Beyond the tablet's basics, Motorola has put some thought into how to extend the tablet experience, focusing on home entertainment and multimedia playback. As with the Motorola Razr, the Xoom 2 comes with the new Motocast media-streaming software, which communicates with a server client that you install on a PC or a Mac, and streams files that you dedicate for sharing from your home machine (or work machine) to the tablet. You can choose to stream music, photos and videos, and you can download documents in any format compatible with apps on the Xoom. Considering the fact that the Xoom 2 ships with the Microsoft Office-compatible QuickOffice HD app, Motocast could give you access to all of your work documents on the move. You can even establish a connection with multiple machines simultaneously, using a single log-in.
A glimpse at the Motocast UI on the Xoom 2. Notice the tabs at the bottom that give you access to multiple connected PCs.
The user experience within Motocast isn't what we'd describe as being seamless or fast, but it is extremely useful. There a few caveats to keep in mind, though. The software doesn't compress your files before streaming them, so, if you want to watch a 1GB video file, then you'd better be sure that you have more than 1GB of data in your monthly 3G plan. This also means that the service can feel very slow to use, with long buffering times, but the end result is definitely worth the wait.
Another key differentiator for the Xoom 2 is the inclusion of an infrared transmitter, allowing you to use your tablet as a universal remote. Motorola bundles Dijit software with the Xoom 2 to take advantage of this, letting you set up multiple devices across multiple rooms in your house, and giving you a seemingly limitless universal remote experience. We tested out this feature with a Panasonic Viera TV and an Oppo Blu-Ray player, and we found it extremely easy to set up and use. The range of the IR transmitter is a tad weak, though, so be sure to keep a clear line of sight between the tablet and your A/V devices, and try to limit your distance between them where possible.
Motorola includes a 5-megapixel, HD video-recording camera in the Xoom 2, and you might be surprised to hear that this camera is actually pretty good. We haven't spent a lot of our time with the Xoom 2 taking pictures, but the photos we have taken do look good, with sharp focus and good detail.
Even under fluorescent lights, the Xoom 2 takes a nice photo.
We used the LED flash as a fill light to compensate for the bright backlight, and it worked well.
Motorola's Bluetooth-powered wireless keyboard and mouse accessories are both compatible with the Xoom 2, but, at the time of writing this review, Motorola has not released a dock for this model. We tried to connect the Xoom 2 to the docking stand we saw when we reviewed the Razr smartphone at the end of last year, but the designs are incompatible. This is a shame, as pairing the mouse and keyboard is a bit pointless unless you can stand the tablet up to read the screen without holding it. Motorola did tell us that it intends to release a dock locally, and we can see Cloves in the UK is advertising one for sale, so we'll have to check back with Motorola later on to see if we can get our hands on a dock for review.
Motorola has extended itself in this release, and it seems to be really thinking about how and where we use our tablets, and how Motorola can add to this experience. The addition of an infrared sensor is a great touch for tablet-loving couch potatoes, and Motocast is a great solution for those who will take their tablets on the road with them.
However, the constant dips in performance that we experienced when using the Xoom 2 remain disappointing, and really should give pause to anyone seriously considering this model. With devices in this category, web browsing and multitasking are two central features, and are probably the two parts of this tablet worst affected by tiresome lag. There doesn't seem to be a workaround, either; whether the tablet is fresh from booting up, or whether we used third-party task-management apps to manage memory, we couldn't put the lag behind us.
It's important to add that this lag isn't unique to Motorola or the Xoom 2; pretty much all Android tablets running the Honeycomb OS suffer in a similar way. We are really hoping that an updated Ice Cream Sandwich will iron out a lot of these bugs for Android tablets, but we'll have to wait and see. For what it's worth, Motorola has committed to updating the firmware in the Xoom 2 in Q3 this year.