Nexus 9 Review

Google's Best Software In A Sleek HTC Body

For the past couple of years, Google has been producing hit tablets in the form of the Nexus 7. The 7” inch tablet came in at a budget price tag and was the favorite of many people. This year however, there was no Nexus 7 to be found. Instead Google decided to move to a 9” inch size and also to attempt a more premium device. To do this they got together with HTC to make this new tablet. So how does it fair? Is it worth picking up? Let’s take a look.

Specs

  • 8.9” Inch 2048×1536 IPS LCD Display
  • Dual-Core NVIDIA K1 Processor – 2.3GHz
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16, 32GB Storage
  • 6,700 mAh Battery
  • 8MP Rear Camera
  • 1.6MP Front Camera
  • Boomsound Speakers

Hardware

The Nexus brand has never been the most premium or well put together out there, and I’m OK with that. Nexus tablets and phones, at least in recent times, have been inexpensive but still very nice devices. However this year, Google decided to swap things up heading for a more premium set of devices. The Nexus 9 certainly fits that bill with it’s aluminum edges and fairly sturdy construction. Is it the best out there? Of course not, but is it better than ever before? By a long shot. The Nexus 9 feels great during use and really does feel like a premium device. The aluminum is a huge plus in my opinion as well. There’s just something about picking up a cold device in the morning that is just so satisfying. You just can’t get that with a plastic device. Fortunately my unit has no #flexgate as there were no issues with the back cover with it being flexible. It all felt sturdy and I can with all honesty that this is the best built Nexus tablet yet. But now, let’s talk about the bad stuff.

The Nexus 9 is still a Nexus after all, so it’s never perfect. First off, this device is far heavier than it should be, or at least it feels that way. When I first lifted the Nexus 9 I was shocked at it’s weight. Is it a bad thing? Not necessarily. I’ve always said that I enjoy a device that feels substantial and this definitely fits the bill, but it overdoes it just a bit. For me a tablet should be a lightweight device as it’s held up for reading or watching video perhaps while sitting on the couch or even while lying in bed. Let me say this, the Nexus 9 is definitely not a tablet you’ll want to drop if you like holding it above your head. That could be a pretty nasty hit.

Another smaller note, but an important one is the buttons. I’m referring to the power and volume buttons on the top right side of the device to be specific. They are horrific. On no device that I’ve ever tried have I seen worse buttons than these. They are not tactile at all and in my opinion are the number one hardware issue with this device.

Overall though, the hardware is pretty good on the Nexus 9. Now if you’re an avid reader of tech blogs, you might think I’m nuts based on their reviews. Let me explain the difference. My Nexus 9 is a retail unit. Most other blogs received their units from Google in order to do their reviews. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. However those units were not the same ones that hit shelves. If you are worried about hardware issues with a Nexus 9, I can say don’t worry. Am I guaranteeing that yours will not have an issue? No, but the problem is definitely not as widespread as you might have thought.

Software

With every Nexus, comes a new version of Android and this time it’s the sweetest release yet. Android 5.0 Lollipop comes with this out of the box and it’s without a doubt the most compelling and impressive version of Android to date.

Features we’ve always wanted, or at least some of them, are now here. Things we’ve always had have been refined. Android Lollipop is truly a work of art in the mobile world and I can’t imagine how it could get better. The entire OS runs liquid smooth, at least most of the time. I’m not sure if it’s an issue with the Nexus 9 itself or just Android 5.0 since this is such a big release. 90% of the time things are flawless. However there are time where lag is so apparent I want to pull my hair out. Once in a while the entire system locks up and I can’t do anything about it. Why is this happening? I have absolutely no clue.

As for new features, there are many, too many to talk about. One that I would specifically like to talk about is screen pinning. This option allows you to lock down your tablet to just a single app. Granted anyone who can read has the potential to get out of this mode, but it’s still pretty useful. Whether you are handing your tablet to your toddler or a spying family member, this mode can help you make sure that they see only what you want them to see. I think Google was very smart to include this, but I do hope they refine it a bit to make it a bit more foolproof.

A couple small quirks in the software I found. First, you can’t turn off the double tap to wake feature. Is this a great feature? Oh yes. I love it, except when I hate it. When the tablet is on my lap in the car or perhaps when I’m carrying it, it’s annoying to have the screen turn on. Google’s implementation of this feature isn’t quite as refined as LG’s or HTC’s. It’s far too sensitive and reacts to the slightest touch. The unfortunate part really is that there is no option to be found to turn this off. Secondly there are some app compatibility issues due to the new Android Runtime and the NVIDIA chipset. ART is still new and developers are trying to update for it. The same goes with the NVIDIA chipset. It’s not as common as it’s Qualcomm counterparts, so some apps and especially some games are not compatible.

All that said, the software on the Nexus 9 is certainly the highlight. It’s Android the way Google intended and it’ll be first in line for updates direct from Google.

Display

When it comes to the display, we’re looking at an 8.9” inch 2048×1536 IPS panel. It’s got pretty great viewing angles, looks great to the eye, and it just a great display. The 4:3 aspect ratio is something that was hard for me to get used to coming from always using 16:10 tablets. It might be strange for you, but at the same time, it’s pretty nice. Watching video might be a little weird, but it’s extremely nice for browsing the web and looking at pictures, but the real highlight here is when you’re reading.

Reading books was a real pleasure on this tablet and it was something I enjoyed over anything else on this tablet. The panel gets bright enough for outdoor use, but also dim enough for indoor nighttime use. On the unfortunate side, when the display is very bright, it tends to show a lot of light bleed. Where it appears is different on every unit, but no matter what it can be pretty irritating. Light bleed is common on this type of display, but on a tablet this expensive, there’s not much room for excuse.  Another complaint about this display comes in the glass. We have Gorilla Glass 3 on this tablet, but that’s no protection from fingerprints on this tablet. This tablet shows fingerprints like I’ve never seen on any device before. Within minutes of owning the device it had more fingerprints than every phone I had nearby combined (that’s a lot of phones actually…). If you’re OCD like me, this became almost unbearable. Luckily it can be fixed by tossing on a screen protector.

Camera

Yes this tablet has a camera. Can we move on?

The Nexus 9 has an 8MP camera on the back which does protrude just a bit from the chassis, but not enough to bother the way the tablet sits on a flat surface. The camera is like many other tablet cameras, not good at all. It is, well, decent, but not compared to most phones. I took just a few quick shots with the camera on my Nexus 9 which are in the galley below. Click the thumbnails to view the photos in full resolution.

Battery

Inside the Nexus 9 is a 6,700 mAh battery. That’s not huge for this screen size, but it gets the job done. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. I can usually go a couple days of moderate use without charging, but sometimes it’s far worse. My best use was 3 days of use with about 3 hours of screen time. That’s certainly not bad, but it’s not all that good either. Battery saver mode is certainly a welcome feature on this tablet and in stock Android in general. It does decrease performance tremendously, but also gives plenty of additional use.

Speakers

One major highlight for me on the Nexus 9 is the speakers. They are absolutely wonderful. Mounted on the top and bottom of the tablet these are both front facing speakers with very nice audio. Is it the best? No, but it’s certainly better than other tablets like the iPad Air, Nexus 7, and many others that don’t have the speakers on the front. It simply makes sense to have speakers facing the front. The speakers are in the exact place where you put hands, but somehow they are nearly impossible to cover up. Even when I specifically tried to cover these up with my hand, sound still didn’t sound muffled or distorted. I’d say that these speakers are one of the best parts of the Nexus 9 by far.

Video Review

Is It Worth It?

The Nexus 9 is Google’s first attempt at bringing us a tablet with no compromises. It’s priced just as high as the competition, so why should there be? At $399 I personally don’t think this tablet is worth the money. It has a lot to bring to the tablet, but for that price just not enough. Maybe just maybe if it started with 32GB of storage rather than 16GB and didn’t have as many issues as it does, then it would be worth it. But as this tablet sits now, I feel that it’s not worth the money. At $299 this would be an awesome device. I really do feel that Google and HTC have overpriced this tablet.

The Nexus 9 is certainly a great tablet for the Android/Nexus junkie, but for the average consumer I can’t really recommend it simply because of the price tag. It’s great don’t get me wrong, but for the price point it’s not. This tablet has a lot of highlights and could be great, it just needs some fine tuning. HTC has already done that in minor ways by refining the buttons and also fixing some issues with the display.

Final Thoughts

If you think this tablet is the one for you, you can get it from Google Play, Amazon, and Best Buy. The base model starts at $399 with 16GB of storage. The 32GB model will run you $479 and the 32GB LTE model will run a massive $599.

Nexus 9

$399
Nexus 9
8.5

Design

9/10

    Build Quality

    9/10

      Software

      9/10

        Screen

        9/10

          Battery Life

          8/10

            Pros

            • Great stereo speakers
            • Pure Android Lollipop
            • Aluminum trim gives a premium feel
            • Crisp display

            Cons

            • Mediocre battery life
            • 4:3 can be weird at first
            • Entire tablet is a fingerprint magnet
            • Maximum 32GB storage