam. The tablet's mini HDMI and micro USB ports are built into the long edge, opposite the cameras.
But the 10.1in model is for landscape lovers
With the Media Edition, those ports are on the narrow edge, so the 8.2in tablet docks vertically - Motorola has some boxy docking cradles for both tablets. The ME's cameras are likewise aligned for a tablet held in portrait orientation.
The back of both devices is home to the power and volume keys: rubber-covered buttons that sit flush with the metal-look plastic back panel. The notion is that you can trigger them without taking your hand off the back of the tablet, and it kind of works. But you'll need to educate yourself not to automatically reach for edge-mounted controls.
A water-repelling Gorilla Glass screen - but not one that guards against finger marks
Motorola was keen today to tout the tablets' Gorilla Glass screens with a new, hydrophobic coating, the better to deal with liquid spills. Alas this "splash guard" does nothing for finger grease, and the screens soon look messy. To be fair, that's a common fault with touchscreens, tablets and phones both.
Driving each Xoom 2 is a 1.2GHz dual-core Texas Instruments Omap 4430, and it gives the tablet's Android 3.2 Honeycomb UI an appropriately smooth, capable feel. Alas, no games were pre-loaded so I can't address the abilities of the 4430's graphics. Likewise, a lack of pre-loaded content meant the 10.1in tablet's "3D sound" capability will have to wait to be assessed until Reg Hardware gets its review sample in.
Volume and power keys are place round the back - which has a ready-to-grip rubberised border
Both tablets will come with Motorola's MotoCast app, which lets you browse a PC or a Mac back at base, and stream or download files. There's no word yet whether it'll work with Nas boxes.
If the screens quickly grease-up, the 1280 x 800 LCDs beneath are reasonably bright and crisp, with a good viewing angle. I still think Apple - and HP, for that matter - has it right with a 4:3 ratio display. It's perfect if you regularly flip your tablet between portrait and landscape orientation. But the Xoom 2's widescreen layout is a compromise - widescreen displays are cheaper - that you can live with, and some folk might even prefer if they favour landscape viewing.
The bigger Xoom 2 is as thin as the iPad 2. The Media Edition is fractionally thicker
Android's advantages over iOS have been well detailed elsewhere, but from a hardware perspective neither Xoom 2 feels as polished as the iPad. Or Samsung's latest Galaxy Tabs. But Motorola has a product capable of competing with the likes of Acer and Asus, and certainly RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook.
The Xoom 2 and Xoom 2 Media Edition will be out in a couple of weeks' time. Motorola today couldn't say when Ice Cream Sandwich updates will appear, but said that Android 4.0 will be rolled out for both - "it's a given".
No 3G or storage expansion? How come there are micro SD and Sim slots, Moto?
Motorola may be unsure about who will want the new Xooms, how much storage they should offer, or whether they should incorporate 3G, but of the migration to ICS it is certain. ®