Although consumers' appetite for subsidized tablets has never been strong, carriers keep rolling them out. Case in point: the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2. Riding Verizon Wireless' blazing 4G LTE network and sporting a 1280 x 800 IPS display, this Android Honeycomb tablet certainly looks the part, and can be stashed more readily in a small bag than its larger sibling, the Xyboard 10.1. But with a price of $529, portability doesn't come cheap. Read on to find out if the speed is worth the price.
Like an oversized Droid RAZR, the Droid Xyboard has slightly angled corners with a glossy black bezel. The edges of the back are a rubberized black plastic, while the center is a gray metal held in place with six screws. It's an industrial look, but we like it.
What we don't like, though, is the placement of the power and volume buttons on the back along the upper edge. Not only are they hard to reach, but they're also hard to identify by feel. Too often we pressed power when we wanted to change the volume. This issue by itself could be a dealbreaker for some.
With the tablet held in the orientation Motorola intended, the company's logo is on the left side of the screen, along with a 1.3-megapixel webcam (which can be accidentally covered by your thumb). The left edge has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the right edge has a microUSB port, microHDMI, and a SIM card slot protected by a plastic cover. Like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, the Xyboard has a built-in IR blaster, only here it's on the narrow side, opposite the microUSB port.
The Xyboard 8.2 comes with 32GB of storage built in; unfortunately, there's no way to add a microSD card.
Measuring 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches, the Xyboard is slightly larger, but thinner than the Toshiba Thrive 7-inch (7.4 x 5. x 0.5 inches), and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (7.6 x 4 x 0.4 inches). At 13.8 ounces, it's also heavier than the 13.3-ounce Thrive and 12.2-ounce Tab 7.0 plus, but that's to be expected considering its larger screen size.
One of the best aspects of the Droid Xyboard is its sharp 8.2-inch IPS screen. Made of Gorilla glass, it's scratch-resistant, and a nanocoating makes it water-repellent. With a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, it's the same resolution as the Toshiba Thrive, though that tablet has a smaller 7-inch display. As a result, the Xyboard has a lower pixel density of 184.08, compared to the Thrive's 215.63 PPI. The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus' PLS display has a lower resolution of 1024 x 600 and a 169.55 PPI.
The Xyboard's average brightness of 419 lux outshone even the larger Xyboard 10.1 (405 lux) and blew past the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (326 lux) and the 7-inch Toshiba Thrive (355 lux). When we watched the 1080p trailer for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, brighter scenes were crisp and colorful, but we noticed some pixelation in darker areas. Viewing angles are wide enough for a few people to cluster around the display, but it tends to pick up fingerprints quickly.
In another poor design decision, Motorola placed the Droid Xyboard's two speakers on either side, near the bottom. This means that whenever you hold the tablet in landscape mode, your hands muffle the speakers. Yes, you can hold the tablet upside down, but some apps--including YouTube and Madden NFL 12--only work right side up.
According to Motorola, the Xyboard 8.2 features adaptive 3D surround sound and a built-in digital subwoofer, but it can't compare to the real thing. Classic rock such as Boston's "Rock and Roll Band" and modern hits such as Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger" were crisp, but didn't really have a driving bass. The Xyboard's audio was able to fill our small office--when our hands weren't covering the speakers.
Under the sound control panel, you can adjust audio presets to 3D Stereo, Home Theater, Live Stage, or custom. The latter lets you change the Equalizer to one of five settings (Balanced, Bass Punch, Brilliant Treble, Extreme Bass, Vocalizer) and Surround (Ambient, Live, Wide). We suggest leaving it on Balanced. Extreme Bass made it sound like we were listening underwater, and Vocalizer sounded like an AM radio.
Motorola gives you several input options on the Droid Xyboard: the standard Android keyboard, Swype, and Swiftkey Tablet X, which splits the keyboard in two (and puts a number pad in the middle). The latter was the best option for typing in landscape mode, as the Xyboard is just a little too wide, even for our relatively long thumbs. However, it takes some getting used to. We would have appreciated haptic feedback, which is not supported for any of the keyboards.
Unlike the Xyboard 10.1, the 8-inch version does not come with MyScript Stylus, which lets you write letters using your finger or a stylus.
Like the larger 10-inch Droid Xyboard, the 8.2-inch Xyboard has a 1.2-GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 32GB of onboard memory. Combined, those specs made for fairly speedy performance. On An3DBench, the Xyboard scored 7,269, which is about 100 points above the tablet average, but well below the Tegra 2-powered Toshiba Thrive (7,635) and the Tab 7.0 Plus (7,899), which has a 1.2-GHz dual-core Exynos processor. However, on the CPU portion of the Benchmark test, the Xyboard notched 3,385, comfortably above the average (2,708), as well as the Thrive (3,008) and the Tab 7.0 Plus (3,353).
In everyday use, the Xyboard was relatively fast--pinch-to-zoom and rotate in photos, websites, and Google maps, but we noticed slight pauses when rotating the tablet itself and swiping between menus. Plus, the Digit app was sluggish when we scrolled through the channel listing.
Software and Interface
The Xyboard runs a pretty clean version of Android 3.2. The standard five home screens are here, set against a red and black background. The lower left-hand corner of the screen contains Back, Home, and Layers buttons, the latter of which shows thumbnails for recent and open applications when pressed (pictured).
Notifications appear along the bottom right, next to the time and battery icons. Tapping the battery icon also brings up a quick notifications/settings list, which lets you adjust the brightness and change the wireless without leaving your current app.
Like other Honeycomb tablets, the Xyboard has several Google apps that take advantage of its wider display. Both the email (POP, IMAP, Exchange) and Gmail clients are dual-paned, listing the contents of your inbox on the left third and displaying the current message on the right. The stock Honeycomb browser supports multiple tabs, and Google's Android Market provides access to more than 300,000 apps. (Only about 5,000 of these have been specially optimized for tablets.)
The Digit universal remote control app takes advantage of the Xyboard's IR blaster. We found setup using Digit to be more of a pain than performing the same process on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 and its Peel app--we had no trouble finding our Samsung TV and Motorola cable box, but couldn't get our Panasonic receiver to work.
Perhaps because of the IR blaster placement, Digit only works in portrait mode, which is a bit of a limitation given the potential to display more information in landscape mode. Channels are presented in a long list which you can scroll through; clicking on a listing shows details about that particular show. It's not worth giving up your traditional remote control for this feature.
There's a nice spread of preinstalled apps on the Xyboard, the first of which is MotoCast, which let us stream multimedia such as iTunes music and photos from our computer to the tablet.
MotoPack is a portal that shows selected apps divided into categories such as Home Office, Media Lounge, e-Library, and Games. It's an attractive interface, but doesn't offer much over the standard Android Market.
Other preinstalled apps include Evernote, GoToMeeting, Let's Golf 2, Madden NFL 12, Netflix, QuickOffice HD, Rhapsody, Skitch, Slacker, Slingbox, TegraZone Games, VideoSurf, VZ Navigator, and V Cast Media.
Simply put, the Xyboard's LTE connection is one of the fastest we've used. Using the Speedtest.net app in Jersey City, NJ, we averaged 27.1 Mbps downloads and 6 Mbps uploads. That's comparable to the Xyboard 10.1 (26.7 Mbps down, 7.5 Mbps up) when we tested that tablet in New York.
Web page-load times were equally fast. We loaded the full Laptopmag home page in an average of 10 seconds; the mobile sites for ESPN and The New York Times loaded in 4 and 5 seconds, respectively.
The Xyboard can act as a wireless hotspot for up to eight devices on 4G & 5 devices on 3G. Better yet, Verizon doesn't charge extra for this feature.
Outdoors, the Xyboard's 5-MP rear-facing camera did a fair job capturing the details in the Beaux-Arts buildings in Manhattan, as well as the pale-blue winter sky. In our moderately lit apartment, the camera on the Xyboard picked up colors--from the wood of our bookshelf to the reds and greens on book covers--fairly well, but images lacked detail and were a bit grainy. Similarly, 720p video was detailed, crisp, and remained in focus as we panned the tablet around.
With the 1.3-MP camera on the front of the Xyboard, video over Google Talk using the LTE connection wasn't quite FaceTime quality, but it was the best we've seen from an Android device. Video was a little blotchy, but in sync with audio. Switching to Wi-Fi didn't show much of an improvement.
Both cameras are poorly placed. Sitting midway along the left side, they can too easily be covered up by your hand. For the front camera, you can always turn the tablet to portrait mode for web chats, but the Camera app only works in landscape mode, which makes using the rear shooter a bit more challenging.
Unfortunately, 4G LTE is a real battery killer. Motorola rates the Xyboard for 6 hours web browsing over Wi-Fi, and up to 4.8 hours over LTE. On the Laptop Battery Test (web surfing via 4G), the Xyboard lasted just 3 hours and 29 minutes over 4G LTE. That's significantly shorter than the Xyboard 10.1 on Verizon's network (5:54) and the 4G LTE Galaxy Tab 10.1 (6:08).
Our Xyboard 8.2 comes with 32GB of storage, and costs $529 on contract (or $699 without); a 16GB version is also available for $429 with a two-year contract, or $599 if you sign up for month-to-month service.
In order to get the Xyboard for $529, consumers must sign up for one of three two-year data plans: 2GB for $30 per month, 5GB for $50, and 10GB for $80. When you factor in the cost of the device, those plans will cost $1,249, $1,729, and $2,449, respectively. Fortunately, mobile hotspot capability is included in the price.
Like its larger sibling, the Xyboard 8.2 is a sleek-looking tablet with a bright screen and fast LTE speeds on Verizon's network. But, it's plagued by poor design decisions, especially the placement of the volume controls and power button. Plus, $529--plus a two-year contract--is absurdly expensive for a device that lasts less than 4 hours on a charge (in LTE mode). If you're in the market for a tablet that's smaller than 10 inches, we recommend the $399 Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Even though it lacks 4G and has a lower-resolution display, the Samsung has a better overall design and much longer battery life.