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Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 tablet review [Video]

January 28, 2012 |  5:59 pm

Motorola's Xyboard tablet line is just about everything I wished the Motorola Xoom had been when it was released not even a year ago.

The Xoom, Motorola's first attempt to build an iPad-competing tablet, was critically acclaimed when it launched last February. It even won the Best of Show award at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

But the Xoom, which sported a 10.1-inch screen, was a bit too heavy (1.6 pounds) and much too expensive (launching with an $800 price tag), and the 3G and 4G models were available only through Verizon. The 4G capabilities were also delayed about seven months, and when they did arrive, Xoom owners had to mail in their tablets to get a 4G hardware upgrade.

Thankfully, in the Xyboard, it seems Motorola has made up for most (but not all) of its missteps with the Xoom.

For one thing, the Xyboard prices are more acceptable.

The Wi-Fi-only version of the Xyboard starts at $399.99 for the 8.2-inch model and at $499.99 for the 10.1-inch model. The Verizon-exclusive 4G version, known as the Droid Xyboard, starts at $429.99 for the 8.2-inch model and at $529.99 for the 10.1-inch model -- that is, as long as you sign a two-year data plan along with the tablet. (All four of the prices named are for tablets with 16 gigabytes of storage.)

Both the 8.2-inch and 10.1-inch Xyboards have touch screens with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels.

The Motorola Droid Xybaord 10.1, left, next to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Apple iPad 2.

The Xyboard 10.1 is thin and light, and physically felt much more competitive with Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, the two high-end tablets against which I think the Xyboard 10.1 will be competing most for consumer dollars. The Asus Transformer Prime tablet, a tablet I haven't yet tried, is likely be in this category as well.

In my time testing the 4G-equipped Droid Xyboard 10.1, it was clear more than just the pricing strategy was different with Motorola's new tablets.

Inside, the Xyboard 10.1 is fitted with a 1.2-gigahertz dual core processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM, which powers the tablet to speedy performance that lived up to its price tag.

In the front and rear are 5-megapixel cameras, which shoot detailed photos and 720p video out back too. They aren't as sharp as some 5-megapixel cameras I've seen on smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Apple iPhone 4 and Nokia Lumia 710, but they're far better than the lackluster cameras in the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab.

The Xyboard 10.1 is just 0.35 inches thick and weighs 1.32 pounds, making the inclusion of such high-resolution cameras and a rear LEG flash all the more impressive. It also has dual stereo speakers in the back, which sound good for a tablet (better than speakers on the iPad and the Galaxy Tab 10.1) but don't replace a good set of headphones.

The displays on the Xyboard 10.1 were another high point, responding to touch input quickly and rendering websites, apps and videos sharply, clearly and brightly. Unlike the iPad or the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Xyboard has a mini-HDMI port built in, so it's easy to hook the tablet up to a TV set.

The Xyboard 10.1 is also compatible with a stylus (sold separately) that works well for taking notes and simple sketching. Motorola has preloaded the tablet with is own Floating Note and Evernote apps, which both work well.

I do have a major complaint with the Xyboard's inability to let a user rest his or her palm on the tablet while using the stylus. Anyone who draws regularly knows that your hand often rests on the surface you're drawing on. The need to raise your hand above the screen makes the Xyboard basically unusable as a drawing tool for long periods of time. The Xyboard isn't going to replace artist tablets such as Wacom's products.

The Xyboard 10.1 is covered in a water-resistant nano coating. For the sake of testing, I poured liquids on the tablet and easily whipped the device on, and it worked with no problems. I still wouldn't recommend dropping the Xyboard into a bucket of water to see how it holds up, but the water resistance makes a lot of sense. I would love to see this feature on more tablets and hopefully phones too.

The edges of the Xyboard 10.1 and 8.2 are coated in a grippy rubberized material that is comfortable to hold while surfing the Web, watching videos or reading an ebook for a long period of time.

But this thoughtfulness of design didn't carry over to the power and volume buttons, which are on the back of the tablet and nearly flush with the surface. The result: I frequently flipped around the Xyboard to see the buttons I wanted to use. After a while, I did get somewhat used to this, but the buttons are among the least convenient I've found on a tablet. This was a problem on the Xoom as well.

I averaged about seven to eight hours of battery life out of the Xyboard 10.1, which is good for a 4G tablet. But charging from an almost depleted battery took about three or four hours, which is much longer than I would like. 

Verizon's 4G service was fast, but unless you plan to use the Xyboard outside with no nearby Wi-Fi signal, opting for the Wi-Fi-only version makes a lot more sense to me, and it would save you from having to pay at least $30 a month in data-plan charges for the next two years.

All in all, the Xyboard has some quirks and some forward-thinking features that, in my opinion, place it ahead of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 as a daily-use tablet running Google's Android Honeycomb operating system. THe Xyboard is due for an upgrade to Android Ice Cream Sandwich, which I'm excited about. But for now, Honeycomb is a solid OS for a tablet.

If I had to choose an Android tablet to own, I'd choose the Xyboard 10.1 over the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which is a fine piece of hardware in its own right. The Xyboard 10.1 feels as though it's made with better materials -- the Galaxy Tab has a plasticky feel, and the Xyboard's speakers and cameras are higher quality as well.

What really prevents the Xyboard from topping the iPad 2 as my favorite tablet is the app selection found on Android. This isn't Motorola's fault -- it seems to be a side effect of Android tablet sales being much smaller than iPad sales. With low Android tablet sales across the board (in the last three months of last year, Motorola sold 200,000 tablets while Apple sold 15.43 million iPads), developers largely have not designed apps specifically for Android tablets.

It's a shame because even apps that could be considered essential, such as Twitter's own Twitter app, don't work as well on Android tablets as on iPads. On the Xyboard and the Galaxy Tab, the Twitter app is simply a stretched-out version of the Android phone app. The experience is far from ideal and it sure isn't pretty.

Other apps designed for the large screen, such as news reading app Pulse and Amazon's Kindle reading app, look and work great on Android tablets, but these experiences are few and far between.

Until developers start treating Android with the same attention and care that they do iOS, great hardware like the Xyboard 10.1 will be hamstrung by inadequate apps.

  • Motorola's Droid Xyboard 10.1, left, next to a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and an Apple iPad 2. {Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • A stack of tablets with the Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 on top, the Apple iPad 2 in the middle and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 on bottom. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The volume rocker and power buttons on the back of the Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 tablet. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The Motorola Xyboard 8.2 tablet on top of the Droid Xyboard 10.1. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The Motorola Xyboard 8.2 tablet on top of the Droid Xyboard 10.1. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The back of the Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1, left, and the Xyboard 8.2 tablets. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The Motorola Xyboard 8.2 tablet on top of the Droid Xyboard 10.1. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The 5-megapixel, 720p camera on the back of the Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 tablet. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • Yes, the Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 is water resistant. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
Screen Shot 2012-01-28 at 4.56.42 PM

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Pouring water on the water-resistant Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

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