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Motorola Xoom 2
Remote Control
Music Player
Conclusion
Measured Performance
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MOTOROLA XOOM 2

 

Xoom Control

 




Motorola's Xoom 2 HD tablet computer plays music and can be a remote control. Paul Rigby checks it out as a remote control and Noel Keywood looks at its musical abilities.


The touch screen computer, popularised by Apple with the iPad, is great for games, movies and playing music. Some, like the Motorola Xoom 2 reviewed here, can stream audio to the hi-fi via a wireless Bluetooth link or through an HDMI cable. The Xoom can even act as a remote control. But does the High Definition moniker apply to audio? And is it any good as a remote control?
    Competition in this market is divided between Apple’s iOS products and Google’s Android OS that sits within a conglomeration of products from a variety of manufacturers including the likes of Samsung, Amazon, Sony and HTC.
    The Xoom 2 comes from Motorola Mobility, now owned by Google, as opposed to the equipment manufacturer, Motorola Solutions. In early 2011, Motorola Mobility produced one of the earliest Android-based tablets on the market, known as the Xoom, the world’s first tablet to run Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the first iteration of Android built specifically for tablets. It has now updated the design, handing it the rather prosaic moniker of Xoom 2.

HARDWARE
We reviewed the larger HD form factor Xoom 2 with 10.1in diagonal screen, that weighs 605gms and is just 8.9mm thick, priced around £380. A smaller 8in screen Media Edition is lighter at 388gms – and is available for under £200.  The Media Edition is otherwise nearly identical to the HD tablet PC here.
    On the rear is the Xoom 2’s five megapixel camera and LED flash which is now placed (more logically) in the upper centre of the chassis, with an LED flash alongside the camera. The camera is generally of good quality, although video output is not the best due to the poor, slow autofocus resulting in hazy footage.
    The power button sits on the right-hand side, next to the volume rocker. It is easy to press the power key while trying to alter the volume which may result in lost data. Why couldn’t the volume be on the opposite side?
    Two speakers are located at the top but out of the way of typical hand holding positions so they should never be accidentally covered. A mini-headphone jack is located just above the camera near the centre of the upper edge.
    Along the base of the device, ports include a micro-HDMI that outputs digital audio and micro-USB port that deals with both data and charging. Motorola’s dedicated power input is no more, although you’ll probably want to stick to the meatier in-box charger rather than attempt to eke out a charge from phone adapters or a USB cable.
    Internal storage amounts to either 16GB or a rather more expensive option of 32GB with no expansion options. Allied with this limitation is the mystery hatch situated along the bottom edge of the chassis which reveals...nothing at all. It should, I think, have covered either a SIM or a form of removable storage but I reckon Motorola came up against a problem of some sort and left it out at the last minute.
    The Xoom 2 features an improved screen: a Gorilla-glass coated IPS. Gorilla glass being particularly tough and IPS or In-Plane Switching technology providing better response times, improved colour matching and greater viewing angles. Speaking of which, it’s obvious that Motorola have cut corners in the design – literally, because the screen features a chamfered, clipped corner shape. A practical move from the company to prevent the dreaded ‘tablet palm’ effect where handling a tablet for long period results in the corners digging in and marking the flesh in the palm of your hand.
    Looking at the front of the screen, you will notice a bezel of around 13mm on the vertical and around 20mm on the horizontal borders. Some may be unhappy with this but it’s actually less than much of its Android competition.
    The Xoom 2 screen features the same 1200 x 800 resolution of the original but viewing angles now approach the stated 178 degree mark while the IPS TFT display makes images far more vibrant, although outdoor use can be affected by glare while fingerprints can be very intrusive. In use, I was a little concerned to see a degree of backlight bleed emanating from the corners of the screen.
    The engine room of the Xoom 2 utilises an ARM 1.2GHz dual-core processor alongside 1GB of RAM, which is noticeably superior than the original model, being nippier than the reference Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, a similarly sized and specced dual-core tablet. Web browsing is very impressive too, as is App loading.
    Motorola has included the latest version of Honeycomb (version Android 3.2, to be exact) along with a selection of lightweight Apps including Motorola’s own music App, MotoCast, which requires pre-registration but is a relatively painless way to add your collection of music.
    Finally, a distinguishing feature of the Xoom 2 is its ability to control your hi-fi. In this case, the IR facility has been brought to life by the essential App, Dijit.
    But what exactly is the App, what does it do and what are its capabilities? Just how useful is the Xoom 2 in a hi-fi environment and is the Dijit App a realistic piece of software for day-to-day use?
    And is the Xoom 2 any use as a music player?

 


REMOTE CONTROL
Starting the Dijit App reveals a splash screen and a region select. Pressing on the Europe button, you are asked if you want to add a remote for a TV, cable or satellite or AV receiver. Bypassing these automated screens takes you to the Adding A Device screen which lists different technology genres: TV, Cable, Video Accessory (such as a Media Player), VCR, Satellite, DVD, Receiver, Home Automation (from B&O remotes to Lutron lights to automated curtain rails from Silent Gliss) and, finally, the hi-fi genres listed as ‘CDs’ or ‘Amplifiers’.
    On offer, within the hi-fi section, is a pretty expansive support list. For example, within the amp section you will find Acoustic Energy, Akai, Arcam, Audiolab, Bel Canto, Bryston, Chord, Creative and Cyrus. And that’s just your ABCs! The list isn’t comprehensive, however, but that was always going to be a problem. Looking at my reference system, for example, there was no Densen or Aesthetix.
    The list of equipment is, nevertheless, long and takes a fair while to scroll through. If you wish to immediately find the hardware you are searching for there is an alternative. Above the scrollable list is a Search bar. Pressing on this bar brings up an on-screen keyboard. Typing in ‘Rega’, for example, filtered out the list during typing. Hence, hitting the ‘R’ key restricted the list to those names beginning with the letter ‘R’ and then ‘Re’ and so on.
    Within the amplifier genre, pressing on the Rega name takes you to a new screen that declares that the App had found a remote for a Rega amplifier. Pressing ‘Continue’ then takes you to the business end of this App, the actual remote control screen. This is where you should (hopefully) be able to control your equipment. Each screen will look different depending on the piece of hardware and some screens will be populated with more or less controls. There seems to be no particular rhyme or reason behind this and there doesn’t seem to be any relation to the number of options present on your chosen hardware. The amount of controls the Dijit can handle depends on the current ability of the App.
    In this case, to control my Rega Brio-R, I was faced with just four controls. An on screen, animated, rotary volume knob, two inputs plus a mute button. Before I went any further, my first task was to test each with a live Brio-R. The results? The mute button worked perfectly, as did the volume control. The other buttons, labelled Input 1 and Input 2 were a little eccentric. There are five inputs on the Brio-R and pressing Input 1 on the App triggered Input 2 on the Brio-R while pressing Input 2 on the App triggered Input 3 on the Brio-R.
    All was not lost, however. There is a Setting option within Dijit which allows you to edit the controls. A pop-up ribbon revealed more buttons that could be dragged to the remote control screen or immediately removed by pressing on the ‘x’ icon attached to each icon. Rather oddly, the buttons available included an Input 4, 8 and 10 plus an alternative rocker-type volume control. Dragging the rocker volume control worked well. In fact, it was even better than the rotary option while the Input 4 was a dud, Input 8 triggered Input 4 on the Brio-R while Input 10 on the App triggered Input 1. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a method of renaming input buttons to tally with the Brio-R.
    You are free to arrange the control buttons in any order on the screen and are provided with subtle yet effective snap-to lines that appear when you are moving each icon. You can even move separate icons to different screens which can be swiped to the left using gesture movements. Hence, my Rega control screen could be swiped to reveal two further, fillable, blank screens.
    So why the comparative mess of icons and their functions? Mainly because Dijit doesn’t differentiate between individual brand models. It generalises on the type of control codes used by a company as a whole, such as the Philips RC-5 code used by most European manufacturers.
    To prove the point, I changed the new Rega Brio-R amp to my ancient Rega Mira and the same remote control codes still worked. The Input commands were just as confused as those on the Brio-R, the volume control worked properly, as did the mute but the previously dud Input 4 on the Brio-R did a nice job of triggering the Tape Monitor on my Mira.
    My next test was with a Cambridge CD player, the Azur 650C and a Cambridge amp, the Azur 651A. Selecting the amp brought six different remote controls to try. You are encouraged to try each to see which one works best for you and your equipment. I selected Remote 1 and then dragged new inputs onto the screen during the editing phase, to control five of the six inputs, mute and volume. There was a custom activity option available to add new commands but this section was a little temperamental. I thought that I had arranged power on/off commands using the available icons but it failed to work.
    Not all remote screens are as wacky, however. The Cambridge CD player was almost a model of efficiency as the power button, eject, play, stop, pause, track skip forward/backward, random play and repeat buttons were all available and usable without problem. The fast forward and fast track reverse didn’t want to know, though.

 


MUSIC PLAYER
The smaller, pocketable (just) Media Edition version of the Xoom 2 is positioned as a portable player, much like an iPod. If you think this means walking around in a distracted trance, headphones making you potential roadkill for the next passing bus, then think again. The Xoom 2 has a lot more up its sleeve. Firstly, it has Bluetooth, so you can send music to your hi-fi over a wireless link. That means you can relax on the settee, press Play and music will issue forth from the hi-fi, as if by magic.
    If you are suspicious about such new fangled gizmological ideas, an older fashioned wired connection is available via HDMI. This is a High Definition link able to handle music files right up to 24/192; it has no performance limitations. However, the Xoom 2 in current form will play up to CD quality music file only, so HDMI’s potential is superfluous as far as music goes.
     The Xoom will continue playing whilst it is being used as a remote control too: one function does not negate the other, which happens to be pretty convenient if you are settee bound.
    Needless to say, there are  a few issues to consider before using the Xoom as a domestic music player. If you want to use the Bluetooth link then you’ll need a suitable Bluetooth receiver, like the Cambridge Audio BT100 (£70) I used, feeding a Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 digital-to-analogue (DAC) convertor (£700). If this seems extravagant it is because the Stream Magic 6 is basically a High Definition audio device (DAC) that happens to interface with the BT100. There are less expensive ways of turning Bluetooth digital to analogue, like the QED U-Play (£70) but we have not tested them as yet and DAC quality is unlikely to be comparable. But this may not worry you.
    Bluetooth works well I find and is not too fiddly to set up, but there is the need to Pair devices where they share security keys – and you don’t want to know about this, nor about limited data rate that restricts Bluetooth to CD quality.
    A wired HDMI link may be messy, but security and data rate are not an issue as they are with Bluetooth.  You need a Micro HDMI-to-HDMI cable and an HDMI input; currently these are common only on AV receivers, not hi-fi equipment. One solution is to use an HDMI de-embedder like the Atlona AT-HD570 (£166 from www.futureshop.co.uk).  I plugged the Xoom 2 into my Marantz SR-8002 receiver and it worked immediately: no pairing, no religion, no security issues. Fantastic!  But only if you don’t mind a wire snaking across the lounge to an AV receiver.
    Bluetooth and HDMI are digital links. The headphone output is an analogue link and you can plug it into the Aux input of your hi-fi amplifier, but I don’t advise it.  The Xoom’s low voltage internal DACs were noisy.
    The Xoom 2 cannot play high definition music files. It handles all music file formats except .wma (Windows Media Audio), up to 16bit at 44.1kHz sample rate. This includes .wav, so ripped CDs can be played in virgin form, uncompressed. Our unit played 24bit/48kHz sample rate test files but with 16bit linearity, measurement showed, so there’s little benefit in 24bit.
    The bundled music player plays from its own library, not from external files or folders, However, there are other music players and PowerAmp appears popular and more flexible, although I did not try it.
    A  MotoCast import App must be used to import music from Mac or PC. It imported .wav files from iTunes on my Mac, but refused to import .aiff files, as preferred by iTunes, which was unhelpful to say the least. MotoCast also seemed to take precedence over an Android file transfer programme that refused to see the Xoom 2.
    Sound quality was a little disappointing. I am used to hearing better quality  from CD rips these days than the original CD, due to jitter reduction from re-clocking. The effect is to smooth the sound, reduce glare and add a certain svelte quality that CD typically lacks. This is, however, when playing from a high speed Flash memory USB key, a LaCie Whizkey, through a Naim or similar high resolution media player that measures far better in the digital domain than the Xoom 2, and costs a lot more of course.
    The Xoom 2, through both HDMI and Bluetooth, slightly muddled, softened and blurred the sound. So whilst bass lines were reasonably similar to those on the CD, when directly comparing the Eagles “Busy Being Fabulous” for example, vocals and instruments  formed an amorphous entity on the stereo stage in which individual instruments lacked sharp focus.
    Sound quality was nice enough to provide good entertainment, but a tad below CD and a little bland and unengaging. Classical music was similarly afflicted, with massed strings in particular sounding poorly differentiated. Orchestral scale was well maintained though.

 


CONCLUSION
The Xoom 2/Dijit combination is a less than perfect remote control option for hi-fi use. The fact that a tablet has an IR option with a free controller App at all, though, is cause for celebration. Such systems can only get better and may, in time, spell the end for specialist hi-fi remote controls.
    For now, if you are in the market for a new tablet, you might want to consider the Xoom 2 as a rather quirky universal remote that is  a work in progress. If you or a friend has an Android tablet or phone, why not download the free Dijit App and see if your hi-fi gear is on the support list?
    Much the same can be said about it as a music player. It provides decent sonic results, but its digital processing is currently too crude to provide real high fidelity. Since a lot of modern digital product gives measured results worse than CD due to crude digital processing schemes, the Xoom 2 is far from alone here. This is a pity because potentially it is a great way to enjoy music as well as a useful remote control at the same time.  At the price though, the Xoom 2 Media Edition in particular is an unusually flexible and attractive music player. The larger screened HD tablet PC costing around £380 is poorer value as a music player, but arguably better as a mini-computer when paired with an external keyboard, if you get along with Android.

VERDICT
A usable, hi-fi specific universal remote control and flexible music player, the Motorola Xoom 2 is well worth checking out.


FOR
- IR facility
- app flexibility
- app hardware support
- performance

AGAINST
- no .aiff import
- no hi res audio support
- distortion

MOTOROLA XOOM 2     
16B     £380
32GB     £425


  +44 (0)870 901 0555


www.motorola.com/mobility


SPECIFICATIONS
Featuring significant differences between the Xoom 2 and Xoom Media Edition

MOTOROLA XOOM 2
MUSIC: Supported formats: H.264, AAC, MPEG-4, MP3, WMV, H.263, OGG, MIDI, AMR NB, eAAC+, AAC+.
SCREEN SIZE: 10.1inch
BATTERY TYPE: 7000 mAh Li Ion
MP3 PLAYBACK: up to approx. 6 days
VIDEO CAPTURE: 1080p video capture
MEMORY: 16GB and 32GB storage options

MOTOROLA XOOM 2 MEDIA EDITION
MUSIC: Supported formats: H.264, AAC, MPEG-4, MP3, WMV, H.263, OGG, MIDI, AMR NB, eAAC+, AAC+.
SCREEN SIZE: 8.2inch
BATTERY TYPE: 3900 mAh Li Ion
MP3 PLAYBACK: up to approx. 3 days
VIDEO CAPTURE: 720p video capture front camera, 1080p rear camera
MEMORY: 16GB storage option

 


MEASURED PERFORMANCE   (measurements: Rohde & Schwarz UPV audio analyser)

Frequency response of the headphone output was flat across the audio band as our white noise analysis shows.  Output measured 0.35V maximum and hiss was high, measuring -68dB with a 16bit signal. These are fair results but the internal DAC / analogue output amps are noisy.
    Results were better via a digital Bluetooth link, frequency response measuring flat to 18kHz with a 48kHz sample rate white noise test signal, as shown. Distortion at 0dB was low at 0.04%. At -60dB distortion was high at 0.6%, but most of this was noise. Ironically, budget all-digital signal transmission channels are often noisy (quantisation noise).
    A 24bit tone gave slightly lower noise and better results (0.4%) but this is nowhere near a 24bit system in linearity terms; it is closer to 14bit. Bluetooth has insufficient data rate to carry high bit depth or sample rate signals, CD quality being its current limit. The HDMI output gave similar results to Bluetooth. NK

Frequency response (-1dB)   10Hz-21kHz

Distortion (24bit)    
0dB        0.04
-60dB     0.6%

Separation (1kHz)     66dB
Noise (IEC A)           -77dB
Output                      0.35V

 

FREQUENCY RESPONSE, HEADPHONE OUTPUT

 

 

FREQUENCY RESPONSE, VIA BLUETOOTH

 

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