With the Nexus 7 having recently notched up a narrow victory over the iPad Mini and a stellar performance from the LG-built Nexus 4 smartphone against its more expensive rivals, Google’s looking to make it a hat-trick of success with the new Nexus 10.
The ingredients are certainly all there: power, pixels and a seriously competitive price mean it’s looking like a strong bet to take a large bite out of the big iPad’s more than generous portion of the global tablet pie. But does the Nexus 10 have the performance to backup those tantalizing headline figures?
design and build
The Nexus 10's build is very solid, though the back does flex a little when pressed, and in a line-up of Samsung tablets you'd barely be able to pick it out. The Google tab is indeed made by the Korean tech titans and with the same kind of dimensions, same rounded edges and same stereo speakers bookending the screen on the front the family resemblance is no coincidence.
Its smooth, almost oily back panel won't be to everyone's tastes – we prefer the grippable rear of the Nexus 7 and the cold aluminium of the iPad 4 ourselves – but it does win on weight. The 603g Nexus 10 is noticeably lighter than the 652g iPad 4, which while beautiful is starting to seem a bit bulky, especially compared to the newly introduced iPad Mini.
Google's selling official and colourful “Book Covers” for the Nexus 10. Fitting one involves pulling a plastic cover off the back of the device and snapping the cover into place – it’s far from elegant, especially next to Apple’s magnetic Smart Cover, but you only have to fit it once and it will help to keep that hi-res display free from scratches, although it's worth noting that thanks to the peephole for the camera dust and debris can still find its way onto the Nexus 10's screen.
They might both be extremely hi-res, but the Nexus 10 and iPad 4 have very different screens. The squatter 4:3 iPad 4 is a better fit to hold and type on in landscape mode and makes much more sense in portrait. 16:9 10in Android tablets (and the Microsoft Surface RT) often look oddly tall this way up and the Nexus 10 is no exception. We'd use both tablets more often in landscape and in this view, the iPad 4 shows you more of a webpage than the Nexus 10, too.
To cut a long story short, the Nexus 10’s 2560x1600, 300ppi beast is the sharpest screen we've seen on an Android tablet. Text in ebooks and Google Maps is pin-sharp, you can zoom right into hi-res images and see all the extra pixels you're getting, while a spin through the superb YouTube app's full HD offerings really shows up its Android brethren.
But for contrast and colours, both the iPad 4 and the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity offer a better picture. HD movies – and apps – on the Nexus 10 can look a little washed-out, whereas on the iPad 4 reds look redder, whites whiter – everything looks brighter, more appealing and more vibrant whilst never looking unnatural.
Jelly Bean doesn't show off the display at it’s best either – icons look softer around the edges than they do on the iPad 4 and there's nothing to grab you on the homescreens until you've done a little tinkering.
We knew we were smitten with Android, but using Jelly Bean on the Nexus 4 really seals the deal – unfortunately the Nexus 10 doesn't quite live up to that phone's incredible performance, but the Android 4.2 tweaks and quirks are all present and correct.
As well as Google Now cards to remind you of the weather, when your next bus is or how many meetings you've got this afternoon, there are also two swipe down menus: one for notifications (which includes Google Now cards, downloads etc) and one for quick access to settings. A nice use of that extra-wide screen.
There isn’t too much disturbance from the pure, unadulterated Google experience other than 'My Library' and recommended apps or purchases from Google Play. With widgets for the music player, bookmarks and ebooks, Jelly Bean on the Nexus 10 is good for personalization, although we still don't understand why it takes a whole new multi-tasking screen to close and move between apps.
Android is maturing but still doesn't offer those little details that stick in your head – like the sticky gum pull down in iOS 6's mail app or the world clock icon Apple just had to pay £13m for pinching. Then again, the latest system update lets you customise your Nexus 10’s lockscreen and add user accounts to the tablet so it's a choice between extra tinkering and tweaking, or stylish details that are easy to get on with.
As we're testing a Nexus 10 before it goes on sale, it's no surprise that one of the only devices in the world running 4.2 Jelly Bean has a few incompatible apps on Google Play. So we haven't been able to try out stalwarts like Flipboard and BBC iPlayer yet to see how they look on the Nexus 10's hi-res screen but new, cross-platform apps like Peter Molyneaux's Curiosity and The Hobbit look cleaner on the iPad 4.
Google Play still suffers a lack of well crafted apps designed for tablets – gorgeous touchy-feely puzzle games like The Room or apps like the generative music app Scape by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers can be found on the iPad, but Android has to do without them.
Must-have apps like Sky Sports also still give the iPad much more attention, and there's the problem of that screen – unless the Nexus 10 achieves some serious, iPad-level sales figures we’re unlikely to see too many apps optimised for that resolution. Then again, at least the biggest games now tend to launch on both platforms at the same time - if Angry Birds Star Wars and Need for Speed: Most Wanted are your kind of thing you’re covered.
Still, the fact remains that the Nexus 10 doesn't have the apps to fully make use of its seriously impressive screen yet, so unless you're committed to Android the iPad 4 looks the better choice for work, gaming and creative apps.
performance and cameras
Considering it's a 1.7GHz Exynos dual-core processor by Samsung running the show with a glamorous assistant in the form of 2GB of RAM, you'd expect the Nexus 10's cogs to keep on turning nice and smoothly. And they do – for the most part.
Browsing is fast, thanks to the slick Chrome app and speedy MIMO Wi-Fi, though the iPad 4 eeks those pages out of the ether a touch quicker. The Nexus 10 also manages multi-tasking just fine and pulls app downloads from Google Play in a snap. But the wonderfully fluid Jelly Bean experience we saw on the Nexus 4 just isn't here – apps and widgets flicker or take a moment too long to change orientation. The tablet tripped up when we flipped our wheels in Grand Theft Auto III a few times, and flicking through ebooks isn't as instantaneous as it should be.
With a scorching Geekbench 2 score of 2322 compared to the iPad 4's 1768 the Nexus 10 should be considerably more powerful – and perhaps an update due on November 13th will go some way to helping – but for now, the iPad will frustrate far less.
One of the plus points for the Nexus 10 over the Nexus 4 smartphone is that it comes in 16GB and 32GB models (the Nexus 4 has only 8GB and 16GB versions), so that's one niggle that's been addressed. And there's also a very similar performance by the forward facing cameras – 1.2MP for the iPad 4 and 1.9MP for the Nexus 10, both being more than capable of capturing enough light and detail for your video calls.
Around the back the Nexus 10's 5MP snapper performs almost as well as the iPad 4’s indoors, but overall its images look a little faded and less vibrant. You can take 360 degree “PhotoSpheres” as you can with the Nexus 4, and touching any part of the screen while recording video takes a still image, which is a clever twea, but even on the 1080p setting footage looks grainy and juddery both onscreen and in playback.
The Google Nexus 10 doesn't seem to suffer the same battery woes as its little brother, the Nexus 4 – probably thanks to the 9,000 mAh whopper squished inside. Though this does mean that charging from dead can take hours and hours so don't even bother sticking it into your computer.
Impressively, in normal usage with Wi-Fi on and the display at half brightness you'll run down 20-30% after half a day's normal usage, which shouldn't shackle you down too often. We'll update our review with a video rundown test once we've finished it.
Anyone with high tablet performance expectations but a relatively limited budget has just been given one heck of an early Christmas present by Google. The Nexus 10 is supremely capable, despite a few performance hiccups, with the ever-improving Jelly Bean and that pixel-perfect hi-res display to tempt you into Android slate territory.
And speaking of Android slabs, with the exceptions of the work-friendly Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and the multi-tasking, S-Pen-wielding Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the rest of our Top Ten list of best tablets suddenly looks under-specced and over-priced.
That said, the Nexus 10 is not an iPad. The tablet itself doesn’t feel or look as premium, while its colours and contrast don’t display as impressively. You might also find yourself missing out on some of the most interesting, high quality, tablet-optimised apps.
So whereas the pocketable Nexus 7 was just too good to ignore, with the Nexus 10 it feels like Google is rushing out the “better-specced-than-Apple” hardware before the platform’s truly ready for it.
See our Nexus 10 picture gallery.
Review by Sophie Charara