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Nexus 9 review

evan kypreos

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Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Big, sharp screen
  • Powerful GPU
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Not as swish as an iPad
  • Backlight leakage
  • Slightly disappointing stereo speakers

Key Features

  • 8.9-inch 4:3 IPS LCD 2048 x 1536 screen
  • 8MP rear camera with LED flash, 1.6MP front camera
  • Nvidia Tegra K1 processor with 2GB RAM
  • Metal trimmed with soft-touch plastic back
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • BoomSound stereo speakers
  • 425g, 7.9mm thick
  • Manufacturer: HTC
  • Review Price: £319.00

First reviewed: November 2014

What is the Nexus 9?

The Nexus 9 is Google’s 8.9-inch flagship tablet, released in November 2014. It’s the first of the Nexus troupe to use a 4:3-ratio screen rather than a widescreen one and the first to launch with Android 5.0 Lollipop.

The Nexus 9 isn’t the market-defining bargain that the Nexus 7 was, and a £319 price tag may be enough to discourage Nexus 7 users from upgrading. The price has since dropped to a shade below the £300 mark, but we still believe the iPad Air 2 is a much more complete and coherent option. User reviews up to now have mentioned a number of little issues here and there, and while the price hovers around the £300 mark – you can buy the Nexus 9 for under £300 from Currys – we feel there are better options available.

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What we do like is the direction in which the Nexus 9 is taking Google’s tablets. 8-inch-plus non-widescreen tablets like this will no longer be small-brand oddities, and that’s a very good thing. We don’t think it’ll take the Nexus 9 18 months to be topped for value, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is already a rather compelling alternative. But for a larger device, the Nexus 9 offers up a solid go-to standard.

Watch our Nexus 9 video review

Nexus 9: Design

The Nexus 9 sets itself up for criticism. Its style and shape are pretty similar to the iPad Air 2, a departure for the Nexus series.

This in itself is a good move. Larger tablets feel a lot more natural when they adopt a less-widescreen aspect: both the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 are 16:10 ratio, the Nexus 9 is 4:3.

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However, the Nexus 9 doesn’t offer quite as impressive build quality as an iPad, and when the design similarities are so clear, it’s hard not to compare the two directly despite their differing platforms.

You may bring up price difference (£80), but also consider that the still-pretty-great first-gen iPad Air costs now exactly the same amount as the Nexus 9, £319. To explain, let’s look a little closer at the Nexus 9’s hardware design.

Much like the Nexus 7, the Nexus 9 uses a plastic back cover, one that that’s firmly strapped into a metal frame that runs around the tablet. It’s a fairly innocuous design, and despite using a very mild soft-touch textured finish, it still feels conspicuously like plastic.

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We’re also slightly disappointed with some of the finishing elements, given how much more expensive this tablet is compared to the Nexus 7. The plastic rear flexes at certain points, even producing a slightly disconcerting clicking noise towards the top of the tablet, and there’s a roughness to the metal frame as it pokes ever-so-slightly above the screen glass.

The volume keys too feel a little cheap, the action slightly misjudged and shallow, even if they are metal. This may be us simply grasping for explanations, but HTC’s relative inexperience may be to blame: it makes the Nexus 9 and hasn’t released a tablet since the 2011 HTC Flyer.

While we have no particular worries about the longevity of the Nexus 9 – it doesn’t feel poorly made, just not all that well finished – it seems like a bit of a middleweight contender for what is meant to be the standard-setting Android tablet flagship. We’ll see other elements that suffer from this sort of vibe later on.

It’s not just the iPad Air 2 the Nexus 9 needs to compete with, either. The Nexus 9 is 7.9mm thick and 425g (Wi-Fi), a load heftier than the 6.6mm thick, 294g Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 – the Samsung is smaller, but still a good size. The Nexus 9 is arguably just not leading the pack in the way it really should be.

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However, cast away those comparisons and in real-life use the Nexus 9 is pretty good. The non-widescreen aspect is great, there’s just enough side bezel to rest your thumb on, and it’s very comfortable to use, especially if you have both hands spare or are sitting down.

Like the iPad Air 2, which is a somewhat-similar weight, you can use it one-handed for a while without discomfort, but it’s far off the feather-lightness of the 8.4-inch Samsung or the iPad Mini 2/3 (we recommend the former, by the way).

Just like the Nexus 7, the Nexus 9 leaves out a microSD card slot. There are 16GB and 32GB versions of the tablet, with a slightly disappointing £80 gap between the two. That’s even more than Apple charges: you get a bump up to the 64GB iPad Air 2 for £80. Who’d have thought Google would charge even more than Apple’s often notoriously-pricey upgrades?

Nexus 9

Step back a minute, and we can see the factors behind the Nexus 9’s failing to offer the market-defining package we’re after. It doesn’t offer class-leading value or class-leading design, and doesn’t have all the geek-friendly features that might excuse these two points.

The hardware spec list is relatively simple too. There’s no IR transmitter, for example – something found on the Galaxy Tab S 8.4. If this is all sounding terribly negative, you need to understand it in with context of the weight of expectation laid on the Nexus 9. It’s not just meant to be ‘an’ Android tablet, it’s meant to be ‘the’ Android tablet.

So far: good, not superb.

Google is also to offer a Nexus 9 folio keyboard case, which comes with solid keyboard action even if typing on it can feel a little cramped. It’s not cheap at £110, but bumps up the tablet’s potential as a portable productivity tool.

ElectricSheep

October 29, 2014, 11:49 pm

I'm completely perplexed by the pathetic storage options. We all know that flash memory is cheap as chips and putting in 64GB of memory is a cost of ~$35 to the manufacturer. If you insist on crippling your fabulous tablet with woefully inadequate storage, at least add a micro SD option. I bought an NVIDIA Shield.

A. Mir

October 30, 2014, 1:01 am

Hope you'll share your experience.
I was also thinking about purchasing the Nvidia Shield myself. It's a pick between this one or the Nexus 9. I don't play games though. How is the Shield as a non-gaming tablet just for surfing the web, checking mails and occasionally watching movies?

ElectricSheep

October 30, 2014, 2:14 am

Hi A.Mir, I'm not a gamer so bought the Shield (without controller) with a view to owning a power-house of an Android tablet that I could keep for a few years without it becoming obsolete. I wanted the SD card and the HDMI out (without silly adapters) and a decent battery life.

The thing flies with 4.4, and apparently is in line to get 5.0 soon. I've had it two days now so can't really comment on the ownership prospects yet. Other than to say that I have quite a few toys and I'm really enjoying this one. Great battery life and great speakers and feels wonderful in the hand. I like a little bit of weight to my phones and tablets and this one fits the bill, feeling solid and robust. Screen is very good, a tiny bit flat in the colours department compared to a Samsung or even an Apple product, but more true. Can't fault it. And I think that the price is very competitive despite what some tech sites are saying. I'll pop back here if anything stands out for me either way in the near future.

A. Mir

October 30, 2014, 2:30 am

Thanks for sharing!

I have the 1. gen Nexus 7 but the Wi-Fi is fried and it is beginning to show its age when multi-tasking. I've also looked at Tablet S but I don't like Samsung's interface and all the bloatware they stuff their devices with. The Shield is running a 'pure' version of Android, right?

Mark Colit

October 30, 2014, 8:25 am

The 32GB storage option should be a minimum capacity in late 2014. When I bought my Asus TF101 tablet in 2011, even that came with 16GB. And a mini-SD card slot. Come on Google, let's see some progress on those side of things.

ElectricSheep

October 30, 2014, 10:04 am

No worries. I've got the Gen1 N7 too and it's next to useless thanks to the memory issue: when it fills up, it sloooooows down to a crawl. I boycott Samsung products after a horrible experience with their awful warranties and 'customer services' (and that bloatware). The Shield isn't pure Android, but near as anything can be. No interface changes, pure vanilla save for some baked-in Nvidia shortcuts for the gaming platform and a new (and welcome) power management tab in the settings. Apart from that, it's straight up business as usual.

A. Mir

October 30, 2014, 10:11 am

Again, thanks for the answer!

Well, I've decided to place my order on the Shield. I can try it for 30 days but I reckon I will be pleased with it.

EC, what about the weight and bulkiness compared to the 'slicker' tablets out there. Something that bothers you?

ElectricSheep

October 30, 2014, 10:20 am

You're welcome, you can blame me if you think it's horrible! I like the weight. It's certainly a relatively chunky monkey compared to the Tabs, iPads and Nexus range, but it has an almost 'industrial' yet tactile feel to it, like it's built to last. I'd say 'reassuringly robust' :) Then again, I like heavy watches and phones, it gives you the sensation that you've bought something of substance! Hope you enjoy the Shield.

Dcol

October 30, 2014, 1:49 pm

Agree with the other comments regarding memory. Seems like a bizarre decision to limit a tablet to 32GB in 2014. Especially in light of the fact that the Nexus 6, launched at the same time, has a 64GB option?!

I was looking forward to the release of a new Nexus tablet as a fan of vanilla Android, but I can't bring myself to buy a tablet with only 32GB and no microSD slot. Maybe Sony's new Xperia tablet will do the job...I think it's supposed to launch pre-Christmas.

Anyone have any good/bad experience with Sony's version of Android?

deppman

October 30, 2014, 4:42 pm

I too got a Shield Tablet with the 32GB/LTE option. Add a 128GB ultra class micro SD card for ~$50 and you have a $449, 160GB tablet with the K1 and LTE. That's a great deal! The iPad Mini 3 128GB LTE model has 32GB less storage and one third the GPU perf sells for $729 at best buy.

While the GPU blows the doors off of the Mini, the two trade blows on CPU specific benchmarks (see the Anandtech review and power us follow-up article). IMO, a much better device.

I do recommend the 32GB model as it provide a more comfortable size base for storage. The "move to SD" card function is enabled and can be used for most apps - but not all - and so the 32GB give you the headroom you need to avoid juggling apps.

NV have had great support for OS and feature updates ever since they released the Shield Portable. "Nexus-Like" would be a good description.

Final note - my wife liked my first tablet so much she stole it from me and I had to buy a second. And my kids want me to buy a third!

Everlast

October 30, 2014, 4:51 pm

Why don't manufacturers sit down and agree to make their tablet sizes some 0.2 inches apart from each other so that customers will have a richer choice grading from 7 to 12 inch.
Now there are tens of tablets covering repeating sizes.

pixelmike .

October 30, 2014, 7:52 pm

They build a great tablet but don't include a micro sd slot. What figures?

mothergoose85

October 31, 2014, 10:23 am

They're probably pushing the cloud storage option - obviously we all know we want it so we can watch TV shows (that maybe from less than legal sources), but they don't want to actively support that I guess.

There was an article that said the 128GB iPad Air 2 cost apple £32 more to produce yet the retail difference was about £150 or something (haven't checked this out, just going from memory - ironically!) so I do feel like it was an opportunity that has been missed.

mannyalbite

October 31, 2014, 10:56 am

why don't they put front speakers, that will beat everyone including kindle their 8.9, speakers are in the back now, I am sending it back, no navigation no Google earth

gacl

October 31, 2014, 9:14 pm

I am eager for a new Android tablet, preferably Nexus, but the storage/price options kill it. The 32GB model costs $480? I got a 7" Kindle Fire with 64GB for ~$220 on a sale. I'll pay $480 for a high end tablet, but 32GB is just a deal breaker, and 16GB is laughably unusable.

Stuart

November 2, 2014, 8:00 pm

Are you blind? The speakers, like HTC's mobile phones, are on each side of the screen. What's more it's not going on sale until November 3rd, so how would you be able to say you are "sending it back"?

sproc

November 3, 2014, 2:39 pm

The Nexus 9 does NOT use the same Tegra K1 as the SHIELD Tablet. The SHIELD tablet has 4 Cortex A15 cpus in it. The Nexus 9 has nVidia's Denver cores in there, two of them. Yes, the GPU is the same but the CPU is vastly superior in the Nexus 9. That and the SHIELD tablet isn't 64 bit either.

A. Mir

November 7, 2014, 6:49 pm

Well, I'm glad that picked the Nvidia Shield Tablet over the Nexus 9. Great performance, good screen and I have the option to expand the memory with an SD-card AND I got a great stylus pen in the package.

The Shield Tablet is definitely a winner for me.

LeeTronix

November 9, 2014, 12:39 pm

Keep the 7 or go buy anything else in this price range. This is a low budget build that is all round substandard at a ridiculous premium price. Not going down the usual hardware specs as it doesn't make any difference to this awful tablet. The HTC build was just shocking. I went to have a look at one a few days ago, first thing that I noticed before I held it was it looked boring and bland and massive for a 9" or thereabouts it just looks clunky and chunky, then having held it and looking after looking at for a while I thought it was a really rubbish build quality could see the gaps where the front meets the back it felt week and utterly uninviting. Thought the screen resolution was below average and felt like it was a very low budget tablet being sold for premium price which is disgusting. Another thing that I felt was dumb was the standard or maybe was the promotional desktop wall paper theme which was full of dull colours and nothing demonstrating anything remotely glamorous to the eye. I had to log on the net and open HD pictures to see how they displayed and the screen was dire. I genuinely would give it -1 out of 5.

David Gradwell

November 10, 2014, 8:31 pm

So a 4:3 screen is a 'good move' is it? I personally think it's a massive backward step!! What next a 4:3 telly?

Luna E.

November 11, 2014, 12:39 am

I was not blown away by this tablet either but looking at your CONS list in this review the first one listed being //Not as swish as an iPad// was just rather dull. Can we keep reviews of products as accurate as possible and not throw in jibberish when it's not really necessary? What does "swishness" actually even mean?

Luna E.

November 15, 2014, 6:15 pm

They are pushing for cloud storage which to me is rather dumb. Why pay for cloud and rob the people of the option to expand via microsd when it is doable and second doesn't rely on a good mobile connection. For many people on the go and traveling to places where the internet connection is subpar or sometimes non-existent, having the option to expand with microsd is the preferred choice.

AlrightyThen

November 24, 2014, 8:20 am

I thought the same thing. I don't care about how it compares to any other product. This is supposed to be a review site so how about reviewing the product on its own merits. It's truly incredibly how many bad "journalists" there are online.

AlrightyThen

November 24, 2014, 8:20 am

What's a telly? That's not even a word. Of course I know what you meant but learn to speak proper English. For a country full of people that constantly complain about the way we use English you guys are ten times worse than us.

John

December 2, 2014, 10:23 pm

This is a forum and NOT a university! Get a life my friend...

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