Review: Google's Nexus 10 is the Android tablet we've always wanted—almost

At a Glance
  • Google Nexus 10 (32GB)

    PCWorld Rating

    The Google Nexus 10 pairs a terrific display with a fine-tuned design.

The Google Nexus 10 tablet enters the world as Google's flagship Android tablet—and it's worthy of that designation. Its high-resolution display is unmatched by its Android peers. Factor in strong specs, a competitive price, and its status as the first—and so far, only—Android 4.2 tablet, and the Nexus 10 is a winner. Though the tablet does have a few weakness—including surprisingly mediocre performance on some benchmarks and games—on the whole, this tablet is a worthy competitor to Apple's most recent iPad.

The Nexus 10 costs $399 for 16GB of storage and $499 for 32GB. Those prices are highly competitive; in fact, the 16GB Nexus 10 is one of the least-expensive, most-capable 10.1-inch Android tablets around. It also happens to be priced the same as the 16GB iPad 2, but with a far superior display and a newer processor. The $499 model, meanwhile, joins a handful of other 32GB tablets priced at between $450 and $500, including other models with higher-than-average resolutions, such as the Apple iPad, the Acer Iconia Tab A700, and the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700. Since there's no expansion slot, what you buy in storage capacity is what you get.

Pixels Matter

When it comes to tablet displays, I can't overemphasize the value of having more pixels. I've heard people say that more pixels alone do not guarantee a better viewing experience, but I have yet to meet a high-pixel-density display that didn't outperform a lower-density display, at least for rendering text.

The Nexus 10 has a 2560-by-1600-pixel, 10.1-inch PLS (a variation on in-plane switching) display, and its touch surface uses Corning Gorilla Glass 2. The screen's pixel density works out to 300 pixels per inch, which tops the Apple iPad's Retina display (at 264 ppi), and competing 1920-by-1200-pixel Android tablets (all at 224 ppi). Meanwhile, the average 1280-by-800-pixel, 10.1-inch Android tablet has just 149 pixels per inch—all the more reason the Nexus 10's clarity and double-the-pixels resolution is so welcome.

The way text looks also depends in part on how well the operating system renders fonts, and on how smoothly individual apps handle fonts—as well as on other hardware factors, such as the air gap between the glass top surface and the screen. But the display's pixel density plays a critical role, and the Nexus 10's superiority in this regard is evident as soon as you turn on the tablet.

In my testing, text looked smooth and sharp—better than what I've seen on other Android tablet displays, and a match for the Apple iPad (third and fourth generations).

I can't say I saw noteworthy differences between the Nexus 10 and iPad displays, beyond the color handling (more on that below); and any minute differences in screen quality could as easily be ascribed to differences in Android versus iOS as to the difference in pixels.

That said, I found the Nexus 10's display a pleasure to use for everything—from reading the text describing my app, to viewing my pictures, to reading e-books and Web pages. Those extra pixels put the Nexus 7's display, at 216 ppi, to shame. Indeed, the Nexus 7's display suddenly seems in dire need of an upgrade, Google.

The Nexus 10's display benefits from the use of LG's Zerogap Touch technology, which is a variant on optical bonding. Much like optical bonding, Zerogap Touch eliminates the air gap between the cover glass and the display beneath; here, LG prints the touch sensor film directly onto the cover glass. Getting rid of the air gap mitigates glare; increases contrast; and improves the viewing angle, sharpness, and clarity of text.

My one display gripe involves the Google tablet's handling of colors. On the one hand, compared with its rivals, the Nexus 10 gets props for having the most evenly distributed shading of whites and blacks on our test image of grayscale bars, and of colors on a test image of color bars. Colors look good, but as on many other Android tablets, my test images seemed slightly off, particularly in handling the natural browns of skin tones and the shadings of some colors (for example, a purple that looked more flat than rich in color). You may not notice the difference at first, but it will become more apparent when you look at the Nexus 10's display side-by-side with other tablets.

Design

The tablet measures 10.39 by 6.99 by 0.35 inches, which makes it similar in size to competing models, though not quite as compact or svelte as some. Its weight disappoints, however: At 1.33 pounds, it's lighter than the current iPad (1.44 pounds) and matches the iPad 2; but it's heavier than many competing tablets of similar dimensions, including the Asus Vivo Tab RT running Windows RT.

The Nexus 10 is still highly portable, of course, despite its weight. However, you'll begin to notice the extra heft when holding the tablet one-handed for long periods of time—as often happens when you navigate with one hand and support the tablet with the other. Given that most Android tablets, and even Asus's Windows RT tablet, come in at lighter weights, I would have preferred to see the Nexus 10 continue the trend toward lighter 10-inch-class tablets.

The tablet's physical design reflects a serious effort to make the tablet stand out, albeit on subtle points. For example, the Nexus 10's back has a soft-touch coating that curves around the tablet's sloping edges, making it easy to hold.

Even better: When you hold the device in landscape mode, a grippy, textured material—similar to the backing found on the Nexus 7—runs along the top inch and a half or so. This extra strip works well for grabbing the tablet while you're on the go, and it provides extra security against drops when you hold the tablet one-handed. My one reservation about this backing relates to how it will interact with the crumbs and other pieces of gunk that invariably accumulate at the bottom of my bag. Some soft-touch backs I've seen seem to attract the debris; others, less so.

When held in landscape orientation, the tablet has a well-defined power button and volume rocker along the top edge, in the left corner. On the tablet's right edge sits a Micro-HDMI port; on the bottom is a dock connector for future accessories.

The left side accommodates the headphone jack and a MicroUSB port that pulls double duty for data transfers and charging. I found the location of these ports odd and awkward—especially when I used the tablet while charging it. The only way it felt comfortable was when I flipped the tablet around so that the ports came out of the lower corners (or bottom); and in those scenarios, the power and volume buttons ended up in an awkward placement, too.

The use of MicroUSB charging is very welcome. Few tablets use this standard charging interface, yet it provides the ultimate in convenience and portability: If you forget a charger, you can easily find a MicroUSB cable at a corner store, and you can then charge off your PC—or perhaps even connect the tablet to the same charging brick that your laptop uses (if it has a USB port built-in). Convenience comes at a price, though: The Nexus 10 took longer to charge than the average tablet did when linked to a charger other than the one it came with.

The Nexus 10 packs GPS and a compass; Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity; and dual-side NFC for use with Android Beam. On the tablet's back is a 5-megapixel, 1080p camera with LED flash; and sitting just off-center on the front is a 1.9-megapixel, 720p camera.

The Nexus 10's front-facing stereo speakers are an improvement on tablet speakers that point out the back or bottom of a tablet, designs that put the speakers at grave risk of being covered by my hands as I hold it. The speakers had a formidable and surprising loudness for such a compact device—significantly better than the usual pitiful output I hear on a tablet—but the audio seemed to lack depth. At the default settings, without my adjusting the equalizer, the highs sounded distinctly tinny, and the bass seemed lost on my audio test tracks.

At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The Google Nexus 10 pairs a terrific display with a fine-tuned design.

    Pros

    • High pixel density display has sharp, clear text
    • Strong performance

    Cons

    • Slow charging over standard MicroUSB
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