After finding success with the Nexus 7, Google expands its tablet lineup with the Nexus 10. The 10-inch tablet features an incredibly high-resolution screen and packs a lot of power into a thin, lightweight package.
Moreover, at a starting price of $399, the Nexus 10 is competing head-to-head with Apple’s fourth-generation iPad and Amazon’s 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD. So how does the Nexus 10 stack up to other Android tablets? Can it compete with the iPad? To find out, we spent five days with the tablet.
Samsung designed the Nexus 10, but the look and feel is pure Google. The device is extremely light — but unlike some Android tablets (I’m looking at you, Galaxy Note 10.1), it doesn’t feel cheap.
The device has a nicely curved shape — almost oval-like. The two stereo speakers are nestled into the side and blend in with the backing. Speaking of the back, it’s rubberized and feels great in the hand. I never had a fear of dropping the tablet, its grippy nature adding a sense of substantiality to the device in spite of its svelte frame and weight. The back of the device can get warm with heavy use, but it doesn’t feel hot.
The device weighs a bit less than the third-generation iPad and is just as thin (technically it’s even thinner but we’re talking half a millimeter, which is almost impossible to quantify by sight or touch).
The only odd part of the device is how the Nexus 10 Book Cover connects. There is a plastic panel at the top of the rear side of the device that can be removed. From there, you snap the cover into place. The cover works like a Smart Cover — lift it up, the device turns on. The cover fits well and adds virtually no bulk to the device, but I dislike the method of getting it on and off.
In addition to a micro-USB cable which can be used for charging, there is also a micro-HDMI port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Apparently there is also a dock connector for easy charging, but we haven’t seen accessories that support it yet.
As with most tablets, the story behind the Nexus 10 is all about the screen. The Nexus 10 sports a super-high resolution 2560×1600-pixel display. To put that in perspective, my 27-inch iMac’s resolution is 2560×1440.
This gives the the Nexus 10 a higher pixel density than even the iPad. In actual real-world usage, I genuinely couldn’t tell the difference between the clarity of the two displays. I tried with text and with the same 1920×1080 video file — both looked fantastic.
Blacks on the Nexus 10 are very black and colors pop. I used the screen in a variety of lighting conditions and only in direct sunlight did I have an issue with the screen. Bottom line: It’s great.
Of course, the one downside of having such a high-resolution screen is that just like with the iPad Retina, imperfections are readily apparent. For instance, while Google has updated all its app icons to look great on the high resolution screen, most other app makers haven’t.
Because of the way Android’s user interface elements are built, most apps tend to look fine on the high resolution display — even without specific optimizations — but apps that use bitmaps for UI elements/buttons or core graphical components and don’t have high-resolution assets will look pixelated.
The web is really the biggest culprit — most websites haven’t shifted to a Retina-ready web. That’s improving as more high-resolution displays enter the market, but a caveat of having such a high-resolution display is that some sites and images just won’t look great. I think it’s a worthy trade-off for everything else you get with a high-density display.
The Nexus 10 has a 16:10 aspect ratio. This makes the screen well-suited for video and certain games, but maybe not as ideal for reading books or magazines.
Bottom line: The screen is fantastic.
With Android 4.2, Google has an interesting way of refining its existing Android experience. To wit, 4.2 still has the name “Jelly Bean,” same as Android 4.1. Unfortunately, I was unable to test some of the newest 4.2 features with the Nexus 10 because they aren’t ready. When the devices start shipping to customers, Google says the update will be in place.
I’m a big fan of Android 4.1/4.2, especially on a tablet. Because this is a Nexus tablet, it avoids using any skins such as TouchWiz or Sense. This is a good thing, because I find that the pure Google experience is getting better and better.
With other large-screen Android tablets we’ve reviewed, I’ve often run into force-closes and problem managing memory. That’s not the case with the Nexus 10. I didn’t see any force-close errors, and the OS managed tons of running apps without a hitch.
I did find that the tablet was less buttery smooth than the Nexus 7. This was particularly true when scrolling in web pages or in some third-party apps. I wouldn’t call it sluggish — but there is a sense of lag that you don’t see on the Nexus 7 or on the iPad.
If you’re new to Android, the Nexus 10 is a good starter device because Jelly Bean 4.2 strikes a nice balance between working out of the box and offering options for more personalized customization.
Battery Life and Performance
The Nexus 10 boasts a huge 9000 mAh battery. I wasn’t able to run conclusive battery tests, but I’ve only had to plug it in once since Wednesday — and that’s with fairly continuous use.
The dual-core A15 processor is extremely fast and I didn’t sense any lag with high-resolution graphics or games. Playing Grand Theft Auto III was lag-free.
Google says the Wi-Fi on the device is better than the competition — but in my tests, I couldn’t see any benefits or deficits against my other gear. I have a dual-band 802.11n router and typically run everything off of 5Ghz N for minimal interference. NFC and Bluetooth are also built into the tablet and both worked well.
The Nexus 10 has two cameras — a rear 5-megapixel camera and 1.9-megapixel front camera. Both are unremarkable. The front-facing camera works well for Skype or Google+ hangouts. The rear camera is acceptable, if not outstanding.
The Nexus 10 is a solid performer and it compares well with the iPad and other large-screen tablets on the market.
Apps (Or Lack thereof)
The biggest problem with the Nexus 10 has nothing to do with the hardware itself. It’s the apps. Or more directly, the tiny number of apps optimized for its display.
While Apple is proud to boast about its 275,000 iPad-optimized apps, Google is nearly silent about the number of apps designed for for Android tablets. Worse, the discovery process for apps optimized for large-screen Android tablets is nearly non-existent.
This is less of a problem for smaller tablets, such as the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7. After all, with 5-inch phones in the wild, scaling up for a 7-inch form-factor isn’t much of a stretch. When it comes to a 10-inch device, however, upscaled phone apps aren’t a great user experience.
More distressingly, the number of big-name apps with Android tablet-optimized versions is ridiculously small. Twitter doesn’t have an Android tablet app. Neither do Rdio, Spotify, The Weather Channel, The New York Times, eBay, LinkedIn, Skype (though Skype works just fine with tablets), Dropbox and many, many more. For the most part, the non-tablet versions of the apps work just fine on the Nexus 10, but the overall experience leaves something to be desired.
Flipboard is available on Android phones and on smaller tablets but I couldn’t even install it from Google Play. I was able to install the app via Amazon’s Appstore, but was presented with a warning that the app hadn’t been optimized for such a large screen. Sure enough, I wound up looking at an upscaled version of the phone interface, rather than a tablet.
In recent months, Google has started to take a more proactive approach, advising developers on tablet guidelines and curating collections of tablet-ready apps, but it doesn’t change the fact that finding apps to take advantage of the Nexus 10′s display is difficult in the best of circumstances.
Ultimately, I keep harping on the app situation because it’s the biggest issue facing not just the Nexus 10, but all large-screen Android tablets. Until the app situation is addressed in a meaningful way, it’s hard to recommend the Nexus 10 over the iPad — and that’s a real shame.
Using the Device
App issues notwithstanding, I found myself really enjoying the Nexus 10, especially for web browsing and watching video.
The tablet is light and its feather weight was really evident when I went back to my third-generation iPad after spending a few days with the Nexus 10 non-stop. The iPad felt heavy by comparison and I missed some of Android’s best features — such as easy access to settings from any screen.
I do want to note that as much as I enjoyed the tablet in landscape, I didn’t love using it in portrait. It’s just too tall and too narrow. I read a lot on my iPad — especially magazines — and the experience is nearly perfect. We’ll be discussing the magazine situation on the Nexus 10 (and Android in general) in a future article, but suffice to say, it’s not as enjoyable on a 16:10 device because the ratio really works against reading.
The same is true for reading regular books. Where the Nexus 7 makes a perfect sized e-reader, the Nexus 10 suffers because of its size. Books are best read in two-page side-by-side mode in the Kindle and Google Books apps, but in portrait, the screen feels too narrow.
There are so many great things about the Nexus 10 — its screen and build quality, its great battery life and fast performance — not to mention the UI enhancements with Android 4.2. It’s a really solid device, except for one glaring, unavoidable reality: The apps.
Google has done an admirable job with all of its apps, and for those who never stray from the Google ecosystem, the tablet is a joy to use. For everyone else, using upscaled phone apps (often with forced orientations) is a frustrating use of what is otherwise such an excellent tablet.
For the average user, I’d have a hard time recommending the Nexus 10 over the fourth-generation iPad, because the iPad’s extra $100 cost is worth the greater tablet ecosystem. But the Nexus 10 is far and away the best large-screen Android tablet hardware I’ve used. If nothing else, it’s a solid example of what is possible on Android. With any luck, it will encourage Android developers to start making tablet-friendly apps.
What do you think of the Nexus 10? Sound off in the comments.