Review: Google's Nexus 10 is the Android tablet we've always wanted—almost
At a Glance
Specs and performance
Inside, the Nexus 10 packs Samsung's Exynos 5 system-on-a-chip, which features a 1.7GHz ARM v7 Cortex A15 dual-core processor, along with ARM's Mali T604 GPU. It also has 2GB of system memory—double what practically all other Android tablets available today have. The extra memory can help with multitasking and with handling graphics.
In our lab's benchmark tests, the Nexus 10 performed well on most but not all of the tasks we set for it. It scored the highest of any tablet on Geekbench, dramatically outpacing Nvidia Tegra 3-based tablets; and it came out noticeably ahead of the fourth-generation iPad. It performed respectably in our HTML5, SunSpider, and Web page load tests, scoring among the top performers. And it was the best Android tablet on our GLBenchmark 2.5.1's Egypt Classic and Egypt HD Offscreen tests, turning in frame rates of 34 frames per second and 78 fps, respectively. But the Nexus 10 scored lower than Tegra 3-based tablets on AndEbench's native test, though it bested the competition on the Java test.
The Nexus 10 performed well on our battery life tests, too. It lasted 8 hours, 55 minutes while playing back a high-definition video on continuous loop, at a brightness of 200 nits. That's about one hour longer than the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity; a half-hour longer than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1; and the same as Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT. The third-generation iPad's lasted 10 hours, 46 minutes.
Android 4.2: Most polished Android OS
I've been using Android tablets since the dawn of the Android 3.0 Honeycomb era. Android 4.2 represents a dramatic change from even 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which offered, in its most basic interface design, the same experience as Android 3.x.
The Nexus 10 is the first 10-inch tablet to carry any version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Previously, Jelly Bean shipped on the 7-inch Google Nexus 7; and that tablet will receive an over-the-air update to Android 4.2.
Though it carries over some of 4.1's interface tweaks, Android 4.2 adds some features that are optimized for the roomier displays on 10-inch tablets. Some of the enhancements borrow heavily from tablet manufacturers' own custom launcher tweaks to Android; others echo directions Microsoft took with Windows Phone 8.
The lock screen is an example. With Android 4.2, you can customize the lock screen with widgets supplied by Google and (in the future) by third-party developers; and you can unlock the tablet and jump directly into the camera app. (This feature will be fully implemented on November 13.) The new lock screen's ring-style design for unlocking the tablet directly into an app is very reminiscent of Acer's Ring navigation on its Android tablets. And Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 lets you add specific apps directly to your lock screen.
As on the Nexus 7, I found it handy to have Google's core apps pinned to the launcher along the screen's bottom dock (here, the roomier display accommodates seven apps to the Nexus 7's five); the same goes for having a ready-made folder of Google apps. The app drawer is unchanged from Android 4.1 in its presentation, as are the new Google-supplied widgets.
The home screen has a prominent Google search bar running along the top. The aesthetics of the bar differ slightly from those in Android 4.1. The Nexus 10 is the first 10-inch tablet that ships with Google's search-based service, Google Now. The latest version of Google Now includes information on nearby events and concerts, reminders about hotel and flight reservations, and even details about attractions and photo-ops near you. Your satisfaction with Google Now is likely to be a matter of taste, but it's good to see Google continue advancing this feature.
Many of the tablet's core apps get a refresh with Android 4.2. The Google Music Player, for instance, has a slightly punched-up design; and the Gmail app lets you swipe email messages from your inbox directly to an archive (regrettably, the app's new design also complicates the previously clear and simple process of downloading files). The Gallery app delivers zippy performance, though I did notice a slight lag in its rendering of high-resolution images as I swiped among photos in an album. Unfortunately, the Gallery's preview thumbnails still look pixelated, and it's much too easy to delete an image accidentally by swiping it off the screen (oops).
The most substantial app change involves the camera, which gets a completely new interface that's faster and more streamlined than Google's earlier iterations. Also on-board is Google's Photo Sphere, which—like Microsoft's Photosynth, in Windows Phone 8—lets you take pictures in every direction to create immersive 360-degree photos. It's a cool idea, but in practice Photo Sphere fumbled on the shots I tried; it did an unimpressive job of stitching the images together.
Among the new features in Android 4.2 are voice search (which includes limited navigation and speech-to-text); gesture typing, similar to what Swype and SwiftKey offer; and Miracast wireless display support (coming in a future update). In an update that will be included when the tablet ships on November 13, Google will also add support for multiple users, each with their own sign-in, home screen, and customized interface and apps. This feature may be handy if you share your tablet with multiple people in your home, for example.
In my hands-on experience with Android 4.2, I found the tablet highly responsive. Moving among apps and home screens was quite fluid, perhaps a reflection of Google's “Project Butter” enhancements introduced with Android 4.1.
Not all aspects of the new update work well on a 10-inch tablet, however. The notifications and settings panel has been split in two and moved to the upper left and right corners of the screen, accessible via a pull-down shader, just as on the Nexus 4 phone and the Nexus 7 tablet. Previously, this information was accessible from the bottom right corner of the display, requiring a simple tap that demanded less finger-travel than the new top position does.
Similarly, the three core virtual navigation buttons have shifted from the bottom left of the display to the center, bringing their placement more in line with the way they appear on Android phones. This positioning makes sense on a phone's display, but again the location works less satisfactorily on a 10-inch tablet. The same might be said of Google's altered presentation of recently accessed apps: Previously a narrow filmstrip of pop-up icons flush left, they now appear in a carousel-like design that takes over the entire screen. I found the new design handy in some cases, and annoying in others.
One good thing about Google's interface tweaks is the aforementioned settings panel. Google has expanded the panel to encompass a wider swath of settings options, similar to the approach that other Android tablet makers have taken. Google uses a tile design rather than the rotating carousel that Acer, Asus, and Samsung use; the advantage is you can see your options with a single touch. The tiles look a bit bulky on screen, and it's difficult to tell whether you can customize the options (evidently you can't customize them, at least for now), but this panel is a welcome addition to the stock Android OS. For example: You can now track battery life down to the percentage left, without digging levels deeper into the menus.
The Google Nexus 10 is the best 10-inch-class Android tablet you can buy today. The clarity of its high-pixel-density display puts it in a class by itself. Take into account its reasonable price and the benefits of its offering the latest version of Android, and this model is a worthy challenger to the Apple iPad.
Review: Google's Nexus 10 is the Android tablet...