The Nexus 9 has a lot to live up to. Its predecessor, the Nexus 7, was one of the best Android tablets around, offering stellar specs at a very aggressive price.
For the Nexus 9, Google has enlarged the screen and inflated the price as well. It’s also dropped Asus and brought in HTC as its manufacturer of choice.
That's quite a gamble, given that HTC hasn’t made a tablet since the disappointing Flyer back in 2011.
A lot is riding on the Nexus 9. Let’s see how it stacks up.
First impressions and design
The change in manufacturers is obvious as soon as you pick up the Nexus 9.
Gone is the soft, mottled back which was so pleasing to stroke, replaced by cold, hard unfeeling plastic. (It has a very slight softness to it, but it’s not a patch on the 2013 version of the Nexus 7.)
Build quality is so-so. It’s nowhere near as solidly put together as an iPad Mini, and considering how similar it looks to one, we can’t help but compare the two.
It has a lot more give than an Apple slate, with the body creaking disconcertingly when pushed at certain points.
The metal frame is cold and not all that comfortable to hold, and the volume and power buttons feel a bit cheap.
They’re also quite shallow, so not all that easy to find when you’re grasping in the dark.
It’s not a terribly put together device. But for £319 – a whopping £120 pricier than its predecessor – we expect better.
This is the first tablet to ship with Android 5.0 Lollipop.
The latest version of Google’s OS is widely available on its Nexus range now, and is creeping onto other Android devices.
But for now, Lollipop is the preserve of the few rather than the many.
It’s a cleaner, flatter look for the OS. The changes are subtle – slightly more curvy, friendly-looking icons, for example – but they add up to a very slick experience.
We’ve covered Android Lollipop before, so won’t delve too deeply into it here.
But new features include the ability to see notifications from the lock screen – and to jump straight into them – you can toggle features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth by dragging down from the notifications menu, and you can start watching a film on your phone, and pick up where you left off on your tablet.
Lollipop is a big boon for the Nexus 9, especially considering it will take months to reach some third-party tablets.
But it can be had on the Nexus 7 for no extra cash, which is worth keeping in mind.
So what do we get in terms of specs? The 8.9-inch screen has a very respectable resolution of 2,048x1,536 pixels, giving it a pixel per inch count of 281ppi.
That’s slightly more than the iPad Air 2, but it won’t make a noticeable difference.
It’s 42 lower than the Nexus 7, however, which is the price you pay for the bigger screen.
It also sports a rather unconventional 4:3 aspect ratio, rather than the usual 16:9.
That might seem an odd choice, seeing as movies and some games are built for a widescreen display.
But apps and browsing look far more natural on a 4:3 screen.
There’s a 1.6-megapixel camera on the front for video calls, and an 8-megapixel rear-facer for snapping pics.
Inside, 2GB of RAM rides shotgun with a 64-bit Tegra K1 Dual Denver processor clocked at 2.3GHz
It’s available in 16GB and 32GB varieties, with no expandable storage.
NFC and Bluetooth 4.1 also come as standard.
Generally, it’s a pleasure to use. The screen is bright, with colours that manage to be vibrant without seeming unnatural.
The higher resolution gives it incredibly sharp and detailed images, though the contrast between blacks and whites isn’t quite as great as on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S’s Super AMOLED display.
You do lose some of the edge of the frame with widescreen films, but for most people it won’t be an issue.
The screen is also a bit unevenly lit, with certain edges looking a tad brighter than others. It’s not a massive fault, but could prove annoying if you’re watching particularly dark and moody films like noirs.
Nothing breaks the tension like a light patch on screen.
The speakers are excellent too, packing HTC’s BoomSound tech as seen – or heard, rather – on the HTC One (M8).
Like on that phone, they’re dual, front-facing speakers, and pack plenty of punch. They’re also not easy to block while holding the tablet in landscape, which is a problem on the iPad Air 2. So bravo, HTC.
Detail does tend to drop out at louder volumes, however. If you want to use it for a party, best invest in some external speakers.
Graphics look fantastic thanks to Nvidia’s K1 GPU, making it the first Android device with a 64-bit chip.
Games run smooth as you like, and the tablet handled every HD video we could throw at it. It also whips through menus, helped in no small part by the highly responsive screen.
If you want to type out a masterpiece, you can buy the Nexus 9 Keyboard Folio, which is a case that doubles as a keyboard.
Though it costs an extra £110. It wasn’t included in our review sample, so we can’t say how it is to use.
Cameras on tablets are generally a poor affair, and the Nexus range of devices has particularly struggled in the imaging department.
So it’ll be no surprise to learn that the Nexus 9’s snapper isn’t great. It’s slow to focus, and shots are washed out and thoroughly uninspired.
Then again, if you’re taking photos using a tablet, you want to take a long hard look at yourself.
The Nexus 9 is a very good tablet, but it’s hampered by shoddy build quality and a slightly iffy screen.
We could forgive these on a more wallet-friendly device. But now Google wants to price it alongside the big boys, it’s going to have to raise its game.