Last year’s Motorola XOOM was supposed to be the Android answer to the iPad; as it turned out, it was anything but. Expensive and incomplete with an overall not-quite-finished feel, the XOOM was a major disappointment, not only to me but to the tablet buying public at large. XOOM was a bomb, particularly when viewed through its pre-release buzz.
I’d like to say that the new Xyboard (pronounced zye-board), Motorola’s U.S. XOOM successor, will fare far better, but I doubt it. And that’s a shame because it’s superior in almost every way to its predecessor, and – in fact – to most other Android tablets. But the Xyboard is limited by its single-carrier availability (Verizon Wireless), that carrier’s ridiculous data policies, and its high up-front price.
Still, if you’re looking for a fast Android Honeycomb device with LTE onboard, and have plenty of cash, it’s an excellent choice.
The Motorola Droid Xyboard Board 10.1 is an Android 3 tablet with a large, 10.1-inch touchscreen display (there’s also an 8.2-inch version). Motorola has made several important changes to its second-gen Android tablet, including a faster processor, more storage options, and a higher-quality display.
The Xyboard features a TI OMAP 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a range of onboard storage options (16GB, 32GB, and 64GB), CDMA, EV-DO, and LTE wireless data support, 802.11/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, a 5MP rear camera with 1080p video recording, a 2MP front-facing camera, an IR blaster, an HDMI video-out port supporting up to 1080p, and a microUSB data/charging port.
The tablet weighs 1.33 pounds and measures 6.8” x 9.9” x 0.34” (HxWxD), making for a lightweight and thin device. Rather than the rounded design we’re all used to with tablet computers, the Xyboard has a rather octagonal design with straighter edges at the four corners, which is a bit odd at first, but sets the tablet apart and actually grows on you. The backpiece is gunmetal gray with a black rubberized material around the edges, making the tablet comfortable to hold, even more so than the iPad or iPad 2, and much more than the XOOM.
Again Motorola has hidden the barely-tactile power and volume controls on the back, so they’re difficult to find by feel alone. The 5MP camera and 1080p camcorder is located at the top-center of the backpiece and is flanked by the tablet’s speakers. The microUSB data/charging and HDMI ports are built into the bottom edge.
The DROID Xyboard is stylish, light, thin and comfortable with very solid build quality. Aside from the placement of the hardware controls, it gets high praise in the design category.
Its performance is equally impressive. The Xyboard is powered by a dual-core TI OMAP 1.2GHz SoC, most likely the OMAP 4430 (though possibly the 4460; Motorola won’t say). Either way, menus are fast, transitions between home screens smooth and stutter free, and video playback is clear and enjoyable.
In every respect the Xyboard bests its predecessor in performance, whether you’re moving through applications, installing new apps from the Android Market, or browsing the web.
The tablet has 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, so you’ll get the most out of your home or office Wi-Fi networks. In addition, you’ve got LTE connectivity on the Verizon wireless network, though you’ll more likely be using EV-DO 3G unless you live or work in an LTE-enabled area. If you are fortunate enough to have LTE, you’ll see very impressive speeds, up to and around 20Mbps downstream.
But those speeds come at a cost; battery life on LTE is predictably lousy, dropping from around 7-8 hours on Wi-Fi and 3G to barely 4 hours on LTE. This is pretty standard for LTE devices, though, and can’t be counted as much of a hit.
The Xyboard uses a Gorilla Glass IPS touchscreen similar to the iPads’. Viewing angles are very good, as is brightness and clarity. The resolution remains the same as the XOOM at 1280 x 800, which qualifies as HD. There’s also an ambient light sensor to keep the brightness automatically adjusted, but I always turn this off.
The improvement over the XOOM’s more basic LCD display cannot be overstated. Videos are rich, vibrant and bright, and even general app and menu screens are beautiful. The only issue I ran into with my test unit was some slight flashlighting in the top right corner, which was only visible when the screen was displaying black in that area.
There’s also a dual digitizer, which means the screen can accept input not only from your finger or a capacitive stylus (like all capacitive touchscreens), but also from the included EMR pen (which requires a AAAA battery, also in the box). This allows you to draw or take handwritten notes on the Xyboard, though I found this to be somewhat disappointing in actual use. There’s not a lot of pre-installed software that supports the pen, as I’ll discuss in the software section. And boy, is the pen ever loud on that glass screen – and if you rest your hand on part of the screen while drawing or writing on another, bad things can happen.
The tablet ships with Android “Honeycomb” 3.2, though an update to Android 4 “Ice Cream Sandwich” is coming at some point. Honeycomb continues to be an impressive tablet OS, but I can’t wait to see what Android 4 will do for this already top-notch device.
In addition to the usual Android applications, Motorola and Verizon have added quite a few extras. First, there’s Dijit, which takes advantage of the onboard IR port to allow you to use the Xyboard as a remote control for your home entertainment system. It can control your TV, cable or satellite box, home audio system and even DVD/Blu-ray player. Its grouped control options aren’t as elegant as Logitech’s Harmony remotes, but you do get the added benefit of having an on-screen guide to select and change channels. Digit isn’t flawless and takes some time to set up and tweak, but it’s a nice out-of-the-box feature.
The software that supports the EMR pen is scant – a notes widget and Skitch – though there is system-wide handwriting-to-text input support via MyScript Stylus. It works reasonably well, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to enter text this way rather than using the onscreen keyboard (the popular Swype is also included as an input option).
There’s also SoundHound (identifies music playing or that you sing or hum), QuickOffice HD, MotoCast, Evernote, Amazon Kindle reader, Blockbuster, Netflix, and other general app goodies.
Ports & Expansion
Unlike the XOOM and other Android tablets, the Xyboard uses a standard microUSB port both for data transfer and charging. The tablet includes a wall charger with an attached cord and a microUSB data cable. Each can charge the tablet. This setup makes it easy to charge the tablet on the go with a standard DC USB charging adapter in your car along with the included cable.
There’s a micro HDMI port for video output to an HDMI TV or monitor. You’ll need to pick up an HDMI to micro HDMI cable if you want to use this feature, but you can get one fairly cheap online.
Sadly, there’s no microSD expansion slot; there’s a spot for one next to the SIM card slot, but Verizon’s U.S. models don’t include the ability to expand storage for reasons that defy explanation. So select the amount of storage you’ll need ‘cause that’s it.
Price, Plans & Verizon
The only major blow against the DROID Xyboard is Verizon’s prices and caustic data policies.
First, price: The Xyboard 10.1 is available in three storage capacities, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. The prices, respectively, with a two-year data service contract are $529, $629, and $729. Off-contract, the price per tablet jumps to $699, $799 and $899.
Second, Verizon craziness: If you opt for a contract you will save some cash up front, but since the least expensive monthly data plan for the tablet is $30 for a paltry 2GB of data (which you can devour in a day on LTE), you’re looking at another guaranteed $720 of data costs for the life of the contract. 5GB will cost you $50 per month, and 10GB will set you back $80. Overages are $10 per gigabyte of usage.
In fairness, this is pretty standard for U.S. carriers, but it’s also ridiculous.
Don’t want a contract? Well, you can pay the extra $170 for the tablet and the first month’s wireless data fee (which is required and costs $30 at minimum) and then pay month-to-month. But, if you choose to suspend the service and later restart it, there’s apparently a reconnect fee, though Verizon hasn’t clarified exactly how much the fee is; I’m still trying to find out. [UPDATE: Each reconnect requires a $35 reconnect fee.]
Having to pay a fee each time you turn on an already overpriced feature on a device you’ve paid full price for is a pretty ballsy definition of month-to-month.
Aside from Verizon’s pricing and policies, the Xyboard is – without question – the best Android tablet I’ve used. It’s sleek, fast, and functional, will get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich sometime soon, and is very capable of everything you’d want a tablet to do. Add onboard LTE, high-end hardware, and a nice dual-digitizer touchscreen, and it’s the non-iPad tablet to beat.
It’s a shame the tablet is priced too high to fiercely compete with the iPad 2, and that Verizon weighs it down even further with service craziness and expensive data packages. Without these issues, I would highly recommend the tablet. Still, I do recommend it in spite of these setbacks, just so long as you’re aware of them going in.
FYI: If you are getting the 16GB Xyboard 10.1 on contract, LetsTalk has it for $429, $100 off the direct Verizon price. $529 for the 32GB version, same $100 savings.
If I didn’t use an iPad 2, I’d use a DROID Xyboard 10.1. It’s that good.
M. Nichols, Products Editor