We continue our Nexus 10 review with a look at the software and apps.
Google Nexus 10: The software
Like with all of Google's Nexus devices, the software is what really sets the Nexus 10 apart from the competition. The Nexus 10 ships with a pure stock version of Google's new Android 4.2 operating system. That means you get the actual software Google's Android team created -- no cluttered and messy manufacturer-added interfaces and no mountains of bloatware glued onto the system.
The Nexus 10 ships with a pure stock version of Google's new Android 4.2 operating system.
The result is a fast, fluid and visually consistent user interface that's a pleasure to use. Equally important, it's a guarantee of fast and frequent future upgrades: While most Android tablets are dependent on their manufacturers for OS upgrades, Nexus devices receive their software directly from Google, typically within a week or two of a new release. That's a sharp contrast to the agonizing wait-and-see game owners of manufacturer-controlled tablets commonly face.
Android 4.2 brings a new but familiar look to the 10-in. tablet form: Instead of the tablet-specific UI introduced with Android 3.0 and carried over ever since, the Nexus 10 utilizes a setup that's more similar to what you find on an Android phone. It's very much like the UI used on the Nexus 7, only with a few additional tweaks designed to take advantage of the larger screen space.
At the top of the home screen, you have a persistent Google search bar that provides access to both the Google Now intelligent assistant tool and the Jelly Bean Voice Search feature. At the bottom, you have a Favorites Tray with eight customizable icons and a permanent shortcut to the app drawer. Beneath the tray is a black bar with virtual navigation buttons that let you move back, return home or switch apps from anywhere in the system; the buttons remain centered in that bar regardless of how you're holding the tablet.
Then there are the notifications: While previous Android tablets have displayed notifications as tiles in the lower-right corner of the screen, the Nexus 10 instead uses a variation of the standard top-of-screen setup. The main notifications pulldown is accessed by swiping down on the left side of the screen. Swiping down on the right, meanwhile, brings down a separate "quick settings" panel -- a new feature of Android 4.2 that provides quick access to basic system settings.
Even as someone who's used Android tablets since their earliest incarnations, I've found the new 10-in. tablet UI easy to use and adapt to. It feels completely natural to move from an Android phone to a 7-in. tablet to a 10-in. device -- and that platform-wide consistency is very much Google's goal with this UI change. From a perspective of platform growth and accessibility, that makes perfect sense.
The one area where I'm not completely sold is on the placement of the virtual navigation buttons. Those are buttons you frequently access while using a device -- and when holding a 10-in. tablet in landscape mode with two hands, their centered orientation makes them rather difficult to reach. I get why they're centered from a conceptual standpoint, but it'd sure be nice if there were a way for the user to reposition them to the left or right side of the screen for more ergonomic access.
Interface aside, Android 4.2 now supports multiple user accounts on tablets. Google says the feature will let each user maintain separate home screen setups and app collections as well as access to his own Google-related services like email and storage.
Multiuser support was not yet available on the prerelease software on my review device, so I wasn't able to test it. Google says it'll be added via an over-the-air update on the day the tablet launches; I'll revisit it in my blog once I've had the chance to check it out.
Android 4.2 introduces a slew of other new features, such as a redesigned Camera app, a new system keyboard with slide-to-type support and a powerful multilayered security system. There are also some improvements to the Gmail app and signs of subtle polish sprinkled throughout the UI.
Google Nexus 10: Apps
Before I wrap up, there's one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: the apps. Android is frequently criticized for the lack of apps that are optimized for the tablet form, particularly in comparison to Apple's iOS platform.
So how real of a problem is it? Well, it's all relative. In terms of objective measurements, Google doesn't release numbers about the percentage of "tablet apps" vs. "phone apps" within its Play Store. Android apps aren't really classified separately like that in the first place; rather, apps that are properly coded to Android 4.x design standards can scale up from one form to another without issue. (Very few Android apps have separate phone and tablet editions.) If they're designed well, they'll also incorporate additional UI elements -- multiple on-screen columns, for example -- when a larger screen size is detected.
Based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, I'd say it's probably fair to conclude that iOS has more apps that are optimized for the tablet form at this point. It's also fair to say that Android's collection of tablet-optimized apps is rapidly expanding -- and there's no shortage of sharp-looking selections to be found.
Pretty much all of Google's applications - Gmail, Maps, Google Docs/Drive, YouTube, Google Calendar, Google+ and so forth - look fantastic on a 10-in. device, as you'd expect. Popular note-taking apps like Evernote and Springpad are fully optimized for the large-screen form, as are video-streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus. You can find plenty of tablet-friendly office suites, communication tools, multimedia programs, reference utilities and news and weather applications, too, not to mention resizable, interactive widgets that live and function right on your tablet's home screen.