Android tablets have always been a frustrating, particular beast for consumers. On one end, you have the dirt cheap awful tablets. On the other, you have the relatively cheap good tablets. Walk into any brick and mortar store, and you will find an Android tablet. Whether it is any good is dependent on a myriad of factors. Google’s own Nexus linehas had great success for tablets so far. The 2012 Nexus 7 was a fantastic, budget conscious tablet that shook the industry. Following it, the Nexus 10, was more complicated. Not because of hardware, but because Android has long had an issue with larger screens. 2013 came and with it the next Nexus 7. This was, to date, the best Android tablet I have ever seen or used. It was cheap, thin, light, fast, and had good build quality.
With HTC behind the Nexus 9, Google’s only Android tablet in the lineup this year. Would we see more of the Nexus line magic, or has the act fallen flat?
These are solid specs for a tablet in 2014. The trend of tablet upgrades seems to be closer to laptops than smartphones. This means that specs need to be more carefully considered. Due to the fact that you might be toting around a tablet for two to three years. The Nexus 9 is no slouch in any aspect. The Nvidia Tegra K1 “Denver” SoC is 64-bit capable, which is what the Nexus 9 comes with. This adds to future growth and longevity in the life of the tablet due to 64-bit being the next wave in mobile computing. The Nexus 9 comes with 2GB of RAM, which is more than plenty for today and tomorrows standards in mobile computing. The largest storage offering being 32 gigabytes is a bit of a disappointment, especially considering iPad’s offer up to 128 gigabytes.
Gaming on the Nexus 9 is buttery smooth. Nvidia knows gaming. Every game I threw at it played incredibly well with absolutely no lag. Specs are clearly not the problem with the Nexus 9.
The Nexus 9 comes with a 2048×1536 resolution display packed into an 8.9inch, 4:3 aspect ratio form factor. The screen is incredibly crisp and vivid, colors are accurate, and viewing angles are good. Everything about the display on the Nexus 9 oozes a good display. One minor to major negative(depending on how prominent it is for you) is the occurrence of light bleed around the edges of the display. For my Nexus 9, it was there when you would look for it. But it was hard to see in real world usage unless the backlit screen went black(while still being on). This was one of the minor gripes of the Nexus 9. An otherwise stellar screen that could be spoiled by light bleed.
The screen is indeed at the 4:3 aspect ratio that fruit branded tablets have been sitting at for quite some time. I thoroughly enjoyed using my iPad throughout the years. I also immensely enjoyed the 16:9 aspect ratio of the Nexus 7. For a tablet that calls for two hands for normal use, the 4:3 aspect ratio is wonderful. Web pages were big and beautiful, photos were phenomenal, and games played immensely well. Video had two black bars to compensate, but that is truly a non-issue.
LOOK AND FEEL
The Nexus 9 is a largely non assuming device, just like all Nexus devices tend to be. On the front of the device, the Nexus 9 possesses only the 8.9 inch screen, the two front facing speakers, and the front facing camera. The back of the device has the HTC badge, horizontal Nexus logo, 8MP camera that is slightly protruding, and nothing else. The back of the device is the typical Nexus style soft touch plastic. It feels good in the hand, just like all other Nexus devices. The rear edges slope slightly at the corners along the back of the device. This is why the camera protrudes slightly. Luckily, the tablet still lies flat when placed down on a table. The sides of the device consist of a brushed metal, giving it a faux premium feel.
The left side of the device houses absolutely nothing. While the right side houses the absolutely atrocious power and volume buttons. These buttons have literally no travel and sit nearly flush along the side of the device. There is no redeeming quality in these buttons, they are absolutely terrible. The headphone jack lies on the top of the device, with the MicroUSB port sitting on the bottom. Standard for a tablet or smartphone in todays world. The sides of the device are angled ever so slightly travelling from back to front, much like the Nexus 5. This causes sharp edges along front of the device, but doesn’t cause discomfort.
The device is incredibly light, coming in at under 1lb. In one handed and two handed use, the device was great to use. There was no fatigue when holding the tablet for extended amounts of time(seeing as I could not purchase the official cover for over a month after release).
When it comes to devices, HTC has stellar build quality. Looking at the HTC One, with a metal body that could seemingly be run over by a tank, they lead the industry. When HTC was leaked as the company behind the next Nexus tablet, the hardware lover in me started drooling. Unfortunately, no part of HTC’s build quality is present here. This device is more Nexus than HTC in terms of build quality. The device feels flimsy and frail when you hold it. Not because it comes in at a paltry 15oz. But rather because I can literally bend the Nexus 9 with little to no force.
The back of the Nexus 9 also has a bubble/air gap. If you press down on the back of the device, at the Nexus branding, you can push the backing of the Nexus 9 down. This makes the device feel even cheaper than the bending already does.
The Nexus 9 has disappointing build quality. It feels cheap and flimsy. Take the iPad Air, for example. It’s lightweight yet incredibly sturdy. It’s not that it cannot be done, it’s just that HTC and Google couldn’t do it.
Battery life is one of the most important aspects of a tablet. Tablets are not designed to be recharged every night like a smartphone. A good tablet should have a battery that lasts more than a few days with normal content consuming use.
In order to find exactly how well the battery would hold up, I charged my tablet up to 100% before leaving for Thanksgiving break, and refused to charge it during the entire trip. During the trip, I read, browsed the web, watched three hours of TV and a two and a half hour movie. The tablet held up for the entire week long trip. In super-scientific rundown tests, the battery will last for roughly five to six hours of screen on time. This is pretty great for a tablet, and is one of the saving graces of the Nexus 9. Idle battery drain is minimal for an Android tablet as well.
The Nexus 9 runs Stock Android 5.0 Lollipop(duh). On the Nexus 9, Lollipop runs like a dream. There is no lag or stuttering in my use. Animations are smooth and fluid, app switching is full of speed, and transitions are zippy.
HTC has added a software tweak to Stock Android in the form of a double tap to wake function on the screen. This is a great addition to the Nexus 9 considering how awful the buttons on the device are.
Lollipop is not without problems on the Nexus 9, though. Android has long been neglectful of tablet-specific interfaces and app design. Lollipop is superior on smartphones because most app seems to be designed for smartphones rather than tablets. Tablet apps are riddled with black spaces or blown up smartphone layouts. Few apps are tablet optimized, and it is a real problem in Android.
The Nexus 9 has a camera. One, don’t take pictures with tablets. Two, don’t take pictures with tablets. Three, if you didn’t listen to me, the camera is pretty terrible. Well lit photos still came through with noise. It just isn’t a good camera. But it’s a camera on a tablet. What were you expecting?
Is the Nexus 9 a great tablet? No. Is the Nexus 9 a good tablet? No. Is the Nexus 9 a pretty good tablet? Yes.
The Nexus 9 is the road Google chose to travel this year. After the fantastic Nexus 7, hopes were high for Google’s next tablet. Unfortunately for Google and HTC, the price point they chose has made this tablet out of reach for most. With a starting price of $399 for the 16GB model and $479 for the 32GB model, it is not worth the price considering the quality of the Nexus 9. Especially considering the Nexus 7 was $229 and iPad’s are looming for just a few dollars more. That being said, it’s possesses Nvidia’s K1 64-bit chipset, a great screen, and stock Android. There are some saving graces for this tablet. But it’s hard to overlook the many drawbacks.
The Nexus 9 is a mediocre tablet with a premium price tag. That’s the opposite formula for a great tablet.