Ever since Apple introduced the original iPad back in 2010, the Android camp has been constantly attempting to imitate its success. However, despite the enthusiasm with which Android manufacturers have announced tablet devices of their own in 2010 (at the time, the entire industry seemed to be affected by a tablet frenzy virus of some sort), only a few of them have managed to escape the “failure” stigma. 2011 was not a great year for Android tablets either, despite the fact that Google had launched its first tablet version of Android 3.0 Honeycomb. (The Motorola Xoom has Nexus status when it comes to new OS updates from Google.)
Fortunately for Android fans though, 2012 has been a great year for Android tablets: first there was the avalanche of Nvidia Tegra 3 Android 4.0 tablets (the first Android version to unify both the tablet and the smartphone version of our favorite OS) that launched in the first part of the current year (the ASUS Transformer Prime gets a noteworthy mention here). This was the first batch of Android tablets that did not suck big time.
Fast forward to July 2012 and we reach a crucial point for the Android tablet market: the launch of the first Google Nexus tablet, the Nexus 7. To date, the Nexus 7 is the most successful Android tablet to have ever reached the market. ASUS says that Nexus 7 units are currently shipping at a rate of roughly 1 million per month – not exactly iPad-like sales, but definitely a sign that consumers are interested in Android tablets.
But despite the commercial success of the Nexus 7, Apple’s iPad was not really under threat, because the Nexus 7 is a budget tablet, while the iPad aims for the top-end of the market. Fast forward a few extra months and now we witness the launch of the Google Nexus 10, the most powerful Android tablet ever, and a genuine Apple iPad competitor.
But is this Android tablet able to take on the iPad on its home turf? Read on and find out!
When Apple introduced the iPad 3, plenty agreed that it featured the best tablet display ever, with the iPad 2 display coming in at a distant second. The slight update that Apple names “the iPad 4” comes with that same display: a 9.7-inch LED-backlit IPS TFT panel working to power 2048 x 1536 pixels at a 264 PPI density.
As the resolution clearly denotes, the iPad 4 uses the same 4:3 aspect ratio as all the other members of the iPad family, a sort of trademark for the Apple iPad line. Although only crazy people could claim that the display on the iPad 4 is anything but wonderful, there’s a new boss in town!
Yep, we’re talking about the Google Nexus 10 and its 10.055-inch display with 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution. Simple math gives us a PPI ratio of 299. Now, given that Apple markets the iPad Retina display as the crispest display around, it is very pleasant to see that the Nexus 10 display offers an even higher pixel density. Hopefully, other Android tablet manufacturers will follow Samsung’s lead and equip their high-end tablets with displays of similar quality.
Although there are many things to praise at the Nexus 10, the extra high resolution display is probably its best selling point. As expected, Google tried to capitalize this selling point by boasting how the Nexus 10’s display is crisp enough to offers print-like quality when reading magazines.
Some reports claim that the difference between the Nexus 10 and the Nexus 7 is not actually that significant when displaying text, but there are some who give credit to the Nexus 10. Now, we’re unable to judge before we get the Nexus 10 in our hands, but it should be mentioned that some early reviewers claim that the iPad 4 has better contrast, black levels, and viewing angles than the Nexus 10.
Google’s tablet gains the upper edge in the (few) games that have been updated to make use of its high resolution display. But we’ll discuss the number of apps that are optimized for the Nexus 10’s displays later in the article.
Verdict: Draw – The Nexus 10 might have a crisper display, but the iPad 4 has better contrast and wider viewing angles.
Build Quality & Design
When it comes to the design of our two contenders, things couldn’t have been any different than they are right now. The Apple iPad 4 and the Google Nexus 10 look to be designed with different philosophies in mind. While the unibody aluminum frame of the iPad 4 gives it a shiny, classy look, much like an expensive watch, the Nexus 10 is designed to look and feel like a toy (remember that Google markets Android apps and content in a “Play Store”), a gadget that you can pass around the house for everyone to take a shot at your Fruit Ninja high score .
As far as build quality is concerned, the iPad 4 isn’t the sturdiest tablet out there (it’s not too easy to break either), as the aluminum will easily scratch after a period of intense or sloppy usage. The Nexus 10 looks like it can sustain a bit of damage without suffering unsightly nicks and scratches. The rubbery material that Samsung has used is obviously reminiscent of the rubbery back of the Nexus 7. Keeping the bezel narrow wasn’t a priority for Google’s design team; I’m sure some prefer the narrower bezel on the iPad 4.
On to the exact dimensions, the Google Nexus 10 measures 263.8 x 177.8 x 8.9 mm (10.39 x 7.00 x 0.35 in) and weighs 603g (1.33lb), while the Apple iPad 4 measures 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4 mm (9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37 in) and weighs in at 662g (1.46lb). Due to the difference in screen sizes and aspect ratios, the Nexus 10 is considerably taller but a little narrower than the iPad.
The difference in weight – 60 grams – might seem negligible, but some argue that 600 grams is already too much to comfortably hold for a long time (as in watching movies or reading). The 0.5mm difference in thickness can be ignored.
As some unhappy iPad 3 owners know, the iPad 4 features the spanking new A6X SoC, one that combines a 1.4GHz dual-core (Swift) processor and a quad-core PowerVR SGX 554MP4 GPU from Imagination Technologies. Apple has equipped the iPad 4 with 1GB of RAM, at a time when high-end devices tend to come with 2GB of RAM. In all fairness though, you probably won’t know the difference.
When it comes to raw computing power, the iPad line has always featured the best CPU and GPU at the time of its launch. Just to give this segment a bit of context, you should remember that the iPad 3 features a SoC that still trashes (in benchmarks) most Android competitors. The A6X chip in the fourth generation iPad offers twice the raw power of the previous SoC (the A5X in the iPad 3 ), so Apple seemed poised to increase its lead. However, the Samsung Exynos 5 Dual SoC in the Nexus 10 can surely give the A6X a run for its money.
If you want a detailed analysis, read this article here from Anandtech; but essentially the Exynos 5 Dual packs a 1.7GHz dual-core ARM A15 processor and ARM’s new Mali-T604 (the 2012 Samsung Chromebook is also based on this SoC). Benchmarks scores show that the Nexus 10 has the fastest processor and GPU available on any Android device, ever.
CPU benchmarks place the Nexus 10 right next to the iPad 4. GPU benchmarks prove that, while the ARM Mali T604 is better than any GPU on any Android device, no graphics chip can rival the PowerVR SGX 554MP4 GPU so far.
Regarding the amount of RAM memory available on these two tabs, the iPad 4 features 1GB, while the Nexus 10 comes equipped with 2GB of RAM.
The Apple iPad 4 comes in three models depending on the amount of internal storage: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, with no option to expand this storage via a microSD card slot. The Samsung/Google Nexus 10 comes in 32GB and 64GB variants, also lacking a microSD expansion slot.
One area where the Apple iPad 4 has a clear advantage over the Nexus 10 is the connectivity segment: while the Google Nexus 10 comes in Wi-Fi only versions, Apple’s latest tab features 3G and LTE support. Like it did with the Nexus 7, Google will probably add a 3G version in the following months, but for the moment, the lack of 3G connectivity is a downside for plenty of people.
As far as cameras go, the Apple iPad 4 uses a 5MP primary camera and a 1.2MP secondary camera, while the Google Nexus 10 uses a combo of 5MP and 1.9MP cameras. Do not expect image quality to be extraordinary, but just enough for your basic point and shoot needs.
Probably due to its ultra-high resolution, the Google Nexus 10 is the only tablet than gets close to the huge battery capacity of the Apple iPad 4. The Nexus 10 uses a 9,000mAh battery, while the Apple iPad 4 uses a 11,560mAh battery. Expect both of these tablets to make it trough an entire day of moderate usage.
While we are discussing internal components, it’s important to know the price difference between the variants of the two tabs. The Google Nexus 10 costs $399 for the 16GB variant and $449 for the 32GB variant. As mentioned earlier, both versions are Wi-Fi only. On the other hand, the Wi-Fi only versions of the Apple iPad 4 cost $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. LTE connectivity costs an extra $130 for each version, meaning that the 16GB LTE-capable iPad 4 costs $629, and so on.
Verdict: The Nexus 10 gets close to the iPad 4, but Apple’s creation has the best internal hardware out there.
OS and Ecosystem
In the Android corner, the Google Nexus 10 uses the latest version of the Android OS 4.2 Jelly Bean. In the Apple corner, the iPad 4 runs on iOS 6.
Android 4.2 comes with several features that are especially relevant for tablets (multiple users profiles is a personal favorite of mine). But it’s important to acknowledge that the operating system is just one side of user experience, with the other one being the ecosystem of apps that are designed for that OS. Although I prefer Jelly Bean over iOS 6 as a tablet OS, Apple’s ecosystem provides a very polished experience and a huge variety of tablet-optimized apps.
More and more Android apps are designed to take advantage of tablet form factors, and it looks like Google is serious about coaxing Android developers to create better apps. But unfortunately for us Android fans, the Apple iPad 4 still offers way more tablet-optimized apps.
Verdict: I love Android, but the iPad 4 has a mature app ecosystem with a huge number of apps optimized for tablet use .
Pros and Cons
Google Nexus 10 Pros
- Best tablet display
- Reasonably priced
- Exynos 5 Dual SoC
Google Nexus 10 Cons
- No cellular connectivity
Apple iPad 4 Pros
- High number of tablet optimized apps
- The Apple A6X SoC is the reigning champion in the mobile world
Apple iPad 4 Cons
- The eternal closed garden issue with iOS
- High price (especially for the LTE-enabled versions)
Android is not ready to dethrone the iPad just yet, but the Nexus 10 is more than just another also-ran.
While the iPad 4 perfects the Apple recipe, the Nexus 10 feels like Google’s way of saying “developers, what are you waiting for?” Android now has the hardware and the global reach required to offer an experience that’s on par with the iPad. And, with Google expected to sell loads of Nexus 10 and Nexus 7 units this holiday season, Android tablets are finally gaining traction in the developer community.
If you’re looking for the best Android tablet out there (and a decently priced one at that), the Google Nexus 10 is the only way to go. On the other hand, if you prefer Apple’s walled garden approach or you look for the best overall tablet out there, the Apple iPad 4 is the tablet you should buy. It never got this close, but the pricier iPad 4 wins this battle!
And how about you? Is it going to be the Nexus 10 or Apple’s latest iPad?