Review: Motorola 10.1″ Xyboard


No Android tablet to date has manage to unseat the runaway champ, Apple’s iPad. Can the Motorola Xyboard do it? While such a question is actually more complex than just a simple “yes” or “no” answer would give, we seek out to find just how comparable Motorola’s latest and greatest tablet is compared to not only the iPad, but other high-end Android tablets as well.

The Specs

  • 10.1″ 1200 x 800 IPS display
  • 1.2 GHz dual-core processor
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 16/32/64 GB of storage
  • 5-megapixel rear/VGA front cameras
  • WiFi/Bluetooth/3G/4G
  • Android 3.2 Honeycomb

Hardware

Let’s start with the most important and highly used feature - the display. At 1200 x 800, Motorola isn’t going to wow anyone at this point. And while the IPS display is leaps and bounds better than the PenTile tech they’ve implemented on other devices, at this stage in the game it’s simply average. Still, we give Motorola props for the Xyboard’s crisp, vivid colors and deep blacks. The viewing angle is also something to be lauded — close to that 180-degree perfection we long for. In fact, we compared the Xyboard alongside a first-gen XOOM just to see how far Android tablets have come in ~1 year and were blown away by the improvement in display quality. The first-gen XOOM looked terribly washed out and bland. What a difference a year makes.

If you take your eyes of the front glass long enough to explore the rest of the Xyboard you’ll find a microUSB charging port on the bottom along with miniHDMI out and an SD card slot. On the right side you’ll find (terrible) power and volume up/down buttons and a headphone jack up top. The left side is smooth, clean and free of any ports in or out.

One thing we have to mention, and it’s something that quickly became a serious issue, is the terrible design and placement of the power button and volume buttons. All of the aforementioned buttons are stiff, flush with the device and lack any easily discernable ridge or “feeling” to make them easy to find without flipping the Xyboard over and/or shining a light on it. We’d even take the old first-gen XOOM’s goofy placement on the back-side of the tablet over the Xyboard’s hands down.

Button issues aside, we will again state that the display itself is a treat to stare at. Though we’re pretty impressed by how Motorola has managed to transform the feel of the Xyboard from previous tablets. The first-gen XOOM, in particular, wasn’t all that “big”, but did feel heavy. The Xyboard meanwhile feels super light — much lighter than the 10.1″ size would elude to — and was far easier and more comfortable to carry and use one-handed. As far as Android tablets go, it was actually quite a joy to use throughout the day.

Software

For reasons unknown to us (or really just because Motorola and VZW hate us), the Xyboard ships with and is still stuck at Android 3.2 Honeycomb. While the original release date of late November is easy to pass off as simply too soon after Ice Cream Sandwich’s release, entering March without any immediate upgrade means you’re using 2011 hardware with 2010 software - not a great combination. For the record, Motorola’s current upgrade schedule pegs Android 4.0 ICS updates to hit the Xyboards in Q3 2012. What’s also somewhat depressing regarding Android versions is that rumors of Android 5.0 (Jelly Bean) hitting the market in some form or fashion in “late 2012″ mean that ICS will quickly lose it’s luster when Motorola finally gets around to releasing it.

Still, the software on the Xyboard isn’t “bad”; it’s fast, fluid and snappy for the most part. There was the usual Android lag in some menu lists and while scrolling, especially so in the browser (regardless of connection speed). But for the most part, we think Honeycomb is enough to keep most people placated.

That said, we’re not going to dive into Honeycomb. It’s been here, in a technological timescale, forever. By now all of you should be familiar with Honeycomb and/or know that the next latest and greatest, Ice Cream Sandwich is just around the corner.

Battery Life

Battery life is something that we cherish greatly here at GS. Being on the go and away from electrical outlet playgrounds means we live and die by the runtime of our gadgets’ batteries. And while Android devices tend to let us down, we’re happy to report that that Xyboard is a champ.

One of our favorite things to do to test battery life on VZW LTE devices is to activate the LTE hotspot functionality and tether our phones to VZW’s sweet, succulent LTE network. Under general usage we’ll typically get anywhere from 2-4 hours on a phone. A tablet, of course, has much more firepower packed within. Highlighting that fact was the Xyboard’s awesome 6-hour runtime. While we did admittingly have some downtime here and there, there was always at least one gadget connected, tethered and data-downing away.

For more “normal” activities such as web browsing and the occasional game, we can say that 2-3 days is easy to achieve - and we are again, quite hard on our gadgets. Expect the average person to easily hit a week of charge-free use.

Camera & Video

Where Motorola had a chance to at least have one stand out feature they ultimately threw the white flag. The 5-megapixel camera is far better than what your typical stand alone digital camera was 5-7 years ago, but in this world, 5-7 years is more like 5-7 decades. In short: colors are for the most part crisp, though a bit dull. Focusing on close and far away items (and at the same time) is handled relatively quickly with the auto-focus. The flash, however, tends to do more white washing than put forth any actual usable light.

1080p video from the Xyboard is again clear and easily discernable from lower quality movies shot in 480p, but a lot of the time the differences between tablets (and phones) shooting 720p isn’t all that great.

Conclusion

The Xyboard is one of the best Android tablets we’ve used despite not possessing any one standalone feature. At the end of the day it is a combination of lots of small things that makes the Xyboard a winner for us — light weight, vivid display, lengthy runtime, etc.

As far as a direct iPad competitor, we’ll say that it is a decent option compared to Apple’s offering though we still do prefer the iPad. That said, the Xyboard isn’t a bad buy. The only big issue we have is that the Xyboard is an awesome 2011 device. This is 2012. Is it still worth shelling out several hundreds of dollars plus several more hundreds of dollars for a monthly data plan? We’re not so sure. In the end, we really want to like the Xyboard enough to recommend it. But being that we’re already beginning to taste quad-core/next-gen tablets, we can’t say that a Xyboard purchase is the wisest decision.

Availability

Available now for $899 or $729 w/ a two-year contract - Verizon Wireless

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