Google's Nexus 10 tablet (£319 for the base 16GB model) is nearly perfect on paper, with the highest resolution screen in the business, a fast processor, the very latest version of Android, and an elegant design. But the sad fact is that it’s not as good as its theoretical billing in practice.
Physical features and battery
Made by Samsung, the company that brought us the excellent Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the Nexus 10 is certainly a handsome tablet. It feels like a premium quality device for its £319 basic model price tag. It's an all-black tablet with a glossy front and a comfortable soft-touch back. At 178 x 9 x 264mm (WxDxH), it's a little narrower than the fourth-generation Apple iPad, and at 600 grams it's a hair lighter. It's very similar in size and shape to the Asus Transformer TF700.
The 300 ppi, 2,560 x 1,600 screen is the sharpest tablet screen out there, even besting the iPad's 2,048 x 1,536 Retina display. Although as we'll see below, third-party apps often make very poor use of this gorgeous screen. The display is bracketed by two large, well-spaced stereo speakers, along with a 1.9-megapixel camera, which is placed to encourage you to use this tablet primarily in landscape mode.
The microUSB and headphone jacks are on the left side when you hold the tablet in landscape (see the above image), and the microHDMI jack is on the right (see below). The volume rocker and power button, which are easy to find with your fingers, are on the top panel. There's a docking port on the bottom that can also charge the tablet, but at the moment, there are no docks available for it.
These super-high-resolution tablets typically suffer in the battery life department. I got 5 hours and 9 minutes of video playback with the Nexus 10 switched to full screen brightness. This result fell a bit short of the 5 hours and 36 minutes the fourth-generation Apple iPad scored on the same test, and way short of the 7 hours and 17 minutes turned in by the Asus TF700, with its 1,920 x 1,200 screen. Expect battery life to almost double if you reduce the brightness to half.
The tablet has Wi-Fi 802.11n built in, along with Bluetooth 4.0 for audio devices, mice, keyboards and file transfers, alongside NFC.
Android and Nexus
The primary advantage of a Nexus-branded device is that it should be the first tablet to receive new versions of the Android OS. And indeed, the Nexus 10 has the latest Android version 4.2 on board, the only 10in tablet to do so at the moment.
Jelly Bean 4.2 is a grab bag of new features, including a 360-degree photo panorama mode, Qualcomm's Miracast Wi-Fi display system, built-in malware scanning, and an improved notification centre. If you want to read up more on these, check out our article here. They're all useful, but none of them are exactly must-have features.
The most important feature in Android 4.2, multiuser support, wasn't available on my review tablet, and will be delivered as a software update in the coming days. According to Google, different users will be able to log in and see different home screens, apps, email, photos, and storage. Another attractive feature, lock screen widgets, will display useful information on your lock screen like Windows Phone 8 devices do; that will also come along with this update.
The Nexus 10 uses a Samsung Exynos 5250, 1.7GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processor. On benchmarks it screamed, delivering the fastest Geekbench scores of any device we've ever tested. Its 2,480 result bested the quad-core LG Optimus G smartphone's 2,129 and the fourth-generation iPad's 1,768. But the Geekbench scores will be meaningless for most people given the Nexus 10's trouble running various apps and games, which we’ll come onto momentarily.
Digging into the Basemark OS benchmark, I started to see the issues that would haunt my Nexus 10 testing. The fast processor did very well on Basemark's system and graphics components, with scores just behind the Optimus G with its quad-core Krait processor. But Basemark's program startup test, which launches the contact book, browser, and Bluetooth, showed a slower result than many top smartphones.
Web browsing speed also didn't measure up to the processor specs. The Nexus 10's Browsermark benchmark result was very good at 156,055, but behind the Galaxy Note 10.1's 167,208, and considerably slower than the iPad 4's 196,803. I found the same difference with real-life web pages. A basket of popular pages loaded in 5.7 seconds on average, making it a fast tablet, but slower than the 5.35 seconds I saw on the iPad 4.
Pushing pixels makes some of the difference. The ultra-high-res screen puts a strain on the processor, which shows in lower on-screen frame rates. This tablet has to push around 4 million pixels, whereas HD-screen phones only have to deal with around a quarter of that. The graphics benchmark Taiji, which simulates a game scene, registered only 26 frames per second where the Optimus G and Google Nexus 4 phones show 53 to 55. The iPad appears to have better graphics hardware overall, even with its 3.1 million pixels to push. The iPad ran the GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt HD test twice as smoothly as Google’s tablet, generating 52 frames per second to the Nexus 10’s 27 frames per second.
Performance differences were clear both in interactive web pages, which were less responsive on the Nexus, and in the Asphalt 7 and Need for Speed: Most Wanted driving games. Both games had noticeably lower frame rates on the Nexus 10 compared to the iPad 4, and sometimes hastily painted in the background I was looking at while I was driving. On the iPad, backgrounds appeared without having to watch them be painted, as it were.
The Nexus 10 features the latest 5GHz, MIMO Wi-Fi 802.11n. Its wireless performance was considerably faster than Google’s Nexus 7, but not as fast as the fourth-generation iPad. On a 5GHz, high-speed office network, the Nexus 10 averaged an admirable 22.3Mbps down, but the iPad 4 hit 37Mbps down.
During my testing, I encountered several other bugs. Searching and downloading 63 apps to test, the Google Play store crashed twice. At one point my on-screen keyboard devolved into a mosaic of pixels. I also saw an occasional strange graphical stutter or flicker on the screen.
The Android app dilemma
Google continues to claim there's no difference between Android tablet and phone apps, and offers an extremely limited level of help when it comes to locating apps designed for tablets. The Google Play store's "Tablet Spotlight" lists 23 apps and "Staff Picks for Tablets" shows 138.
So to test Google's contention that the vast majority of phone apps work well on tablets, I downloaded 63 popular Android Apps onto the Nexus 10. Of those 63, only 15 had user interfaces that appeared to be designed for the tablet form factor. Another 21 worked okay but didn't make optimal use of the space. So at best, 36 of my 63 test apps looked adequate.
The others ran, but looked embarrassingly awful. The typical Android app layout is like an old WAP page: One column of text, with two or three buttons or tabs across the top of the screen. That looks great on a 4in phone, and it's acceptable on a 7in tablet held in portrait mode. (That's one reason I can suggest 7in Android tablets enthusiastically.) On a 10in tablet in landscape mode, it's a howling, empty wilderness of useless pixels.
I could easily come up with dozens of UI howlers among these apps. For example, Task List Pro and GateGuru could have benefitted from a richer or multi-paned tablet UI, but they served up acres of empty space in a single-column layout. The game X Construction combined hideously jaggy graphics with off touches like modal dialog boxes that pointlessly spanned the whole screen.
The official NASA app and Pinball Arcade both suffered from text almost too small to read, a side effect of asking for text size in pixels rather than inches on a super-high-res screen. The Wikipedia app stacked info boxes on top of articles rather than embedding them, a great strategy for 4in screens but a poor one for 10in devices.
The Yelp app shows how third-party developers are treating the iPad better. On the Nexus 10, its start screen is a grid of eight tiny icons, separated widely across the screen by lots of unused white space. It's functional but extremely odd-looking. On the iPad, it starts with a useful two-paned map view with restaurant listings on the left, which is a much more information-rich and attractive tablet UI. Even when you drill further down into the Android app, it doesn't acknowledge the possibility of having more than a few inches of horizontal space to play with. Yahoo! Sportacular doesn't even work in landscape mode at all on the Nexus 10, and half the time can't figure out how to fill the whole screen with information.
Cast blame where you will, but the fact is, Android app developers simply aren't writing for 10in tablets. The 275,000 tablet apps in Apple's App Store are guaranteed to be designed for the iPad's form factor. That puts the iPad experience leagues ahead of the Nexus 10, and ahead of any 10in Android tablet.
Multimedia and camera
The Nexus 10 comes in 16GB and 32GB models for £319 and £389; there's no memory card slot for expansion, unlike on some other Android slates such as the Galaxy Note 10.1. Android's wide range of Google and third-party media players ensure that this tablet can play pretty much any unprotected music or video format, and it handled our sample 1080p files without a sweat. The stereo speakers are forward-facing, placed on either side of the screen, offering much more lively and immersive stereo sound than on tablets with rear-facing speakers like the iPad 4.
The primary 5-megapixel camera takes fine pictures in decent light, although in low light my photos showed a bluish cast. Bright backgrounds have a tendency to get washed out, as on most cameras. The 1.9-megapixel front camera had some trouble focusing in low light, resulting in images that were less noisy but much blurrier than pictures taken with the iPad's camera. The iPad 4, with its sharper front snapper, performed better overall when it came to the battle of the cameras.
One of the camera's most exciting new features is Photo Sphere, which goes beyond standard panoramas to record a true 360-degree view, like you're a Google Street View camera. When it worked, it was strikingly immersive. But like too many other things on the Nexus 10, it was buggy. I tried to capture five Photo Spheres. Three worked fine, one lost a band of images during the rendering process, and one recorded as a thumbnail rather than the full panorama. You can share your Photo Spheres by attaching them to Google Maps or over Google+, but if you download them to your PC, they just come over as flat panoramic images.
Google’s 10in slate has an HDMI-out port for connecting to TVs, and it outputs true 1080p video. Unfortunately, I witnessed glitching and flickering while playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and while playing a 1080p H.264 video in Google's Gallery app over the HDMI link on a Sony TV.
The Nexus 10 tablet is attractive, well-built, and well-priced. But its software doesn't live up to the promise of its hardware. While reviewing the tablet I ran into far too many bugs, and battery life suffers because of the high-res screen (as is the case, to be fair, with the iPad). Google's lack of guidance on tablet-focused apps means you'll be downloading a lot of chaff, and on the whole, it's too uneven an experience.
Our favourite large Android tablet is still the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, which neatly sidesteps the lack of great Android tablet apps by providing a killer app of its own: A split-screen mode, which makes the Note 10.1 an ideal tablet for productivity.
The Galaxy Note should be getting Android 4.1 very shortly, and the differences between Android 4.1 and 4.2, while nice, aren't nearly as important as the "Project Butter" performance improvements between 4.0 and 4.1. Of course, the Note 10.1 doesn’t have that high-res screen – you’ll have to live with a 1280 x 800 resolution display – and it costs £80 more than the Nexus.
Apple's iPad is still my preferred selection when it comes to a large screen tablet. While the iPad and Nexus 10 share similar specs, the iPad's solid reliability and huge library of well-designed tablet apps win the day.
While Android is doing well with 7in tablets like the excellent Google Nexus 7, for the OS to succeed on 10in tablets, Google really needs to give users better guidance on how to find apps that take advantage of the screen space here.
Manufacturer and Device
Google Nexus 10
2560 x 1600 pixels
178 x 9 x 264mm (WxDxH)
Rear Camera Resolution
5 hours 9 minutes
Storage Capacity (as Tested)
Google Android 4.2
Samsung Exynos 5250
Wi-Fi (802.11x) Compatibility
Front Camera Resolution
micro HDMI, micro USB