Review: Samsung Nexus 10 Tablet



Before we settle in with the wash and rinse review of the tablet, you should hear a bit about my back story so you know where I’m coming from.  While not essential for the review, it will give you a good idea what mindset I come from with regards to tablets.  If you’re only interested in the meat and potatoes, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.

My Tablet History

Let’s start off by saying I never really believed in tablets. I saw the tortured release of Windows Tablet and I pretty much buried my head in the sand thereafter. Overpriced, under performing and suffered from the same things that tablets suffer from today; blatant misuse.

At the risk of offending SOMEONE reading this, I’m reminded of a quote from an old ’80s movie called Secret Admirer. When the boys are gathered together and are pouring over a Playboy, one of the boys starts reading aloud an article. One of the other boys snatches the magazine from his hand and says, “You are abusing this magazine. It isn’t for reading, it’s for beating off!”

As odd and possibly vulgar as that sounds, it makes me think of tablets. Why? Because so many people want to use tablets for tasks they weren’t designed for – in essence ABUSING their intended purpose and likely feeling unfulfilled by them. Much like the Playboy, the tablet is misused. But I digress.

When I laid my eyes on my first iPad – the first thing I thought was, “It is just too big”. Too heavy, too big – not the “portable” device it was being touted as. I had ugly Windows Tablet flashbacks.

B&N Nook Color

Eventually, though – the Barnes & Noble Nook Color came out. Now that was something that made sense. It was 7″, GORGEOUS screen, cost a third of an iPad, didn’t require iTunes (in fact, it was based very much on Android). I was in love.  My family ended up owning two of them.

Then came the Asus Transformer 101 … “real” Android, a keyboard dock, better specs – but 10 inches.  I really didn’t want something that big – but the idea that it could possibly replace the occasional use I had for a net book while traveling was intriguing – so I jumped in.

It was then that I reailzed a couple of things about tablets.  First, there is no way it replaces a real PC.  Second, I actually LIKED the 10″ size and I LOVED 16×9 widescreen presentation.

TF101 with Dock

While the 101 was a pretty good tablet (the construction wasn’t great and the occassional reboot made me crazy) I found it failed one of my primary needs; HD MKV playback across the Wi-Fi.  I did some research and found that the Tegra 2’s video pipeline couldn’t handle it so I waited until I could find something similar (with the option of a dock) and along came the Asus Transformer 300.  Like the Blade of vampires; all the strengths of the 101 with none of the weaknesses.  Construction was solid.  Tegra 3 fixed the bandwidth issues so I could enjoy my HD videos.  Seemed … perfect.  I even got a dock (whose construction wasn’t as good as the 101’s, by the way).

About 2 months later I had sound issues – sound just stopped working.  Very odd – but I had a friend at Best Buy and she pulled a string to get me a replacement despite being past the return period.  The replacement had an issue getting OTA updates and I was getting frustrated.  It was about then than the Nexus 7 came out.  For almost HALF the price of that 300, I could have a true, NEXUS device right from Google.  No dock and only 7 inches – but I figured I could adapt.  So the 300 went back to Best Buy and I bought a Nexus 7.

Nexus 7

My issues with the Nexus 7 are totally my own;  I missed the tablet interface and I soon found out that the 7″ form factor wasn’t what I wanted in a tablet.  I wanted … nay … demanded a 10″ screen.  It wasn’t long before SmoothROM came out – a custom ROM for the Nexus 7 that restored the tablet interface.  That quelled me for awhile – especially since it was leaked that Samsung was bringing us a 10″ Nexus tablet “very soon”.  I decided to hold on to the Nexus 7 until that time.  Lest anyone think I’m knocking the Nexus 7; it is a FANTASTIC piece of hardware – and probably the best solution for MOST people interested in a high quality, well-supported tablet with a great price tag and plenty of power under the hood.

Finally, the Nexus 10 came out – and here we are; ready to put it through it’s paces.

The Specifications

Specs do not a great product make.  Nintendo has been clobbering Sony for the better part of a decade with “inferior hardware” in the handheld division.  But, all reviews must have these things – and in some cases, it makes a difference here.

Let’s start off with the screen.  10.05 inch display running at a whopping 2560 x 1600 with 300 PPI (pixels per inch).  If you’re wondering if that is better than the latest iPad, the answer is ‘yes’.  Yes it is.  Featuring Gorilla Glass 2 (yes, real Gorilla Glass – not like the Nexus 7’s Corning Glass) this PLS display is gorgeous.  PLS stands for Plane to Line Switching, which helps Samsung deliver some pretty spectacular viewing angles — even better than the already stellar ones you’ll find on IPS panels.  You will not be disappointed.  Some users have complained about contrast and subdued colors – but frankly, it is all dependent on how much brightness you have turned on, what you’re viewing and the environment around you.  Most reviews will tell you it is at least on par with iPad – and you get more resolution in near-16×9 aspect ratio (a selling point for movie watchers).

300 PPI Screen

Under the hood, it sports a Samsung Exynos 5 Dual core, 1700 MHz, ARM Cortex-A15 processor with PLENTY of power to drive that sexy screen.  System memory is a whopping 2GB with either 16GB or 32GB (depending on the model you purchased).  Yeah, she’s fast enough for you, old man …

On the exterior, you’ll find both a front (1.9MP) and rear (5mp) camera, giving you 1920×1080 recording @ 30 fps.  You’ll also find a micro HDMI  port (not mini – so if you’re coming from the TF101, you’ll be buying another cable) on the right side, standard microUSB power plug and headphone jack on the left side, volume rocker and power button on the top.  The bottom sports a POGO pin connector (if we ever see a docking station for the Nexus 10).

The unit itself weighs in at ONLY 1.33 pounds – making it lighter than even the latest iPad – and less than double the weight of the Nexus 7 clocking in at .75 pounds.  Impressive.

The bezel around the screen is moderate – giving your fingers and thumb room to hold on without being ungodly in size.  The corners are DISTINCTIVELY rounded – actually making it comfortable to hold in your palms by the corners but giving the unit possibly a bit TOO rounded look for some people.  If you’re coming from the TF300, you’ll be fine.  If you’re coming from the TF101 you might be a bit taken back.

Inside you’ll also find GPS and NFC to round off the mix; plus you’ll get full-HID Bluetooth – making this a pretty full-featured tablet.

The 9000 mAh battery will give you easily a full day charge – probably more depending on your needs.  Standby lasts seemingly forever, but is rated at 500 hours.  As always with any battery specs, your mileage will always vary from the quoted specs.  However, I can comfortably say that battery life is NOT an issue with this tablet – even with that kick-ass screen.

The speakers are gratefully flanking the screen on both sides offering an amazingly high quality playback compared to the TF300 and Nexus 7’s rear speaker.  Those coming from the TF101 or other front-speaker tablets will be right at home.  For such small, thin speakers – the sound is remarkably loud and clear – albeit a bit tinny, but that isn’t anything you aren’t expecting from tablet speakers.

Clever readers will notice I didn’t mention a microSD card slot or a USB port.  Both are missing from the Nexus 10 – in the great Nexus style.  But there is good news coming on that front

Gripping Back

The Construction

Normally I would have added this to the Specifications above, but coming from a history of so-so tablets – I wanted to be clear on this topic.

Unlike the creaking TF101, this is a nice, solid unit.  No creaks or any sign of “poor” decisions in construction.  The Gorilla Glass 2 brings perfect touch to the screen; so much so that I’m almost sad I’ll have to put a Ghost Armor screen protector on it.What is even more impressive is the back.  Not cold and hard like the iPad, but not like the Nexus 7’s award-winning backside either.  There is NO cheap plastic here like on the TF300.  The back of the unit is incredible – I love the feel of it.  At first, I was sad in hearing that the Neuxs 7 backing wasn’t going to be used – but once I got it in my hands?  I had no regrets.  It clings to your hand without being “sticky”, doesn’t “sweat” (you big guys know what I’m talking about) and feels like top-notch construction.  Those of you who prefer your tablet go “naked” as opposed to being in a case?  You will be thrilled at the angles you can hold the tablet without any fear of it sliding off your hand – or even your pants if you have it on your lap.  I happily walk around with the tablet horizontal in my outstretched hand; I feel that secure with the gripping of the back.

Take a look at the picture on the right.  That shows the angle I’m holding the unit and it’s still gripping my hand.  Note it is NOT resting on the table.

The Camera

I debated even putting this section in here – because quite frankly – cameras on tablets make me crazy.  Front facing camera?  Sure – I get that; video chat.  Rear facing cameras?  Just trouble.  Every time I see someone shooting pictures or video with their tablet pressed up to their faces – it makes me want to take a human life.

As with every cell/tablet camera, your mileage will vary on so many factors.  The front facing camera at 1.9MP is fine for an impromptu Google Hangout- but you’re not going to want to record your Last Will and Testament on it.  The rear camera is good for emergencies only; that is – you’re in a car accident and your phone was destroyed in the crash, but somehow your Nexus 10 made it … feel free to take pictures for your insurance.  Of course, if you see a UFO or alien and you just CAN’T be bothered to get your phone out – I’ll take your crappy tablet pictures over nothing.

For everything else?  Use your phone; or better yet – bring a real camera to your son’s ONLY first birthday party.

Here are samples from the rear facing camera.  Outside, bright daylight pictures are better – but not much.  With the money you saved buying the Nexus 10 over an iPad, get a nice digital point and shoot camera.  Your pictures will look 10x better.

The Software

New in 4.2

As a Nexus device, you will find this Samsung device devoid of all manufacturer shell – that is, there is no sign of anything like TouchWiz ruining the Google experience.  With 4.2 out of the box and 4.2.1 an update away – you’re sure to enjoy the latest features that Google and Android have to offer.  Since this tablet isn’t tied to a carrier – there is no rubbish issues with Verizon crippling the device or any sort of software left out of the Google experience.  Samsung has thankfully kept their meathooks off the installation build.

This tablet brings a whole new definition to the term “buttery UI”.  Out of the box, this thing runs silky smooth – despite the resolution and lack of “Tegra” processor.  UI is fast, snappy and slick.  This isn’t a device you will be ashamed to put in the hands of your iPad-lovin’ friends or family.  As with anything relating to Android, as you put your own apps, set up your own syncing, etc. your mileage with the UI responsiveness will vary.  You can’t blame the tablet if you’re on a crappy Wf-Fi and the browser stutters a little bit as it loads stuff up.  If you’re silly enough to put system watching and app killing software on here, you’re going to take a hit on performance – but that’s anywhere you go.  Even with my “standard load out” of apps, sync settings, etc. the experience on this tablet continues to be silky smooth.

Running the Apps

No Tegra Zone For You

As always with new Android releases, there is a period of time where some apps need some “catching up” time to support higher resolution, hardware, etc.  Most “tablet apps” I use all worked right out of the box – no issues to be found.  Having gone from 10″ to 7″, I lost the Game Informer app which gives you an interactive edition of their gaming magazine each month.  I was excited to get this app BACK now that I was 10″ again – but alas, this app is one of the few that crapped out and still hasn’t been fixed.

Some apps like The Pinball Arcade suffered some resolution related issues with menus and various layout changes; even though the game tables themselves worked fine.

Without Tegra, there are a handful of games I was used to having that are simply unavailable on a non-Tegra device.  Zen Pinball and Renaissance Blood are two such games, along with the THD version of Fruit Ninja that had to be stricken from my tablet.  Some of my other favorite games like Shine Runner are Tegra “enhanced” but still run on non-Tegra hardware.  On Shine Runner for example, I was able to crank the graphics level full-bore and still was able to play it with super silky smooth video.  Even Tegra 3 hiccuped from time to time with this game on full graphics level; the Nexus 10 does it without thinking twice about it.

Overall, the “move” from 7″ to 10″ in higher resolution and non-Tegra graphics was relatively smooth.

The Dark Side

Nothing is perfect and the Nexus 10 isn’t either.  The question is – can you live with a few minor shortcomings in an otherwise fantastic experience?

Android 4.2 shipped with a lot of bugs; random rebooting, no month of December in contacts – chances are, you’ve heard the stories already.  Remember, this is what you currently get out of the box.  If you’re a lazy updater, you will run into these sort of issues until you DO upgrade to 4.2.1.  For the most part, this is NOT a killing blow.

Those of you who are into pairing up real controllers to your Android devices via Bluetooth – here is the knife to your heart.  Google changed Bluetooth stacks from v4.1 to v4.2.x.  That means all those cool “pairing” tools like USB/BT Joystick Center and the others – including emulators with Wii-mote support – currently do not work on the Nexus 10 – regardless of version of Android you’re running.  Reports of 4.2.1 fixing certain programs are running around, but I haven’t seen this personally yet.  iCade and other HUD devices that attach to Bluetooth via keyboard emulation all still work fine.  Truth is, it is only a matter of time before these apps are fixed; so if you can wait it out, this won’t be an issue either.

OTG w/MicroSD

One of the biggest headaches on 4.2.x devices is the new multiple user system implemented in Android by Google.  For users of OTG (On The Go) usb adapters, this rendered read/write operations to a flash drive or memory stick useless.  Some apps like Nexus Media Importer (a read only media viewer) continued to work – but the real power of OTG is being able to access your OTG-driven storage from any app you needed to.  At the time of writing, the OTG ‘go to’ app, StickMount, supposedly has OTG working in 4.2.x properly.  I haven’t had time to confirm this.  For some people, this could be a death stroke on the product – since it is missing a removable SD card; OTG is used to compensate for this with large-storage demand users.

One of the things I was thrilled with was getting rid of the 30-pin connector and proprietary charging/data cable of the Transformer series.  I have microUSB plugs scattered all through the house, but I only had ONE place to plug in and charge my TF101 and TF300.  Having the power plug as microUSB is fantastic; but it comes with a trade off.  Because USB is limited to 5v, the Nexus 10 is a SLOW CHARGER.  For MOST people that throw their items on a charger at night when they go to bed – this is no big deal.  The Nexus 10 will HAPPILY work for you pretty much all day long (depending on your usage).  For some, though – speed of charging between uses is a real issue and here is one place the Nexus 10 does not excel in.  As a power user, I find the trade off COMPLETELY acceptable.  As I said, I have microUSB everywhere at home – even at work.  I can give it some juice or even plug it in while I use it most of the time thanks to the commonality of the port.  I believe most people will feel this way – but it had to be mentioned.

Lastly, if you’re a CIFS user (and you already know if you are) – thanks to the multi-user permission system in 4.2.x, CIFS is not accessible currently through standard apps like Mount Manager or CIFS Manager.  There IS a work around – but this can be a sticky point for advanced users.

Lack of microSD card is a stone cold killer for some folks – but with OTG and CIFS solutions, as well as a 32GB model available; I don’t consider this the Dark Side of the Force. Nexus is moving away from external storage built in; it is something we just have to get use to and learn to live with.  Read my article to learn how to live without an SD card.

For the Modder / Hacker

For the common user, you can skip right past this section and move on to the summary below.

As with any Nexus device, you would expect this unit to be extremely hackable – and it is.  Bootloader opens right up and root access is pretty much a click away.  Custom ROMs are possible (and available) including the venerable CyanogenMod (CM10) as well as several AOSP and lightly modified AOSP style builds.  Custom kernels are a bit light at the time of writing, but dev takes time.  The hacking community has embraced the machine and the Nexus 10 forums on XDA are alive and well – lest you worry about buying a “lemon” tablet that gets no support.

As above mentioned, CIFS continues to be an issue – but I suspect a turn key solution is right around the corner.  For those well-versed in shell scripting (or just comfortable getting around the file system and editing text files) there is a work around to get get CIFS running.  I’ll be posting a tutorial soon.

If you run across OTG issues even with the fixed apps, Craig’s AOSP custom ROM has support baked in.  Fine ROM; it’s what I’m using.

Feel free to post your questions below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Summary

This is probably the droid you’re looking for.  The price is substantially lower than an iPad – even most top end 10″ Android tablets.  The screen is insane, it is silky smooth and the weight and construction round out a near-perfect package.

If all  you want is a 10″ tablet; you have some options.  If you want a docking solution out of the box, the Nexus 10 isn’t it (try a Transformer Infinity – but be ready to pay).  If you don’t care about the Nexus/AOSP experience and you’re ok (or even DESIRE) manufacturer shells overlaid on top of Android – there are several other potentials on your shopping list.  If Tegra support means a lot to you (because you just can’t live without the 5 or so Tegra only games) – the Nexus 10 isn’t the droid you’re looking for.

Personally speaking, this is MY go-to tablet.  There is nothing I’m unhappy about (except for CIFS – but that is very niche and limited to a small handful of us; plus I have a workaround and a “real” solution isn’t far off) – and a LOT that I am down-right THRILLED about.  The price to performance ratio is stellar and it is a true performer in every way.

If you are on the fence, pull the trigger.  If you’re on the fence about 16GB vs 32GB, my PERSONAL recommendation is to get 16GB and a cheap OTG cable ($6 at most) along with a USB flash drive or SD card reader.  I consider myself a power user with a lot of games and fat apps installed and even with the OS overhead, I still have almost 50% of my 16GB left (I keep all my big, part time data on a microSD card plugged into OTG).  Even at $499, the 32GB is still cheaper than the iPad and is a very good buy.  Your needs, of course, may vary.

For many people, a 7″ tablet is what they need and the Nexus 7 fills that need nicely.  But if you are looking at that screen hours a day, that gorgeous 10″ 300 PPI screen DOES make a difference and your eyes will thank you (and so will your wrists and hands too).

Feel free to ask any questions you like in the comments section and I’ll be happy to answer them.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

5 comments to “Review: Samsung Nexus 10 Tablet”

  1. BJ Wanlund says:

    Great review!

    Question: What does a 10-inch tablet do for your purposes that, say, the Nexus 7 didn’t do for you? The reason I ask is because I’ve been “converted” to the 7-inch side of the Force, and I like the sizes and form factors therein and I don’t understand what makes someone like one size / form factor over another.

    Apologies if I sound noobish, but I want to understand, even if I am not totally converted to the Android side of the Force yet with a device of my own.

    • It is a combination of things.

      First, more real estate makes a difference on many of the apps/games that I use. The Pinball Arcade is almost a completely new experience with more screen space and better visibility. As an information junkie, I can have MORE information visible at one time with less scrolling and less zooming – making it a much more passive experience than an “interactive” one (sometimes that’s good).

      Many apps behave differently on bigger screens. Some apps like my News360 are CONSIDERABLY a better experience on a 10″ tablet than a 7″ one – even after they built Nexus 7 support into it. For remote PC access? The bigger, the better.

      There is always a trade off between screen/size and portability. Most people favor the latter – and prefer the 7″ experience. Me? My tablet time revolves mostly around the couch – making portability irrelevant. At work, I need the 10″ to do better remote sessions to my home PC.

  2. Fabu says:

    How long do you think it will take for the developers to get more tablet specific apps for this device?

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