If Master Yoda were here, he’d be telling us “Begun have these tablet wars”. While Apple has tried to address the 7″ market segment with the iPad Mini, Microsoft is only just getting into the 10″ tablet market with its Windows RT powered Surface tablet. Meanwhile, Google has hit back with an updated Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10. The latter is a 10 inch tablet made by Samsung, running pure Android, just as Google intended it. Join us as we pit the Nexus 10 against the Microsoft Surface and guide you through deciding which the right device is for you.
Work hard and play hard
Microsoft’s Surface tablet runs the Windows RT operating system. For those who don’t know, Windows RT is Windows 8 compiled for ARM processors. As such, Windows desktop applications are incompatible, so the Surface’s only source of apps is the Windows Store which, at the time of writing, has yet to reach 9,000 titles. The new user interface from Redmond, as seen on Windows 8, Windows Phone and Windows RT, is a complete departure from the icons and widgets we’ve seen on iOS and Android, and has many in the industry and press eyeing it with interest.
That new user interface would seem to squarely aim the Surface at a consumer market rather than the enterprise, which is where much of Microsoft’s current value exists. Paradoxically though, the Surface comes with keyboard covers made for working with, which makes it a much more professional tool than the Nexus 10 which is aimed directly at those who want a cheap tablet to watch movies and YouTube with.
It’s the question of the relative work and play credentials of each tablet that is at the heart of this comparison.
At a – ahem – surface level, the Microsoft Surface will provide a much more useful experience straight out of the box for professionals, especially with the inclusion of Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student and the addition of the a touch cover or type cover. Yet, the new Windows Store catalog is tiny at c. 9,000 apps, while Android has access to 700,000 titles. Therefore, there will be many instances where mission critical applications are not yet available for Microsoft’s tablet.
Meanwhile, if the Nexus 10 is the more consumerist device of the two, then consider that Microsoft is quickly pulling together all of the loose ends of its ecosystems, including the remains of the Zune market. Microsoft launched Xbox Music offering music purchases and free streaming across a much wider territory than Google’s music store, because Google is still embroiled in negotiations with rights holders. Then again, Microsoft will release Xbox Music on Android next year, and so it shouldn’t matter which tablet you have.
In the case of ebooks, Google has a book store while Microsoft doesn’t, but then Amazon has a Kindle app for both platforms. Also, Google still offers movie rentals only outside of the US, while Xbox Movies has rentals and purchases in numerous countries. Note that Google did announce more countries would get movie purchases through Google Play, but as of yet we’re still waiting for them to roll out, at least here in the UK.
Having seen the specifications, it’s clear that the Nexus 10′s biggest selling point is the 300 pixels per inch (ppi) density, which smashes the 246 ppi “Retina” bar set by Apple. In comparison, the 148 ppi on the Surface looks paltry. Also, the contoured plastic casing and lighter body should make the Nexus 10 much more comfortable to hold for long periods, e.g. while watching a movie streaming from Google Play. By comparison, the Surface is heavier and has harsher edges from its toughened VapourMg casing.
Given the raw processing power required to drive the superlative number of pixels on the Nexus 10′s screen, it seems a good bet that it will have the horsepower needed to run heavy duty 3D games. While its plastic casing might make the Nexus 10 look cheap, it could work in the favour of gamers who want to run high action 3D games for extended periods. Not to mention the fact that Android actually has such games, while the Microsoft Store has a long way to catch up.
At its heart, the Surface takes more from the laptop world than it does the tablet world. This is born out with its keyboard cover accessories that both protect the screen and provide a way to input text quicker than is possible on virtual keyboards. Furthermore, its Magnesium based VapourMg casing will make it incredibly hardwearing, which is ideal if you work on the move and tend to put your devices through a good deal of punishment.
On the software side, it’s hard to beat a free copy of Microsoft Office. While Android has Google Drive which supports offline document editing, I have found the offline capability to be unreliable and Google Drive doesn’t allow for direct editing of Microsoft Office files, which are a de facto standard in the business world. Third party office suites for Android are less than impressive too, especially if you need to edit documents in Dropbox or SkyDrive.
Because both devices are very young and thus have yet to undergo real world reviewing, any verdict made here has to be provisional; but let’s look at what we know.
The Nexus 10 has a screen and CPU ready to play 1080p movies. However, the Nexus 10′s resolution is so high, it’s going to have to be up-scaling such content. Meanwhile, the Surface has a quad core Tegra 3 processor, as does the Nexus 7 which is perfectly competent at playing 720p content, which will fit the Surface’s screen nicely. So then, the matter of video and image viewing comes down to a question of how well your eyes can perceive pixel densities.
If you want an entertainment device that can be used for watching videos and playing games, then look no further than the Nexus 10. What’s more, the Google Play store has more than enough games to choose from, unlike the Windows Store which is still a desolate place – even though it is improving all the time.
If you want an all-round work and play device, then things become murkier. While the Windows Store may have a dearth of content, it does at least have some of the right games, such as Angry Birds Space and Cut the Rope. As for the work aspect, let’s not forget that the Surface comes with Office 2013 preinstalled which is heavily tied into SkyDrive. While both devices have a music and video store, Microsoft’s offerings are currently available in more countries than Google’s.
On the subject of using a Nexus tablet for work related tasks, I own a Nexus 7 and have yet to succeed in making it an effective office tool. Therefore, I am doubtful of one’s chances of doing so with the Nexus 10, unless Samsung release a keyboard dock, which is unlikely.
Overall, if games and apps are important to you, and if you’re on a budget, then the Nexus 10 is the clear winner here. It is affordable and the Android operating system makes it into a jack of all trades. However, if you want to buy a tablet that looks completely different to all that have gone before and you need something fully compatible with Office files, then the Surface could be for you. Buy the Surface with caution though, it will not run your legacy Windows applications, and we don’t know what its battery performance is like. And do keep watch for the Surface Pro which is on the horizon, along with a slew of purpose built Windows 8 laptops.