The end of year is traditionally when Google launches its new “pure Android” smartphone, but this year, Google came up with more than that. The Nexus 10 represents not only the best there is in terms of Android software, but incidentally, Google has also pushed the envelope in terms of hardware design and specifications. The company has worked with Samsung to design, and build what is simply the most powerful Android tablet to date. The specifications are quite evident.
With an amazing 2560×1600 display, and Samsung’s fastest processor to date, the Google Nexus 10 screams “high-end”. Yet, Google will sell it at a mere $400, which is significantly lower than competing devices. It is a strategy that Google has rolled out with the Nexus 7, and so far, it seems to take hold, so Google is now extending it to three Nexus products: 4, 7 and 10.
In this review, we will go over the Nexus 10 hardware, and the Android 4.2 features. Hopefully, by the end of it, you should have a good idea of how it is to use one of those in the real world. Ready?
|Surface RT||iPad (Gen 3)||Transformer Infinity||Nexus 10|
|Display type||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||Super PLS LCD|
|Processor||NVIDIA Tegra 3||Apple A5X||NVIDIA Tegra 3||Exynos 5250|
|Storage GB||32, 64||16,32,64||32, 64||16, 32|
|Camera back Megapixel||1||5||8||5|
|Camera front Megapixel||1||0.3||2||1.9|
We all use tablets differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my tablets: I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. some of them have become a favorite smart remote for the TV, but most of the time, I’m mostly interested by their long battery life, which I can use to offset my laptop use.
On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from…
To put it simply, the design of the Google Nexus 10 is beautiful. The front of the tablet is made of a pristine black glass surface from edge to edge. There is a 1.9 Megapixel camera at the top, and on there are big speaker grills on the left and right side of the screen. In theory, this is the best possible location for the speakers, because the sound is projected directly towards the user.
Every side has some connectors or controls. At the bottom, there is a 6-pin dock connector. On the right, you will find the HDMI port, at the top there are the Power and Volume controls on the upper-left edge. Everything is pretty clean, and the HDMI port will ensure that the tablet can output video to all HDMI-equipped TVs. That’s not the case for MHL over USB video output.
The backside is made of plastic with a soft-touch surface, which makes the Nexus 10 a little lighter (1.32lbs) than the iPad (1.44lbs) and the Surface RT tablets (1.5lbs). Only the Transformer Infinity remains lighter at 1.25lbs. I really like the soft touch treatment which gives a solid grip when holding the tablet. This is an issue that I have regularly with the iPad, and while it’s not a deal-breaker, it can be annoying, or dangerous if you actually drop the tablet.
The Nexus branding and the Samsung branding are prominent, but don’t detract from the overall design. I’m really glad that Google hasn’t used the “brown” color from the early Nexus,and chose instead to use a “gun metal” dark gray.
The final note that I’ll add is that there are two NFC contacts in this tablet: one in the front, and one in the back. This has been added so that you could use NFC without having to turn the tablet 180 degrees depending on the situation. For example, to copy files, the front can be used, and to “bump” information between two phones, the back NFC works great.
Overall, I find the industrial design to be excellent and high-quality. Unless you are adamant to feel metal when you touch the tablet, I expect most people to be pleased with the quality of this device. It’s a matter of personal preferences obviously, so check the photo gallery and tell us what you think in the comments.
Display (best in class)
Without a doubt, Samsung’s 10” 2560×1600 display is the star of the show here, and you can expect to find this on future Samsung products going forward. This screen has nearly 1 million more pixels than the best Apple has to offer (4M vs 3.1M pixels) in the iPad gen 3.
As you can imagine, the text is razor-sharp, and magazines look as sharp as glossy paper magazines. Of course, matte paper has a different feel, but in terms of sharpness, the 300dpi of the screen is equivalent. It’s impressive. That’s why Google now features HD magazines in Google Play. They are absolutely beautiful.
But resolution isn’t all: the image quality of the Samsung display is stunning. The view angle, and color rendering is largely comparable, if not better than the IPS displays the that competition has in store. To make a long story short this is the best display available for tablets.
What’s new in Android 4.2?
Android 4.2 supports Wireless Display via MiraCast, a WiFi-based protocol that Google is backing. The idea is simple: none of the previous wireless standards have been able to become a de-facto standard, and Google would like to promote MiraCast in Android so that we can finally get wireless displays going. LG will be among the first display manufacturer to announce MiraCast support in their HDTVs. For older televisions, there is a MiraCast to HDMI adapter that receives the MiraCast data stream and converts it into HDMI signal.
Multi-user (yes!!) is surely one of the most important and prominent feature of Android 4.2. If you already own a tablet, you may not like it when someone else, even in your family, grabs it and can have access to your emails, or mess with your setting — and it may be your kids deleting stuff or ordering apps.
Android 4.2 introduces the possibility of having up to 8 user accounts. Each user will have his/her own set of applications and the user data will be completely separated from one another. App files will not be duplicated however, so if a user installs an app that is already on the system, the download will be instantaneous. Also, apps are updated for all users at once. This is really a great feature and although some vendors had worked on adding this, it’s fair to say that such a feature should be built into the OS and this is now done. Final point: it works only on tablets.
Day Dream is similar to a screensaver app: basically you can get your tablet to display information when it docked or charging (your choice). For instance, if I want to keep tabs on Ubergizmo, I can add Ubergizmo to Google Currents and set the news reader as a Day Dream. News will update automatically. There’s a Day Dream API, so any app can become a Day Dream. This is located in Settings > Display.
Music Explorer is a very cool music author/band graph that lets you quickly discover authors within a style. This is not only very nice user-interface exercise, but what I like is that it’s actually much faster than navigating the Google Play pages. Frankly, this is a geeky interface that trumps traditional design convention in a really good way.
New HD magazines with 300 dpi content: I’ve tried downloading and reading Popular Mechanics. The magazine is beautiful and seeing it with the high-resolution display is really nice. Although small, the text is still legible, but honestly, this is a bit too small to read comfortably, even though I have 20/20 on both eyes. This is mainly because Popular Mechanics is laid out as a letter-sized magazine, and while you can squeeze all that content into a 10” display, a letter-size page has almost 2X the surface, so this is not comfortable to read. Other magazines may have a more appropriate layout, but you basically need to keep an eye out for that before you make the purchase.
Virtual keyboard (improved!): Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.
Google has introduced gesture typing, a feature in which you swipe your finger from one letter to the other to form words. It is similar to apps like SWYPE, but it seems faster and better integrated. As you swipe, Android displays its “best guess” as to what you’re trying to type. If the suggestion is correct, just release the swipe and the complete word and a space will be added to the current text. It’s neat.
The current word suggestion follows the finger as you swipe to stay close to the finger that your eyes are tracking. The gestures are completely integrated in the regular keyboard, and surprise – it’s possible to swipe with TWO finger at once. “Making both keyboard modes (normal+gestures) work together was a challenge” says Google.
Email (classic): There are no significant changes in the email client compared to Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) tablets. If you are not familiar with it, the user interface is fairly efficient and it is possible to quickly “star” (flag) emails, or select multiple of them before applying an action (delete, move to folder…).
Once you click on an email, the view changes with the current email folder list on the left and the current email no the right. This is a good setup and overall this works pretty well. If you are used to Microsoft Office, you may want to compare this with the Windows 8 RT version in our Microsoft Surface RT tablet review.
Facebook (meh): the Facebook Android app is not optimized at all for tablet usage. It is basically a blown-up version of the smartphone version and does not take advantage of the large display. Facebook would argue that users should use the browser on a tablet, but I disagree, the browser is significantly slower on a tablet than it is on a PC, so a Facebook app optimized for tablets would be the best solution. The larger photos are the only thing that is better on the tablet. Finally, I really like the Facebook widget to quickly post a status or check-in. When used properly, widgets are powerful accelerators.
Google Maps (amazing in HD): you know, Google Maps is already the best mapping system our there, but when you combine it with the 2560×1600 HD display, it is absolutely amazing. you can see a lot of maps, and even minute details are visible. Despite moving 4M pixels during scrolling, things stay fast: mostly 30FPS to 60FPS if the map tiles data have been already downloaded. Finally, the ability to download maps to be used offline remains a great time and data usage saver. Google Maps remains the king of the hill – by far.
Skype runs really well with the Google Nexus 10. This is probably the best Android device I’ve seen for Skype. The incoming video quality is comparable with a PC laptop, and the outgoing video quality is better than any other Android tablet we’ve tried.
Video (excellent): With such a display, it’s obvious that Entertainment is going to be a major strength for the Nexus 10. Every movie that we tried look fantastic, and even the native 1080p resolution is not enough to show the 2560×1600 display in all its glory. It’s not clear if Google does some sort of fancy up-scaling when playing 1080p movie, but maybe that would help further.
Just to push things further, I found and downloaded the 2560p movie from Timescapes that fits the native resolution of the Google Nexus 10. Only then the full beauty of the 2560×1600 display was revealed. You have to see it for yourself: having 2X more pixels than 1080p on a 10” display is stunning.
Gaming (very good): We tried playing Riptide GP on the Nexus 10, and it ran ran mostly at 60FPS with some rare drop at 30FPS. The game didn’t run in the native 2560×1600 resolution, but it was scaled up. A screenshot shows this pretty clearly, but interestingly enough, some of the 2D user interface elements did seem to be displayed at the full-resolution. I suspect that most games will behave like that, until the developer specifically add a 2560×1600 option, so we’ll keep an eye on future updates. In any case, the graphics performance is excellent, so this is a top hardware for gaming.
Speaker-quality (excellent): as I said earlier, the speaker placement is excellent and it is one of the most important thing when it comes to sound quality for a tablet speaker. Whether you have the tablet on a table, or in your hand, the sound is projected directly towards you, so it’s easier to control. The design does not rely on a weird sound-bounce from a surface. The result is a sound that is loud, crisp and full – in short, great.
Digital Imaging (excellent)
For both still shots or video recording, the Google Nexus 10 does a very good job. The camera that Samsung provided is noticeably better than the one in the Nexus 4 smartphone, particularly in low-light. With the Nexus 10, most shots can be taken in auto-mode, and I am very happy with the results.
The camera app gets a new minimalist design which is extremely clean and focuses on snapping photos. Yet, it is quick and easy to access many options. I have seen this type of user interface in 3D modeling software like Maya. It is very efficient at shortening fingers gestures, reducing the number of taps required to take action, and displaying a lot of useful information at once – it’s a proven concept. After capturing photos, it’s also very easy to sort them and discarding a photo is as easy as a swipe up.
The camera also gets a feature called Photo Sphere which allows users to snap 360 degrees panoramas by stitching photos taken all around you. After capturing the photos, the Camera app can work in the background to stitch them. In the meantime, you are free to use your phone in whichever way you like. When it’s done, you can look at your 360 degrees photos as a 3D image, or as a cube map.
Head to our Ubergizmo FLICKR account to see full-size untouched images.
Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.
The Antutu Benchmark is interesting because it shows that the Nexus 10 easily leads every other dual-core systems and gets close to quad-core systems. This may not look impressive, but keep in mind that Antutu scales nearly perfectly with more cores, and check the single-core performance:
This graph clearly shows that each core in the Nexus 10’s main chip is significantly faster than anything else we have tested in the past. Why is single-core performance important? Because faster single-core performance accelerates every app while multicore helps only a small number of apps that have been optimized to handle several cores.
GLBenchmark Egypt, offscreen 1080p: this test has been designed to “stress” the graphics processor (GPU) by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in many different environments (indoors, outdoors…).
Again the Google Nexus 10 dominates other Android tablets with ease. If OEMs decide to use the Snapdragon S4 Pro in upcoming products, this may provide “some” competition, but we’re just about sure that the Samsung chip in the Nexus 10 would end up winning the graphics fight on the Android side. Apple’s A6 has an edge in polygon performance and that may be important for ultra-high resolution games, but I have yet to see many of those. Most games that I’ve tried on both platforms run in lower resolution with an up-scaling.
“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
As you may expect, the perceived performance is excellent and everything is fast and fluid. The faster processor performance makes the app loading and a host of operation faster, so this basically makes the Google Nexus 10 the fastest Android tablet to date, and the difference is actually perceptible, which is great for prospective buyers.
Battery life (9000 mAh)
We are still running some battery tests, so keep an eye for an update of this section, but with a 9000mAh battery, we expect the Google Nexus 10 to perform very well. Of course, some of the extra battery capacity will be diverted to the display, but this is a huge capacity. Stay tuned.
Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.
With the Google Nexus 10, Google and Samsung have managed to come up with a technological wonder. Google has made the right calls in term of aesthetics and industrial design, while Samsung was able to bring the best hardware to the game. The display is beautiful and the system has enough muscles to handle any media you throw at it.
The most surprising aspect of the Google Nexus 10 is the price: At $399 (16GB, WiFi), the Google Nexus 10 is significantly cheaper than Apple’s iPad 4 which beats it only in polygonal graphics. This is a very aggressive pricing, especially if you think that this powerful tablet costs a mere $70 more than the iPad mini which is far less potent.
If you want a tablet for basic things like email, web, gaming and apps, this is the best option for now. It is both cheaper and better than most of the competition. There are a few exceptions: if you want a stylus, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a better alternative, and if you need Microsoft Office compatibility, the Microsoft Surface RT would be better. Unless you absolutely want iOS, there is simply no compelling reason to pay $100 more for an iPad. If you do, well… it’s settled.
The Google Nexus 10 will be available from the Google Play store on Tuesday Nov. 13.