Nexus 9 review

Has Google finally unleashed an iPad Air beating slate?

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For

  • Android Lollipop
  • Great speakers
  • 4:3 aspect ratio

Against

  • Below par display quality
  • Boring design
  • No micro SD slot
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Nexus 9 review

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Nexus 9 review

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Nexus 9 review

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Nexus 9 review

It's not as big as the age-old Nexus 10, nor is it as dinky as the Nexus 7. So why has Google (and HTC) decided to go for a 8.9-inch screen in the Nexus 9?

It's a bit of a feather in the cap for Apple, as the big change is to the screen size: not only larger, but the 4:3 aspect ratio parrots that of Cupertino's slate hero, the iPad Air 2.

Actually, all the iPads, but that's the one that people will compare the Nexus 9 to.

Google teamed up with HTC to make this flagship Android tablet, and with it nabbed some of the bits that made the HTC One M8 one of the best phones on the market, and squished them into a frame that's certainly a lot more lovely to hold than any of the previous Nexii tablets.

But what of the price? It's not cheap at £319 for the 16GB version, and £399 for 32GB of internal storage is verging on iPad territory. As usual Apple still adds a premium to the tag of its tablet, but given the Nexus 7 was so cheap it's a little sad to have to pay so much for the new version.

So is this the tablet for you? Are you going to go all Android for your tablet needs, taking in the new document management and web browsing space while staring sadly at the black bars above and below your videos?

Display

HTC and Google have gone up a notch with the display on the Nexus 9, matching Apple's iPad Air 2 with a 2048 x 1536 resolution which automatically becomes a lot sharper thanks to being crammed into a smaller window.



It's also an IPS LCD that should, in theory, be better at colours and viewing angles and all that eye-based stuff. And to a degree, it is. But there's also something lacking here as well, thanks to not quite making colours as vivid as they could be, which is something of a shame.

The other big issue is the light bleeding in from the sides of the bezel, the LED lights that let you see what's on the screen shining through like over-enthusiastic floodlights at the Insect World Cup.

It's not something you'll see every day, but compare it to the sumptuous tones and deep blacks of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S and you'll see what's missing.

Lollipop

Android 5 is here people, and this is one of the poster boys for the new OS. The reason it's significant can't be summed up in one go: it's a new take on the way Android looks, where it can be used and what you can do with it.

It's easily one of the best things about the Nexus 9, with the improved notifications (you can manipulate them much easier and even respond to things from a simple update) making using your tablet a much more simple affair.

There's also Material Design: everything is flatter, but with some artful shadows. It's like the humble post it note was given a massive makeover and shoved into a virtual reality world. Here's hoping we're not going to get a Tron-like escape at any point.

The other thing that's great about Lollipop is that it's going to run loads of places. It's already coming to phones, you'll see it on your watch, and then the TV and car in 2015. While we're not saying you should start downloading movies to view while driving, that interoperability is going to make everything so much easier if, as expected, the car and TV manufacturers really get on board.

But the upshot is that Android 5.0 is the easiest version of the little green robot's OS ever, and you'll like being able to customise as you see fit.

Oh, and the double-tap to wake mechanism has been ported to the Nexus 9, thanks to be enabled in Lollipop. Curiously, it's not available on the Nexus 6, but given this can be a fiddly tablet to use, it's a godsend.

Speak up

One of the other things HTC has brought from its smartphone range is the BoomSound speakers, front-facing grilles that bring a much better sound quality to things when you're trying watch bits and pieces without headphones.

Initially sceptical when I saw this on phones, I came to realise I used it much more than I thought I would. While I still think the overall audio quality is better on the One M8, and other HTC phones that have sucked in the same technology, they're still super clear on the Nexus 9.

So whether you're showing off a YouTube video to friends or you just want some tunes when you're ploughing through a recipe in the kitchen, these are a great addition to things.

Design

Be warned if you're going to take the Nexus 9 into the kitchen: the rubbery back loves to suck up grease like there's no tomorrow. It's bad enough from general fingerprints, but the second you get some proper lard on there, it's probably never going to leave.



While I'd have loved a really premium feel to the back of the new Nexus, the matte back is definitely easier to grip, which makes it a little easier to understand.

There is metal present though, coming around the rim of the tablet. It's a little sharp on the hands on the screen side, but come on - you're not holding a ninja star here.

What's more annoying is the buttons on the side: designed to help you unlock and change the volume (well, that's actually what they do) the power button in particular is really, really hard to hit.

You can obviously use that double tap method to enter the tablet, which helps mitigate the problem somewhat, but it's not infallible which irritates the life out of me when I'm scrabbling to actually see what's going on with my tablet.

It's a fairly light tablet though, on a par with the iPad Air 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S, and as such is comfortable for extended use. OK, it's not the best tablet on the market in terms of looks, but it's solid and feels well put together, which you'd expect for the extra cash.



Battery

The battery life of a tablet is always less of a worry than on a phone, as you're less likely to play with it constantly, all day long, which can be a temptation with the pocket-dweller.

As such, even with hardcore use on full brightness will get you about a day and half's use, and most of the time you'll manage three to four times that depending on how frugal you are.

The good news is that, despite having the same resolution, the Nexus 9 can actually last a little longer than the iPad 2 when it comes to watching movies, but suffers the same terrible power drain when it comes to playing games.

If you want to use the powerful Nvidia innards, you best be near a power socket.

Verdict

So, should you buy a Nexus 9? Who is it designed for? Is there any point considering it instead of the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab S if you're an Android fan?

Of course there is. For a start, it's cheaper. And it's packing that very usuable 4:3 screen ratio, which is brilliant for browsing the web or reading documents / spreadsheets.



Android Lollipop is a very capable operating system as well, and while I've never really been a fan of vanilla versions of the Google mobile platform, it's much less complicated than Samsung's relatively insane TouchWiz, which can seem like a maze to the uninitiated.

Of course, it's not perfect, with the screen being a big issue for me. I think, given you're going to do nothing more than looking at the thing, the display should be brilliant, and Apple and Samsung (and, to a degree, Sony) have all managed to get that memo.

But that's pretty much one of the only things I'm not enamoured with here. Yes, I was hoping for it to be cheaper (based on the cost of other Android tablets) but it's still cheaper than the other models it's competing with... although do remember it's got a smaller screen.

There's still the ULTIMATE Nexus tablet waiting somewhere in the future, and I'm looking forward to meeting it... but until then, the Nexus 9 is probably one of, if not the, top Android tablet you should be checking out right now, especially if you're more interested in the smaller size.

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