The Nexus 7, with its rubberized back and chunky profile, always felt very good for a budget tablet -- but mostly it just felt very good. The Nexus 10 feels like a completely different beast, which isn't entirely surprising since it's from a different manufacturer. ASUS got the nod to build the first reference tablet from Google, a development process that required a very close partnership with the manufacturer. Now it's Samsung's turn, continuing the tradition of Google spreading the Nexus love around.
The Nexus 7 felt very good for a budget tablet -- but mostly it just felt very good. The Nexus 10 feels like a completely different beast, which isn't entirely surprising since it's from a different manufacturer.
It's a fair partnership, since Samsung has long been the biggest supporter of Android on the tablet front, and of course since Google has long had an affinity for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 -- giving away 5,000 of the things at Google I/O a few years back. We've been wondering when Samsung would release a new stylus-free 10-incher, staying mostly quiet since the underwhelming Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. We're happy to say this one fares better. Mostly better.
It starts with a design that definitely looks like an evolution of the Gal Tab 2 10.1, itself very similar to the controversial Galaxy Tab 10.1N, whose most notable feature was a pair of front-facing speakers. That bit of design language carries on here, grilles embedded into the left and right bezel and extended farther down than before, running through nearly the entire vertical extent of the tablet.
Those speakers are hard to distinguish, though, in what is a sea of very dark materials all blending together into an interestingly rounded shape. Yes, this is still largely a rectangular piece of glass with a mind-boggling number of transistors stuffed in behind it, but the corners have big, lazily rounded profiles. Even the sides are subtly curved, bowing outward to eliminate any straight lines. This makes for a tablet that is incredibly comfortable to hold in any angle or orientation, but it also makes for a tablet that looks even bigger than it is.
It's slightly larger than Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, measuring 10.39 x 6.99 inches across (263.9 x 177.6mm) compared to that tablet's 10.11 x 6.9. But, it's well thinner, just 0.35 inches (8.9mm) vs. 0.38 (9.7mm) for its predecessor. That does make it thicker than the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 (which is 0.33 inches thick). Meanwhile, for those keeping score across ecosystems, that makes for a tablet that's slightly taller (0.8 inches), narrower (0.4 inches) and thinner (0.6mm) than the latest generation iPad. It's lighter, too, at just 1.33 pounds (603 grams) compared to 1.44 (632 grams).
That relative lightness is likely due to the difference in materials, a plastic back dominating the flip-side of this device. It's covered with a soft-touch coating that feels unusually tacky, almost to the point of being sticky. It's nowhere near as nice feeling as the spun aluminum on the TF700 and a definite, and unfortunate, change from the dimpled cover on the back of the Nexus 7 that both looks and feels good. Mind you, a trace of that lineage remains here, a rubberized strip across the top of the back that has the same sort of perforated leather pattern -- just with a slightly tighter dispersal.
We wish Google would start mandating such covers to hide garish carrier branding on Android handsets.
That strip is punctuated by the 5-megapixel camera (capable of 1080p recording), which is inset next to its friend the LED flash. If you'd like to see more of these two you can actually remove that plastic strip altogether, which also reveals the tablet's FCC designation and all sorts of other internationally mandated brandings that are, printed here, cunningly and tidily hidden away, leaving the back nearly blemish-free. We wish Google would start mandating such covers to hide garish carrier branding on Android handsets.
On the top edge of the slate you'll find the only two physical controls, a volume rocker and a power/lock button. Travel around the corner to the left and you'll find a micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom there's a six-pot pogo pin connector and, on the right, a very welcomed micro-HDMI port for streaming all your legitimately acquired video content to a bigger display. There is, contrary to our expectations, no way to wirelessly stream that video from this tablet, but more on that later in the review.
On the face of the device, again it's those big, beautiful stereo speakers. Inside the upper bezel of the display is a 1.9-megapixel camera (capable of 720p video recording) and, in the bottom bezel, an RGB notification LED. Your proclivity toward such blinkenlights probably directly correlates to the volume of email you receive, but still we're glad to see one here.
And then, of course, there are the juicy bits on the inside. Powering this slate is a 1.7GHz chip of the A15 Eagle variety. That processor architecture is capable of quad-core duties but this particular processor sits in a dual-core configuration. Sitting next to that is a Mali T604 GPU and 2GB of RAM matched with either 16 or 32GB of storage, depending on whether you paid $399 or $499. Neither is expandable.
Go crazy and Beam yourself in either direction. This tablet won't miss a beat.
There are no cellular models just yet, so WiFi will be your only link to the world. As such this slate is reasonably equipped with dual-band and MIMO and HT40 support over b/g/n. (Sorry, 802.11a hold-outs.) You also have GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC on both the front and the rear. So c'mon, go crazy and Beam yourself in either direction. This tablet won't miss a beat.
Display and sound
We'll type it again just because it's kind of neat: 2,560 x 1,600. That's an awful, awful lot of pixels in just a 10.1-inch PLS LCD panel -- way more than a 1080p HDTV contains. That it's in something that comfortably can be carried around, and that can be acquired for under $400, is quite a marvelous feat. It's good to live in the future.
And, indeed, things look fantastically sharp here. Text is rendered incredibly crisply and the UI looks better than ever. The first-party icons are all crisp and clean, though many third-party app icons do look like they could use a new, higher-resolution rendering. Thankfully, the apps themselves overwhelmingly look fine.
We tried dozens of apps, including third-party browsers like Dolphin, and we didn't spot a hint of blurry text.
Remember when the new iPad shipped and everyone was scrambling to update their apps to support it? There's no need here. The way Android is structured, apps just natively support the higher resolution. We tried dozens of apps, including third-party browsers like Dolphin and lots of different random utilities and games, and we didn't spot a hint of blurry text.
Of course, some feature graphics and assets that could use a higher degree of polish now that they're being consumed at such a preposterous resolution, and those with less than 20/20 vision may be squinting at some occasionally tiny text, but on average it's a big step above the blurry messes that many tablet apps were on the Retina iPad when it first launched. (A state that, we're happy to say, has long since passed thanks to the quick work of all those devs.)
The brightness of the display is fair, though not quite as searingly bright as the 600 nits the Infinity can pump out. Colors are well-rendered and viewing angles are very good, but we were a bit disappointed by the contrast. Blacks were a bit on the murky side, sometimes appearing more purplish, and we couldn't help but notice some distracting light leakage around the lower corners of the display, something we verified on a second Nexus 10.
And we'd also like to point out that this display is protected beneath a sheet of Corning's Gorilla Glass 2. This is a nice change over the Nexus 7, which sheathed in some other type of cover that we've found to be quite prone to easy scratching.
We have some misgivings about the speakers too, but we're happy to say they're among the best we've ever heard on a slate. Where so many other tablet makers relegate the speakers on the back or, at best, the sides facing outward, here they're exactly where they should be: to the left and right of the display and pointing front and center. Their sound is reasonably warm, too, packing a lot of punch for a tablet. But, the most important part of that sentence is "for a tablet." Sound is adequate at best, and you'll want to augment more serious viewing experiences with a set of headphones or external speakers.
Performance and battery life
Again we're talking about a dual-core 1.7GHz A15 processor paired with 2GB of RAM and a Mali T604 GPU. The quantity of RAM is certainly healthy but, when compared to the quad-core 1.7GHz Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 or with Samsung's recent Galaxy Note 10.1, on paper it sounds like no contest. As they say in motorsports, that's why they run the races, and in practice the Nexus 10 feels snappy and responsive. Apps load quickly and are quite responsive and web pages too pop into existence about as quickly as your data connection can suck them down.
Even in 3D gaming the Nexus 10 will hold its own, a result backed by an average GLBenchmark 2.5 score of 33. Unfortunately, we've not run the TF700 through the latest version of GLBenchmark, so we're unable to directly compare, but others online report scores of roughly 15fps from the ASUS tablet. So, if you're looking to do a lot of intense 3D gaming, this could be a much better partner.
The TF700 also managed a higher battery life, nine hours and 25 minutes compared to a relatively paltry 7:26 here. That's on our standard run-down test in which we loop a video on the tablet endlessly while screen brightness is fixed. We figure the blame for this performance must lie largely in the hands of that display, as even the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 did notably better, at 8:56.
Samsung certainly knows how to make a good imaging sensor -- the Galaxy S II still shines -- so we were cautiously optimistic coming in here despite knowing that the company's tablets have historically had miserable shooters. This one, we're sorry to say, follows in their footsteps. The 5-megapixel camera on the back failed in virtually every case to take a compelling shot. Complex images were too soft and simpler images were often rendered with curious color temperatures that had little to do with reality.
That unfortunately dynamic color handling continues to the video shooting. The tablet is capable of recording at 1080p but, as you can see in the sample video, it's over-active when it comes to choosing a color temperature, constantly cycling from cool to warm. Similarly, the camera exhibits some distracting focus hunting during filming.
Granted, we find photographing or filming anything on any tablet a chore, regardless of sensor quality, so the lack of a good quality shooter here isn't too much of a detraction. But, we figure if you're going to bother putting a camera sensor on a tablet, you might as well throw in a good one.