Review: HTC Nexus 9

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Nexus 9 (7)

The Nexus 9 is the latest tablet from Google with the help of HTC for manufacturing and some developing. This is also HTC’s first foray into the tablet world. Off the bat the Nexus 9 features an 8.9-inch display with 2,048 x 1,536 resolution and the latest Nvidia Tegra K1 64-bit chipset. Let’s take a look at the main specs before we move on and look at the tablet itself.

  • OS: Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • Display: 8.9″ IPS LCD touchscreen, 2,048 x 1,536 resolution; Gorilla Glass 3
  • Chipset: Nvidia Tegra K1: dual-core Denver @ 2.3GHz; Kepler DX1 GPU; 2GB RAM
  • Camera: 8MP main camera with 1080p@30fps video capture
  • Front camera: 1.6MP front-facing camera with 720p video capture
  • Storage: 16GB / 32GB built-in
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX, A-GPS + GLONASS; microUSB 2.0
  • Dimensions: 228.2 x 153.7 x 7.9mm; 425g (Wi-Fi) / 436g (LTE)
  • Battery: 6,700mAh Li Po
  • Misc: BoomSound stereo speakers

The specs are impressive and we’re interested to see what the Nvidia chipset has to offer along with Android 5.0. We can also see all of the usual latest connectivity with WiFi AC and Bluetooth 4.1

 The Nexus 9

Nexus 9 (4) Nexus 9 (1)

Nexus 9 (8)

The design of the Nexus 9 has the same limitation to design as most tablets on the market. The rules are simple, keep in as thin and light as possible. There are some serious similarites between the Nexus 9 and the iPad Air. This easily comes down to the same 4:3 ratio they both share on the display. Overall HTC/Google did a great job with the metal frame and plastic back and while the Nexus 9 isn’t exceptional looking, it’s still a beautiful looking tablet.

Nexus 9 (6) Nexus 9 (5)

Nexus 9 (3)

We have the typical volume rocker, power button and headphone slot on the tablet. HTC/Google have kept most of the design as subtle and sleek as possible.

Nexus 9 (2) Nexus 9 (9)

Android 5.0/UI

The Nexus 9 comes with the latest OS from Android. Android 5.0 Lollipop offers a lot of new features and design changes. Below is a quick run through of the OS on the tablet. Being Nexus device, we’re looking at vanilla Android, and performance is at the top of its game.

Nexus 9 UI (3) Nexus 9 UI (4)

Nexus 9 UI (1)

The settings menu has a similar breakdown to what we’re use too, but the overall color scheme has been changed. The vanilla nature of the OS provides the smoothest experience you could expect.

Nexus 9 UI (6) Nexus 9 UI (7)

The multi-tasking plane is a card based swipe system. Again, responsiveness is excellent. It be be nice to have a close-all button, but sadly users will have to swipe each card away separately.

Nexus 9 UI (5)

Nexus 9 UI (9) Nexus 9 UI (8)

A great feature included with Android 5.0 is the support for multiple user accounts. Allowing a completely separate environment for different users. This is a massive plus for a Tablets, where sharing the device is more likely.

Camera

The Nexus 9 includes an 8MP camera with 1080p video support. We’re weren’t expecting much from the camera as it’s a tablet and sadly our expectations weren’t off the mark as the included sensor on the Nexus 9 isn’t the best. Below are some images taken with the camera.

HTC Nexus 9 Photo (2) HTC Nexus 9 Photo (1)

HTC Nexus 9 Photo (3) HTC Nexus 9 Photo (4)

HTC Nexus 9 Photo (5) HTC Nexus 9 Photo (6)

HTC Nexus 9 Photo (7) HTC Nexus 9 Photo (8)

HTC Nexus 9 Photo (9) HTC Nexus 9 Photo (10)

HTC Nexus 9 Photo (11) HTC Nexus 9 Photo (12)

Right away we can see the camera isn’t worst out there, but performance isn’t something we would call great. Some images come across as okay, but we got a lot of light balance issues with some images looking very dark as the camera over compensates.. Focusing wasn’t too bad, but we have gotten use to the near instant focusing on most flagship smartphones, so it will come across as slow. The camera is mostly lackluster, but should satisfy most users in good light situations.

Video

As we mentioned above, the Nexus 9 sports just 1080p recording. We’re not seeing any special features like HDR video or stabilization – nor did we expect anything fancy with a tablet camera. None the less, below are some videos taken with the Nexus 9.

Again, not the worst we have seen, but nothing to to praise about. It’s a tablet, so we’re not disappointed that much with the lack of features or 4k support.

Benchmarks

Nexus 9 Benchmark (2) Nexus 9 Benchmark (3)

Nexus 9 Benchmark (1)

Nexus 9 Benchmark (5) Nexus 9 Benchmark (4)

Benchmark performance is really just for the numbers. It won’t really give you an insight on how well your device will perform daily, but rather complete compute performance it offers. The Nvidia Tegra K1 chipset is the king. It offers a massive leap in performance pretty much across the board. It’s safe to say that the Nexus 9 won’t have any issues supporting intensive tasks.

Gameplay

Gameplay is huge aspect of the tablet/mobile world. It’s also great to show how well the device will handle those tasks that require intensive computing power. The HTC Nexus 9 includes the Nvidia Tegra K1 chipset, which we had no doubt would be a pleasure to use, and the video below shows exactly that. The games we took a look at are Dead trigger 2, GTA: San Andreas, and Modern Combat 5.

Battery Performance

The Nexus 9 includes a nice large battery at 6,700mAh. The Nvidia chipset being exceptionally powerful will no doubt use up the juice when doing intensive tasks, but being a tablet a lot of usage will come from more general use. Below is the medium to heavy usage we do during a 12 hour period. This is aimed to simulate a typical day of usage on a tablet.

Skype call (Video)20-30 Minutes
Chat/EmailsThroughout the day (checking) and 20-30 sent
Photos10-20
Internet browsingThroughout the day(around 60-80 minutes total)
Gaming30 Minutes
YouTube/Netflix60-80 Minutes
ConnectivityWiFi Only Model
Screen Brightness50-percent

Thankfully we had no problems getting through the day with our typical usage habits and the tablet itself had just over 40 percent left. Charging the device when at complete zero took us just over 4 and a half hours. So while the battery life is pretty good, it might be wise to keep the tablet charging whenever you can. Stand by is another fantastic aspect, as we left the device in stand by overnight (WiFi off) and only lost 1-percent.

Conclusion

Design

Google pretty much have the lead when it comes to the development and design of a Nexus device and in this case HTC are a partner that handle some development and design. It’s basically a collaboration with Google in charge. HTC, however, take care of all of the manufacturing. So none the less, This is without a doubt a HTC tablet. Starting off with a sleek metal frame and smooth plastic back, the tablet is housed pretty nicely. HTC have thankfully included the dual front facing speakers with BoomSound, which go a far way to making the tablet a more enjoyable experience.

The 4:3 ratio is something of a twist. This will add black bars to most videos with content typically done with 16:9 or 21:9 ratios. We still think Google/HTC made the right choice, as having the tablet less wide as made it just that much more comfortable to hold. The smaller ratio makes the tablet less of a chore if using if for longer periods. We also have a large display without getting a large width. Ultimately it’s up to the end user if they would prefer a more standard 16:9 tablet, or go for something potentially more comfortable.

Display

The 8.9-inch IPS LCD display provides great sharpness and color. Viewing angles are spot on and the display has a pretty decent level of brightness to it. The 4:3 ratio does shine some light on a fairly annoying issue with regards to light bleed. The added black bars with 16:9 content allow us to see some pretty bad light bleed on the corners of the display. This isn’t that much of a serious issue as is only noticeable wtih complete black areas, but none the less screams low quality.

Bar the light bleed issues, the screen is actually pretty solid in terms of overall quality. The detail is great and brightness goes well high enough for sunlight use.

Performance

The Nvidia Tegra K1 chipset is insane. it’s one of the fastest performing chipsets we have seen. This along with Vanilla Android 5 gave us the smoothest and most complete lag free experience we have seen. While we don’t put to much emphasis on benchmarks, it’s hard not to be impressed with the lead the Nexus 9 has over other devices.

The camera is one of the most lacking aspects of the device. Quality is only decent enough with extremely well lit areas, but even then we’re seeing pretty poor balance issues with too much compensation. The camera app only offers panorama as an extra feature, but sadly the camera quality leaves a lot to be desired. Since this is a tablet, camera quality is last on the list of features we’re interested in. In fact, we’re more disappointed about the lack of 1080p video support on the front camera. So that should tell you something.

Overall

The Nexus 9 is not as much a successor to the Nexus 7, but rather a different offering. The Nexus 7 was aimed at being a a solid tablet with an enjoyable experience at a decent price. The Nexus 9 is more about offering the best possible performance on a beautiful tablet. Android 5.0 is on board and feels fresh and clean. The OS takes advantage of the insanely high performing Nvidia chipset and provides the most enjoyable Android experience we have seen.

The Nexus 9 is not without its drawbacks and the lack of expandable storage is probably the biggest. Not a complete deal breaker, but easily one of those things that will leave a bad taste after while and something we wish wasn’t the case with such an easy solution avaialble to OEM’s. This is even worse by the fact we finally have the ability to add multiple users and that alone will mean more space is being used. Camera quality is pretty bad with even the best photos looking like they came from a flagship from a good few years ago.

The Nexus 9 has a gotten a few things wrong, but has done so many things right. We have a beautiful looking tablet with the best version of Android yet, and to top it off we have the best performance available. It may not be the right choice for everyone, and at €389, it’s certainly not the cheapest tablet available. None the less, we definitely liked the Nexus 9 and think it’s a great tablet that will make a lot of people happy. The lack of expandable storage is enough to warrant real concern and should have some folks seek a tablet elsewhere. If there is going to be a 2015 Nexus 9, we hope this won’t be an issue. None the less, the Nexus 9 is a Gold level tablet and provides a top of the line experience.

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