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Google Nexus 9 review

 Review: January 2015  
 

Rating: 4 stars

In a nutshell: The Google Nexus 9 is a mid-sized tablet with impressive performance and running the brand-new Android Lollipop 5.0. It's a nice tablet, but over-priced, and with limited amounts of memory preventing it from deserving 5 stars.



 

A 9 inch screen

Nexus 7 too small for you? Nexus 10 just too big? Then it must be the Nexus 9 you need. Now that smartphones are pushing ever larger screens, there's a strong tendency for tablets to edge up in size, so moving from 7 inches to 9 inches feels like the right approach. 9 inches sits right in the middle between entry-level 7 inch tablets and high-end 10-inch models, and might just be the new sweet spot.

The Google-branded Nexus 9 is manufactured by HTC and is smart-looking and well-built with a brushed metal frame, but it's no iPad. Although the 4:3 aspect ratio of the screen makes it look like an iPad from the front, the back is plastic. The Nexus 9 is 30% thicker than the iPad Air 2, and it weighs almost as much, even though the iPad has a bigger screen. We're not saying that the Nexus 9 is badly made or too big and heavy, but it really could do better in these two key areas. It's available in a choice of three colours: Indigo black, Lunar white, and Sand.

The screen is an IPS display with a very high resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. That's a match for the iPad Mini 3, although the same number of pixels are spread over a larger screen area here, giving the Nexus an inferior (but still impressive) 281 ppi. The IPS screen gives wide viewing angles, but it's not as bright or vibrant as Apple's displays or Samsung's AMOLED screens.

Audio quality is good, as the Nexus uses dual stereo front-facing speakers with HTC BoomSound, familiar from phones like the HTC One M8.

For extra typing speed and versatility, HTC sells a magnetically-attached responsive keyboard, which turns your tablet into a mini-laptop. A custom-designed protective case is also available.

Hardware

The hardware specs of the tablet are unusual. Whereas most Android tablets run Qualcomm processors, the Nexus 9 uses a 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 Dual Denver CPU running at 2.3 GHz. Although this has just two cores, it's very powerful indeed, and the Nexus 9 ranks just behind the iPad Air 2 in benchmark tests.

Graphics are driven by an insane-sounding 192-core Kepler GPU, which delivers cutting-edge performance and makes the latest 3D games playable.

The RAM is 2GB, which is respectable but lags behinds the 3GB of Sony's Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact.

When it comes to storage, there are two options. The basic Wi-Fi version of the Nexus 9 comes with a mere 16GB and no memory card slot. In our opinion this is a stunningly bad decision and limits the potential of the tablet quite significantly. 16GB just isn't enough. The 32GB version includes 4G LTE connectivity, which you may not want, and costs substantially more to buy. No. No. No!

Android Lollipop

One eye-catching feature of the Nexus 9 is that it's the first tablet to come with the brand-new Android Lollipop, version 5.0. Lollipop introduces Android's new "material design" concept that re-styles the OS to make it more intuitive. Much of this is based on changes to layout and appearance rather than functionality, but it would be wrong to dismiss it as merely cosmetic. Lollipop is well worth having, and is very smooth to run on the Nexus 9.

Dual cameras

A tablet this heavy really doesn't make a good device for taking photos, although millions of iPad-clutching tourists prove that we don't know what we're talking about. To be honest, we're not really bothered that this tablet comes with a rear-facing camera at all, but in case you're one of the people who do care, we'll note that it's a high-resolution 8 megapixel camera with autofocus and a flash, but no HDR mode.

More interesting we think is the front camera, which can be used for Skype and selfies. Sadly this is a fairly basic 1.6 megapixel camera with fixed focus and no flash. "Unexceptional," is how we'd describe its results. We'd have preferred this to be better.

Connectivity

As we mentioned earlier, there are two versions of the tablet available. The first is a Wi-Fi-only model, and the second also has 4G LTE connectivity.

Both models additionally come with Bluetooth 4.1, USB 2.0, NFC and a headphone jack.

Battery life

The Nexus 9 is powered by a fairly meaty 6700mAh battery, which is enough for up to 9 and a half hours of continuous use.

Conclusion

Previous Nexus tablets have earned solid 5 star reviews from S21, but not the Nexus 9. Although it's a nicely-styled tablet with impressive performance from the 64-bit CPU and Kepler GPU, and Android Lollipop is a very welcome addition, it's let down by several things.

First, the price. When you realise that it costs almost the same as the iPad Mini 3, which outclasses the Nexus in every respect except a slightly smaller screen, you can see immediately that it offers poor value. Equally, for the same price you could buy the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, which has none of the Nexus's shortcomings.

What are the shortcomings? The memory of 16GB is a major limiting factor. Upgrading to 32GB will set you back the best part of £100, making the tablet even more over-priced than it already is. Also for a flagship product, the design just isn't that impressive, and the tablet is too thick and too heavy for our taste.

It's not that we dislike the Nexus 9. It's just that there are better options available.


Google Nexus 9 features include:

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