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Xyboards on a board
Xyboards on a board

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Verizon Droid Xyboard 8.2 and 10.1 review

Can the Xyboards overcome their crazy names and take on the other tablets on shelves?

Xyboard. It’s a portmanteau that could mean a number of things: a skateboarding robot, a xylophone mashed up with a keyboard, maybe even a science fiction novel about a xenophobic cyborg named Board. But sadly, the Xyboard, or at least the one of 2011, isn’t any of those crazy things — it’s just Verizon’s wacky name for its new family of Motorola tablets. However, don’t let that diminish your interest: the Xyboard 8.2 and 10.1 may just be LTE variants of the European Xoom 2, but they aim to right the wrongs of Motorola’s original Xoom, which launched exclusively on Verizon almost a year ago. The 8.2- and 10.1-inch tablets have thinner designs, better cameras, IPS displays, 1.2GHz processors, IR blasters for controlling your TV, and LTE baked inside (let’s not rehash the Xoom’s nightmare upgrade process). But, they again have high price tags: the 10.1 starts at $529.99 and the 8.2 at $429.99, both requiring a two-year contract. That's pricey indeed, but do the Xyboards at least correct the issues of Motorola's original tablet? Or is this a similar story of Xoom and gloom for both Motorola and Verizon? Read on for my full review.

Video Review

Video Review


Hardware / design

Hardware / design

Why does Motorola hate convenient power buttons?

The Xyboard 8.2 and 10.1 look exactly like the Xoom 2 and Xoom 2 Media Edition, meaning they’ve both got an octagonal shape (thanks to the chopped corners) and solid anodized aluminum backs with rubber edges. Overall, I’m a big fan of the reworked physical materials and design, and I have found the rubber edges more comfortable to hold than the original Xoom and even the iPad 2 in some ways. However, as Vlad mentioned in the Xoom 2 review, Motorola just can’t seem to get the placement of the power button right, and it really is a major hardware blunder. Like the original, it is still on the back, but now it is even harder to find since the small rubber button is hidden behind the right edges. The volume rocker, which is placed right next to it, isn’t any easier to locate and press. The small nubs on the buttons are somewhat helpful, but they don’t help you differentiate between the two set of controls, which means you’ll ultimately be turning around the tablet to see what button you’re pressing. As you can probably tell, I think it’s more than just a small gripe.

The biggest difference between the Xyboards and the original Xoom is really size and weight. Motorola has significantly — by 33 percent, in fact — trimmed down the tablet. The 10.1 and 8.2 measure 0.35 inches, which make them both quite lightweight for their size. Naturally, the 1.32-pound 10.1 is the heftier of the two; the 8.2 weighs just 0.86 pounds, which is more comparable to a 7-inch tablet. I actually really like the size of the 8.2; it’s just the right form factor for one-handed use but has a slightly larger screen than something like the HTC Flyer or Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7.

Dimensions (in.) Thickness Weight (lb.)
Motorola Xyboard 10.1 10 x 6.9 0.35 1.32
Motorola Xyboard 8.2 8.5 x 5.5 0.35 0.86
Motorola Xoom 9.8 x 6.6 0.51 1.50
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10.4 x 7.1 0.31 1.29
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 10.1 x 6.9 0.34 1.20
Apple iPad 2 9.5 x 7.3 0.34 1.33

Obviously, the 8.2 and the 10.1 are easy to tell apart by their sizes, but it’s worth noting some small design differences; the 8.2 has exposed screws on its back and is meant more for portrait positioning given the button location. However, both tablets have the same selection of ports, and because of the thin edges the selection is rather slim. Along the bottom of both tablets are Micro USB and Micro HDMI ports and a small, very flimsy latch hiding the LTE SIM card. The top edges house a 3.5mm headphone jack and IR blaster, which interacts with the pre-loaded Dijit app to control your TV — more on that below. What is left off of both of these tablets is a microSD card slot, which means you’re stuck with just the on-board memory (there are 16GB and 32GB versions). On a whole, Motorola did a nice job redesigning these tablets, but the problematic power button and missing microSD card slot are glaring, and likely unforgivable, issues to some.

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Screen / speakers

Screen and speakers

SCREEN

As you might expect, both the Xyboards have the same Gorilla Glass, IPS LCD panels as the Xoom 2, and in comparison to the original Xoom the quality improvement is drastic. Colors are brighter and more accurate, and viewing angles are drastically better. However, I will repeat what was said in our Xoom 2 review: the IPS screen is not quite on a par with the IPS display of the iPad (first or second generation) or the SuperIPS+ you'll find on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. It's good, just not that good. A more fitting comparison for the Xyboards would be Asus's older-generation Eee Pad Transformer, which is equipped with another of these slightly less-than-sublime IPS panels. Obviously, the 8.2 has a smaller panel, but it actually keeps the same 1280 x 800 resolution as the 10.1, which makes for some crisp text and some pleasing pixel density.

Touchscreen performance is quite good, and Motorola’s Intelligent Grip Suppression (IGP) technology lets you grip the tablet while keeping a thumb on the bezel or on the display without interfering with your other hand's swipes and taps on the screen. Unfortunately, however, that "intelligence" doesn't transfer over with the stylus input, which is available on only the 10.1.

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STYLUS

In an odd move, just the 10.1 has an active digitizer and supports stylus input. The battery-powered stylus itself is included in the box, and if you're one who thinks the pen is mightier than the finger, then it’s a very nice add-on. Unlike the HTC Flyer, you can use the pen to navigate throughout the whole OS, which means swiping through menus or selecting apps will with the utensil works. Additionally, thanks to the packaged MyScript Stylus software, you can convert handwriting to text in text fields. Motorola also packages the tablet with Evernote and Floating Note software for taking notes of doodling. Writing on the tablet is very smooth and lightly inking theverge.com in the MyScript window converted the URL to text quickly. It’s all very handy and nice, but the palm rejection is quite bad. When I rested the side of my hand on the screen, I couldn’t get the pen to leave a trace of ink. (I should also note here that Motorola says the stylus here will work with the Xoom 2 sold in the UK, though oddly the stylus isn't included in that package.)

Speakers

The Xyboard 10.1 has a pair of stereo speakers on its back, while the 8.2 has a single opening on the bottom edge. That means that the 10.1 emits louder volume and a fuller sound, and it’s actually reasonably high for such a thin tablet. Quality wasn’t as good as the iPad 2, but both tablets are loud enough to watch a movie or quick YouTube video comfortably. Of course, that sound is somewhat ruined by that highly-annoying volume rocker.

Camera(s)

Camera(s)

The Xyboards (what a great last name!) have been given a camera overhaul as well. The 5-megapixel rear cameras may appear the same on the spec sheets as the original Xoom, but the quality of pictures is noticeably better. They’re not as good as those taken with the Transformer Prime’s 8-megapixel camera, but they are decently lit and not all that grainy, at least in well-lit environments. Still, they lack a certain crispness that I’ve come to expect from most of today’s smartphones. Video capture is similarly respectable, though it maxes out at 720p and 30fps. As Vlad mentioned, shooting moving objects caused a bit of blur, but overall footage was decent.

The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera takes the usual blurry and unimpressive shots, though it provides a solid video calling experience. Making a call from the 10.1 to the 8.2, while incredibly meta, was a smooth process and video looked clear on both ends, though it was a bit choppy over LTE.

It's still a 5-megapixel camera, but shots are better than your average tablet cam
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Software

Software

It's no Ice Cream Sandwich, but there are some interesting apps here
Motocast2
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The original Xoom was the first tablet to ever ship with Google’s Honeycomb OS for tablets, and unfortunately, the new version of the tablet still suffers from many of the original shortcomings of the OS. While Motorola and Verizon are promising Ice Cream Sandwich updates for both Xyboards, out-of-the-box customers will be getting the Android 3.2 experience.

As I mentioned in the Transformer Prime review, I still have a few issues with Honeycomb at the OS level, and it really is nowhere near as polished as what we have seen from ICS. However, my biggest concerns come at the app level. Tablet-friendly apps are still few and far between — even the big Twitter web and app overhaul didn't include any optimizations for larger form factors — and it does seem like everyone's waiting for ICS to arrive before investing too heavily in redeveloping software.

As we mentioned in the Xoom 2 review, Motorola does add a couple of nice apps. Motocast allows you to hook your tablet up to your PC (Windows or Mac) at home and stream and sideload files over the air. It worked quite well over the LTE connection, and while I was across town, I was able to access the media library on my new MacBook Pro. The software is quick and stable and lives up to its promise of a seamless connection. However, I’m not sure it completely makes up for the lack of expandable storage since you must have a reliable connection and that 4G data is expensive.

Motorola also includes Dijit's universal remote app for controling your TV with a tablet. I was able to change the channels on both Samsung and Toshiba TVs using the app, though it really is a very basic experience. Other than that, Motorola and Verizon package the tablet with Citrix, Blockbuster, Slingbox, Let’s Golf 2, Madden NFL 12, and the usual Verizon bloatware you know and love, including VCAST Media and VCAST Apps.

Performance / battery

Performance and battery life

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Having just spent the last two weeks with the quad-core, Tegra 3-powered Transformer Prime, I could absolutely notice the difference in processor power. While the 1.2GHz TI OMAP 4430 processor and 1GB of RAM in the Xyboards provide decent performance, there are some noticeable hiccups and lag when navigating around the OS, especially when you have multiple apps open. That said, I found the browser performance on the Xyboards to be snappier than the Prime and I didn’t see the same sort of Gmail lag that Vlad experienced. Basically, I'd say, you get the average Honeycomb experience here, which even a year after the original Xoom launch, is mediocre at best.

Verge Bat Test (WiFi) Verge Bat Test (LTE)
Motorola Xyboard 10.1 6 hours and 7 minutes 4 hours and 20 minutes
Motorola Xyboard 8.2 3 hours and 31 minutes 2 hours and 50 minutes
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 6 hours and 37 minutes N/A
Transformer Prime 6 hours and 5 minutes N/A

On The Verge Battery Test, which loops a series of 100 websites and downloads images at 65 percent brightness, the 10.1's 7000mAh battery lasted six hours and 7 minutes. That test taxes the processor significantly — in fact, the back of the tablet got quite warm during the test — but in heavy everyday use (testing the camera, browsing, apps, etc.) I got about seven hours. The 8.2 got significantly less juice on The Verge Battery Test; it ran for only three hours and 31 minutes. That's significantly shorter than other 7-inch tablets (the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus ran for 7 hours and 7 minutes). The battery life of both of these aren't superb, but what is even more troubling is how long it takes to charge them up. Both tablets are charged via an included Micro USB AC cord, however, it took over four hours to top off the Xyboard. The 8.2 took about two hours.

Dual-core is so one month ago
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LTE speeds

LTE speeds

Fast speeds don't come cheap
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Of course, run time is cut down significantly when you switch on the LTE modem (see chart for above for detailed LTE battery life), but the speeds may be worth it for some. While sitting at my desk in downtown Manhattan, both the 8.2 and 10.1 got an average of 20MBps down and 5MBps up. Both also provided reliable hotspot connectivity while I wrote the second half of this review. Of course, that hotspot ability frees up the connection and lets you share it with other devices, but for the price, it would make more sense to get a LTE smartphone and share that connection with the tablet.

And pricing is where that LTE really is hard to justify on a tablet. Verizon is offering these off contract ($699.99 for the 10.1, $599.99 for the 8.2), but that’s more than the average $450 Android tablet and more than the 3G 16GB iPad. On contract, these are still pricey and you have to commit to pay a minimum of $30 a month for 2GB of data the next two years — that’s at least a $720 commitment in addition to the unit price ($450 and up), which seems like a lot when tied to only a decent tablet by today’s standards. Unfortunately, Motorola hasn't release any information on if it will release a Wi-Fi version of the Xoom 2 in the US and it certainly seems like Verizon had an exclusive on this hardware in North America.

And that is ultimately why the Xyboards are not worth the cash — their pricing is just as out there as their names. The 8.2 and the 10.1 aren’t bad tablets; in fact, they are solid pieces of hardware (despite the button and expandable storage issues) with software that’s decent, but still held back by an ecosystem. But half a grand and $720 over the next two years seems like an outrageous combo for a piece of hardware that isn’t even the latest and greatest on the market today. Next week the first quad-core tablet hits — the Transformer Prime — and it has double the performance, a better display, and camera for just $499. It doesn’t have built-in LTE, but you can get a $50 LTE Novatel MiFi 4510L from Verizon (with a two-year contract) and it would cost the same amount as the 10.1. Yes, the Xyboards are some of the fastest LTE tablets around and they even have some neat features, but ultimately, Verizon needs to rethink its tablet pricing strategy, or at least throw a skateboarding robot in the box.

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