The Google-branded, HTC-made Nexus 9 was arguably the high point of Android tablets when it launched late in November 2014. It’s aged very well since then too, with its powerful processor and high-resolution screen standing up well to more recent devices. What’s strange is that Google hasn’t seen fit to replace the Nexus 9 with a new device, despite the tablet going end-of-life and now only being available secondhand or from Argos as a reconditioned device on eBay.
It may be outgunned by more recent releases, but it’s still quite a tempting proposition if you can find one cheap in good condition. There’s nothing wrong with its specification even today but the real draw is that you get the latest version of Android and regular updates, all as Google intended with no manufacturer apps and features clogging up the user interface.
We were surprised that Google partnered with HTC to manufacture the Nexus 9, but the tablet is easily one of the most appealing and well-made Android tablets around. At just under 8mm thick, the Nexus 9 isn’t the slimmest tablet available – the Air 2 and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet are noticeably slimmer at 6.1mm – but it is incredibly light, weighing 425g. There’s also a brushed metal trim around the edge, which is polished to a silver gleam along its top edge, while the rear casing comes in black, white or sand, although the latter shade is only available on the 32GB model to give it a degree of exclusivity.
On the plus side, the colours are all complementary and the edges are largely free of buttons, flaps, ports and slots, making for a more streamlined look. Details on the back, such as the camera lens protruding from the curved corner and the recessed Nexus logo, also add a bit of class to the tablet, but the slight amount of flex in the plastic rear panel does fall short of the iPad Air’s metal effort.
We also feel the power and volume buttons could do with being a bit deeper, as their rather flush position doesn’t provide a lot of travel and they can be a bit tricky to locate if you’re just running your finger along the tablet’s edge. Fortunately, you can always wake the tablet by double tapping the screen instead, so you don’t necessarily need to press the power button to turn the screen on.
Like all Google’s Nexus devices, there’s no microSD expansion slot, so you’ll need to be sure about how much storage you need when you order. The 16GB model is £290, while the 32GB model can be found for £350. However, £60 is a huge premium to pay for just 16GB of extra storage space, as you can get 48GB of extra storage for £80 if you decide to upgrade to the 64GB iPad Air 2. You can get a more reasonable deal if you buy the 32GB 4G model of the Nexus 9, though; £459 is a reasonable price for a 4G 32GB tablet, compared to the £499 and £579 you’ll pay for a 16GB or 64GB 4G iPad.
The standout feature of the Nexus 9 is its 4:3 ratio screen. The vast majority of Android tablets, from the likes of Sony and Samsung, use widescreen displays: 16:10 or 16:9. The Nexus 9, therefore, has more in common with Apple’s 4:3 iPad. We generally prefer 4:3 for using tablets in portrait mode, especially when web browsing, but this screen ratio is arguably less practical for watching films or TV as you’ll end up with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. This doesn’t seem to put off all those iPad Netflix users, however.
The display is one of the Nexus 9’s stronger elements. Its 8.9in screen has a 2,048×1,536 resolution, the same as the iPad Air 2, and a pixel density of 264ppi. This makes for nice, sharp text and provides plenty of space for reading web pages, regardless of whether the tablet’s in portrait or landscape.
The panel itself is also one of the best we’ve seen. Our measurements showed it was displaying 95.5% of the sRGB colour gamut, which is higher than the iPad Air 2 with its figure of 90.1%. The Nexus 9’s display is also incredibly bright at 455.69cd/m2, making it one of the brightest displays we’ve used. Black levels were good, too, at 0.38cd/m2 and we measured the screen’s contrast ratio as an excellent 1,195:1. Photos look gorgeous with nicely saturated colours.
There are two front-facing speakers that sit at the left and right edges of the tablet (when held horizontally to play games or watch video). They’re small, recessed strips and although they’re neatly integrated, they started gathering dust almost immediately, more so than the front-facing speakers of the Nvidia Shield Tablet or even HTC’s own One M8 smartphone, which both use a dotted speaker grille built directly into the front. When you run your fingers over the Nexus 9’s speaker recesses they also feel sharp, though we suppose that dissuades you from putting your thumbs over them.
The speakers use HTC’s BoomSound technology and produce decent sound quality, especially for a tablet. The speakers produce a surprisingly warm sound, at odds with the tinny and harsh audio we’re used to from tablet speakers. There was a good amount of detail to the mid-range and treble and the stereo speakers have excellent channel separation. The Nexus 9’s speakers can also produce a significant amount of volume, so there’s no strong need to immediately plug in headphones. This is one area where the Nexus 9 is comfortably ahead of either iPad Air model. Continues on Page 2 …
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