Google's Nexus 10 made quite a splash with its debut. Packing an iPad-stomping high resolution display and an Exynos 5 under the hood, Google's flagship 10" tablet earned rave reviews and blew up the benchmarks. We're not here to repeat multiple graphs and charts done by others just to say we've done them; we've got a different take on things. I've lived with the tablet for over a week as my daily driver and even let my wife take it for a spin.
Outside the Box
Having done this tech writer thing for a decade now, I've gotten over the thrill of opening a box to find out that it includes exactly what I thought it was going to include to begin with. If you want an unboxing video, YouTube's got you covered. The biggest surprise I found in the box - besides just how much plastic cling Samsung can put on one ultra-thin tablet - was that the data / charging cable is actually a decent, usable length. After the disappointing mess that was the Nexus 7 charging cable (Even Tom Thumb thought that cable was short), I was ready to go with my army of Monoprice MicroUSB cables of various length to have any hope of simultaneously using and charging this beast. Thank you, Samsung, for giving us a realistic length of USB cable in the box as part of the standard package.
The Nexus 10 isn't the first rodeo for my family when it comes to tablets; my wife and I kick around an HP Touchpad between us at home, and she occasionally steals my school-issued (and Survival case-clad) iPad 3 to work on her Weekly Antique Update article for the local paper while we're on extended drives. Both of us had a little bit of a hard time getting used to just how light and thin the Nexus 10 is compared to the other tablets we're used to using on a regular basis. Fatigue was never an issue for either of us. The screen ratio was a little difficult for my better half to get used to, if for no reason other than she was so used to the Touchpad.
There's one design decision that Samsung made that left us shrugging, and that's the placement of the speakers on the front of the tablet flanking either side of the screen. It's both a genius move and a clumsy one, but ultimately I think it is the best compromise possible. I enjoyed having a stereo soundscape while watching movies on the Nexus 10, and pointing the speakers at the listener certainly makes more sense than some of the other interesting places that speakers have landed on tablets (like pointing back and away from the listener on the iPad, or down into the cover fold on the Touchpad). My wife, on the other hand, gave the tablet some funny looks as she tried to hold it with two hands without partially blocking the speaker grills with her thumbs. Her extent of listening to anything on a tablet is playing back Vonage and Google Voice voicemail messages, so she wasn't too irked by the speaker configuration.
Since we're talking about movies...
Dark of the Moon is the freebie that came with my Nexus 7 activation, and since it's the one option I have in Play Movies it's the one I watched while testing the Nexus 10's media capabilities. The writing might be suspect and my inner child cries from the lack of Grimlock, but I can see the (non-financial) reasons why Google picked it as the movie freebie. There's a significant amount of visual contrast, lots of motion, and a wide color pallet - in short, a great setup to show off just what the Nexus 10's screen can do. Even the stereo speakers get a workout as missiles and severed robotic limbs whiz by on a (seemingly) regular basis.
The Nexus 10 has a screen I can get lost in, easily. It is bright and vibrant, with good color separation and a lack of ghosting (at least I didn't notice any). Frankly, it made my regularly tuned and adjusted 24" Samsung LCD monitor have an inferiority complex as I watched Dark of the Moon side by side on it. Even my 46" LG LCD in the living room wasn't as clear and crisp. I could watch movies on the Nexus 10 all day and not tire of it. Listening? Now that's a completely different situation altogether.
The Listening Experience
At some point, practically everyone will get around to listening to some music or other audio on their Android device. The Nexus 10 is no exception. You can either (try to) enjoy your music via the front stereo speakers, or plug in a set of headphones via the port directly below the MicroUSB port on the left side of the tablet. Any way you approach it, you're not going to have the best possible experience without some form of intervention. Notice the sudden change in written tone here? I take my music listening seriously, and I wasn't exactly impressed with this part of the experience.
There are three different musical selections I use when testing new listening avenues (either device-level or output-level). Each of the three have different characteristics that test the limits of hardware in specific ways. Those selections are:
- Ana Ng, They Might Be Giants - The bass drums and electric bass should both have a very clear punch and presence; the distorted voice at 1:47 should be understood clearly without need to turn up the volume; the strummed piano strings should be articulate and well-defined, with attack and decay being identifiable for each strum.
- Vortex, University of Tennessee Wind Ensemble CBDNA 1999 - Multiple glissandi and rapid moving lines in the piano should have audible separation both with repeated rhythmic patterns and between changing notes. Xylophone sticking should be heard clearly during sections where the part is in unison with the upper woodwinds. The bow-on-bell ringing should have a clear fundamental presence without sounding screechy or jagged.
- Prelude and Fugue, University of Tennessee Wind Ensemble CBDNA 1999 - There are multiple melodic lines to follow during the fugue, with plenty of embellishments and ornamentation; each line should be clearly discernible. The C1 in the tuba part on the last note should have a full presence without sounding droopy or nonexistent.
Generally I'd split between the two sets of ear/headphones I listen with on a regular basis but the experience with both was so similar that it's not worth a second discussion. My Creative Labs in-ear monitors (which I bought so long ago that I don't remember the model number, just that they were recommended at Head-Fi.org at the time) provided a better isolated experience than the speakers with a little more clarity across the center of the soundscape, and that's about it. Even with my JVC HA-RX700 cans (a great cheap buy with an almost identical tonal fingerprint and range to the much more expensive Audio Technica ATH-A900), Ana Ng lacks punch and depth for the electric bass, vocal articulation is lacking crispness. and the bridge section has only slightly more clarity. Vortex has slightly more cut in the high-range sections, but the bass is still muddy and anything below 128Hz is all attack with very little tone to follow. About the only thing headphones will do is protect the experience from outside interference and offer a slightly tighter sound than the speakers provide.
I hate to say it, but anyone north of a casual listener will end up at some point considering outside intervention to get a quality listening experience here, either through major DSPManager tweaking or (unfortunately, and may be a better word here) the use of an external headphone amp such as a Fiio E6. If as much care had been spent on the audio experience as the visual experience, the Nexus 10 would be a portable media center leaps and bounds above anything else on the market. The average user with the aisle-endcap pretty blue or pink earbuds probably won't be too disappointed, but anyone who has invested in a set of quality ear gear with a specific soundscape in mind will likely find themselves nonplussed. I don't know whether to blame the DAC selection or lack of power sent to the port, but a small tweak here by Samsung would go a long way towards a better total experience.
(The University of Tennessee Wind Ensemble recordings are from the live performance at the 1999 CBDNA South Regional Conference; those wishing to duplicate the audio experiences I listed herein solely for the purpose of testing should contact me via the forum's private messaging system for information on how to obtain the recordings legally. Or just message me if you like chatting about good wind band music; I don't mind. Really!)
You can't really have a discussion of a modern, sleek, high-performing portable computing, communication, and entertainment device without talking about how much juice it's going to suck down during even the most mundane of tasks. I've got good news and bad news for you, but it's more good than bad - at least I think it is.
From 0% to 100%, it took a little over 7 hours to fill up the Nexus 10's battery reserves. That's not too shabby for a battery made to handle a richly-endowed tablet. Unfortunately, the flip side of the situation is that the battery drains at a pretty reasonable click as well. I charged the tablet and let it sit with Google's stock settings left unchanged (WiFi and GPS on, Google Now enabled, etc). While my iPad 3 might lose a couple percentage points per day (if that) when left sitting in a corner of my office, the Nexus 10 dropped around 20% charge every 24 hours with Maps as the main culprit. Compared to my hacked-up Touchpad, this is downright righteous; it drops from full to empty in just under two days when running anything but WebOS.
Asphalt 7 is one of my few guilty pleasures; it was nice to see that a quick twenty minute gaming session only knocked around 5% off the battery life. That's with speakers blaring, too. Watching movies was also a nice surprise; Dark of the Moon knocked off only 24% of the battery from beginning to end. The Nexus 10 is definitely more of a battery sipper than a battery gulper - just don't leave it turned on and unplugged for days on end and you'll be fine.
There are a few notes I had stuck to my monitor of thing to include that weren't big enough to have their own section. Asphalt 7 translated well to the Nexus 10's larger screen (I usually play it on my Nexus 7). Getting used to the gyroscopic controls on the larger device took a little bit of time and the larger body motions I was making were big enough that my 4 year old son kept asking me if I was ok. While the game was absolutely smooth with no hitch or stutter, I was a little disappointed to find that the load times were just as long as on my Nexus 7. Flash memory can ony do so much at once, so I'll be forgiving of this. Once you're in the level it's smooth sailing to the end.
I haven't mentioned the camera for two reasons. First, they're your standard smartphone-style front and rear cameras. No special optics, no crazy German names, just two solid cameras that are pretty good at what they do. Second, while I may be a closet audiophile I'm most definitely not a closet photog. I'd love to get into a discussion of the graininess of images in low light situations or shutter speed settings and on the fly adjustments, but I'd admittedly be in over my head. My wife offers a ringing endorsement, though; she liked how easy it was to snap a quick picture of the kids playing in the living room without having to go get her little handheld or ancient flip phone, and the rear-facing camera took pictures she's have no problem using for her shops at various online antique malls. If momma's happy, I'm happy.
I ran into one problem watching Dark of the Moon that I'm going to attribute to bad router and just move along. Twice during the movie, the tablet became stuck on a frame and wouldn't go past. The audio became stuck, too, and it very quickly became an annoying mess as the screen was completely unresponsive. It took several button presses of various combinations on the power and volume rocker buttons to get the tablet to reboot. This happened again, but while I was also doing something with my Nexus 7 and had my eye on the notification bar. The freeze came when I lost WiFi signal from the router. I tried to recreate the event, but was not able to do so while manually turning the router's wireless access on and off. I'm blaming the router on this one. My wife is blaming me for interrupting her Farmville addiction through the whole diagnostic ordeal.
The $399 Question
Yes, I'd buy one; so should you if you're in a serious hunt for a tablet this Chris-Han-Kwan-Festivus-Tet-Solstice-mas season. I'd actually be buying one for my wife this Christmas had other things not jumped to the top of the budget priority list. It's the first Android device that she's actually really enjoyed using, and that's saying something.
There's only one caveat that I think needs extra consideration prior to spending money on this tablet, and that caveat is geared at a very specific (and very discriminating) group. Audiophiles will have some serious thinking to do when comes to the purchase, but I wouldn't bet against one of the Android superdevs coming through with an audio tweak app that might redeem the tablet's aural component. That's really my biggest concern when it comes to the purchase. The rest of the tablet - from the construction, to the screen quality, to the fact that it's running pure Android unsullied by a half-baked and often device-slowing OEM-designed UI - is a tremendous bargain. Expect to see a full range of accessories coming out over the next few months as well.
The Nexus 10 is an in-the-park home run for Google, a device they can be proud to hang their hat on.
And now it's time for me to give it away!
That's right: now that I've fallen in love with the Nexus 10, I'm going to set it free - right into the waiting hands of one of our readers! The contest is really easy. First, help us spread the word by clicking the Twitter link at the top of the article. Add in the tag #WinAnN10 when you tweet the link so we can track your participation. Second, leave a comment in the Disqus section below with a few words for the author. Did you enjoy the article? Would you like to see me do more product reviews? Is there something specific you'd like covered in future reviews that this one didn't contain? We get better thanks to your input. Don't forget to include your Twitter handle so we can verify that you tweeted. Two steps, one chance to win a very nice tablet. You can't go wrong with this one, folks.
Best of luck, we look forward to your comments - and to sending one of you a Nexus 10!
The contest is limited to the United States of America. The winner will receive the Nexus 10 used in the review and all original packaging, with the tablet restored to the factory state. The contest opens immediately and will close at 8 pm PDT on Wednesday, December 19. The winner will be picked by the author and be announced in an article update on Thursday, December 20.