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Google Nexus 10 deep-dive review: Android, supersized

An in-depth look at where Google's new 10-in. tablet shines -- and where it falls short.

November 9, 2012 04:20 PM ET

Computerworld - Google's Nexus devices tend to stand in a league of their own, thanks both to their pure Android software experiences and market-disrupting price models. With its new Nexus 10 tablet, available November 13, Google is expanding its reach into the realm of 10-in. tablets.

The Nexus 10 is a bit different from Google's past efforts. The tablet, manufactured by Samsung, enters a realm that's already crowded with noteworthy contenders -- and its price, while certainly low, is nowhere near as eye-catching as what we saw with the recent Nexus 7 and Nexus 4 devices.

Google's Nexus 10 tablet
Google's Nexus 10 tablet

The Nexus 10 will be sold directly by Google for $399 for a 16GB version or $499 for a 32GB model. So what's it like to use, and is it worth the cost? I've spent the past several days living with the tablet to find out.

Body and display

In terms of design, the Nexus 10 feels very much like a Samsung tablet: The device has a plastic-based construction that comes across as more utilitarian than premium. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's a significant difference from the sleek and metal-centric approach used by products like Asus's Transformer Pad Infinity and Apple's iPad. (Of course, the iPad is more expensive, with a 16GB model costing $499. The Transformer Pad has a higher starting price, too, but it's actually in line with the Nexus 10's higher-end offering: $499 for a 32GB tablet.)

The Nexus 10's casing has a rubberized sort of feel that's pleasant to the touch; the tablet is easy to hold and never feels like it's slipping out of your hands. At 1.3 lb. and a 0.35-in. thickness, the device is relatively light and thin, too -- more so even than Apple's latest offering, which comes in at 1.44 lb. and 0.37 in.

The Nexus 10's best physical attribute, however, is its face. The tablet boasts a striking 2560-x-1600-pixel, 10.1-in. display with 300ppi, making it the highest resolution screen on any tablet today -- the kind of resolution you'd typically see on a 30-in. computer monitor. The iPad, for comparison, has a resolution of 2048 x 1536 with 264ppi.

The Corning Gorilla Glass 2 screen is every bit as sharp as you'd expect: Colors pop and details shine with a level of clarity that simply delights the eye. Watching HD videos -- movies, in particular -- is just an awesome experience on this device, particularly when you factor in its dual front-facing stereo speakers, which provide the best on-board audio of any tablet I've used.

The only negative is the Nexus 10's built-in autobrightness feature, which I found to be rather erratic: Regardless of where I used the tablet, the screen's brightness would randomly fluctuate every 30 seconds or so, even when I was holding the device perfectly still in stable lighting conditions. This seems to be a consistent issue with Samsung-made mobile products.

The Nexus 10's speakers are built into a plastic bezel that surrounds the display and extends seamlessly onto the device's sides and back. The left side of the unit houses a 3.5mm headphone jack along with a micro-USB port. That's right, folks: The Nexus 10, unlike most tablets, actually charges via a standard micro-USB connector instead of a proprietary alternative. (Hallelujah!).

The tablet has a power button and volume rocker directly next to each other on the far left of its top edge. That placement is somewhat unusual; the side of a device is a far more common spot for volume control. It's a minor detail, for sure, but even after a week of using the Nexus 10, I find it feels slightly unnatural to press left or right instead of up or down on the volume rocker to adjust the sound level.

On the right of the tablet, you have a dedicated micro-HDMI port -- no special adapter or connector required there, either. The device's bottom, meanwhile, has a magnetic charging port, presumably for future docking accessories.

The Nexus 10's back is a single piece of hard plastic, save for an inch-and-a-half-tall panel of removable material surrounding the camera at the top. The removable panel is another very Samsung-like touch; it's thin, flimsy, and feels like it'd be all too easy to snap in half. I was actually worried I was going to break it when I first peeled it off my device (thankfully, I did not).

Why would you even peel the panel off in the first place, you might be wondering? Unlike many Samsung-made phones, the panel doesn't give you access to the device's battery or other interiors. It does, however, serve as a placeholder for an optional cover accessory; Google sent me a bright red cover to try out.

Once attached, the cover flips around the top of the device to protect the screen. It also serves as an easy on-off switch: With the help of a hidden magnet, the cover automatically activates the Nexus 10's display when you lift it up and puts it to sleep when you place it back down. It's a nice touch that -- particularly with the way it integrates naturally into the tablet's form -- makes the product feel more complete.

(Google says the covers will be sold directly through its Google Play Store but has yet to release any info about their pricing or when they'll be available.)

Under the hood

Google's Nexus 10 is powered by a 1.7GHz Samsung Exynos 5250 dual-core processor along with 2GB of RAM. It's easy to get caught up in specs like the number of cores when talking about tablets (quad-core is quickly becoming par for the course these days), but it's important to remember that those numbers alone don't determine a device's performance.

The experience of using the Nexus 10, in fact, is more consistently smooth and snappy than what I've experienced with most other 10-in. Android tablets -- including those with quad-core chips. Navigating through the home screens is fast and fluid, apps load instantly and multitasking feels effortless. Web browsing is a breeze, too, even with numerous tabs open in the Chrome browser. There's nothing to complain about in terms of performance here; the Nexus 10 absolutely delivers.

The Nexus 10 packs a 9000mAh battery that promises nine hours of nonstop video streaming, seven hours of continuous Web browsing and 500 hours of standby time. I found the tablet's stamina to be top-notch; even with moderate to heavy use, I was often able to go a solid few days between charges.



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