Review: Google Nexus 10 Android Tablet (16GB)

Google’s first attempt at a full-fledged Android tablet got us pretty excited when it was announced at the end of October. Following in the footsteps of the Asus-designed Nexus 7 (which we reviewed back in August.) the Nexus 10 further consolidates Google’s intention to compete with the likes of Apple and Amazon in the provision of digital media content. So how does Google’s flagship tablet stack up against the competition?

First Impressions
Initial first impressions of the Nexus 10 are pretty good. Designed by Samsung, the device is solidly built and has a premium feel to it. The tablet’s plastic and glass construction isn’t quite on a level with the iPad’s aluminium chassis but it certainly doesn’t feel cheap. The tablet is clad in a rubberised plastic material which feels quite nice in the hand, although it’s not quite as luxurious as the dimpled material on the Nexus 7 which felt almost like leather. On the plus side, the matte finish is non-slip, so the device is unlikely to slip off a surface (or through sweaty fingers), although that does make it a magnet for fingerprints.


The soft touch rubberised finish on the Nexus 10 is nice, but it is a magnet for fingerprints

At 263.9 mm x 177.6 mm x 8.9 mm, the Nexus 10 is thinner and narrower than the iPad while also being slightly taller. It’s also about 50g lighter than the iPad, but even at 600g it still has enough of a heft to it that it avoids feeling plasticky. That said, even with the reduced weight users probably won’t find the device too comfortable to use one-handed, especially for extended periods.

On the back of the device, near the 5 megapixel rear-facing camera is a dimpled rubber panel that can be peeled off and replaced with a Google-branded smart cover to protect the screen. While we haven’t yet seen the smart cover and there have been no announcements about release dates or pricing, the cover connector doesn’t seem half as innovative as the magnetic one on the iPad which could be attached and detached with relative ease. Of course given the legal hostility between Apple and Samsung, this probably isn’t too surprising.

On the narrow edges of the Nexus 10, speaker grilles run from top to bottom, with the power button and volume rocker located along the top edge of the device. The buttons are suitably discrete, however holding the tablet in landscape means you have to reach around to the top to access them. As a result changing the volume while watching a video or listening to music can be a bit fiddly and means the tablet isn’t as ergonomically friendly as it could be.

Also on the short edges of the device are the MicroUSB slot, a Micro HDMI, a magnetic pogo pin charge socket and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Most notably however, there is no microSD card slot to expand the memory (more on that later).

Overall, the Google Nexus 10 is a nice-looking and high quality tablet. However, having owned both a Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10, the Nexus 10 feels like a completely different beast to the Nexus 7. Besides the embossed Nexus logo on the back of the device, there’s little to connect the Nexus 10 to the Nexus 7 or to show that the device belongs to the same family. This is obviously more to do with Google’s business strategy than any fault with either the hardware or the design, but it does raise the question of what a Nexus device really is. If you buy an iPad you know what you’re getting and the Apple name means something. Can the same be said of a brand that is being constantly redefined by multiple manufacturers?

On paper, the hardware on the Nexus 10 is impressive. The first thing users will notice (and which many commentators have rightly focused on) is the Nexus 10’s screen. The Nexus 10 boasts a 10” display with an eye-popping 2560 x 1600 (300ppi) resolution. Not only does it beat retina display on the iPad, but it’s actually equal to the screen resolution on a Macbook Pro. It’s perfect for watching HD movies or looking at photos. Colours are bright and vibrant, a big improvement on the Nexus 7 display which despite having a lower resolution looked a little washed out contrast-wise.

Powering the Nexus 10 is an Exynos 5 processor (which includes a 1.7 ghz dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processor and a Mali-T604 GPU chipset) and 2 gb of DDR3 RAM. While this should be more than up to the task for most of what you’ll be throwing at it, when playing graphically intensive games some lag can creep in which means that performance isn’t quite where it should be as the screen resolution requires the CPU and GPU to render that many extra pixels.

So you can find that games which worked flawlessly on the Nexus 7, with its lower system memory and screen resolution, can run into frame rate issues on the Nexus 10 because of the extra load on the processor to power the screen. What’s more while the GPU on the Nexus 10 is supposedly superior to that in the Nexus 7, it isn’t Tegra 3 compatible, so if like me you’ve already bought THD optimised games for the Nexus 7, you won’t be able to run them on the Nexus 10.

Battery life on the device is pretty good although not spectacular. In relative terms, it’s about equivalent to the Nexus 7 – with moderate use and with the WIFI switched on, you can expect to charge the device every couple of days.

Unfortunately when you do need to charge the Nexus 10, the supplied microUSB mains charger isn’t up to the task. The experience isn’t too dissimilar to trickle charging a smartphone through a PC USB slot. If you’re charging an almost dead battery, don’t expect to disconnect the device for the best part of a day. What’s more, the charge rate drops significantly if you’re using the device while it’s plugged in. There have been some rumours circulating online about a pogo charger, which should improve matters, but so far no details have surfaced regarded a release date or price point. It’s disappointing that having spent over £300 on the device to then be nickel and dimed for a proper charger. Of course, this is nothing new to Apple customers.

Unlike the Nexus 7, which only provided a front-facing camera (so paltry that no native app was provided for it), the Nexus 10 sports both a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash and a front-facing 1.9 megapixel camera. While certainly functional, neither of these are particularly stellar – the rear camera especially given the lower megapixel count produces dull and washed out images. Arguably you’re not going to use a tablet camera all that often, but it would have been nice if the tablet’s camera was at least on par with current mobile phones.

Happily sound quality on the Nexus 10 is excellent, thanks to the speakers running down the narrow sides of the device. You’d think that having speakers right where you’d put your hands to hold the tablet in landscape mode would muffle the sound. Having had a play about with it, I couldn’t find any point on the device where my hands interfered with the sound quality.

Software and user experience
The Nexus 10 runs Android 4.2, which Google is describing as ‘a new flavour of Jellybean’ and it’s really an evolution of the operating system rather than a brand new iteration. Most of the refinements are under-the-hood and are more or less invisible, such as automatically resizing widgets to make it easier to customise the home screens, or making more intelligent use of CPU resources to increase battery life.

Google has also built on Google Now – the key new feature of the original incarnation of Jellybean which uses your search history to predict information it thinks you want to see, returning the results in the form of info cards. As Google’s answer to Siri on iOS Google Now was a feature with a lot of potential, but besides telling me about the weather and how long my commute to work would be I never found much of a use for it. Android 4.2 adds a number of new info cards - from flights, hotels and restaurant reservations to nearby attractions, events and movie and concert times. You can read the full list of features here.

One of the biggest new features of Android 4.2 is that it can now host multiple user accounts on the same device. For a device like the Nexus 10, this feature really comes into it’s own as it makes the tablet a device that the whole family can use, although you’ll need to download a third party app if you want to stop your kids browsing adult sites or installing apps.

Android 4.2 also offers a new stock keyboard which supports gesture typing in the same manner as SlideIT or Swype. While I still prefer Swiftkey X, the new stock keyboard is a vast improvement on previous versions and once you get the hang of it, the gesture typing becomes second nature.

The final major new feature bundled with Android 4.2 is the Photo Sphere camera app. This is Google’s answer to the panorama mode on Apple’s iPhoto and offers a range of photo stitching options, including the namesake Photo Sphere mode which allows you to create to take 360 degree panoramic photos. The effect works about well as you’d expect, but it’s far from seamless. If you imagine standing in a fishbowl with photos crudely pasted around the outside, that’s the effect you get. You can get an idea of how this works from the short video below.

Overall Android 4.2 is a big improvement on 4.1 but it’s not without a few technical glitches. In the few weeks we’ve had the Nexus 10, the device froze or soft-reset on at least five occasions – often when using the Chrome browser. Occasionally rendering a page would completely freeze the tablet, forcing me to hard reset the device and power it on again. It’s more of annoying than anything and I haven’t found it to be a real hindrance on using the tablet, however some users may prefer to install a third party mobile browser like Firefox until Google comes up with a fix.

While the Android operating system is evolving in leaps and bounds the same cannot be said of the app landscape. As with the Nexus 7, the Nexus 10 falls far behind Apple in terms of tablet optimised apps. This is more apparent on the Nexus 10 with its larger screen than on the Nexus 7.

The issue has as much to do with the variety of hardware specs running Android as it is to do with commercial considerations. For example, if you buy an iPad you can get Lovefilm Instant, however that same feature is only available on Android if you buy a Kindle Fire. There is no reason for this other than that Amazon and Google are in competition with other over the provision of digital content.

Flipboard on the Nexus 10: one of the few Android apps formatted specifically for tablets

Luckily Google’s content offerings have improved a lot over the last few months with the Play store now offering magazines, music in addition to movie rentals. However, if you aren’t interested in buying content the Play store now allows you to upload any music you own to the cloud which you can then either stream over WIFI or download onto any android device with the Play Music app. Crucially, the Play Music can be used to transfer your music from an iTunes account, which will come as a welcome relief for anyone looking to jump off the Apple bandwagon.

Of course the relative wealth of media content now available through Google has to be set against the low storage space on the Nexus 10. Storage space was an issue on the Nexus 7 but it’s even more apparent on the Nexus 10. Even more frustrating is that the price difference between the 16gb and 32gb versions is about £60, a huge markup on the cost of the flash memory. The tablet also only supports WIFI connectivity, which is extremely limiting for a device designed for content consumption, as the only way you can really make the most use out of it is if you’re connected all the time.

The holy grail for tablet enthusiasts is that one day a tablet could replace their laptop or desktop PC. In terms of hardware, the Nexus 10 has the potential to do pretty much everything that a laptop or desktop PC could, bar high-end 3D gaming. However, the software just isn’t there yet and the ecosystem for tablet apps on Android has evolved little from this time last year. It’s something to bear in mind if you’re considering buying any Android tablet (not just the Nexus 10). The iPad comes with a steep price tag but it also comes with an unparalleled user experience that Android still can’t match.

If you’re in the market for a 10” tablet that doesn’t have an Apple logo on it, then the Nexus 10 is a must-have purchase. It’s a well-built device that offers premium hardware at a price that undercuts pretty much anything from Cupertino’s stable. However, buyers should consider the device’s shortfalls before taking the plunge. The limited on-board storage, the lack of 3G/4G connectivity and a shortage of tablet-optimised apps are much harder to overlook on a device that costs over £300 than they were on the Nexus 7. Users looking for portability would be better off considering the Nexus 10’s smaller brother, which offers an almost identical user experience at a much lower price.

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