In the coming months, we’re going to see just how big an advantage being an early mover in the Android tablet space grants some tablet makers.
Some manufacturers, like Motorola and Asus, are already on their second-generation devices. Others are mid-cycle or worse yet, stuck on iteration number one.
Released in late November 2011, the decidedly high-end Droid Xyboard is Motorola's second-gen tablet. It follows fairly close on the heels of the Xoom. (In the UK and other regions, the tablet is known as the Xoom 2.)
A new look, greatly improved performance and some productivity-oriented enhancements make it feel and look like a first-class business tablet. Aside from a few quirks and flaws, the only real detriment is that the $700 price tag is first-class also.
If tablets like this and Asus’ second-gen Eee Pad Transformer Prime are any indication of what's to come in this very important second wave of Android devices, companies like Toshiba, Acer, and even Apple to some degree have cause for concern. Unless, of course, they have unique, quality follow-up tablets of their own.
Initial impressions are, um, impressive
The moment you get your hands on the Droid Xyboard, it is instantly apparent that this is a higher-caliber Android tablet than almost everything else available today. It’s sleek, properly balanced, and felt comfortable in our hands.
At 8.8mm thin (0.35 inches), it’s the exact same thickness as the iPad 2, and only 5mm thicker than the ultra-thin Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. Its profile is literally half that of the first-generation tablets by Toshiba, Acer, and Lenovo.
Aesthetically, the Droid Xyboard takes a slightly different approach than most tablets, with flat-rounded corners instead of the usual soft-ish 90-degree turns. The soft rubberized grips on the horizontal sides of the tablet not only feel comfortable and slip-resistant, but also subtly reinforce the notion that this tablet should be held in landscape mode.
TabTimes is biased towards business, of course, but this design makes it easy to imagine that Motorola had work on its mind here.
Much has been made of the recessed power/standby button in the top right corner of the device. Our take? It’s actually pretty conveniently located—when operating in landscape mode.
The 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 display is a real winner. Motorola’s use of an IPS (In-plane switching) panel results in a bright, vibrant screen that is readable in all lighting conditions indoor and out. At approximately 150 pixels per inch, it has superior or equal pixel density when compared to most 10-inch tablets, including the iPad 2 (132 ppi), Transformer Prime (149 ppi), and ThinkPad Tablet (149 ppi).
On the downside, the Xyboard lacks the full-sized USB port and SD card reader some other tablets have. It does have an IR transmitter (which works with the tablet’s built in Dijit app for controlling your home theater) as well as a 5MP rear camera and a 1.3MP camera on front.
Performance: Fast, particularly 4G
Motorola's selection of Texas Instruments’ dual-core 1.2 GHz OMAP 4 processor results in a substantial and noticeable boost in performance, both at the app and interface levels.
Motorola has not specified which TI OMAP 4 series CPU is being used here. Based on the speedy results we’re seeing, it must be the newer OMAP4460. Both it and the older OMAP4430 are based on ARM’s Cortex-A9, but the 4460 has a faster clock speed and a faster graphics processor.
What does this mean in terms of real-world results? The most noticeable difference is this is one of the few Android Honeycomb tablets on the market that doesn’t stick and stutter as you navigate your way between home screens and multi-tasked apps.
That’s saying something. Android Honeycomb really taxes the graphics processing power of most currently available tablets.
While Motorola has announced that the Droid Xyboard will receive Google’s Android 4.0 update, code-named Ice Cream Sandwich, it has not yet set an official date for auto-pushing the upgrade.
All of this is good, but the kicker from a corporate/productivity point of view is Verizon’s 4G LTE connection. Describing it as fast feels like an understatement.
Using the 4G connection, we pulled down an astonishing 24.5 Mbps (megabit per second) data transfer rate on the outskirts of San Francisco. By way of comparison, download rates over a fast, close-proximity 802.11n Wi-Fi connection measured 20.7 Mbps. Upload rates were 13.5 Mbps and 10.0 Mbps respectively.
For work scenarios involving virtualized desktops, unreliable data connections, or consistently large file transfers, these are encouraging numbers.
Battery life is a little bit concerning for a second-generation tablet. With both the 4G and Wi-Fi connections on and frequently switching between both, we found ourselves able to consistently eke out a full eight hours of work. That includes using Citrix, checking email, and mid- to heavy usage of data-oriented apps like Evernote, QuickOffice, and PDF readers.
Call us jaded, but we expect closer to 10 hours of battery life around active usage. We were encouraged to discover however, that in standby mode, battery drain was greatly reduced. While sitting on our desk with minimal usage over 4 days, the battery only drained approximately 10%.
Bundled stylus, 4G hotspot capability are interesting
The bundled active stylus and preinstallation of QuickOffice HD make the Xyboard feels more business-ready than most tablets.
The more professionals we talk to about using tablets, the more we feel like we're seeing an emerging trend around PDF and document annotation. This makes sense—it's a convenient way to collaborate and exchange notes.
Much like the ThinkPad Tablet we reviewed in December, the Xyboard’s stylus allows for a surprising level of precision. Unfortunately, also like the ThinkPad Tablet, we occasionally noticed a slight lag as we used the stylus. On a consistent basis, however, it works better than the rubber-dome tipped styluses available for iPad and other tablets.
The only real drawback is that there’s no built-in port in this tablet for the stylus like the ThinkPad Tablet features. We’ll take a thinner tablet over an internal stylus dock any day, however. (The smaller 8.2-inch “Media” version of the Droid Xyboard does not come bundled with the stylus.)
One other interesting feature for business use (particularly in group settings) is the Droid Xyboard’s ability to function as a hotspot and share its 4G connection with up to eight other Wi-Fi devices. You can also tether a single device via Bluetooth.
It’s worth noting that the Droid Xyboard also has a number of optional peripherals and accessories available, including an HD dock that allows you to connect the HDMI-out port to a larger screen, and a Bluetooth keyboard-and-mouse folio case.
Final thoughts: Droid Xyboard is worthy
It’s always interesting to read other reviewers’ evaluations of new tablets like the Xyboard. For what it’s worth, reviewers have almost universally had the same reaction, albeit from a more consumer-oriented point of view: The Droid Xyboard is great. It looks great. It feels great. Shorter battery life and high price are concerns.
All of these things are true, particularly the high price. Even at $479 for the 16GB version, you have to consider that you’re also buying a two-year wireless Verizon contract that will cost an extra $240 per year. At least. By comparison, the base iPad price is $20 more at $499, but there's no contract.
The only real good news about the price is that it will likely come down at some point.
For business use—particularly corporate-owned tablet programs—the Xyboard is indeed worthy. The 4G LTE connection, active stylus, and even the hotspot functionality give it an instant advantage over Asus’ Eee Pad Transformer Prime, although the Transformer Prime does have a much faster Tegra 3 CPU and detachable keyboard.
In fact, for professionals and organizations that rely heavily upon Citrix and other VNC clients, the Xyboard is probably more appropriate than the iPad 2, thanks to Android’s built-in support for a Bluetooth mouse.