The past couple of years have seen a flood of non-iPad tablets hit the market, most of them running Android OS, and all of them doing their darnedest to catch a break against the Apple iOS juggernaut. To date there have been no breakout hits, despite a few seeming contenders, Amazon’s Fire tablets and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, for instance, which isn’t to say that there isn’t worthy competition. To the contrary, we think that the Google Nexus 10 tablet – a bigger version of the Nexus 7 that came out in 2012 – is, pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar, the best Android tablet we’ve tested, and is certainly worth a look for the iPad skeptics out there.
With the exception of its 10-inch glass display, which, by the way, happens to have the highest resolution of any tablet on the market at 2560 x 1600 pixels or 300 ppi (even besting the iPad’s vaunted Retina display), the Nexus 10’s spec are otherwise generic if completely serviceable. It’s reasonably thin at just 8.9mm (.9 centimenters), light at 1.3 pounds, and has a nice rubberized backing, which makes holding it comfortable. The front-facing camera is 1.9 megapixels, the rear 5MP, and there’s built-in WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC (Near Field Communication – the ability to connect with other devices by a tap or “beam”). We do like the Micro USB and HDMI ports, though the internal 16GB (or 32GB) of storage isn’t boostable, since it has no memory card slot. So, it’s better than some, bested by others, but solid all the same.
The Nexus 10 is a standout, though, when you consider it as a whole package, and that includes its software: the latest Android OS, version 4.2, or Jelly Bean. Unlike smartphones and tablets by most other brands, which have software “skins” that add or alter functionality (as well as bloatware apps tacked on by service providers), Google’s line of Nexus devices come with pristine versions of Android. And what a version of Android it is. Here are just a few Jelly Bean features we like: multiple user accounts, just like your home PC, so that more than one family member can log on; the ability to pair NFC Bluetooth devices like headphones simply by tapping the two devices together; and a built-in camera app with so many cool features (including Photo Sphere, a multidirectional panorama feature that is best described as DIY Street View).
The pièce de resistance is Google Now, an ambient location-based app that automatically gives you relevant information based on what you do and where you are (commute times, nearby movies, currency conversions, nearby public transportation). The gist is that all of your various Google-linked apps – Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Search, and so-on – analyze and look for patterns in your behaviors and then start performing functions proactively. So, if you go to work every day at the same time, it may throw up a notification (called “cards”) a few minutes before you leave alerting you to a traffic jam on your normal path. Likewise, it’ll look at your calendar and instantly send you a reminder that you need to leave by a certain time to get to your appointment promptly (fully taking current traffic conditions into account). Or it may suggest restaurants, places of interest, and even good places nearby to take photos when you’re traveling to a foreign city. This ‘Minority Report’-like feature is incredibly intrusive and terrifying on some levels, for sure, but also kind of cool – the first step in the fulfillment of the dream of a truly intelligent computer assistant who speaks plain English to you while performing complex and tedious tasks.
The Nexus has its pitfalls, too: We wish, for example, that there was a mobile broadband–capable model, so we didn’t have to depend on WiFi to get online. And we don’t love the cover that Google offers, which requires that you unclip a panel on the rear, and doesn’t work well as a kickstand while you’re watching movies. Overall, though, the Nexus 10 is a powerful, well-rounded device for the money ($100 less than the base iPad), and the best foot forward for Android yet. ($399, 16GB; $499, 32GB; play.google.com)