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Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 review: Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1

Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1

Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
Donald Bell
7 min read

Motorola kicked off 2011 with the world's first Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablet, the Motorola Xoom. In its wake we witnessed a flood of imitators, and eventually a handful of thinner, brighter, more innovative tablets.

Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 (64GB)

Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1

The Good

The <b>Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1</b> feels like an amalgamation of all our favorite Android tablets of 2011 and is endowed with 4G LTE compatibility from Verizon.

The Bad

The on-contract price will make you cry, the off-contract price will make you laugh.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 is a premium Android tablet from the company that defined the category, held back by a high price and uninspired design.

With the Xyboard 10.1 and its smaller sibling, the Xyboard 8.2, Motorola is revisiting the same formula it used for the original Motorola Xoom. By combining high-end hardware with Google's latest tablet-optimized Honeycomb software and Verizon's high-speed mobile network, Motorola could have another hit on its hands.

But will Motorola's recipe for success still work in a time when $199 tablets dominate the headlines and the market is flush with contract-free Honeycomb options? Let's take a look.

Pricing and models
The Motorola Xyboard is an expensive tablet. Purchased through Verizon, the Xyboard is available for $529 (16GB), $629 (32GB), and $729 (64GB), with a two-year commitment to a 4G data plan. These plans start at $30 for 2GB of monthly data. Over the course of two years, the cost of the data plan adds up to $720 plus applicable fees (such as a $35 activation charge). If you try to bail before your contract is up, the early termination fee is up to $350.

If you go with a pay-as-you-go plan, like the iPad's, you'll pay an extra $170 for the device, making it $699 for the lowest-cost 16GB model.

To save some money, you could go with Motorola's smaller Xyboard 8.2, which starts at $430 with a two-year contract. Unfortunately, Verizon's terms and fees are no less onerous.

And what do you get for the money? Well, the Xyboard isn't the fastest tablet we've seen, nor the thinnest, the lightest, the brightest, or the longest-lasting. Arguably, the best thing the Droid Xyboard has going for it (aside from its catchy name) is Verizon's 4G network compatibility. If you feel the need for mobile speed, and you have the money to support your habit, then by all means indulge yourself.

The first thing you're bound to notice about the Xyboard is its clipped-off corners, which give it a more octagonal look. It's a subtle thing, but it does help to distinguish it from the sea of rectangles floating out there.

Like most tablets running Android 3.0 and up, the Xyboard keeps all of its navigation on its 10.1-inch screen, leaving the bezel free from any buttons. Above the screen you'll find a Motorola logo off to one side and a 1.3-megapixel camera in the center.

Flip the Xyboard over on its belly and you'll find a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash. Both of the Xyboard's cameras are capable of recording 720p video. Two integrated speakers are also on the back, along with power and volume buttons and a door concealing the tablet's SIM card and microSD memory slot.

The top edge of the Xyboard holds a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Tic Tac-sized window for the built-in IR blaster, which enables the tablet to act as a remote control. On the opposite end you'll find a Micro-USB port for charging and syncing, as well as a Micro-HDMI port for mirroring content on your TV. A charging adapter is included with the Xyboard, but the device is capable of charging (very slowly) over a USB connection to your computer.

Tested spec Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1
Maximum brightness 411 cd/m2
Default brightness 172 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.34 cd/m2
Default black level 0.14 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 1,228:01
Maximum contrast ratio 1,208:01

Overall, the Xyboard 10.1's design feels solid and thoughtful, with echoes of the Motorola Xoom. Hopefully this time around Motorola will have more than a month of sales under its belt before another tablet steps in with a radical new trendsetting design. Then again, with the Consumer Electronics Show 2012 coming less than a month after the release of the Xyboard, it could be that the Xyboard is cursed to repeat the Xoom's fate. At least this time around, the 4G comes baked in.

Hardware specs
Inside the Xyboard 10.1 Motorola is using a 1.2GHz dual core processor from Texas Instruments, backed with a full gigabyte of system RAM. On paper, this sounds like an improvement over the 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processors used in most Honeycomb tablets, but I really didn't feel the difference in terms of navigation or overall system responsiveness. In fact, I encountered a handful of surprising application hang-ups, but these things typically get ironed out with software updates.

It's also worth noting that the Xyboard's hardware configuration will be eligible for an Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) update in the future. Considering Google's stake in Motorola, one would hope that the software update will be fast-tracked.

Beyond processing, all of the expected premium capabilities are here, including assisted GPS, digital compass, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, 802.11 a/b/g/n, and even digital pen support.

Motorola also throws everything in when it comes to software. Business-minded users will appreciate the preinstalled apps for Citrix, Fuze Meeting, GoToMeeting, Polycom, and Quickoffice HD. The fun-loving will be happy to see Netflix, Blockbuster, Slingbox, and Madden NFL 12.

Fortunately, Motorola and Verizon have done little to obscure the pure Android 3.2 experience. The only branded software on the home screen is MotoCast, an app that enables you to stream or download media to your tablet over the air from your home computer. Verizon's app store and navigation software also come included, but are easy enough to ignore.

Beyond that, you get full-fledged Android, complete with Gmail, Google Talk (with video chat), Android Market, Google Maps and Places, Navigation, YouTube, Google's video rental service, Google Books, Calendars, and Contacts.

One unique extra included on the Xyboard 10.1 is a range of notepad apps that allow you to scribble quick notes in a floating window, or directly into Evernote. These digital pen features aren't as extensive as we've seen on the HTC Flyer and Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, but they're a welcome addition.

The most surprising frustration I encountered using the Xyboard's software was that there seems to be no way to get your computer to treat the Xyboard as a generic USB device. That means there's no quick way to drag and drop content on or off the Xyboard. Instead, when you connect the tablet to your Mac or PC, you're prompted to install Motorola's MotoCast software. After installation, the software allows you to configure automatic syncing of your music, photos, podcasts, and videos using an iTunes-like interface. Over time, we may grow to appreciate the convenience of Motorola's syncing software, but in the rush to load up a simple test video it had us crying for mercy. Motorola's lockout of direct access to the internal storage is also bound to infuriate those Android fans who've come to view the platform as an antidote to Apple's closed-device philosophy.

Motorola's MotoCast software is a required installation if you want to transfer media on or off the Xyboard.

Remote control
Like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, the Xyboard 10.1 features an infrared sensor and a universal remote control app. While the Tab 7.0 Plus used Peel as its remote control software, the Xyboard 10.1's Dijit app isn't quite as full-featured. The software may improve with future updates, or perhaps Motorola will open the IR up to other developers. Regardless, I wouldn't abandon my universal remote just yet.

At this price, the Motorola Xyboard 10.1 should be a lightning-fast, buttery-smooth, blindingly bright mega tablet. It's not. In terms of general navigation and transitions, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime and its quad-core processor showed a noticeable advantage.

The same can be said of gaming performance. While testing the frame rate using Riptide GP, I saw no noticeable difference between the performance of Xyboard's 1.2GHz OMAP 4430 processor and that of most Nvidia Tegra 2 tablets. Serious gamers should still look to the iPad 2 or Transformer Prime for a high-performance experience.

An example of the Xyboard's photo quality can be seen here. While the results were above average, I still find 10-inch tablets to be awkward for shooting photos.

Verizon's LTE network 4G speeds were impressively fast, allowing us to download a 19MB app in 22 seconds, while the same file took 16 seconds on Wi-Fi. However, even with the tablet idle and 4G off, the battery seemed to drain a lot faster than for a typical tablet with 4G on.

Motorola rates the Xyboard 10.1 at 10 hours of Web browsing or playing videos with Wi-Fi active. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours)
Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 8.7

Final thoughts
2011 has been a landmark year for Android tablets. Motorola deserves all due credit for sparking interest in premium tablets running Google's Android Honeycomb software with the Xoom tablet it launched in February.

Now, at the end of the year, the Motorola Xyboard 10.1 tablet may be the last of its breed before the market shifts its focus to Android 4.0 and increasingly thinner premium tablets (as well as budget devices like Amazon.com's Kindle Fire).

Personally, I don't understand how Motorola and Verizon produced the Droid Xyboard 10.1 without sticking their heads in the sand all year. How else could they have concluded that customers are willing to pay such a high price for a contract-constricted Honeycomb tablet?

The timing doesn't help, either. Even if Verizon decides to take the subsidized price of the Xyboard down to $0, January's CES will undoubtedly provide a new wave of tablets to lust over, and Apple's expected March or April iPad 3 unveiling should give a chill to anyone about to step into a two-year contract.

With so many capable, affordable tablets out there, this is a difficult tablet to recommend. Aside from its 4G LTE compatibility and the promise of an Android 4.0 update, there's little here that cannot be found elsewhere, for substantially less money.

Editors' note:This review was updated with results of CNET Labs' screen testing.

Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 (64GB)

Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7