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Is This The Tablet For You?
Right before Christmas my tablet, an Iconia A500 died (just a couple weeks after the warranty ran out of course) and I was faced with the task of choosing its replacement. The timing was great because the latest iPad was out, several new Android tabs were being released and Microsoft was just about to start shipping the Surface.
All have some very compelling aspects and I like all three platforms, but as I already have had several android tablets and a lot of apps for that system, my focus and ultimate decision was towards the Nexus 10 from Google.
Since there were plenty of 'First Looks', 'Quick Peeks' and such being written already, I wanted to spend some more time with it before actually evaluating it. This review is really my perspective on using the tablet, what that experience has been like and finally was it worth the money.
There are 2 versions of the Nexus 10, and as far as I could tell only internal storage (16 GB or 32GB) and out of pocket costs differentiate them. Since there is no storage expansion option (that's right - you cannot upgrade capacity with a simple SD card) I went for the 32 GB model that retailed for $499 US.
Both the 16GB and the 32GB versions are Wi-Fi ready but Wi-Fi only - there is no wireless plan you can get from any carrier to give you connectivity. You must be in a Wi-Fi accessible spot to access the net. (Note that since I have an iPhone on AT&T I can use that to create a wifi hotspot that I can use for basic functions on the tablet. Not fast but if needed it is there...)
System RAM is a standard 2 GB on both models. The screen is a beautiful 10 inch display and the tablet weights in just over 600 grams (1.33 lbs).
The Nexus 10 comes standard with the latest Android OS, Jellybean 4.2. (Version 4.2.2 was just released and pushed out to Nexus devices.) This latest Android OS software sports a host of impressive features we'll mention later in this piece.
The tablet has a minimal set of external connections and controls, giving it a clean but Spartan appearance. On the top left edge is the on/off button, just to the right is the volume control. Just a note here: volume controls work in my opinion just the way they should - press the left side of the button and volume goes up, press the right and it goes down. Maybe a personal preference but seems 'right'.
On the left side is the micro USB port for connecting to a power adapter or to a computer for charging or file management, and a standard 3.5 mm earphone plug. (BTW in theory you could use the USB connection to add some extra storage, but as of this writing I couldn't find any that would work and have a small footprint.)
On the bottom is a Magnetic Pogo pin charger which is reportedly to be used for a rapid charger and stand. I have found one cable so far from www.PogoCable.com but have not tried it.
On the right edge is a micro HDMI port for video output. And that's it for physical connections. Spartan but very functional.
Cameras and Video
The Nexus 10 has two cameras, one forward facing (1.9 MP) for video chatting and conferencing, and a rear facing camera for photos and recording video. This rear camera shoots images at 5 MP resolution, and records video at 1080p resolution.
Taking photos or shooting video is really easy with the built-in software. You can zoom in and out by simply using the pinch and expand finger motion, with zoom options from 1.0 to 4.0 in 0.1 increments. Video is saved in MP4 format, images in JPEG. I have never liked taking photos or recording video with other tablets I have used, but for whatever reason that has changed with the Nexus 10. I like using it, the screen makes an amazingly great viewfinder and the results are excellent as you would expect with such high resolution cameras. Of course using the screen as a viewfinder is not as great outside in bright sun - like any LCD display you get various degrees of washout due to the screen reflecting light back into to your eyes. But depending on the situation you can usually still use it.
Another amazing feature is Photo Sphere. Basically this Android 4.2 feature allows panoramic photos to be easily taken with the Nexus 10. Just choose this mode in camera options and start shooting photos from left to right and/or up and down. A small dot on the screen guides you to help line up shots for photo stitching, then the software builds the image for you. Extremely cool, and an obvious tool for business users like realtors who want to show a walkthrough of homes for sale. If you are on a Nexus or other Jellybean 4.2 device and would like to see some examples a nice set is here: http://tylermerrick.com/blog/index.php/2012/10/30/android-4-2-photo-sphere-examples/ .
Video Conferencing with the front facing camera can be used with Google +, but you may be able to use Skype as well although I haven't tried it. Cisco's WebEX app works with the Nexus 7, and seems fine with the Nexus 10 (although they do not explicitly say it is certified with the Nexus 10).
The Nexus 10 has two front facing speakers, one on the left and one on the right side. Audio quality is fine but truthfully I usually use earphones. If you need louder audio without earphones, there are a great many external speaker options for tablets. Just use your favorite search engine and browse the options.
Sound is of course stereo and there is a built-in microphone.
As I said there no cellular connectivity option available, so you must be in a wifi zone with a 802.11b/g/n access point. Performance has been great and with no issues I can point to the tablet as the cause.
There is also Bluetooth options and Near Field Communications (NFC) ability. NFC allows devices to 'talk' to each other when the touch or are in close proximity with each other, enabling some data transfer to occur.
For CPU the Nexus 10 has the Exynos 5 Dual Core A-15 1.7 GHz processor. There is also the Mali T604 ARM graphic processor which assists in performance by handling the extensive calculations needed for fast graphics and video performance.
There is a variety of built-in sensors such as Accelerometer, Ambient Light Sensor, GPS, Gyroscope, and a Digital Compass.
The tablet comes with a 9,000 mAh lithium polymer battery. Google claims 9 hours of video play or 7 hours of web browsing. I haven't sat and watched video for 9 hours straight or surfed for 7 hours in order to test it, but in real world use where I watch some video each day, surf for an hour or so, and use some apps for a bit more I end up charging it about every three days, And frankly I am very pleased with that performance. But as always when traveling take your charger with you!
And then we come to the display. No doubt the crown jewel of Nexus 10 features and one of the major factors for me. Sporting a 10.055 inch physical display with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels (299 ppi). The display is made from Corning Gorilla glass 2, allowing for thinner, harder and more scratch resistant displays. After 3 months of daily use my display is still scratch free.
Visually the display allows vibrant rich images, fast graphics and smooth video playback. Web pages load quickly and scroll smoothly, and you can zoom in and out with a quick double tap on the screen.
Bottom line is that the Nexus 10 is one of the finest displays ever for any mobile device including laptops.
The Nexus has a black plastic, 'rubbery' feeling body. I didn't like it at first but have changed my mind completely. It is easy to grip, doesn't get that dirty look as easy as polished metal does, and while I haven't had to see how it will handle a drop it might survive a bit more than a metal enclosure would. Maybe.
Ok leave the hardware behind and lets talk software.
The OS is Jellybean 4.2 and as of this writing the latest flavor is 4.2.2. Upgrades are pushed via WiFi. There are a lot of changes, tweaks and enhancements but since I am not an OS expert here are my favorite additions or improvements.
Top Ten Jellybean Features
- Photo Sphere - Allows you to create panoramic photos
- Improved GMail - better interaction, pinch & zoom, swipe to delete
- Gesture typing - start typing and words begin appearing you can just choose from. Once you get use to it dramatic speed increases in typing speed can be attained.
- Multiuser - You can now have different user accounts and logins for friends, family members or co-workers
- Google Now - This is kinda sorta a smart assistant. Swipe up from your home screen and Google search page appears, but customized to your interests and locations. Enable features and options from here
- Daydream - This is a customizable screen saver. It can show your pictures, selected news feeds, time, weather, etc. Great when docked on your desk or nightstand.
- Miracast Wifi Direct (WiDi) - WIDI allows you to broadcast media to any Miracast equipped device. You can learn more about this technology at http://www.wi-fi.org/discover-and-learn/wi-fi-direct
- Quick Settings Panel - This is a pull down panel (upper right of display) that gives you access to common tools and settings.
- Google Maps - Not really an OS feature but it is so well integrated it feels like it.
- Great Performance - Finally you can't use this OS and not realize this latest Android OS is head and shoulders better than its predecessors. Great video, awesome web browsing and page scrolling, beautiful fluid graphics.
This is where the rubber meets the road. You can have the fastest car and the best roadway in the world, but if you don't have gas you are not going anywhere. And apps are the energy force for tablets.
Yes there are hundreds of thousands of apps in the Google Play store (plus more in the Amazon Appstore). That's a lot of apps. But, and this is a key issue, only a fraction right now are designed for tablets, and only a fraction of those take advantage of the Nexus 10. Therein lies the difference with the iPad. No matter what iPad you have you can be fairly certain the iPad app you buy from Apple will work. Of course the best apps there are designed for the latest iPad Retina display. But app by app they are all coming up to speed. So if Apple says it has hundreds of thousands of tablet apps available, those will work for your iPad. Sadly that's not the case for the Nexus 10.
So one question you have to ask yourself before buying a Nexus 10 are the applications I want and need available?
Now if you are a developer the Nexus 10 is a great choice. It has built-in developer tools that allow you to write, program and hack away. So grab one and build the Next Big Thing.
If you are media consumer interested in video, music, books and web browsing again this is a great tablet. As mentioned web browsing is great, there are built-in ebook features, Amazon Kindle app works fine, and Netflix and Hulu do a wonderful job supporting the Nexus for video.
One caveat on video is Amazon Video. As Amazon Prime users, in our home we have 2 Kindle readers and a Kindle Fire HD tablet and a good assortment of videos in our Amazon library we stream to the home televisions via a Roku device. But for some reason Amazon has not yet supported the Nexus 10. Maybe because Flash is an issue on this tablet or maybe just for competitive reasons. I don't know. But if Amazon Video is important to you right now you cannot use it on your Nexus 10.
If you want the tablet for business use again it depends on the app you need. This was a critical requirement for me as Microsoft Office tools are an absolute necessity.
One app I choose was Mobisystems OfficeSuite Pro 7. With this you can view, create, edit, print and share Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. It works quite well. There are others like Quickoffice Pro HD and more.
Since we have our own web publishing suite of tools I needed a tablet that was compatible with those and it was. If your company has its own proprietary software tools make sure any tablet you want to use will work with those. Our system is for the most part both a client and server side Java application suite and worked fine.
Now if you are a gamer it is a crapshoot. Basically there are some excellent games for the Nexus 10. Lots of classics like Minecraft, Angry Birds, Temple Run, Plants vs Zombies, etc. Great games like Need for Speed, Shadowgun Deadzone, Grand Theft, Most Wanted, Frontline Commando, Shine Runner, and more. There are upcoming ones like the much anticipated augmented reality Ingress game (still in beta).
But the truth is that the iPad has more, lots more. I still find myself reaching for my iPhone when I feel the urge to play games like the strategy game Civilization Revolution or adventures like The Quest. (Note to developers - PLEASE port these over to Jellybean 4.2 - you'll make a bundle!) Basically if having all the latest and greatest mobile games is essential to you then you should probably get an iPad.
While I really debated the issue initially, after 90 days I have decided that the Nexus 10 was the best tablet for me. Great hardware, a solid innovative OS, excellent media player and the apps I had to have. It works and works well. Four and a half stars out of five.
Lou Wallace is the founder and CEO of Digital Media Online. During his career he has been publisher and Editor-in-Chief of numerious publications in the digital media market.