Google Nexus 9 review: The best of Google and HTC

Anything an iPad Air 2 can do, only cheaper

Google Nexus 9
  • Google Nexus 9
  • Google Nexus 9
  • Google Nexus 9
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Great screen and speakers
  • Colourful Lollipop software looks fantastic against the inconspicuous Nexus design
  • Powerful

Cons

  • Camera performance
  • Rubber coat will peel on corners
  • No expandable storage

Would you buy this?

Sore points soured the Google and Samsung-made Nexus 10. Spoiling the high-resolution screen was thick bezels and, to quote our review, the fact there wasn’t “enough third-party apps optimised for its larger screen size”. A couple of years later and Google has partnered with HTC to bring the Nexus 9, and, well, a lot can change in two years.

Design

The Nexus 9 picks up from where its predecessor left off, and it represents a significant improvement because it does every little thing that much better.

Starting with the appearance. The high resolution screen of the Nexus 9 is bordered by sleek and slender bezels. Cutting down the fat makes the slate both more attractive and more mobile. Top and bottom bezels are ample enough for hands to hold without having them obstruct videos and movies.

Note: The Nexus 9 reviewed by Good Gear Guide is on loan from UniqueMobiles, which is currently stocking the tablet for $499.

The design language follows the formula introduced by the Asus-made Nexus 7. Embossed in the rubber back is the nexus logo. The camera subtly protrudes where the edges round. Exposed and shaved metal has been used for the chassis and its makes the tablet feel solid.

The Nexus 9 is 8mm in thickness and weighs 436 grams
The Nexus 9 is 8mm in thickness and weighs 436 grams

Google’s design language isn’t just minimalist: it is inconspicuous. The company dresses-down its products in an effort to shift the attention to the software, and the Nexus 9 is no exception.

Throwing the tablet naked in our backpack over two weeks did cause the rubber to peel off the corners. The markings were small and only noticeable to the discerning looker, but when this tablet is compared to the benchmark set by the iPad Air 2, its build quality comes second.

Display

Screens play an important role in tablets. They are responsible not only for colour and detail, but also for texture. We use them to physically navigate a virtual world.

The 8.9-inch screen size of the Nexus 9 is the Goldilocks of display sizes. A high 2048x1536 resolution packs 288 pixels into every inch, and the tablet’s 4:3 aspect ratio proves ideal for web browsing, emailing, reading eBooks or working on the go.

The BoomSound speakers hide in plain sight
The BoomSound speakers hide in plain sight

The well-coloured and prominently backlit screen is joined by HTC’s famed BoomSound speakers. These dual-speakers are amplified and deliver sound that is clear and textured — for a tablet. We believe the BoomSound moniker has been used erroneously with the Nexus 9 because the sound it produces does not match that of the HTC One (M8), and because it falls short of the sound produced by Apple’s iPad Air 2.

Lollipop power

The Nexus 9 runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, which is the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system. All Nexus products run a stock version of Android and this means Nexus devices are among the first to get additional features from new software from Google.

There was a disconnect between the large screen of the Nexus 10 and its software. It was the first large-screen Nexus tablet and it was introduced at a time when Android and its application support for tablets were immature.

Read more: Google Nexus 9 first impressions: Hands on with HTC's first tablet

A lot has changed in 27 months. The Lollipop operating system formats seamlessly to the 8.9-inch display of the Nexus 9. The vibrant colours of the OS stand out all the more against the Nexus’ inanimate black design.

Then there are some native applications, such as the calendar, which works better on a tablet than it would on a smartphone. Third-party support for Android applications has also matured, and even if an application has not been designed for a tablet in mind, the smartphone application still scales well to the tablet’s form factor.

1. Homescreen; 2. Task manager; 3. Settings
1. Homescreen; 2. Task manager; 3. Settings

Powering the tablet is NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 CPU, which is a dual-core CPU running at 2.3GHz. Joining the processor is 2GB of RAM and internal storage options of either 16GB or 32GB. Connectivity is strong with NFC, Bluetooth 4.1 and dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac.

Undermining the Nexus 9’s multimedia appeal, with its fantastic screen and capable speakers, is the lack of a microSD memory card slot. Google’s continuous neglect of expandable memory appears to be a strategic move designed to get more users off local storage and onto its cloud services.

Integrated into the body of the Nexus 9 is a 6700 milliamp-hour battery. We used the tablet over a two week period for emails, messaging, social networking, web browsing, gaming, to stream video and to play music. Good Gear Guide’s testing found the Nexus 9 would hold charge for an impressive 32 hours before running flat.

Unfortunately the Google tablet doesn’t ship with a fast charger, and since the capacity of the battery is so large, it does take a few hours to charge from flat to full.

Cameras

The Nexus 9 can take photos 8- and 1.6-megapixels in size. The rear 8 megapixel camera benefits from having a flash — a rare find on a tablet — and can record videos at 1920x1080 resolution, while the front camera records at 1280x720 resolution.

Photos captured with the Nexus 9 conform to the sub-par standard set by so many tablets. Image noise, flushed colours and limited detail in blacks can often be seen in photos taken with the tablet. The cameras on the Nexus 9 are best relied on only when a smartphone is not in arm’s reach.

Taken with the Nexus 9
Taken with the Nexus 9

A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent - Taken with the Nexus 9
A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent - Taken with the Nexus 9

Final thought

HTC’s first tablet delivers comparable performance to Apple’s iPad Air 2, and it does so for a fraction of the price. Its strengths far outweigh its small gripes, with Apple’s iPad Air 2 only scoring more points for its aluminium construction and finger scanner. Frankly if you have and Android smartphone, pocket the $140 difference saved by not buying an iPad Air 2 and buy a Nexus 9. It’ll do anything Apple’s slate can do, only for less.

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Read more on these topics: iPad, Google, Apple, Android, Nexus 10, Nexus 9, Lollipop, Air 2, HTC Nexus 9
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