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.

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One area where the Nexus 10 falls short is in storage: The tablet's internal space is limited to either 16GB or 32GB. Once you factor in system files and all that fun stuff, even on the 32GB device, you're left with only about 27GB to 28GB of actual usable space -- and the device does not have an SD card slot for external storage. As with its Nexus 4, Google is clearly putting the focus on cloud storage and Web-based streaming, but that kind of configuration isn't going to work for everyone.

The Nexus 10 has two cameras: a front-facing 1.9-megapixel, 720p camera for vanity pics and video chat; and a rear-facing 5-megapixel, 1080p camera for stills and general recordings. When it comes to still pictures, the cameras are okay but not great; they'll get the job done, but you'll get far better quality from pretty much any current high-end smartphone camera. (Does anyone actually take photos on a tablet, anyway?)

Google's Nexus 10 supports near-field communication (NFC) for contact-free sharing and services, including Google Wallet, which comes preloaded on the device. Contrary to some reports, the tablet does not support the new Miracast wireless display-sharing protocol announced for the Nexus 4.

The Nexus 10 is currently available as a Wi-Fi-based device; at this point, Google has not announced any plans for a 3G- or 4G-capable version.

The software

Like with all of Google's Nexus devices, the software is what really sets the Nexus 10 apart from the competition. The Nexus 10 ships with a pure stock version of Google's new Android 4.2 operating system. That means you get the actual software Google's Android team created -- no cluttered and messy manufacturer-added interfaces and no mountains of bloatware glued onto the system.

Google's Nexus 10 tablet
The Nexus 10 ships with a pure stock version of Google's new Android 4.2 operating system.

The result is a fast, fluid and visually consistent user interface that's a pleasure to use. Equally important, it's a guarantee of fast and frequent future upgrades: While most Android tablets are dependent on their manufacturers for OS upgrades, Nexus devices receive their software directly from Google, typically within a week or two of a new release. That's a sharp contrast to the agonizing wait-and-see game owners of manufacturer-controlled tablets commonly face.

Android 4.2 brings a new but familiar look to the 10-in. tablet form: Instead of the tablet-specific UI introduced with Android 3.0 and carried over ever since, the Nexus 10 utilizes a setup that's more similar to what you find on an Android phone. It's very much like the UI used on the Nexus 7, only with a few additional tweaks designed to take advantage of the larger screen space.

At the top of the home screen, you have a persistent Google search bar that provides access to both the Google Now intelligent assistant tool and the Jelly Bean Voice Search feature. At the bottom, you have a Favorites Tray with eight customizable icons and a permanent shortcut to the app drawer. Beneath the tray is a black bar with virtual navigation buttons that let you move back, return home or switch apps from anywhere in the system; the buttons remain centered in that bar regardless of how you're holding the tablet.

Then there are the notifications: While previous Android tablets have displayed notifications as tiles in the lower-right corner of the screen, the Nexus 10 instead uses a variation of the standard top-of-screen setup. The main notifications pulldown is accessed by swiping down on the left side of the screen. Swiping down on the right, meanwhile, brings down a separate "quick settings" panel -- a new feature of Android 4.2 that provides quick access to basic system settings.

Even as someone who's used Android tablets since their earliest incarnations, I've found the new 10-in. tablet UI easy to use and adapt to. It feels completely natural to move from an Android phone to a 7-in. tablet to a 10-in. device -- and that platform-wide consistency is very much Google's goal with this UI change. From a perspective of platform growth and accessibility, that makes perfect sense.

The one area where I'm not completely sold is on the placement of the virtual navigation buttons. Those are buttons you frequently access while using a device -- and when holding a 10-in. tablet in landscape mode with two hands, their centered orientation makes them rather difficult to reach. I get why they're centered from a conceptual standpoint, but it'd sure be nice if there were a way for the user to reposition them to the left or right side of the screen for more ergonomic access.

Interface aside, Android 4.2 now supports multiple user accounts on tablets. Google says the feature will let each user maintain separate home screen setups and app collections as well as access to his own Google-related services like email and storage.

Multiuser support was not yet available on the prerelease software on my review device, so I wasn't able to test it. Google says it'll be added via an over-the-air update on the day the tablet launches; I'll revisit it in my blog once I've had the chance to check it out.

Android 4.2 introduces a slew of other new features, such as a redesigned Camera app, a new system keyboard with slide-to-type support and a powerful multilayered security system. There are also some improvements to the Gmail app and signs of subtle polish sprinkled throughout the UI.

I went into great detail about the various new features in my Nexus 4 review earlier this week. Rather than repeating myself here, I'll point you there for additional information.

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