So far, few Android tablets have caught fire; arguably, only the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has made any impression with buyers. That sleek, iPad-looking tablet offers the basics for both personal and business users in a nice package, and it's remained at the top of the Android tablet hill since it debuted six months ago. Motorola Mobility's new Droid Xyboard -- an awkward name meant to evoke the villainous cyborgs of "Battlestar Galactica" fame (a disturbing motif, frankly, carried through in its startup screen) -- poses a serious challenge to the Galaxy Tab.
Like the Galaxy Tab, the Xyboard (first released in the United Kingdom as the Xoom 2) runs Android 3.2 "Honeycomb," the original tablet-optimized version of Android, but Motorola says it will be upgradable to the new Android 4 "Ice Cream Sandwich" later this year. Based on what Android 4 offers on a smartphone, I don't expect it to make the Xyboard or any "Honeycomb" tablet work dramatically different. "Ice Cream Sandwich" is very much based on "Honeycomb."
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What makes the Xyboard stand out? On the hardware side, it has a 5-megapixel rear camera, which is a cut above most tablet cameras, though the images it produces are just average. Perhaps mindful of Apple's litigiousness and success defending its design patents in the courts, the Xyboard has a unique, tapered bezel that looks nothing like an iPad, yet is comfortable to hold. The Xyboard also weighs about the same as an iPad 2. Plus, it comes with a nicely designed stylus for precise tapping.
Xyboard mixes business and pleasure
The Xyboard's lone hardware flaw is the unfortunate positioning of the Sleep/Wake button right next to the volume rocker. I often put the Xyboard to sleep when I reached to increase the volume. The Xyboard also comes with a built-in 4G radio for the Verizon Wireless network, giving you access to very fast cellular connections in areas that have 4G networks installed. (It uses 3G elsewhere, along with connecting to Wi-Fi LANs.) Verizon sells a version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 with a 4G radio as well, so this is not a Xyboard advantage.
But not everything that makes the Xyboard worth a look is hardware. It has some software innovations too; one will appeal to business users and another to personal users. That dual focus, likewise shown in its mix of apps, qualifies it as a tweener tablet.
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