Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Motorola Xyboard Review

motorola xyboardTablets these days come in all shapes and sizes, from phone/tablets that are 5″ to 12″ screens from the far east, bigger than some soon to be forgotten netbooks. But 8.2″ isn’t a familiar one. In fact, that size is unique in that it’s larger than today’s smaller tablets but not by much, but much smaller than larger ones. The difference here? The Xyboard 8.2 is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than it’s much larger competitors.


The Motorola Xyboard comes in two flavors, 8.2″ and 10.1, the latter matching the size of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and ASUS Transformer Prime and offering a few more tricks up its sleeve like a display capable of reading a stylus. The smaller 8.2″ model, which I tested, isn’t imbued with that magical if not whimsical feature, and aims instead at being a simple, dignified entertainment-based slate device. And that it is.

motorola xyboard

Besides for the size and writing, the two Xyboards have identical hardware with the exception of the battery (due to size) and screen density. Both share a 1280×800 resolution display, making the 8.2 slightly denser and more pleasing to the eye. All things considered I believe the 8.2 to be the more refined model, the one that more closely matches what Motorola set out to achieve with the tablet. Which, in many ways, is odd but usable.

The first oddity is the placement of the physical buttons, or rather how they match the very curved shape of the edges. Similar to the iPad 2, the Xyboard is curved at the edges until a point, where the plastic curves and folds onto itself to reveal the glass screen. Apple placed buttons on the iPad by making them stick out. Motorola did the opposite. The buttons on the Xyboard are depressed into the casing and practically hidden from sight and touch. Users who don’t know where those buttons are have trouble finding them, as I’ve tested time and time again.

motorola xyboard

This strange design is actually beneficial for the Xyboard because it helps remove one of the few lingering moving parts all electronic devices have, or at least keep it out of harm’s way. You may think it hard to break a tiny button, but never take human ingenuity lightly. At least with the Xyboard it would take extraordinary means to break the buttons, though it takes some time to adjust to, especially for current tablet or smartphone users who are accustomed to simpler, more standard buttons. But after a week it’ll become second nature.

Then there’s the flat bottom, which houses the Xyboard’s speakers and the lone data and power port, a single MicroUSB connector. It’s good to see a tablet using a single connector for everything without requiring a proprietary connector like nearly every company thus far, especially Apple and Samsung. This gracious consideration certainly wins brownie points for the once dominant handheld maker.
motorola xyboard

From top to bottom: Motorola Xyboard 8.2, iPad (2012), Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

A sharp 8.2″ IPS display produces fine color and sharp images, one made specifically for watching videos and viewing pictures. It’s very clear and the added density, without throwing in additional pixels, helps improve image quality as well. Comparing video quality to the new iPad, for instance, is an interesting test. 720p video looks significantly better on the Xyboard because it has a lower resolution. For watching and streaming video, the Xyboard is clearly a better choice.

The Xyboard comes in two flavors, with an LTE antenna on Verizon’s blazing fast network, or Wi-Fi. As we’ve tested on a handful of Verizon LTE devices, the service is very fast and growing in coverage every few weeks. It’s very good to see various handsets or tablets working over LTE in more areas just driving around Los Angeles. At this point I firmly believe Verizon’s LTE network is set to overtake Sprint’s 4G network within the year. The Xyboard is no different, with a capable antenna that doesn’t drop a signal that works excellently for both standard use and tethering.

There’s also an HDMI mini out to stream content to a big screen, though like most devices with the capability there is no HDMI mini cable/adapter included.

As of this writing the Xyboard is still stuck on Android 3.2, which is unfortunate but expected. Android 4.0 is still barely out, available only on a handful of devices, all of which are phones except the Transformer Prime. However Motorola recently rolled out Ice Cream Sandwich to the Droid Razr and Razr Maxx, so it’s possible we’ll be seeing the update coming to these tablets soon enough.

As such the actual software differences between the Xyboard and any other Android 3.2 or 3.1 device are slim to none. The main difference is speed, which the Xyboard has plenty of, as you’ll see in the benchmarks below. It’s great for web browsing, video playback, email, and basic apps. More graphically-intensive apps also run well, though you can read more about that in the benchmarks section below.

Because, once again, battery testing wasn’t possible in the typical format, I had to test solely through use. The Xyboard 8.2 provides fairly decent battery life, averaging 6-8 hours of heavy continuous use, which is several hours shy of most tablets today. However with the smaller battery, this isn’t a surprise. Under typical home use it should last around a week before needing a recharge, and it’ll certainly last the day when on the road.

Again, even though the tested model is the smaller of the two, it performed faster than any tablet I’ve ever tested in web browsing. It’s a superbly quick computing device, which is clearly visible when using it daily. Take a look at the scores below.

For processing data online, the Xyboard smokes every other tablet and smartphone available today. The margins are close, awfully close in some cases, but the point stands: there is a new king of web browsing. And this is, bare in mind, sans ICS, meaning once the Xyboard receives the latest Android update it’ll be even faster. Yet even without it the Xyboard still manages to score better than even the newer iPad.

When it comes to more graphics-based benchmarks however, the Xyboard loses its edge. It uses the same PowerVR GPU as the Droid Razr and Razr Maxx, as well as the Galaxy Nexus, all of which scored well but also scored well below the max, set by phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II and iPhone 4S. The scores are respectable, but compared to both older and newer devices, the Xyboard seems far better fit to process the internet and play video, not for serious gaming. One could argue that Android gaming is limited, but I contend that there are a large list of amenable titles available, but too few decent devices to really enjoy them.

In any case, the Xyboard shares a lot of the same hardware as other Motorola devices, and scores highly across the board. The web-browsing experience is exceptional, better than even on the new iPad, though the resolution is lower. In fact, I’d say that the “Retina” resolution actually holds the iPad back in this one regard, again giving devices like the Xyboard a clear advantage.

I feel like I never stop stressing the lack of importance of tablet cameras. With that under consideration, the Xyboard has a surprisingly powerful and accurate 5MP camera capable of taking colorful, vibrant shots with minimal noise or colors washed out. This is mostly in well lit areas, though as you can see any direct light will produce accurate color and light contrast. It’s indirect light that’s the first spot of trouble.

In a strange way, what that means is that the Xyboard is actually a decent tablet for photography. It is somewhat inconvenient to take photos with it, but where would anyone? Outdoors, for a project, or because it’s the device on-hand. Just like a tablet should be used for photography. In that way the Xyboard does an excellent job.

Video quality is also very good, with a maximum resolution of 720p. Unlike some of Motorola’s devices the microphone isn’t the best quality; it’s excellent for picking up voices, but is a tad oversensitive and picks up wind pretty easily. Because of the Xyboard’s shape and design it really isn’t suited for videography, because it just isn’t easy to grip without shaking, especially when moving. However it focuses quickly on new objects and light conditions, though in bright areas colors do tend to wash out.

Once again Motorola proves that it can not only make a pleasing device, but make it sleek, fast, and perfectly suited for it’s intended use. And what use is that? Couch surfing. In my mind the Xyboard is the perfect living room companion, seated beside the TV remote so your phone can stay in the pocket and you can check the latest news, look up sports scores, or stream a quick YouTube video while the commercials play in the background.

From that perspective, the Xyboard is a perfect fit. The 8.2 is a bit on the light side for battery life, but it’s smaller design means it’s easier to hide and tuck away, and the extended power cable may make its way to the living room too. After all, we need to charge our phones constantly (unless you have a Maxx). I see the Xyboard working out and about in the world, and having tested it in the great outdoors I see plenty of merits, but unless you live away from home it seems excessive to pile on LTE for such a tablet. Like the Sony Tablet S, it’s really great for what it is, and needs nothing else to make it more.

icreati: Hi-Tech News.