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Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Solid build quality
  • Sharp 8.2-inch display
  • Fantastic camera
  • Snappy performance

The Bad

  • Mediocre video recording
  • Non-expandable
  • Pre-loaded bloatware
  • Incongruous flap at the bottom of the tablet
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After reviewing the Motorola XOOM 2, we were left with mixed feelings and not much hope for the XOOMs of 2011. We also have to admit, we weren’t expecting the XOOM 2 Media Edition to knock our socks off. We know, we know, we shouldn’t pre-judge a device but when you’ve been rating gadgets for a while it’s hard not to form a premature opinion, especially when the only difference in the name is “Media Edition”, with virtually identical specs in the form of a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and and a WXGA display.

Boy were we wrong.

As soon as the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition arrived, we took it out of the box, held it and knew this was a very, very different proposition to its bigger brother.

Design

8.2-inches. Who knew? It works very well in the hand, fits easily in a bag, hand bag or satchel and has a sturdy build. While it isn’t by any means pocketable, with its svelte 9mm profile and unique styling, against all odds, the aesthetics of the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition merge together to impress.

One of our biggest gripes we had with the Motorola XOOM 2 was the screen, dim with a yellow hue. Is it the same on the Media Edition? Similar. Is it as big a deal on the Media Edition? Not so much.

With less screen and discolouration appearing less noticable the overall experience is just better. The smaller size paired with the same 1280×800 resolution also means the pixel density is higher so everything looks sharper. Viewing angles are pretty great and panning, sliding and swiping is all responsive to the touch on the Gorilla Glass panel. Finger-prints aren’t as evident as on the larger version and Honeycomb looks as slick as ever, running smoothly and displaying well. Our one point of contention would be the type-size with the reduced size, resulting in smaller, slightly less legible text.

With a combination soft-touch plastic and metal construction, complete with mini-screws and brushed aluminium, the Motorola XOOM Media Edition pulls off industrial styling to the letter. Despite its slenderness it feels durable and rigid in hand, complemented nicely by the soft angles of its 8 corners.

At the top is a 3.5mm headphone jack, IR port and speaker while below is the other speaker micro HDMI port and micro USB port. An irritating addition which marrs the overall design is the pointless flap on the bottom right of the XOOM 2 Media Edition. As with the XOOM 2, this is a result of the US alternative offering 3G connectivity and the UK chassis not getting a redesign. For such a polished tablet, this oversight feels lazy and under-considered – a smidgen of superglue would have sufficed to seal it shut – come on Motorola!

Flip the XOOM 2 Media Edition over and you’ll find soft-touch power and volume buttons on the left hand bevel, a metal back-plate and a rear facing 5-megapixel camera with LED flash. Despite a good amount of click feedback, the soft-touch buttons definitely take some getting used to. They do however add to the illusion of a buttonless design which we think comes together beautifully on the XOOM 2 Media Edition, so aren’t just awkward for the sake of it. Therefore despite the irksome flap down-below, we’re big fans of the tablet’s look, feel and functionality.
 

Interface

With a relatively stock Honeycomb experience, the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition looks and feels familiar and polished all at the same time. The sharper display works well with the UI and size, lending the device to text oriented use such as web browsing and eBook reading. While we mentioned interface text can look a touch on the small side, in-app text such as that read in the Amazon Kindle and Google Books apps can be adjusted and looks great on the display.

The only major customisations to Honeycomb come in the form of re-drawn icons looking 1960s retro-chic (or not depending on your affinity with the era), the enhanced audio equaliser and a range of pre-installed apps.

The icons look and feel in theme with what Motorola have offered in their 2011 line of mobiles, and we’re certainly not going to complain about them as they’re easily more preferable than a custom launcher and more specifically, MOTOBLUR. Having the option to select audio equalisers is also really great to see, especially considering the media-centricity of the XOOM 2 Media Edition. A point to note when you get the tablet, avoid the Extreme Bass preset selected by default unless you’re a fan of overwhelming distortion maiming your favourite tracks.

Now down to apps. Major point of contention number 2. The Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition is bloated. Dijit, GoToMeeting, FuzeMeeting, Twonky, Evernote and Skitch are all pre-loaded and all non-removable. WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY? All these apps are downloadable from the Android Market, people can put them on their XOOM 2 Media Editions if they want to, many of them are just prompts for updates anyway. We’re all for 3rd party deals with manufacturers, it’s all about the dollar after all, just give users the option to zen their app drawers and uninstall bloatware. Simple.

Rant over.

While this all sounds damning, it isn’t. A lot of the apps are great. Dijit takes full advantage of the IR port turning the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition into a fully functioning television remote control with about a 2-3 metre range and Evernote is pure genius. MotoCast is also pre-installed and compensates for the lack of expandable storage by allowing users to access their computer files remotely. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection and the host computer to be switched on and wherever you are in the world, your files are at your fingertips.

Speaking of storage, with 16GB on board, 12.1GB is available for your music, movies and files. Not that much we think you’ll agree but pretty much the norm for most Android tablets.

All in all therefore, the interface is practical, inoffensive and verging on great. As much as we’re not fans of bloatware, it’s not a deal breaker and we’re totally sold on the UI’s interplay with the 8.2-inch screen. Android’s multitude of apps coupled with the 1.2GHz dual-core processor means that whether you’re into gaming, reading or web-browsing, the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition is a fantastic proposition. We’d even go so far as to say this should have been the flagship XOOM 2 of 2011, with a quad-core 10.1-inch variant released in Q1 2012.

Multimedia

Camera: Stills

Click images for full-sized version

Starting with the bad, the Motorola XOOM 2 Media edition uses Honeycomb’s dated camera UI. Moving onto the good – the results are still great. There are the standard array of special effects displayed above (black and white, sepia, negative and solarize). Once you get to the sheer photo quality, the 5-megapixel sensor performs very well, with decent noise handling and accurate colour and decent levels of detail.

Kicking off with macro shots outdoors, we think you’ll agree, wow. This is a tablet, a device category renowned for being terrible at picture capture, so the fact that this 5-megapixel snapper does such a good job with vibrant colours and decent depth of field is great – Media Edition indeed.

Landscape shots also blew our mind. We didn’t find that pictures looked overblown like with most phone cameras and dynamic range is fantastic. Check out the middle picture above, that’s pretty much exactly how the sky looked and it still picked up detailing in the foreground. In the final picture, we’re really impressed that branch detail was picked up – we were expecting to see a web of silhouette but no, everything was picked up making our final outdoor attempt to catch out the sensor futile.

Moving indoors and macro still holds its own. When we switched off the lights for our angel shot, we expected Samsung Galaxy Nexus syndrome to kick in and the 5-megapixel camera to buckle under the weight of noise and softening. Wrong again. The flashless final picture looks brighter than to room looked, noise is tolerable and the flash did a decent job of shining a light on the scene once it was activated. Not as impressive as the outdoor results, but still a big thumbs up for picture taking on the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition.

Camera: Video

Unlike the stills performance, the HD video capture is very standard. The stock Honeycomb interface isn’t remedied by fantastic quality and with no continuous focus and slightly washed out colours, we were left wanting on this front. It would be interesting to revisit this when the device gets updated to  Ice Cream Sandwich. Hopefully the update will bring native continuous focus and improved colour reproduction.

Media playback

If you want to take shed-loads of music and HD video content on the go, then unfortunately the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition’s 12GB of accessible storage won’t give you all that much room to play: you’ll probably have it filled up with two or three 720p films or a few thousand tracks. That said, MotoCast helps and the fact that HD content plays back smoothly and looks great on the 8.2-inch screen makes the video playback experience a good one.

Sound quality from the on-board stereo speakers is impressive with tinny highs at max volume handled pretty well. This can be manipulated with the equaliser and is definitely worth tinkering with to find the sound right for your content.

Connectivity and Performance

With all the staples for Android tablets bolstered on the XOOM 2 Media Edition, you can expect find Wi-Fi and a GPS on the though no 3G. As mentioned earlier, there is also an IR port up top, turning your XOOM 2 into a universal remote.

Web browsing is extremely fast and smooth, easily out-performing the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The 1.2 GHz TI OMAP processor inside makes the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition one of the most powerful Android tablets on the market right now, and a really great buy at the asking price of £329.

You can expect little under 10 hours of battery on the XOOM 2. With heavy use, this translates to about a day and a half, but if used sparingly, two to four.

Conclusion

We really enjoy writing a positive review, and while we never end up with a product that ticks every single box, when we get something that looks good, works well and comes with a great asking price, it’s not difficult to recommend. No surprises that the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition falls under this category. Despite not loving its bigger brother, this 8.2-incher marries features that have us smitten. Small enough to fit in a hand bag or satchel and comfortable in the hand with a good amount of power under the hood and substance behind the style, whether your reading, gaming or browsing, the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition has fast become one of our favourite tablets out right now.

Specification

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