Google Nexus 10 review
The Nexus 10 is Google's latest big Android tablet. It follows a line of 10-inch devices that started with the Motorola Xoom, back in 2010, with the launch of Honeycomb, before the baton passed to Samsung.
This 10-inch tablet joins the Nexus 7 in Google's portfolio, giving you a choice of sizes. The thing that really differentiates the Nexus 10 from the sea of other Android tablets at this size is the high resolution of the display.
But is that enough to make the Nexus 10 a winner and what else does the larger Google tablet have on offer?
Samsung has released a lot of tablets in the past few years: some haven't seen the light of day, there has been controversy, pretty much every screen size – a tablet for everyone. But when it comes to tablet design, we feel there perhaps isn't the scope of variance that you have with smartphones.
The biggest differentiator, perhaps, is between those that get it right and those that get it wrong. Hard edges, ungainly weight, cheap materials or poor build quality detract from the experience in the hand.
Samsung has stuck to its preferred plastic for the back of the tablet. It has a tactile finish and although slightly hollow when tapped, it feels nice enough to hold. However it lacks the premium flourish of the iPad's aluminium casing, although the Nexus 10 is more affordable.
It's an unfussy design. Big Nexus lettering across the back follows the family styling, taking pride of place over the Samsung name beneath. The back wraps around the sides until it meets the display and the front-facing speaker grills.
The Nexus 10 measures 263.9 x 177.6 x 8.9mm, so it's pretty slim. It weighs in at 603g, which for a 10-inch tablet is pretty average: it's lighter and slimmer than the iPad 4, if you care about that sort of thing, but slightly fatter and heavier than Samsung's own Galaxy Note 10.1.
The power/standby button sits next to the volume rocker on the top of the device; there's a Micro-USB connection, along with a 3.5mm headphone socket on the left and over to the right is micro-HDMI, to hook up to a bigger display. On the bottom of the Nexus 10 is a docking connector, for future accessories.
An interesting detail is the panel that runs across the top of the rear of the tablet. This textured panel can be popped out so that you can attach the official "Book Cover" accessory. This is similar to the iPad's Smart Cover, in that is will lock the screen when you close it. It perhaps lacks the wow factor that Apple's (patented) cover offers, but it works well enough and, importantly, protects your screen from damage.
But the Nexus 10 isn't just another tablet: it's a tablet with an incredible display. With a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, it comes in at 300ppi. Sure, you can say it's more "retina" than the iPad's "Retina display" if you really wish, but in reality it isn't about numbers, it's about looks.
And the HD PLS display, finished in Corning Gorilla Glass 2, is a beauty to behold. PLS is designed to be Samsung's evolution beyond IPS. It offers fantastic viewing angles and excellent colour reproduction, although we feel the iPad might just edge it out on vibrancy.
The high resolution means everything is incredibly smooth. You can't see the pixels as you can when looking at a "typical" 1280 x 800 display, and this is evident from the lockscreen right through the visual experience of Android. Fire up an app - Google Play Books for example - and the covers of the books are rich and detailed.
The result is that almost everything looks better, from apps like IMDB to something like YouTube: the colour, text and icons just look better. That makes for a much more impressive tablet experience when it comes to basic navigation. Once you've set your eyes on the Nexus 10 and Jelly Bean in such sharp glory, you won't want to go back.
There's a caveat, however, and that's with content. Having a higher resolution display doesn't automatically mean everything looks better. Take the LinkedIn app for example – the opening sequence of this app is shocking quality and here it looks just as bad, if not worse, than it does on any large-screen Android device.
The same applies to images and video: if the source isn't a high enough resolution, then the benefits of the display can't be exploited here. Take the IMDB app for example. The text and thumbnails looks incredibly sharp on the Nexus 10, but fire up a trailer that's standard definition and it looks the same on the Nexus 10 as it does on the Motorola Xoom.
Fortunately you're not being asked to pay a premium for this cracking display, so you don't get the feeling you're losing out. When dealing with graphically rich content, like the original photos from your camera, you'll get more detail from the display, such as textures in fabrics that lesser displays won't give you. Fire up full HD video and you'll get the same thing: the display can and will show you more when there is more to see.
However, the Nexus 10 suffers as many tablets do with being reflective and attracting smeary fingerprints, so you'll be forever cleaning the screen. There is just about enough brightness on offer to remain visible outdoors and it is fine to use sitting next to a large window, although things can look a little milky in such conditions, especially when viewing from an angle.
Under the skin
Sitting at the core of the Nexus 10 is a Samsung Exynos 5 dual-core A15 processor, clocked at 1.7GHz and Mail T604 GPU. There's 2GB of RAM too and the result is an Android experience that's slick and fast. Of course, you benefit from the latest version of Google's OS too, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, which is incredibly snappy, so the performance here doesn't disappoint.
READ: Nexus 7 review
There is no option for memory expansion and the storage options from Google might look a little stingy: you have the choice of 16 or 32GB, which should be sufficient for many, but things will soon fill up if you plan on carrying round a large collection of HD movies. This might be the killer point for some - you can't just throw in a card loaded with content.
Wireless connectivity comes thanks to dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and dual-side NFC. Dual-side NFC simply means you can touch to either the front or the back of the device for an NFC function, like Android Beam.
Samsung has also equipped the Nexus 10 with a 5-megapixel autofocus camera on the rear, with LED flash, and a 1.9-megapixel camera on the front. We're not hugely bothered about rear cameras on a tablet - the omission on the Nexus 7 wasn't an issue for us - but we know that some people take photos with tablets so it's there if you want it, offering reasonable quality.
The rear camera offers the new user interface that Android 4.2 Jelly Bean brings with it, but you don't get the HDR mode that the Nexus 4 offers. You do, however, get the Photos Spheres mode, so you can construct your own 360-degree panoramas, to then share on Google Maps, or with another users via NFC.
The front-facing camera is designed mostly for video conferencing and may be more useful, especially for those wanting to stay in touch with friends and family when travelling, with reasonable quality on offer. The rear camera will give you 1080p video capture, whilst the front is 720p.
The Android tablet experience
Android tablets have had a chequered history, with odd software versions appearing, limited functionality and a sense that things just weren't right. Post-Honeycomb, things have been much better. Jelly Bean, two (and a bit) steps ahead, delivers a tablet experience that's rather more refined and better than Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich before it.
Things have been tweaked slightly to make Jelly Bean more akin to Android on a phone, so you have a conventionally placed apps tray button, rather than it hiding in the corner, and notifications and settings are access by dragging down from the top, rather than tapping the clock in the bottom corner.
It's a better arrangement with notifications and settings split. You can access notifications by dragging down on the left, or the setting, including a run of handy shortcuts, on the right. Everything is happy to rotate too, so you can use the tablet in portrait or landscape as you choose.
The Nexus 10 launches with Android 4.2 - the latest version of Jelly Bean. That brings with it a collection of tweaks, such as the camera interface and features we've mentioned. You get the new keyboard too, that not only offers predictive suggestions, but also swipe entry. As you'll know from our Nexus 4 review, we like swipe implementation in Jelly Bean and it's just as good on the Nexus 10.
READ: Nexus 4 review
The keyboard is large enough for two-handed typing, although you might find swiping out the words is a nicer form of interaction. It works well and in replying to emails, we found ourselves choosing to trace out words rather than bash them out with furious finger tapping.
The layout of Gmail is also pretty good, with dual column viewing so you can run down your email list and read the details, without skipping back and forth too often. You also now have zooming and resizing, so Gmail feels better than ever. The calendars are nice and slick too, again with pinch zooming, so staying productive is pretty simple.
If it's productivity you're interested in, the Google Drive works nicely, letting you access your documents and create new ones, while supporting multiple accounts, so you can easily switch between home or work, for example.
There is also support for multiple users. From the settings menu you can add additional users, who can then run through the setup process as normal and customise the Nexus 10 to their liking, adding content, changing the layout and signing in to personal accounts. You can have up to eight users, which should accommodate all but the largest of families.
Browsing and entertainment
When it comes to browsing, Chrome is the default browser and our browser of choice on Android. It offers advanced features like syncing with your other devices, so as long as you're logged in, you can quickly pickup something you were looking at elsewhere.
Chrome is beautifully slick and fast on the Nexus 10. You'll probably want to take advantage of the "request desktop site" option in the menu to use that screen size to best effect. With the High resolution display things look glorious, but here you find the other side-effect of that high-res support: some page elements won't look nearly as sharp as others, just as you find on the MacBooks with Retina display.
With support for Adobe Flash now gone, those interested in watching BBC iPlayer content will need to turn to the BBC Media Player app. Currently it's identified as unsupported in Google Play, however it will work if you sideload the app. The quality is poor, however, exacerbated here by the large screen size, so hardly worth the effort.
Some apps offer a much better video experience. Netflix, for example, offers both a great app and nice HD quality streaming so that your movies will look good on the Nexus 10. Many apps now take advantage of the larger displays that tablets off, either by offering an "HD" version, or through effective scaling of the app.
When pitched against the iPad though, there's still the sense that in some ways the Android tablet experience doesn't quite match the dedicated array of apps in Apple's ecosystem. If you're choosing between the two it's something to consider, but if you're already sold on Android you probably already know what's on offer.
It's still disappointing that some developers haven't done more to accommodate Android tablets, but that probably comes down to return for their investment. There's also the lingering feeling that apps that haven't taken advantage of lesser tablets are a long shot off making the best of what the Nexus 10 has to offer in terms of that display.
Within the Google system itself you have movies and books on offer through Google Play, with music launching in the UK on 13 November when the tablet goes on sale. That will round out Google's offering to compete with the likes of iTunes.
Play Music and Play Movies are the default apps for these respective services and work well enough, offering you online content (in the case of music) with the option to download locally to the device any music you might have uploaded to Google's servers.
We like the player, it's easy to navigate but there's no sign of the built-in equaliser to tailor the sound to your preference when using headphones. Music player controls slot into the notifications area nicely, as well as offering album art and controls from the lockscreen.
The speakers offer plenty of volume, firing forwards directly at you. The actual drivers are placed towards the top of the grill, so you're unlikely to cover them with your hands when gripping the tablet. The sound quality doesn't match that of the Kindle Fire HD, which is richer and offers better bass.
As we've said, movies look great on the Nexus 10. Google's own service is competitively priced for video rentals, but you don't get the option to download, so if you're looking to take your films on the move you'll have to source them elsewhere and sideload the files. There isn't hugely wide file type support, but if you've a stack of MPEG4 video files you'll be in luck.
Graphically, we found that the Nexus 10 handled games nicely. Need for Speed Most Wanted looks and sounds sensational, although we're almost tempted to say we prefer gaming on the smaller Nexus 7 as there's less to heft around when it comes to motion control. Shadowgun too looks amazing, albeit with some oddities when switching scenes. Less intensive games, like Angry Birds Star Wars HD, look stunning and play beautifully on a tablet of this size.
If it's reading you're interested in, the high resolution means that text is pin sharp, whether you're using Play Books or something like the Kindle app. But again, we think that for book reading, 10 inches is a little too large. For magazine content, however, or browsing Google Currents, the size makes is a more engaging experience.
The inclusion of the micro HDMI means you can easily move content on to the big screen, but there's no integrated support at an OS level for wireless sharing around a network. This is something that Samsung and Sony do with aplomb, but you'll be scurrying off for an app if you want to make this a more dynamic home media device.
The Nexus 10 has a 9000mAh battery inside. We found it took some time to get it to charge fully but then this isn't a tablet that will give you a gloriously long battery life. We suspect that's down to the display and certainly the battery monitor suggests that's the case.
We got around eight hours mixed use from the Nexus 10. That might keep you happy if you're after a home tablet that's never far from a charger, but if endurance is key, then you'll find better performers elsewhere, the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, for example.
The Nexus 10 brings with it some enhancements for tablets, the key one being the high-resolution display. It's a glorious thing to behold and it's difficult to cast our eyes on lesser Android tablets now as a result.
The performance is great too, with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean feeling snappy as you move around. Apps open quickly and Chrome pages load in a flash. It's also a much better tablet OS than older generations of Android have been - even if we're just talking about minor nips and tucks here and there.
But if you want longer battery life, or the option to expand the storage, then you might be drawn to something like the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, which offers you more flexibility for storage, greater endurance and a great display, but costs substantially more.
With the combination of competitive pricing and some impressive specs, the Nexus 10 is the tablet to beat at this price. If it's an Android tablet that you're after, it's definitely worthy of consideration.