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« Youtube launches Music Key, music subscription service | Main | Nexus 6 pre-orders to start in Canada via Google Play store on November 18 »
Wednesday
Nov122014

Review: Google Nexus 9

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

The Nexus 9 is an intriguing entry into the tablet space. By making it the first device to feature the latest, greatest Android Lollipop OS, Google seems to be making a statement about its renewed commitment to tablet users and this is a good thing.

The Nexus 9 is built by HTC, which hasn’t had great success with tablets and which hasn’t made a new tablet since 2011, but who was compliant enough to take the design language of the Nexus 7 and Nexus 5 and incorporate some of its own features (i.e. BoomSound speakers) into the mix. 

The Nexus 9 is intriguing mostly because of its size, it claims a spot that doesn’t have many competing products.

We have a vast number of 7-inch tablets (of which, last year’s Nexus 7 is arguably among the best) and a vast number of 9-10-inch tablets which has been dominated by Apple’s iPad line for a number of years now.

Squeezing in a tablet that fits right in between a super-portable one-handed tablet and larger tablets seems to be one way to gain attention.  The Nexus 9 adopts a 4.3 aspect ratio which is similar to what the iPad mini and iPad Air feature, rather than the 16:9 aspect ratio we’ve seen on the Nexus 7.


Enabling it with flagship specs, a 64 Bit processor and a stunning and dense display is definitely another. HTC’s amped up the Nexus 9 with 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 2.3 GHz quad core processor and supplemented by a 192-core Kepler graphics card. 

These sort of specs promise higher performance provided the software is altered to take advantage of the processing power. Apple’s iOS introduced 64 Bit computing two years ago and it is only now that we’re starting to see apps that can benefit from this, so it will take some time. 

 

 

We also get an 8 Megapixel rear camera which, like the majority of tablet cameras out there, isn’t great. Images tend to be a bit washed out, even in well-lit conditions. Thankfully, it seems possible to correct this softness with software. Just like the Nexus 5, which had a pretty atrocious camera early on, succeeding firmware updates made it a serviceable and competent shooter. 

The 8.9-inch display on the Nexus 9 is a crisp IPS LCD panel with a 4:3 aspect ratio and a QXGA (2048 x 1536) resolution.  

There have been reported issues such as light bleed on the display borders and an annoying but not critical squishy backplate which reveals a soft spot in the rear of the tablet that when pressed even slightly recesses into the body and makes a sound as it is getting unglued.

While I like the metal frame that adds a sense of weight and structure, I’m not too thrilled with how recessed the power and volume buttons are.


These are areas where build, fit and finish seem rougher than we’d like, specially for a premium tablet that starts out at CAD $429 for the 16GB  WiFi model and  which can go up to CAD $ 700 for the LTE enabled 32 GB model. The lack of a 64GB variant is simply baffling for a device of this level.

It might have been smarter for Google to let HTC fully design and develop the Nexus 9 like they do their own smartphones. The HTC One (M8) has a very high level of fit and finish and uses premium materials and a tablet version of this design would have been a knockout, well worth the $ 429 asking price. 

The very first Nexus 7, which was made by ASUS, similarly suffered from various build and screen separation issues which required opening up the device and manually tightening screws in the assembly.


These niggles aside, I found my experience with the Nexus 9 to be  generally pleasant and grew to like many of the software features that Lollipop presented. While not as compact as a 7-inch tablet, it does offer a larger screen for content consumption and with the right apps and accessories, possibly even content creation. Google has several cases, including a keyboard that could extend the use of the Nexus 9. The LTE-version is also good option for anyone needing a tablet for use on the go.

As a tablet, it feels a little heavy at 425g, good news is that its not impossible to hold it with one hand for reading or viewing websites. 

The new user interface and functionality is equal parts restrained and intuitive. There are visual hints as well as alerts that make the Nexus 9 communicate unlike other tablets out there right now. 


When the battery is nearing 10 percent, a subtle chime plays to remind you to plug it in (a better experience than finding a stone dead tablet that needs to be plugged in for 40 minutes before you can use it.)

Let’s face it, the Android experience on tablets hasn’t been great. With some of the less popular apps out there, you’re basically using blown-up versions of smartphone apps. This is slowly changing and I hope that developers consider the display size of the Nexus when they update their apps. 

Conclusion:


The Nexus 9 is an intriguing entry into the tablet space. By making it the first device to feature the latest, greatest Android Lollipop OS, Google seems to be making a statement about its renewed commitment to tablet users and this is a good thing.

Made by HTC, the Nexus 9 exhibits very little in look and feel to tie it to the impressive HTC One (M8) and Desire devices. Conforming to the design language of last year’s Nexus 7 and Nexus 5 devices, the Nexus 9 is sadly generic looking and while available in three colours, feels like it lacks personality which is surprising considering Google’s “Be together. Not the same,” mantra. 

Still, one can’t deny the Nexus 9 is harbinger of new things. Android 5.0 Lollipop, a 4:3 aspect ratio, 64 Bit computing on Android, and an imposing 9-inch device that has very few competitors in the market right now. For some users, this is more than enough to overlook the early build issues and high price.

 Rating: 3 out of 5

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