Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition review

Many, including Motorola, followed the iPad's about-10-inch route with the launch of their first tablet, but there's a lot to be said for a more compact format as seen here with the 8.2-inch Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition.

But with challengers in this more portable Android tablet war, does the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition offer anything that the likes of Samsung haven't? And could it, by some bizarre twist of fate, be better overall than its bigger 10.1-inch brother?

Design

The Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition follows the same design lines as the larger Xoom 2 model, most easily identified by the clipped corners. This gives the Xoom 2 ME a more aggressive look than the likes of the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab range. It's sharp, angular and interesting.

There is a hint of the rugged about it too, although this isn't a rugged tablet, apart from the SplashGuard coating that will save it from little accidents. Around the back the six Torx screws hold on the metal back plate with the edges offering a tactile, softer finish. It might look sharp and angular, but it's actually grippy and comfortable to hold.

At 388g it’s easily light enough to hold one-handed, but you don't get much space around the screen to grip. Motorola have thankfully dealt with this problem, so it can detect a thumb on the screen and ignore it – without it stopping you from performing other touch actions.

In terms of controls, like the other Xooms, the buttons are on the rear. The volume and standby buttons are all adjacent to each other in a slightly recessed panel which makes finding them tricky. It looks tidy, but in practical terms we couldn't change the volume without looking. Even after a month of use, it's an arrangement we haven't got used to.

The placement of the connections does work for us however. The headphone socket sits next to the IR port on one end, the Micro-USB and micro HDMI sit on the other, alongside a flap which opens to reveal… nothing. We imagine that this will offer a SIM card slot on some models. There is no option for microSD expansion, unfortunately.

The hardware

One of the things we like about the Xoom 2 ME is that it matches the specs of the 10.1-inch Xoom 2. It has the same 1.2GHz TI OMAP 4 processor, you get the same 1GB RAM, you get the same 16GB of internal storage. It even has the same resolution display.

At 8.2-inches the 1280 x 800 pixel resolution display means you get an impressive 184ppi. That might not sound like much in smartphone terms, but it is also an IPS display, so offers nice sharp details and good colours, with wide viewing angles. The smaller size and tighter pixel pitch means that everything looks good, from the best Honeycomb app, to streaming video and everything in-between.

If we're being really picky, there is a small amount of bleed at the edges, which you might notice when watching video in the dark, but it's nothing to get upset about.

You get all the normal wireless connections you expect, but we found a familiar oddity with Wi-Fi where it would occasionally fail to connect to our home network, needing a little nudge to get going. Bluetooth, GPS and all the sensors are here, including a barometer, something that might see more use in the future than it does now.

The overall package is put together well. The Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition feels like a quality tablet and despite the lightweight, it doesn't bend, flex or creak and it's survived the odd drop on to the bedroom floor too.

What is a Media Edition?

That's an interesting question. It does make the name more of a mouthful, although we guess that this tablet will colloquially be known as Xoom 2 "the small one". Its media credentials don’t bring with it any better handling of "media" over any other Xoom, in fact it's the same experience as the regular Xoom 2. Motorola has said it was down to the fact that it's more portable, for media on the move.

Whatever the reason, as we've already established, video playback looks great. It will handle full HD video, although the native codec support isn't very wide. Fortunately, as this tablet - like all of Motorola's recent releases - chooses to use MotoCast USB for moving content on to the device, it will convert video as necessary, so the experience isn't too bad. If you need wider video support you'll find options on Android Market to do so.

Also wrapped up in MotoCast is the remote access side of things. MotoCast will set itself up as a server on your PC or Mac, so you can access your content from your Motorola device on the move. It's simple and it works with minimal fuss, as long as your home PC is turned on.

There is, however, no sign of conventional DLNA streaming software, so it's worth installing something like Skifta to stream content over your Wi-Fi network at home, because MotoCast will send it via Motorola's servers in the process, which is a waste of broadband. We found it worked perfectly. We also had no problem streaming content from websites like BBC iPlayer, or through the Netflix app, both of which benefit from the quality of the display.

Also sitting in support of media in general is the IR transmitter. Whilst many companies are releasing apps to enable Wi-Fi control over their connected TVs, the resurgence of IR transmitters is welcomed as it acknowledges what people are actually doing with their tablets - sitting in front of the TV, using it as the third screen.

Unlike the more sophisticated offering of the Sony Tablet S, which has a much better remote control app, the Xoom 2 ME relies on Dijit. This is still simple enough to use and we had no problems setting up our TV with it, but it lacks the gloss of the Sony rival.

When it comes to music, you'll find that Motorola have offered some audio control to improve the listening experience. This basically revolves around widening the sound stage through your headphones, so if you want virtual surround sound, you can have it. It works nicely and overall the Xoom 2 sounds great through good quality headphones.

The speakers are rather clever too, as there are three openings, two on the left (or top) and one on the right (or bottom). This means that one wayward hand doesn't block all the sound. Volume is reasonable, although we found vibration across the back when at high volumes – but in all seriousness, are you going to use a tablet at full volume? Probably not.

Everything else

You also get some of Motorola bundled business apps in the form of Citrix and various meeting apps. There is a front facing camera should you wish to take advantage of video calling and a second 5-megapixel camera on the rear, offering a flash and autofocus. We don't put much stock in tablet cameras as we've yet to ever need to use one in anger, but it works well enough.

The Xoom 2 ME also gives you 720p video capture, but this is slightly limited by the fixed-focus offering, so it isn't ever the sharpest video out there.

Otherwise the experience is very much a stock Android Honeycomb experience and a good one at that. Aside from that minor niggle with Wi-Fi, we've found the Xoom 2 ME to be stable. Flash videos play well, apps open and close with ease and the whole experience is on a par with other top Android tablets. Sure, we bemoan the number of tablet-specific apps that you get on Android, but that's not Motorola's fault.

It's a shame that this tablet doesn't arrive with Ice Cream Sandwich, but it is in the works, with Motorola's older Xoom tablet already receiving the update in some regions.

We're also impressed with the battery. The internal 3900mAh unit doesn't last as long as larger models, but it has faired well in standby and offers about six hours of constant use. It will entertain you across the Atlantic, if not quite all the way to your destination.

Verdict

There is a lot to like about the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition. Where we weren't sure that the larger Xoom 2 offered quite enough, there is something more exciting about the smaller version. The size means it is light and portable, but also it's easy to type with two thumbs - without the stretch of a larger tablet.

We also like the fact that Motorola haven't messed around with it. There has been the slight tweak here and there, but the interface is essentially raw Honeycomb, so you don't have to contend with added, unnecessary, features. We also found it to be stable in most cases, with nothing to suggest there was an underlying problem.

On the flipside of this equation you have the occasional Wi-Fi problems and the increased portability means a smaller battery. For home users that shouldn't be a problem, but obviously it will only last you so long away from power. The lack of an external option for memory expansion rounds out the flaws of the device.

In summary then, we have no problem recommending the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition to anyone looking for a compact and portable tablet. The build and design are both good quality and the niggles are only minor. Where the Xoom 2 10.1-inch didn't offer much of an incentive to buy over the original Xoom, the smaller Media Edition is more attractive offer.