The Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 finally lands in the US, after being released in Europe last month as the Motorola Zoom 2 Media Edition. We don’t know why the name is different, but the hardware is almost identical. I say almost because this version is powered by Verizon’s 4G LTE network, which has no equivalent in Europe. Beyond its mobile broadband capabilities, Motorola pitches this device as being “tough”, praising its materials as “a force field of protection”. But this is not an armored tablet: it weighs 0.85lbs (13.75oz) and is equipped with an IPS LCD display and virtual surround sound, says Motorola. This sounds good, but I’m going to tell you how it feels to use one in the real world… ready?

Technical highlights

8.2” LCD IPS display, 1280×800, 16M colors
Android 3.2 (Honeycomb)
Dual core, 1.2GHz, TI OMAP 4430
1GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage
5 Megapixel camera with LED flash (back), 1.3MP camera (front)
216 x 139 x 8.9 mm, 13.62 oz (386 g)
3960 mAh battery
micro-USB 2.0
4G LTE (Verizon), WIFI A/B/G/N (learn more on 4G networks. They are not all equal)

Context

We all perceive the gadgets usefulness differently depending on our lifestyle, so let me tell you where I come from. Most of my (computing) time is spent using a powerful desktop computer (a PC) with large displays. If I need to get some real work done outside of the office, I use a laptop (Macbook Pro + Win7). On the go, I keep track of emails with a smartphone, but I tend to reply only moderately from it because typing long emails is a bit painful on a touchscreen. With the tablet, I check news websites and social networks a lot, and I often use a laptop or tablet on my couch.

Because tablets have such a long battery life, I have been searching for ways to use them as laptop replacement in some situations like trade shows and meetings where I don’t do anything drastic like programming or video-editing.

Design (very good)

Droid Xyboard 8.2 ReviewThe Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 has a clean design which feels substantially less bulky than the original Motorola Zoom, not only in terms if screen diagonal, which is obvious – but also in terms of thickness and display bezel. The front is pretty much all-glass, but the back is a mix of (what seems to be) magnesium with a rubber paint, and metal. Interestingly, Motorola has decided to go “all in” with the “tough” look, showing metallic screws in the back and all. This gives the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 a solid look, which is a nice differentiation form the Galaxy Tab series, which chose to aim for thin and light.

On the back, you can also find the Power and volume buttons, along with the HD camera module, complete with an LED flash. From the buttons placement, I tend to think of this device as a “portrait” device that will be used vertically, but you can use it in landscape mode without a problem too.

Overall the build quality is solid and I may even suggest that the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 is a tablet that has a “professional” look. Motorola is actually promoting the fact that this is a splash & scratch resistant design. We haven’t put that claim to the test, but we haven’t heard any competitor talking about their product in this way, so keep that in mind.

What’s in the box: if you want to know what’s in the box, check out our Droid Xyboard 8.2 unboxing photo gallery.

Display

Droid Xyboard 8.2 ReviewIn a relatively dim environment, the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 IPS LCD display is great. the colors are well reproduced, it is very bright and using it on the couch or in a place is going to be a pleasure. On a sunny day, things are a bit different, and I find the screen to be a little shinier than the average high-end tablet.

This is a trade-off that is commonly seen in laptops: shiny screens make the image “pop” a bit more while indoors, but this also exacerbates reflections outside. You can crank up the backlight to compensate for that, but it affects battery life.

If you take the train, subway or use it indoors, it’s all good, but if you plan on using this outside on a construction area, or as a realtor, you may want to take a few seconds to think about it. To be fair, most tablets will have this issue to some extent, but the Motorola display looks shinier than most.

Software

Motorola is known to put a lot of efforts on the software customization of their Android devices, and recently, I really like the Motorola Smart Actions of the Droid Razr. On this tablet, the offering is more nimble, and Motocast and Motopack are the main apps that stick out.

MotoCast is the new name for ZumoCast, a Motorola app that lets you access content from your computer over the web. Each computer that you want to access needs to have a small MotoCast client installed. From there, your Motorola mobile devices (smartphones, tablets…) can access the files over the internet. Of course, you need a password and Motorola has made things as secure as it could.

This can be particularly useful for small businesses that have someone “in the field” with the tablet, and some else at the office who either collaborates, or updates the information from the office computer. You can image other situations like this, but given that the Droid Xyboard 8.2 is a 4G LTE device, it will not have much troubles with the network speed.

Motopack is a Motorola App Store of sorts. It contains apps that Motorola has tested and certified to run well on the Droid Xyboard 8.2. You can probably find the same apps on the Android market, but it is possible that from time to time, Motorola works with a developer to get something special for their hardware. I like the visual design of Motopack which is very graphic. They can because the “pack” contains about 30 apps, so Motorola does not have to take discoverability into account.

Ice Cream Sandwich upgradeable: while it does not ship with ICS, aka Android 4.0, the Droid Xyboard 8.2 can be upgraded to Google’s latest Android. Now, it’s not clear when the upgrade will happen, but at least we know that it is technically possible to upgrade.

Killer Apps

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

Email: the email app looks very much like the normal Android 3.x email app, and although I found minor differences in terms of design, the only functionality that comes in addition to the regular email app is Motoprint. As its name indicates, Motoprint lets you print emails, Microsoft Office documents, photos or web pages on your PC printer via WiFi. It seems like a small thing, but when you need to print something, it’s not always fun to be a tablet owner.

In terms of connectivity, most email service and Microsoft Exchange are supported, so this could be used for personal and professional purposes. If there’s an IT department, you may want to check with them as they may require additional security measures such as a virtual private network connection (VPN).

Skype: Skype works both in audio and video mode. Overall, the quality is quite acceptable for a mobile device, but laptops will perform better. The audio is usually good enough so that I don’t have to worry about it. It would be nice if Skype, chip vendors and tablet makers could come up with a way to hardware-accelerate the Skype video compression.

Browser: No problem here, the web browser performs well, and the sites that we tried were rendered properly without any issues. Of course, there is still Flash support and you can visit Flash-powered sites like wechosethemoon.org, which is a Flash-site about the Apollo lunar landing.

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

I've pre-loaded San Francisco to the local storage. No more tile downloads for a while

Maps: In terms of mapping, Android remains the best overall platform because Google has put more efforts and features into Google Maps for Android. Because the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 is an 4G-LTE device, you can expect maps to load very quickly as both latency and peak download speed have been improved over 3G and non-LTE “4G” networks such as HSPA+. Note that although this unit works on the Verizon network, AT&T is also deploying its LTE solution, and Sprint has wowed to launch its own.

My favorite features of Google Maps is one of the “Labs” experiment: you can preload a 10-mile square on the internal memory and browse maps without downloading tiles over the network again. This is great because most people often use maps within the same city on a daily basis. This should be a permanent feature if you ask me.

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

Facebook: At the moment, the Facebook app on Android is still designed for smartphones, so you get a stretched view that is not optimum for Tablets. That said, the Facebook app gets the job done.

Entertainment

Movie playback: I copied some 1080p movies (.MP4) to the Droid Xyboard 8.2 and they all played without any problem. One is the Gran Turismo 5 trailer, and the other is the latest Starcraft trailer. this basically means that the tablet can decode very decent video (1080p 5Mbps+) that is usually above and beyond what you will find in streaming services like Netflix, or the Android Market.

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

Gaming (very good): the Droid Xyboard 8.2 is not really the fastest tablet when it comes to gaming. Graphics benchmark Nenamark 2 show that while it is comparable to Samsung’s offerings with a score of about 20 Megapixels per second, it is far from the astounding 51 Megapixel/sec that the Asus Transformer Prime achieves with its Tegra 3 chip.

That said, 20 Megapixel/sec is still equivalent to graphics performance that was considered “cutting-edge” just last summer. For example, Shadowgun runs well, and it’s completely playable, but you won’t get the 60 frames per second super-smooth frame rate. Instead, you will get 30 fps, which is still very good. (note: I’m eyeballing all the FPS numbers as there are no in-game counters)

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

Speakers (impressive): I’m impressed by the sound quality – It is known that having the speakers on the side can produce very nice sound and it is a technique commonly used on smartphones from several brands. However, it is easy to mask the speaker with the palm of your hand in landscape mode, so you’ll have to be careful about that. If you are, the sound is very good, especially if you take into account the size of the device. I think that this is the best sound that I have experienced form a tablet. Good job Motorola!

Camera (good)

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

Photo taken with the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

The Xyboard has a tendency to have a tint that is a bit off

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

The Camera of the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 is very decent and does well in most photos. However, I have noticed that out of the box, the tint is slightly off and the camera has a tendency to pick up the dominant color of the scene. Below are two examples: first, the Droid Xyboard colors go towards blue/green, probably because of that door and wall on the left. On the second photo, it picks up too much yellow. You can tell because in both photos, the concrete is supposed to be gray. I don’t know why it does that, and many people won’t notice, but I think that Motorola could tweak this.

The video recording is good, and I’m satisfied with the overall quality as it is very decent. However, it won’t equal or beat the iPhone 4S. If you want to compare different devices for yourself, we have made the original photos available on our Ubergizmo Flickr account. Check them out in their full glory, no resizing involved.

Performance (very good)

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

Antutu tries to measure broad system performance

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

Nenamark 2 is somewhat representative of a game

Performance-wise, the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 does well for a current-generation tablet. As you can see, it is slightly faster than its nemesis, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 but not as fast as the Galaxy S2 (with OMAP4). However, when you factor the upcoming (Dec 19) Asus Transformer Prime, things get tougher. Because it is powered by a next-gen Tegra 3 quad-core processor, the Transformer Prime easily wins in both benchmarks.

Yet, there is currently no 8” tablet that offers that kind of performance, so for the time being, the Droid Xyboard 8.2 is the fastest tablet in that category. It will be up to you to decide if you like the 8” form-factor, or the absolute performance better.

When not using extreme performance applications like games or imaging, the difference in terms of user experience isn’t so noticeable. In the grand scheme of things, the Droid Xyboard 8.2 is very good, but the scale for “excellent” has just been raised.

Battery life (below average)

In a standard video playback test, the Motorola Droid Xyboard gets about 5 hours of video, which is “OK”, but far from the 10 hours that the iPad 2 or the Transformer Prime would get. While we could blame that on the smaller form-factor, we keep in mind that tablets like the Playbook or the Galaxy Tab 7+ get 7hrs or so, so in the grand scheme of things, this could be better.

I consider the video test as some sort of “worst-case” scenario that can be applied to most tasks because the display (one of the most power-hungry element) is ON at all times. Even if video-decoding is not considered to be “intensive” (it’s mainly done by a small co-processor), it still is more intensive than email, and many other things that you may do.

Only gaming and image processing remain a special category of apps that can deplete the battery much faster than this, and how fast really depends on the application, but polygonal 3D is expensive.

Conclusion (competitive in the 7″to 8” category)

Droid Xyboard 8.2 Review

In its own 8” category, the Motorola Droid Xyboard is a great competitor to the Galaxy Tab 8.9. Both share a comparable footprint, and both can differentiate themselves: the Droid Xyboard feels more solid and is a bit more compact and fast. The Tab 8.9 feels lighter and thinner but also feels a bit “plastic”.

Now, if you omit the size, it is clear that the Asus Transformer Prime is much faster, but unfortunately, it does not have a 4G LTE option despite customers clamoring for at least a 3G option. If you ask me, this comes down to the form factor. If you really care about compactness, then Droid Xyboard 8.2 is a very good option.

If a 10.1” tablet works for you, it becomes a matter of needing mobile broadband or not. If you need fast broadband, a Droid Xyboard 10.1 or a Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE will get the job done. If 3G/4G is not needed, getting a Transformer Prime is a no-brainer. Some would say that WiFi can be a good alternative to mobile broadband but I disagree: in my experience, there’s almost never a hotspot when I *really* need one.

I hope that this review has given you an idea of how it feels to use the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2 [product page]. If you have questions that I have not covered, please drop a comment, and I’ll try to address them ASAP. If you find this review to be useful, please “like it”, share it or drop a comment. We’re here to help.

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