Review: Google Nexus 10

Google and Samsung have teamed up to create the new Nexus 10 tablet. Play with it for a few minutes and it becomes obvious the two companies have exercised their many powers to get everything right.

The new device is very, very fast. It has the highest resolution display of any 10-incher on the market. The styling is restrained, but attractive. The case is lightweight and thin. The camera and the front-facing speakers are solid. The user interface is mature and polished, and the Nexus 10 provides the most pleasant experience I’ve ever seen on a big-screen Android tablet.

But, unfortunately, the same dark cloud hovering over all larger Android tablets also pains the Nexus 10: a lack of apps. There simply aren’t enough tablet-specific apps available on Android, and no matter how swift or shiny or sexy your hardware is, that really stings. It’s the apps that make the tablet.

Apple’s iPad, which on paper is outmatched by the Nexus 10 in nearly every way, is still a more compelling product because it has 275,000 iPad-specific apps sitting in Apple’s App Store just waiting to be downloaded, touched, tapped and swiped.

It makes the Nexus 10’s primary mission — jump-starting Android’s 10-inch tablet ecosystem — seem all the more daunting. While there are more than 700,000 apps built for Android, most of them were built with phones — not tablets — in mind. Google has been diven to publicly pleading with developers to build the tablet-optimized apps everyone with a Transformer Pad or Galaxy tablet has been dreaming about.

The Nexus 7, Google’s phenomenal 7-inch device, has set a high bar for the Nexus 10. Asus has already sold millions of units and is expecting to see monthly sales top 1 million. While it faces the same lack-of-tablet-app problem as the Nexus 10, its $200 price tag, gorgeous display and monstrous power make it a more compelling buy. Also consider the Nexus 7’s diminutive size, which not only makes it better for using with one hand, reading, and for keeping nearby at all times, but also makes using stretched-out phone apps less painful. But on a 10-inch tablet, stretched phone apps are non-starters, and the software drought is much tougher to ignore.

It’s a simple trick to make the Nexus 10 feel like more fun than other larger 10-inch tablets (“Look at all the stuff you can watch!”) and it works really well here, just as well as it did on the Nexus 7 where Google first tried this approach. And watching stuff on it is quite pleasant. The back and sides are coated in a grippy, rubberized polymer that makes the device easier to hold with one hand. (Though this is a Samsung device, it doesn’t have any of the glossy, cheap-feeling plastic of other Samsung tablets.) The Nexus 10 is also slightly wedge-shaped; it’s thinner at its bottom than its top. Despite the slope, the 1.33-pound weight doesn’t feel unbalanced. The result is a big tablet that is easier to hold for longer periods of time.

The Nexus 10 runs on Android 4.2 and, like other Nexus devices, this tablet will receive its over-the-air updates directly from Google, with none of the delays imposed by hardware companies. On November 13, the Nexus 10’s ship date, Google plans to push an update that will allow multiple user profiles on the Nexus 10.

I haven’t gotten a chance to try this out, though some Google employees have demoed the feature for me and it makes perfect sense. More so than phones, tablets are shared among two or more people in a household, and user switching would enable each person to jump in and see his or her own Google data, e-mail, apps and entertainment purchases all synced up, without having to futz with the Google accounts of family members. That will be a welcome addition.

So here you have a tablet that looks like every other tablet — yet another black rectangle. And yet, the pure Android 4.2 software (which is the best all-around Android experience out there) combined with the stellar internals and the awesome screen make it vastly better than any other big Android tablet before it. It’s clearly the best 10-inch Android tablet you can buy right now. If only we had some apps to spice it up.

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