Google Nexus 10: Fastest and most impressive Android tab yet, but feels cheap

The latest Android tablet from Google and Samsung has a lot to offer, but its plasticky construction and lack of good optimized applications should give you some pause.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
On Friday, having been stuffed to the gills the previous day on BBQ smoked Thanksgiving turkey, mushroom bread pudding, wild rice & sausage dressing and all sorts of holiday delights, I awoke to the sound of the UPS man leaving a package on my doorstep.

It was the new Nexus 10 tablet I had just ordered a few days before, the 32GB model. I shrieked like a little girl as I raced to the front door, still in just my underwear, and snatched it from under the doormat and flew back inside, like one of those trap door spiders.

I went into the kitchen to grab a knife to open up the box and brought it over to the coffee table where I gleefully showed my new acquisition to my wife, not unlike the proud behavior of one of my dogs after having just caught and killed a small animal, offering it up for my approval.

"Is that the thing you just spent over five hundred bucks on?"

"Yeah! It's the new Nexus 10."

"And you need one of these in addition to your $700 iPad because..."

"Because I gave you my Nexus 7 and I need a new Android tablet. My others are too old and can't run the new Jelly Bean OS."

"Happy Chanukah, honey."

At first glance, the Nexus 10 is... uninspiring and well, disappointing. It's a black plastic slab with a big pane of glass on the front, with a rubberized coating on the back to prevent the device from slipping. It's plasticky, and doesn't feel like something you just blew four or five C-notes on.

In terms of pure aesthetics, it looks like Samsung and Google decided to make the most unexciting, most low-key looking device possible in order to avoid potential lawsuits with Apple, while stuffing it full of cutting-edge electronics. It's like the black Ford Crown Victoria unmarked police cruiser of Android tablets.

You're not buying the Nexus 10 for looks, that's for sure. Strictly viewing it from an industrial design perspective, it definitely does not look as nice as Samsung's previous full-sized tablet offerings, such as the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 or even first-generation full-sized Android tablets like Motorola's XOOM.

And because of Nexus 10's plasticky construction, I have some concerns about its durability, so if you're going to buy one of these, make sure you invest in a decent case, once one becomes avaliable. As I understand OtterBox currently has one in development, and as soon as they have one, I'll be sure to encase my Nexus 10 in it.

As I have written about before, the Nexus 10 is Samsung's first totally homegrown, mass-market tablet to use their brand new dual-core, 1.7Ghz Exynos 5 processor, which is also the first chip in a tablet to use the ARM Cortex-A15 architecture. The Exynos 5 has also recently been used in Samsung's latest Chromebook. 

In terms of overall CPU performance, at least on paper, the Nexus 10 is no slouch when compared with the industry tablet leader, the iPad 4th Generation. It outclocks the iPad's A6X and exceeds its performance on a number of industry CPU-intensive benchmarks (such as Geekbench) although the graphics processing (GPU) is considerably slower than Apple's tablet.

How this applies to real-world applications is not yet completely known. There aren't enough tablet-optimized apps on Android to show if the slower GPU is a major detriment. I didn't notice any real slowdown of the main Android 4.2 user interface -- if anything it was quite snappy, and I didn't see any issues with the GPU being able to keep up with resource intensive 3D games like Asphalt 7. 

Video blogger Chris Pirillo has done an exhaustive comparison of the two tablets which I think is quite educational to anyone considering a purchase of a Nexus 10 or an iPad 4, and he delves into detail regarding the relative performance of the CPUs and GPUs on both tablets a bit more than I am willing to devote to in this piece.

If you want to get even more geeky about benchmarks and application performance, I recommend Ars Technica's very exhaustive Nexus 10 review written by Andrew Cunningham.

Probably one reason why Samsung chose to throw its energy at making the Exynos 5 such a clock cycle crunching CPU demon rather than focus on the GPU in this round is that they wanted to optimize the chip for Android's main UX responsiveness and for the Dalvik application runtime environment itself.  

In the past, I've criticised Android for being far less responsive a UI than the native iOS UI, and part of this is because Android uses Dalvik (a JVM-like environment) and Just-in-time (JIT) compilation for its main UX as well as for many of its applications, as opposed to native compilation using C, C++ and Objective-C as used on Apple's iOS.

Android does have a C and C++ Native Development Kit (NDK) but this environment is mostly reserved for game programming, particularly those which interact with OpenGL in full-screen apps with their own UIs.

With Android 4.2, Google has considerably improved overall device responsiveness, and this has been quite evident in Android phones and smaller tablets like the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 7 which were recently updated to the new version.

Still, the Nexus 10 is not an Android phone or a smaller tablet -- it has a huge, super high definition display that even out-pixels the iPad 4. So when you are driving all those pixels and your environment isn't using native code, you need that much faster CPU.

Speeds and feeds aside, let's discuss the user experience a bit. The display on the Nexus 10 is gorgeous. Is it better than the iPad 4's? Hard to say.

My 43-year-old eyes are unable the tell the difference between sharpness levels on equivalent applications, even if the Nexus 10 is 300ppi and the iPad 4 is 264ppi. Suffice it to say nobody is going to be unhappy with the display. The colors are brilliant and text is extremely easy to read.

Chris Pirillo in his video above says that the saturation level on the iPad 4 is better and also has better blacks, but I was unable to see a real difference, side to side, with both products. I think it is safe to say that at this point in tablet display development, the industry has achived a level of pixel density and color representation that the human eye is going to have trouble discerning any possible improvements. Both tablet displays are excellent.

The main user interface in Android 4.2 has been adapted so that Jelly Bean looks exactly the same on a smartphone and Google's other "experience devices" as on a full-sized tablet. Gone is the application launcher button on the upper-left hand corner in the full-sized tablet interface.

This has been replaced with a Jelly-Bean style launcher icon on the bottom center of the screen along with the other soft buttons, with have also been centered rather than aligned-left on Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) and Honeycomb (3.0). This removes the "mental context switching" issues when going back and forth between Android smartphones and tablets that I had with previous versions of the OS.

As I alluded to before, the biggest problem with Android is the apps. There aren't enough apps that can take advantage of the super high-resolution display on the Nexus 10, or any other full-size Android tablet for that matter. The majority of Android apps have been written for Android smartphones, where Google's OS maintains market share dominance.

Applications which are able to scale and take advantage of the high-res display do look very nice. Google's own apps, which are pre-loaded onto the device, which include the GMail client and the Chrome browser, YouTube and Google+ show off what this tablet can really do. Chrome, in particular, is a pleasure to use, and is able to render text and graphics sharply -- although rendering pages is somewhat slower than on the iPad.

If you can find 3rd-party apps which scale properly and make good use of the screen real estate you'll be rewarded. Facebook for Android is not one of them, as it's still a smartphone app and it's also probably one of the worst performing apps on the Android platform. Instead, you'll want to check out Friendcaster, which Google itself reccomends on its Play Store as "For Tablets".

Plume for Twitter is also a great choice for those using the microblogging service, as it utilizes multiple columns and the text sizes can be adjusted to make use of the higher pixel count. However, as on the Nexus 7 when it was recently upgraded to Android 4.2, I did notice a lot of UI stutter, particularly when the app is enabled for "real-time updates" mode.

Netflix on the Nexus 10 is also a pleasure when playing movies, although I found some jerkiness/laggyness in the main movie selection/search UI.

One caveat while using this tablet over any extended period of time -- it does tend to warm up a bit. 

The stereo speakers on the Nexus 10 are definitely loud enough for use when watching movies in a hotel room or in the bedroom, so a headset isn't required unless privacy is needed. I agree with Chris Pirillo that the sound dynamics on the Nexus 10 are tuned somewhat on the trebly side versus the iPad 4. This is neither good or bad, it just is.

One of the two major disappointments on this tablet is the microphone. Like on the Nexus 7, Google really cheaped out on this component. This is particularly evident when using Skype. While I was able to place calls and hear (and see) the other people quite clearly, I was told that the receiving audio was horrible.

So clearly the issue with Skype for Android is not the quality of the codec, it is the microphone quality on the device. If you are planning to do a lot video conferencing with this tablet, forget it -- get an iPad 4 or iPad mini instead.

The second major disappointment on the Nexus 10 is charging. Google and Samsung decided to go with the standard Micro-USB Micro B connector that is used on nearly all (except for Apple's) smartphones.

Because of this, the device can only charge with 5W of power, versus 10W of power used on other full-sized Android tablets, the Microsoft Surface and the iPad 4 which use proprietary charger connectors in order to handle the higher wattage requirements. As a result, the charging on the Nexus 10 is unbelievably slow.

If you primarily use your tablet for a few hours in the morning and in the evening hours, it's not as noticeable, particularly if you charge it before you go to bed, but if you use the device heavily during the day, whether it is to do browsing, reading, or to watch movies or play a lot of graphics-intensive games while killing time on an aircraft you are definitely going to come up short unless you have a charging outlet nearby.

The Nexus 10 does have the ability to wirelessly charge using the Xi standard (the accessory for doing this isn't avaliable yet), but this is also a 5W charging method, so other than the cordless nature, there isn't a huge advantage to doing this.

So what did I think of this tablet, overall? If you're an Android fan, and you've made investments into that ecosystem, and you want a screen that rivals the best of what Apple can do, this is clearly the Android tablet to own. But right now, there just aren't enough apps to take advantage of what this device is capable of.

If you mostly intend to use it for web browsing, email, watching movies and reading ebooks and magazines, then I would say this would be a good purchase. However if you want the best selection of HD apps, and you want to use the device for video conferencing I would have to say no, go with an iPad instead.

Have you purchased a Google Nexus 10? What do you think about it? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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