If you're searching for an iPad alternative, Google's Nexus 10 is worth a look.
Until recently, Apple pretty much had the full-size tablet market to itself. The early competitors to its iPad were pricey, hard to use and clunky.
But the market has changed in recent months, and Apple is starting to see some real competition. For the price of an iPad -- or less -- you can now find devices with easy-to-use interfaces, lightweight designs and features you won't find on Apple's gadget.
It has a higher-resolution screen than the iPad's vaunted Retina display. It's both lighter and slightly thinner than the latest iPad. And in my tests, its processor and graphics chip compare favorably with those in Apple's device.
These specifications may or may not matter to you. I didn't find the Nexus 10's higher resolution display to be significantly sharper than the iPad's. And its differences in weight and thickness were small enough to not be noticeable.
But Apple clearly no longer has an advantage for those who are looking at the specs. With the Nexus 10, you get a speedy, responsive, lightweight device with a beautifully sharp screen. Even better, you can get it for $400, which is $100 less than you'd pay for the comparably equipped iPad.
The Nexus 10 runs Android 4.2, the latest version of Google's smartphone and tablet operating system. I still don't think that Android is as easy to use or intuitive as Apple's iOS, which underlies the iPad, or the new Metro interface that's a central part of Microsoft's new Windows RT software. But the tablet version of Android has improved steadily in the past two years, and Google has added some compelling features.
The Nexus' native Gallery application, for example, now includes photo editing tools that allow users to crop or rotate their photos or apply filters to them without buying an extra editing app. The device's native Google+ app both connects users to Google's social network and allows them to make video calls.
This helps address one of the shortcomings of previous Android tablets -- the lack of a built-in video calling app comparable to Apple's FaceTime. Google+ isn't as well integrated into the Nexus 10 as FaceTime is on the iPad, but unlike Apple's app, it allows users to set up video conferences with multiple contacts.
One new feature that has a lot of potential is the Nexus 10's support for multiple user logins. It will allow consumers to share the device among several friends or family members, with each user having their own personal and customizable space.
That feature isn't up and running yet, so I didn't get to test how well it works. But it's an idea whose time has come, because it addresses one of the big flaws of tablets: they often contain personal information, but are also frequently shared by more than one user. Microsoft's Surface already supports multiple users; I hope Apple will soon also.
I was less enthusiastic about other aspects of the Nexus 10. Unlike the iPad or the Surface, it has a plastic -- not metal -- case, which gives it a less solid feel.
Another nit is its so-called aspect ratio, or shape; like other Android tablets, the Nexus 10 is more rectangular than the iPad. I prefer the iPad's more square-like design. The iPad's aspect ratio makes it easy to hold and view apps either vertically or horizontally. By contrast, the Nexus 10 feels weird when you hold it vertically; it's as if you are holding a pad of legal-size paper.
What's more of a problem for the Nexus 10 is a battery that gives one to three hours less use per charge than the iPad's. And unlike with Apple's tablet, you don't have an option to get a Nexus 10 with a radio to connect to the cellphone companies' data networks.
But the Nexus 10's biggest shortcoming is its app selection. Apple recently announced that iPad users can now choose from some 275,000 apps that have been customized for its tablet. Android tablet users can choose from a small fraction of that.
Users can run many apps that were designed for Android smartphones on the Nexus 10, but they often look distorted and can be hard to use. For example, in "Catan," a strategy game that's one of my favorite apps, the buttons are so small that they're hard to press, and the text is so tiny you may need reading glasses to decipher it. Other apps seem stretched out or display a fraction of the information you'd see on a comparable iPad app.
To be sure, all of the Google-designed apps are customized for the Nexus 10 and a growing number of third-party ones are as well. So this is likely to be less of a problem over time, making the Nexus an even better match for the iPad.
AT A GLANCE
• Likes: Relatively low price; high-resolution screen; thin, lightweight design; speedy processor; photo editing features in Gallery app; upcoming support for multiple user logins; Access to a variety of games, utilities and other software for Android devices, though not as extensive as apps available for iPad. Longer, narrower screen better suited to movies. Cheaper than newest full-size iPad.
• Dislikes: Relatively few tablet customized apps available; operating system less intuitive than rivals; shape more awkward than iPad's; shorter battery life than rivals; no cellphone option; Integrates with Google Play store, which is still new and isn't as robust as Apple or Amazon's stores. Data storage cannot be expanded with memory cards. No option for cellular wireless broadband
• Specs: Dual-core processor; 10-inch, 2560 x 1600 display; 1.9 megapixel front and 5 megapixel rear cameras
• Price: $400 for 16GB model; $500 for 32GB
• Web: www.google.com/nexus/
• Battery life: 9 hours for video playback, 7 hours for web browsing
• Operating system: Google's Android