What makes Motorola’s Xoom 2 tablet better than Xoom?

Motorola (s mmi) introduced two new Xoom-branded slates for the U.K and Ireland markets on Thursday, with availability later this month. The Xoom 2 and Xoom 2 Media Edition both run on Google’s Android(s goog) platform for tablets, but won’t ship with Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. Didn’t Motorola learn from its ill-fated original Xoom tablet?

Motorola’s Xoom was the first Android 3.0 tablet when it launched with Google’s Honeycomb software in February. But after spending time with the device, I found both the hardware and software to be rushed to market. The 4G radio Motorola touted wasn’t yet supported — and didn’t appear until six months later — while the user interface for Honeycomb seemed non-intuitive for mainstream consumers. Combine those observations with a high-price and lengthy contract, and you can see why Motorola hasn’t yet shipped a million Xoom tablets, let alone sold all of them.

So now we have two new Xoom tablets arriving, and both will ship with the marginally improved Android 3.2, not Android 4.0. Google has only introduced Android 4.0 publicly for use on smartphones, but we know the software is meant to unify smartphones and tablets. My guess is that tablet-makers are still working to integrate the new platform on their hardware or they simply don’t have it yet.

I understand that. But why release new hardware when new — and likely much better — software to run it is coming very soon? It’s easy to dismiss this by saying Motorola will offer an update to Android 4.0 in the future, but the delayed LTE upgrade doesn’t instill confidence in such a statement.

Anyway, a new software platform doesn’t change the hardware Motorola plans to ship. The Xoom 2 looks similar to its predecessor, with some subtle changes. The corners of the slate are slightly cut-off, much like some recent Motorola smartphone designs. The 10.1-inch tablet gains a chip that’s 20 percent faster, now a 1.2 GHz dual-core chip, and it shaves 100 grams in weight, plus it adds stylus support for enterprise customers.


Meanwhile, a consumer-focused smaller version is also launching. Most of the Xoom 2 Media Edition specifications are the same as the bigger Xoom 2, but the device uses an 8.2-inch screen and is around 40 percent lighter than its big brother. The smaller size means a smaller battery though: The Media Edition gets six hours of web browsing on a charge compared to 10 hours on the larger Xoom 2.

Both devices come with 1 GB of memory, 16 GB of storage capacity, a 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, Wi-Fi, and a splash-guard coating on the Corning Gorilla Glass(s glw) displays. Motorola hasn’t shared the price yet, so unless these are cost-competitive, I think they’ll need Android 4.0 to sell in meaningful numbers.

Some Android tablet enthusiasts will like these as they are of course, but I don’t see a compelling difference between these and the original Xoom. If that model didn’t sell, what’s going to move these off the shelves? There isn’t much, on paper at least, that addresses the reasons why the original Xoom wasn’t a big seller.