Google's Nexus 10: It's Not An iPad, And That's A Good Thing

I want to love the Nexus 10. There are a few specific reasons I never really loved the iPad, and Google's new flagship tablet addresses some of the biggest ones.

It’s lighter, it’s thinner, it’s easier to hold. It has big, loud speakers you can actually hear, and it’s not worse than the iPad at anything, save one: It runs Android, so there’s not as much good tablet software for it. Yet.

iPads feel precious. The glass wants to shatter, and the aluminum wants to scratch or dent. That’s the biggest problem with the world’s leading tablet, which is meant to be carried around, scrawled on, handled and touched.

The Nexus 10, built by go-to Google partner Samsung, feels like it’s built for working and playing. It’s grippy and rubbery, and the edges have this gentle slope that fits in hands in a variety of ways. You can hold it with one hand. I found my favorite way to use it was resting on the palm of one hand, like a painter’s palette, using it with the other hand. I’d never do that with an iPad.

There are trade-offs, though. Every detail of the iPad feels carefully considered. It didn’t take me long to discover that the Nexus 10’s volume switch is oriented for landscape mode. So while it’s correct in landscape mode, while going from left to right, it’s upside down in portrait mode. Down turns the volume up, and up turns it down. While I’m sure this will be fixed in a software update, it says something about attention to detail.

Better Than Retina

The iPad’s 9.7-inch display has a resolution of 2048 x 1536, while the Nexus 10's 10-inch display clocks in at a whopping 2560 x 1600. This display is luscious. The aspect ratio is more widescreen, so it’s better for watching movies, too.

The performance is ridiculously fast, though that's true of modern iPad as well. The Nexus 10 is especially fun for gaming because of the front-facing stereo speakers that run along both of the short sides. Unlike the iPad, these puppies actually get LOUD, which is great for a racing game. The sound quality is still fairly terrible for music, though.

An Entertaining Option

But the Nexus 10 is still interesting as an entertainment system. Its docking port is on the side, so it could be docked in some kind of speaker peripheral - if one existed - while you watch the brilliant, HD display. Android 4.2 now supports an industry standard called Miracast, so you can stream media over your Wi-Fi network to supporting devices. It’s just like Apple’s AirPlay, but it’s open, so TV manufacturers can build it in.

The Nexus 10 is also better for sharing than an iPad, and that’s critical. Android 4.2 supports multiple users, so everyone in the family can have their own, separate profile on one tablet without messing up anyone else’s. Apple should have beaten Android to this, but it didn’t. For some reason, this feature isn’t available until November 13 when the unit goes on sale, so I wasn’t able to try it. But Google showed it to me in the demo when I received my review unit.

The cameras are okay, but no one in their right mind should take a photo with a tablet. For video Hangouts using Google+, the Nexus 10 is perfectly fine.

Android Still An Issue

The Android app ecosystem is still not there yet. Yes, there are thousands and thousands of apps, and many of them are free, but that’s not what I want. I want painstaking craftsmanship: the perfect app for doing what I need to do. iOS has lots of those, and Android does not.

That said, the new version of Pocket for Android, which arrived Thursday, offers a great reading experience. That’s how I spend most of my time on a tablet. But I still have to settle for subpar apps for most of what I do. If apps matter to you, the iPad still rules.

But now that there’s a great tablet in this size, perhaps there’s a better reason for developers to build great software for it. And, of course, there’s no better experience for Google’s own services than on an Android device, and they shine here. The Nexus 10 is the full-size tablet Android and Google fans have been waiting for. And at $399 for 16GB and $499 for 32GB, it’s a better deal than an iPad, too.

Correction: An earlier version misstated that the Nexus 10's pixel density was lower than the retina iPad.

Photo credit: Eliot Weisberg