The Nexus 9 takes a dramatically different approach.
It’s still a showcase for pure Android — in fact the Nexus 9 is the first tablet to ship with Android Lollipop — but this time the Nexus tablet is bigger and considerably more expensive.
The size is unusual and puts it between Apple’s iPad Mini and iPad Air, it loses the 16:10 aspect ratio and comes out looking more like an iPad than a continuation of the Nexus design. And at $399, it’s not quite the bargain the Nexus 7 was.
But is it still worth the price?
Read our Nexus 9 review to see if the new tablet from Google and HTC stands out among Android competitors and whether Apple has anything to worry about.
Nexus 9 Review: Bigger and Pricier
Google once had a 10-inch Nexus tablet priced at $399, but it has been discontinued.
The Nexus 9 seems to have been designed to replace the popular Nexus 7, but also to fill the role of full-sized tablet where the Nexus 10 was once slotted.
So Google and manufacturing partner HTC went with an 8.9-inch display, which is a somewhat oddball size — not quite compact, not quite full-sized. It also lost the 16:10 widescreen aspect ratio, so now it’s wider and thus better for reading text, but if you use a tablet primarily for watching video, you’ll now have black bars to contend with.
You can see the how the Nexus 9 compares in size in the accompanying photo — it’s between an iPad Mini 2 and iPad Air.
The display itself is nice enough, a QXGA LCD panel. It lacks the contrast and colors seem less vivid compared to the iPad Air 2 but it’s slightly crisper at 281 ppi compared to 264 ppi on the iPad Air.
However, if you care about pixel density (which you might if you read a lot on your tablet), the Nexus 9 falls short of the iPad Mini 2 and 3 (326 ppi), many Samsung tablets and Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (339).
There’s been a lot of complaining from Nexus tablet fans who see the Nexus 9 as the successor to the Nexus 7 — a natural conclusion since it’s now the only Nexus tablet in the lineup. Instead of $199, these people are facing the prospect of paying $399 to upgrade to a Nexus 9 tablet or $649 if they choose a Nexus 6 phablet instead.
Nexus 9 Review: Performance and Quality
The Nexus 9 may not be the bargain the Nexus 7 was, but it certainly maintains the Nexus reputation for performance. Android Lollipop ran smoothly with no hesitations. Apps, games, streaming video … the Nexus 9 chewed through it all.
Battery life seemed a little lower than my iPads would muster — call it 9 hours or so of mixed use, although I did do a lot of high-volume HD video streaming, which is tough on battery life.
HTC builds one of the most attractive smartphones in the HTC One M8, but the Nexus 9 isn’t quite the same looker. It’s attractive enough and fit and finish is decent, but I found a few rough spots on the aluminum trim on my Nexus 9 review unit. The power and volume buttons are so low that they’re tough to find by feel. And the back is a rubberized plastic material.
Compared to offerings from Apple or Samsung, the Nexus 9 just doesn’t feel like it’s quite in the same league.
One bonus of its HTC heritage, the Nexus 9 trumps the competition with front-facing stereo BoomSound speakers that help to boost its multimedia cred.
Nexus 9 Review: Specs
- 8.9-inch IPS LCD display at 2048 x 1536 resolution
- Nvidia Tegra K1 Dual Denver CPU @ 2.3GHz with 2GB RAM
- 16GB or 32GB storage
- 8MP primary camera with auto focus, LED flash
- 6700mAh battery rated at up to 9.5 hours Wi-Fi browsing
- Micros USB 2.0, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO support
- BoomSound dual front-facing speakers
- 6.05 x 8.98 x 0.32-inches, weighs 14.99 ounces
- Available in Indigo Black, Sand and Lunar White
- Starts at $399
Nexus 9 Review: Conclusion
The Nexus 9 was an enjoyable tablet to use. The 8.9-inch display was an interesting design choice but I liked it — small enough to comfortably hold in one hand, yet big enough that there was less zooming of text while web browsing than with my iPad Mini.
It’s not much larger than Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S 8.4, but by going with a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the Galaxy Tab’s widescreen 16:10, the Nexus 9 was a better experience for tasks like web browsing or reading e-mail.
But here’s the thing. That Galaxy Tab — which is roughly the same size as the Nexus 9 — has a much sharper and brighter display, Samsung’s design has a more premium feel, the Samsung tablet is much lighter and thinner, the Galaxy tablet can accept microSD cards for cheap storage upgrades … and it costs the same $399 as the Nexus 9.
The only real tradeoff is giving up the pure Android experience of the Nexus and having to contend with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI.
It’s a similar deal with the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, a thinner, lighter tablet with a superior display and comparable performance at a slightly lower price. You give up Google Play for the more sparse app selection on Amazon.
As for the iPad, there’s still no contest between the Nexus 9 and Apple’s tablets when it comes to premium look and feel, and at $399, the Nexus 9 no longer seems like as big a bargain for those hesitant to pay Apple’s prices. There are actually cheaper iPad models — it’s the same price as the new iPad Mini 3 (and original iPad Air) and only $100 less than the new iPad Air 2.
In short, the Nexus 9 is a good Android tablet at reasonable price, and not having to deal with a third-party UI is appreciated. For many people, this would make an excellent choice and I think it represents good value. But the Nexus 9 doesn’t have bargain basement pricing going for it, and at $399, it has a lot of competition.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.