My very sizeable manbag

Tablet form factor is an interesting thing; an iPad user since day one, I sold my iPad 2 after using the Nexus 7 for a week last year, but once the iPad Mini was released I jumped at the chance to own an iOS device in the 7" form factor. I am a Mac user, my primary phone is an iPhone, and regardless of how good the Nexus 7 is , the iPad fitted with my workflow, seamlessly. Setting the availability of certain apps aside (OmniFocus, OmniGraffle are both Mac apps that are available on iPad too) I'm not saying I can't use anything else, but at the moment, I don't want to, but that doesn't mean I won't try.

Through my day-job at Purple Guerrilla I've had the opportunity lately to test on all of the major 10" tablets. Despite going in with some pre-formed opionions about what I would and wouldn't like, I found the results quite surprising.

Apple iPad

First up, the "New" iPad, not the newer iPad, commonly referred to as the iPad 4. The differences are minor enough that for the purposes of this test, I'll consider them as one and the same.

The 10" iPad is a beast. I remember when the first iPad was released, it was like something from sci-fi, the iPad 2 form factor slimmed this down further, but compared to an iPad Mini, it's still huge. If you don't have an iPad Mini you have to understand just how slim a device it is. I was watching actual, near future, sci-fi a few weeks back and an iPad Mini used as a prop, looked so futuristic that I found it jarring.

There's something about the iPad's "premium" build quality and weight (slightly heavier than iPad 2) that make it feel very fragile; like handling your Granny's best china. Nexus devices get a bad rap for feeling cheap, but I have no qualms throwing one down on a coffee table; if I tried that with an iPad it would probably slide right off.

Microsoft Surface Pro

I really wanted this to be good, I genuinely mean that. I'm so divorced from the Windows way of doing things (since I installed that first free Red Hat CD from PCW Magazine) that I actually like Windows 8 and its Modern UI. The problem is that despite all the marketing and posturing, the Surface Pro is not a tablet. The Surface RT is a pretty lack-lustre device, but at lease it is a tablet, the Pro, despite the name is a completley different device. The closest comparison that I can make is that this is Microsoft's MacBook Air, it's a fully featured, Intel based, ultra portable notebook.

The problem's started when I was first handed the device. The Surface Pro is so heavy that you wonder what they've filled the device with. (This article is not about facts and figures, but about experiences and sensations; the things that actually matter when using these devices.) I know from The Verge's excellent review that the Pro is half a pound heavier, that makes this 10" "screen" it heavier than my 15" Macbook Pro.

Too heavy to use as a tablet and with an active battery life of no more than 4 hours, it seems that the Surface Pro is designed to be used at a desk. The inclusion of a Display Port for video out only reinforces this, as does the inability to charge via USB (like every other tablet), both Surface models require a reasonably large power brick. Whilst chained to my desk via power cord I noticed another problem, the Surface Pro comes with a stylus which clips limply into the side of the device, using the same magentic port that is used for the power adapter. So, that's going to get lost soon.

As metioned previously the Modern UI really appeals to me, so nothing is more frustrating that launching an app and being kicked straight into "Classic" or Desktop mode cough Office cough. I wish there was a more clear division, even a switch to disable the traditional Desktop and the apps that require it, however it seems most long-time users have more of an issue with Modern UI and want to kill it and reclaim their Start button.

Microsfoft like to compare their devices against those from Apple, recent ads have shown off the Surface's true HD (1080p) display and 64GB storage as standard, so it was a little surprising to find that roughly 40GB of that storage are taken up by Windows 8 itself. 40GB, just think about that for a moment. Imagine buying a 16GB iPad to find you have only 6GB of usable space, people are already outraged by the 1GB or so that they currently loose to iOS,

The Surface Pro could be a successful device, if I was working in a Windows environment, I'd certainly take it over a Lenovo Thinkpad, but as a tablet it would be easy to carry around one made of stone. It's also prohibitively expense, £719 without the essential keyboard/cover.

As some people will think that there was no chance I'd find any redeeming qualities in the Surface, I made this list of things that I do like.

  • Windows 8 - Modern UI
  • Touch Cover
  • The trackpad on the Touch Cover
  • The premium build quality
  • I actually like the little flap!
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Accounts sync across Windows 8 devices via my Windows Live ID
  • The Pro runs desktop games pretty well; there's something cool about being able to plug my Xbox controller in and have it work automatically.

Google Nexus 10

I know it's been out a while, but the Nexus 10 (or any 10" Android) was never really on my radar. Thinner and lighter than the iPad and with the a 300dpi display, the Nexus 10, despite being made by Samsung (I generally find Samsung devices to be plasticky) is easily the best Android tablet I've used to date.

Android Jellybean 4.2.2 is not all that different from I last remember it, it's an incremental release, but one that makes the OS feel a little more coherent. For example calendar events from my Exchange account show in Google Now, previously Exchange email and calendars were left out in the cold; I guess Google thought no one in business would use a Google device. The "holo" interface, introduced in 4.0, brings coherency to what was a very fragmented UI (similar to what iOS 7 will hopefully do for Apple), Android looks futuristic, but is still very useable; not an easy feat to manage.

The device itself is strange, while the iPad is very uniform, the Surface solid (like the 2001 Monolith) the Nexus 10 is a bit "wobbly". With rounded corners and a asymmetric thickness, the Nexus 10 looks soft and friendly. It's also remarkably easy to hold in one hand, like a book. Something which I find painful with a large iPad and impossible with a Surface Pro. Sideloading of content to Google Books, extended Google Drive functionality, better Exchange support and a beautiful 300DPI display have made the Nexus 10 a real joy to use and I've found myself reaching for it over any other device

The one thing (literally the one thing) that lets the Nexus down is the fragmented Android development environment. When Apple released it's retina devices, with much fanfare, it provided the tools and incentive to developers to make their apps retina ready. Whilst almost all (citation needed) new iOS apps are built with retina support and pixel doubled graphics, most apps on Android that operate without the "Holo" UI have yet to be updated. The worst offender, Comixology, who already have HD comics on iPad but on the Nexus with an even higher dpi count, we're still looking at the low-res version. Digital comics may not interest you at all, but the principle is this, that the world leader in this vein of digital media, 5 months after launch, has not updated their app to support the Nexus 10's screen. My suspicion (based on limited Android development) is that the problem is not with Comixology, but with the Android SDK and the difficulty inherent with developing apps at multiple screen densities, for countless variations of device.


I think it's clear, despite living and working in a predominately Apple ecosystem, my choice of 10" tablet is unquestionably the Nexus 10. That said, if my very sizeable man-bag caught fire and I could only save one device, it would still be the iPad Mini, because that's what "works" for me. 

The best advice I can give you, is don't listen to the fanbois, adverts or anyone working for PC World and find the device that works for you, not the other way round.

Update: The Kindle Fire HD was to be on this list but had to be returned. Unable to be registered, it turned out there had been a mixup in the depot and this was not my Kindle Fire and the intended recipient had marked the device as stolen!

Update 2: I had to stop myself returning to the Surface Pro section after recalling a series of other issues. It's safe to say, it's not a tablet!
Andrew Gribben @grib