Back in June, Google launched the Nexus 7 tablet. It was as fast as most high-end tablets, and it only cost $200. It was a major hit. But not everybody is sold on the seven-inch form factor yet. Which is why the Nexus 10 is here to steal your hearts.
NOTE: At the time of our testing, the tablet's software was very nearly finished, but it was not yet final. This means that the results are subject to change with extended testing. The finished build will be pushed to devices before they go on sale. We will update with any changes.
Why It Matters
As mentioned in our Nexus 4 phone review, it's a Nexus. Not only is it the latest version of Android, it is pure Android. No third party UI's gumming things up. It's direct from the source. The Nexus 4 is the first device to get Android 4.2 (still called Jelly Bean), along side the Nexus 4 phone. Google tapped Samsung to make the hardware, and it may just be the nicest bit of mobile kit the company has ever produced.
The first thing you'll notice is just how bright and incredibly sharp the screen is. Then you'll pick it up and it just feels super thin. At 8.9mm it's a full half millimeter thinner than the current generation iPad, though it isn't quite as thin as some others (such as the Asus Transformer Infinity). It feels extremely solid and well-built. The back panel is a hard plastic that has been rubberized in a really interesting way. It's very smooth, but very grippy at the same time.
In landscape mode two long, thin speakers face you from either side of the screen. They pump out a terrific amount of sound. Music was pretty clear even at full volume, and when playing the game Dead Trigger, full volume was actually too loud. You don't often have that problem in a tablet, and it's a welcome one. It also has NFC and a 5MP rear-facing camera, two features you aren't likely to use on a tablet, but whatever.
Android 4.2 is terrific on this thing. In fact, it's even clearer what a big step it is on the Nexus 10 than it is on the Nexus 4. One thing that Android has lacked in the past is consistency and flow. It is now much more streamlined, intuitive, and it really takes advantage of the added screen real estate. For instance, rather than bundling settings and notifications together in a cluttered mess, they've been separated. Swipe down from the top-left of the screen and it brings down the notification panel. Swipe down from the top-right, and it brings down the quick settings. It's a subtle change, but there are a lot of subtle changes, and they add up.
Not all aspects of 4.2 were live yet in the version we tested. By the time it launches it will have support for different profiles. So, if your tablet lives in your living room, you and your partner (or roommates, or kids) can have separate profiles. Got a friend in from out of town? You can just set up a guest profile so he can check his email but he can't update your Facebook status for you (jerk). It's a nice feature (we've seen it on other tablets), but we haven't tested it yet.
You can get a "smart cover" for it, which will give it some screen protection, but frankly, it's rather ugly, it doesn't stay closed very well, and it's not really that smart. It's precarious as a stand. You may want to wait to see if third party companies design something better.
The screen! The screen the screen the screen. It is simply gorgeous. At 10 inches and 300ppi it's bigger and far higher resolution than the new retina iPads. 2560 x 1600 means more than 4 million pixels. That is absolutely insane. 1080p video looks terrific on it. I slapped some high resolution photos on there and they are astonishingly clear. Add the excellent speakers to the equation and this device is killer for watching videos and playing games. Very immersive.
As I mentioned in our Nexus 4 review, the new Gallery app is wonderful, and it's even better on a tablet. It's still easy to use for simply viewing photos, but if you want you can dive in extremely deep, tweaking your photos with pro-level features.
Project Butter is alive and well. Scrolling around the system is very fast and very smooth. It's a really pleasing user experience. Google Now is getting much more useful now that it can pull package tracking info, flights, hotels, and restaurant reservations directly out of your Gmail (should you choose to allow it). The voice input and speech-to-text entry is still second to none.
We got excellent battery life despite very heavy use and having the screen maxed out at full brightness. The tablet also has a micro HDMI port, which makes streaming video to an HDTV very easy.
Again, this software was not yet final. That said something was wrong with the radio on my device. It had major problems staying connected to my Wi-Fi router, and when it did, downloads came through at 1/5th the speed of the computer next to it. I tried it on a friend's network and couldn't get it to connect at all. I spoke to Google about it, and its rep told me, "it sounds like a problem we've isolated and will be fixed with the OTA that will be pushed with the consumer launch on 11/13." Here's hoping. At the same time, Gizmodo Editor-In-Chief Joe Brown had zero problems with radio connectivity on his home network, with speeds equal to or exceeding his MacBook Pro. It's possible that mine was a dud. We'll be doing more testing and will report back, but this was easily the tablet's biggest flaw.
Second biggest flaw? While the 1.7GHz dual-core Exynos 5 processor is more than capable for most tasks, when it gets down to heavy graphics loads, things start getting choppy. For example, when playing Dead Trigger (I love that game!) you can choose the level of graphics detail. When it was set to Low, the Nexus 10 had no problems at all, and the game still looks really good. But if you turn it to High to see all of the flourishes, suddenly things start getting really choppy and jumpy when there are multiple moving objects on the screen. Meanwhile the Nexus 7 (which has a the 1.5GHz quad-core Tegra 3) had the graphics turned to Ultra High, and it didn't miss a beat-though, to be fair, it has far fewer pixels to push. Generally speaking, more cores equals more parallel processing, which is what graphically intensive games need. Seems like a miss here, especially when Samsung is putting quad-core Exynos processors in the Galaxy Note II. If you're not a hardcore gamer, however, you won't notice or care. And again, this may improve with the software update.
You hear this argument a lot, "There just aren't enough tablet-optimized Android apps." While I think we can safely say there are more than enough, it's certainly true that the iPad has more tablet-optimized apps available for it. Some apps are just not set to scale, leaving a rather ridiculous-looking scene (see above). Also, this tablet could have been a photographer's best friend, offering an instant, "retina" quality look at his or her photos, and a powerful way to make some quick edits and share shots (via Gallery). Which is why the lack of an SD card slot is a shame.
Should I Buy It?
If the radio issue I experienced was a fluke, then very probably. For watching videos, browsing the web, viewing images, and casual gaming, this is simply the best tablet out there, and at $400, it's a good deal cheaper than the iPad. That said, gaming fanatics may want to drop the extra cash on a ten-incher with a quad-core processor, or sacrifice screen size and get the Nexus 7, which has the Tegra 3 and will be updated to Android 4.2 in the weeks to come (and only costs $200).
For now, since Joe didn't have any radio problems, we're going to give the tablet the benefit of the doubt and give it four stars. It's a very luxurious tablet at an extremely competitive price. It's like the Nexus 7 has a fancier big brother. Whether that fanciness is worth an extra $200 is up to you. We can concretely say that it's the best full-sized Android tablet experience we've had, and it probably edges ahead of the Nexus 7 as well.
The Nexus 10 will be available November 13th, at Google Play. The 16GB model will be $400, and the 32GB model will be $500. We'll be updating once the software is final, and star rating is subject to change.
Nexus 10 Specs
• Network: Wi-Fi
• OS: Android 4.2
• CPU: 1.7-GHz dual-core Exynos processor
• Screen: 10-inch 2560 x 1600 WQXGA, HD PLS (300 PPI)
• RAM: 2GB
• Storage: 16GB or 32GB
• Camera: 5MP rear / 1.3MP front
• Battery: 9000 mAh Li-Po
• Price: $400/16GB, $500/32GB
• Giz Rank: 4.0 stars