The Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition (we'll call it the ME for short), is the smaller sibling of the Xoom 2. It doesn't pack the most super-charged internals, but it offers a good screen and enough power for the essential day-to-day tasks you'd expect to do on a handheld device.
Its price tag almost matches the aspirational iPad -- costing £350 from Amazon and other retailers -- but the operating software it runs on is already outdated. The tablet world is a battlefield full of ever more powerful slates, so can the Xoom 2 hold its ground against the onslaught?
Design and build quality
The ME is the littler version of the Xoom 2. Rather than coming with a 10.1-inch screen, the ME is an 8.2-inch slate, designed more for handheld movie watching than for large-screen tasks.
The Xoom 2 Media Edition has a reduced 8.2-inch screen, but you'll need a thumb prosthetic if you want to use it one-handed (not included).
The smaller screen means that the ME has an overall length of 216mm and a width of 140mm, making it a slightly more hand-friendly device than the standard Xoom 2's 254x174mm dimensions. It's still far too big for one-handed use -- unless you have gargantuan thumbs -- but it's a pleasant size to hold up for a while.
With a weight of 388g, it's a third lighter than the 599g of the regular Xoom 2, which makes it very comfortable to carry around in a small bag, or even in your pocket. That is, assuming your combat trousers with those massive knee pockets come back into fashion.
The front of the device is as interesting as the other Xoom 2. There are no physical buttons, so it's just a slab of glass with the Motorola branding at the top and a little dot where the front-facing camera is. As with the original Xoom 2, the corners have been sliced off, which doesn't achieve anything other than slighty differentiating the Xoom 2 from other tablets.
Around the back is a two-tone effect of grey metal surrounded by a black rubberised material. One aspect our eyes were immediately drawn to was the screws on the back panel. Having visible screws on a product is often seen as a design faux-pas, but we don't mind it here. It gives the tablet an industrial, 'rough and ready' edge that's difficult to come by in a world guided by Apple's clean aesthetic values.
Motorola claims that the rubber edging helps make the tablet 'splash-proof'. That's a vague term, but the example video on Moto's website shows spills ranging from small pipette droplets to a glass of wine spilling over it. We performed a few tasks in light rain and although the water on the screen stopped the multi-touch from working properly (as it would on all tablets), the wetness didn't do any damage. We wouldn't want to drop it in the bath, but you don't need to worry too much about the odd stray drip.
The rubber also helps make the tablet feel more secure against knocks and bumps. There's no flex offered when you poke and squeeze it and the rubberised volume rocker and power button have a satisfying click. Taken together, that all left us reassured that this isn't a tablet that you need to keep wrapped in cotton wool.
At the top you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and on the bottom, a micro-HDMI port and a micro-USB connector for hooking up to a computer or for charging. There's also a flap that we assume was for an SD card (or possibly a SIM card if there were to be a 3G-enabled version). It's been filled in though, so you won't be able to expand the ME's 16GB of built-in memory with a removable card.
Rather than opt for the more usual 7-inch screens found on tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 or the Acer Iconia Tab A100, the ME packs an 8.2-inch display. Whether you particularly benefit from an extra 1-inch diagonal screen size is debatable but it's at least easier to hold for longer periods than the 10-inch slates.
It has a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, which is pretty good for the screen size. We found it to be bright, clear and handled colours well. Firing up one of our favourite YouTube test clips, we were impressed with how it displayed. We were equally chuffed with our 1080p-resolution test video, which provided rich colours and satisfying contrast.
With its skills at handling locally stored video files, the screen is perfectly adequate for media use. If you mainly intend to use your tablet for web browsing and reading ebooks though, you might benefit from the extra screen real estate offered by the 10.1-inch model.
Xoom 2 as a media player
With its bright and clear screen, the ME is already off to a good start as a dedicated media tablet. Sadly though, elsewhere it doesn't appear to be quite so geared towards video playback.
Firstly, to get your videos on to the device, you'll need to connect it to your computer, which in itself is fine. What's not okay is the fact that you need to have Motorola's MotoCast software installed before you can transfer any files.
When you connect it up to a new PC, you'll be immediately prompted to download the software -- so you'll need an Internet connection and some patience. The bundle that arrives installs various pieces of software for functions we didn't ask for. After some waiting around, we were eventually allowed to view the tablet as a removable device, allowing us to drag and drop files into it.
It's infuriating to see such a reliance on proprietary software as it makes the overall user experience clunky and complicated. It would be considerably easier if the tablet could use drag-and-drop automatically.
Once it was all set up, we were able to drop in our MP4 video file as well as a couple of MP3s and some JPG images without trouble. Oddly, while there is a dedicated gallery for photos and a music player app, there's no specific video player. For a tablet that prides itself on its video skills, this seems like an unusual omission. Instead, your videos are mixed in among your photos in the standard gallery app.
Motorola reckons that the ME offers 'booming bass' and 'virtual surround sound' from the built-in speakers. We played a few songs and videos through them and concluded that Motorola must have meant those claims ironically. The speakers are about as good as you'd find on any tablet -- not particularly loud and very tinny. They'll just about do the trick for a YouTube clip, but when you want to settle down with music or a movie, plug your headphones in.
Android 3.2 Honeycomb
The ME comes packing Android 3.2 Honeycomb, which is the tablet-specific version of Google's operating system. Sadly, it's not the latest version of Android -- that honour goes to Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), which is designed to run on both phones and tablets.
Most companies tend to put their own skin on the Android operating system and Motorola is no exception. It's likely that you will neither know nor care about what's running on it, but if you're spending £350 on the latest tablet, it's important to be aware that your software is already out of date.
Motorola may update that tablet to ICS down the line, but Android updates are typically very slow to emerge and Moto has given no word of it yet so we're not holding our breath.
Still, the Honeycomb experience on the tablet isn't at all bad. It's exactly the same as on the other Xoom 2, only slightly smaller. You get multiple home screens to swipe through and fill up with all the apps and live widgets you could want.
To place a widget, simply press and hold on a space to bring up a selection of available widgets. Poke one and it'll take up a certain number of squares. You can resize most widgets so they can dominate most of the screen. That's handy if you want to give your live Facebook widget more space to properly see all the updates flooding in from your mates.
Any apps you don't want on your home screens are chucked into a menu showing grids of apps displayed over pages, similar to iOS home screens on the iPhone or iPad. At the bottom of the screen are three navigation buttons that remain there regardless of what you're doing.
As an Android device, you have access to the hundreds of thousands of apps in Android Market. Once you've synced your device to your Google account (which will also simply sync with the email client), you can head over and download apps and widgets to your heart's content. There are few tablet-specific apps, but apps written with Android phones in mind generally work perfectly well on a tablet.
Inside that 8-inch frame you'll find a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, backed up with 1GB of RAM. We were fairly pleased with the performance of the regular Xoom 2 so we expected at least as good from the Media Edition.
To see how it compares to its rivals, we booted up the Quadrant benchmark test and were given a score of 2,621. That easily beats the 1,760 offered by the 1GHz Acer Iconia Tab A100 but comes in below the Samsung Galaxy S2 smart phone, which scored over 3,000.
On the CF-Bench test it achieved a score of 6,261 overall, which doesn't trouble the 10,764 offered by the Asus Transformer Prime, but that's a monstrously powerful quad-core beast. We're fairly pleased with the ME's skills, although we're not blown away by the scores.
Of course, numbers are most definitely not everything. We got our fingers warmed up for some serious swiping. Performance seemed swift and swiping through the various home screens was responsive and immediate. The same was true of menus and apps, which opened without much delay.
Even when there were various background processes running, there wasn't much in the way of slowdown. Of course, once you start filling it up with loads of live widgets and other apps eating away at your available power, you'll find that things will lag, but it's off to a good start.
We fired up the hack-and-slash game Blood & Glory, which is pretty heavy on a device thanks to its detailed 3D graphics. Game play was smooth and at no point did we notice any drop in frame rate. Once more games start to arrive to take advantage of the quad-core monsters we're starting to see, the ME won't fare so well, but it will cope fine with most tasks for the time being.
It's thankfully got plenty of power to handle high-definition video so encoding your 1080p-resolution files into MP4 format and dropping them on the slate won't be an issue.
On the back of the ME is a 5-megapixel camera boasting an LED flash. Cameras on tablets are usually pretty poor and are included as an extra rather than as a main feature, so we weren't expecting much.
The first thing we noticed was that when you hold the tablet in landscape -- which we'd argue is the most natural way -- your hand will cover up the lens. You'll either have to make sure your fingers aren't aren't obscuring it or shoot in portrait mode only. It's pretty annoying and goes to show that the camera functions are an afterthought for this tablet.
Results were hit and miss. It was generally able to expose well for scenes so we weren't left with blown-out highlights, but it didn't capture the richness of colour we'd like to see. The results were sharp enough but we were hardly left speechless.
It's not a camera that's going to replace your dedicated snapper, but it'll take a quick shot of your dog to attach to a tweet. There's a front-facing camera too, which will come in handy for video calling over Skype.
The Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition may not be the most super-charged tablet on the market, but its bright and vivid screen makes it good for watching videos. The 8-inch size helps it sit in your hand more comfortably than its 10-inch sibling.
If you're looking for a smaller tablet to handle the essentials, the Xoom 2 Media Edition is worth checking out.