Let’s get your first question out of the way: Why am I posting a review on a tablet that is over a year old? Fair question.
The why is pretty simple. If you are looking for a well spec’d, well designed tablet for under $300, the Nexus 9 remains one of the best options on the market today. Yes you could go with a Pixel C but that $300 barrier comes into play. Yes you could get another brand tablet for less money but when it comes to a pure Android experience, the Nexus 9 is very hard to beat. And while I certainly focus a lot of attention on the latest devices and apps, there are times where something just a little bit older still does an amazing job at a lower cost than their replacement devices today.
So justifications made, I have no hesitation in recommending the HTC built Nexus 9 if you are looking for a sub-$300 tablet that performs exceptionally well and is going to be around for a while given that you can already load the Android N beta onto it. I’ve been using one for the past several weeks and it is wonderful device that performs well for those who need a reasonably sized tablet.
The Nexus 9 comes as either a Wi-Fi only model or as a Wi-Fi plus LTE. For this review, I have the Wi-Fi only model but if you pick up the LTE model, it supports a wide range of bands: 1(2100),
2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 6(900), 7(2600), 8(900), 13(700) and 20(800). That combination is going to cover you with no problem on the major GSM carriers here in the United States, AT&T and T-Mobile. Also note that the LTE version is compatible and supported on Project Fi, Google’s own MVNO. The SIM tray is for a Nano SIM. Physically the device measures 228.2 x 153.7 x 8 mm or in old money, that breaks down to 8.98 x 6.05 x 0.31″ and it weighs 425 g for the Wi-Fi model while the LTE version comes it at a little bit more, 436 g. That equates to 14.99 oz.
The display of the Nexus 9 is an IPS LCD display that renders at 1538 x 2048. The net result of that resolution is you have approximately 281ppi (pixels-per-inch) which makes viewing the screen for long periods of time easy on the eyes. The display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and the display takes up a little over 73% of the front of the device. Inside, the main processor is the Nvidia Tegra K1 which is a dual-core 2.3 GHz unit. It is coupled with the Keplar DX1 GPU for graphics. Coupled with this is 2GB of RAM and either 16GB or 32GB of storage. The storage, like most Nexus devices, is not expandable as the 9 does not have a MicroSD slot.
The Nexus 9 has two cameras and for a tablet, are above average. The rear camera is an 8MP auto-focus unit that has a LED flash along with it. It is able to shoot video at 1080p in addition to taking photos. On the front there is a 1.6MP camera that is fixed focus and can shoot up to 720p video. I have written more on the cameras performances in the Camera Performance section of this review.
The front of the device is dominated by the display which takes up 73% of the front of the device. At the top of the screen, in the center, is where you will find the front-facing camera of the tablet while at the top and bottom of the display, near the device edge, you will find the speaker grills for the two front facing speakers. On the top edge of the Nexus 9 is where you will find the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack while on the bottom edge, in the center, is where you will
find the MicroUSB 2.0 port to charge the tablet. Keeping with the design of other Nexus devices, on the left side edge of the 9 you will find no buttons. Those – the Power button and the volume up/down rocker – are all located on the right side of the device as you look at it. Similarly, you will find on the back of the Nexus 9 a large NEXUS logo imprinted in the center that you find on other Nexus devices while the 8MP rear facing camera and LED flash can be found in the upper-left corner of the back. The back itself is plastic and has a slight texture to it, making it easy to hold with one hand.
For a near 9″ display device, the Nexus 9 does not feel overly large or cumbersome to hold. Personally, there is a reason that I’ve preferred to stay with 7-8″ tablets and that is because I find larger tablets awkward to hold, especially with one hand. The Nexus 9 however has changed my mind a bit on this. Given the screen size, it should feel larger than it does. This is a good thing, especially if you plan on carrying the device around with you for significant amounts of time.
Overall the form factor of this tablet is somewhat the now normal expectation for a Nexus device and there aren’t a lot of surprises. The construction feels solid, even with the back being plastic, and it certainly does not feel cheap or flimsy in your hands.
When the Nexus 9 was released, it was the first Nexus tablet to run Android Lollipop. The timing of that release of Android and this tablet were, well, well timed. Since then, the tablet has received an update to Android Marshmallow and remains one of the first devices to get the monthly security updates as it is a Nexus device. I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over Marshmallow as it has been out for six months now and I’ve reviewed it separately. I will say however that it performs very well on the Nexus 9 with smooth operation in all aspects. Marshmallow does have some unique features to this tablet such as the ability to double-tap the screen to wake up the device but overall, this is the Marshmallow you know and love.
Perhaps the better news for readers who are considering this device is that it will be upgradable to Android N when it is released later this year. In fact, the Nexus 9 is a part of the beta program for N right now so if you want to download the beta bits you can and take advantage of the upcoming split-screen viewing that will be offered in that update. Because the Nexus 9 will be able to run N, it makes the purchase of this table future proof for the next 12-18 months. Yes N will be the last major update of Android the 9 receives but there are scores of tablets from last year and this year which will never see the next version of Android.
Having used the Nexus 9 as my primary tablet over the course of the past few weeks, I have to say that overall I’m pleased with the performance. I’ve found that the touchscreen is responsive and accurate while the battery life – something I’ll cover in more detail later – to be more than enough to get my through a typical day. I haven’t had any real issues to speak of on the tablet, something that many did encounter when the device was first released. Like the new Pixel C, when the Nexus 9 was released, many complained of sluggishness on the touchscreen and when it came to opening or closing apps. While I have had some lagging when I’m closing an app, it has always been when I had a dozen or more running in the background. That, in my opinion, is to be expected. When I only had a handful of apps open, I saw no such sluggishness.
When it comes to games or streaming content, the Nexus 9 was more than up for the task. I saw no lag issues or other performance issues when playing graphically intense games like Real Racing 3. Equally, when it came to streaming content from HBO Go or Netflix, performance was great and the Nexus 9 had no problem buffering and keeping a solid, HD stream of content coming.
Much like the overall performance of the device, the display of the Nexus 9 performs very well. The colors are crisp and vibrant, even if you do not have the brightness of the display all the way up. Color accuracy is also very good across the board. If there is one knock on the display it is that it is 4:3 instead of 16:9. For some that will be a show stopper, especially considering the smaller Nexus 7 (2013) is a 16:9 ratio device. I have found myself a couple of times not real happy with the 4:3 ratio but for me, this isn’t a show stopper in light of the other benefits of the device.
Cameras on tablets are either the greatest thing ever or the worst thing ever depending on who you ask. I personally have never been one to take photos with a tablet. Literally, I have taken maybe
5 photos across the years I have owned multiple tablets. My wife however loves taking photos with her iPad Mini. So, to each his own.
If you do like taking photos with a tablet, the rear facing camera on the Nexus 9 is not too bad in the grand scheme of things. Now it isn’t going to compare to the camera or image quality of say the Nexus 5X or 6P, but it is going to do the job and do it well, especially if you compare it to other tablets out there. The rear camera is an 8MP auto focus that does a good job in taking photos. The color accuracy is good and the overall quality of images are great for snapshots. If you want to shoot video, you can do that too and get 1080p quality. I did find that the photos were a bit more contrasty for my taste but that is a subjective thing and certainly can be enhance or improved with an app like Google Photos. One really nice feature of the Nexus 9’s rear camera is the LED flash, something that you don’t see on tablets every day. Flash photos are also more than acceptable for snapshots.
On the front of the Nexus 9 is the 1.6MP camera which is acceptable for things like Hangouts video calls and the occasional selfie. It’s not the greatest camera but it works for these tasks and it can also shoot 720p video if you want to do that.
The real test of any tablet is getting through a reasonably productive day using it as your primary computing device. Some tablets are great at it while others are a miserable midday charge experience. For the Nexus 9, it is certainly the former. Powered by a 6700mAh battery, the 9 can easily make it through the day even when you are really pushing it as your main device for the day. I found in my testing for this review that I could easily make it through a full work day without running out of juice and on a light day where I would use my Chromebook or PC, I could go two and almost three days between charges.
To put things into context, a full work day for me will include a significant amount of time in Gmail, WordPress (which I’m using right now on the Nexus 9 for this review), various Microsoft Office apps and Google Docs, Pocket Casts to catch up on podcasts over lunch, Google+, Twitter, Facebook and likely a random cat video or two from YouTube. Nothing earth shattering by any means but I think this is likely how most users will be in their day-to-day. For that, the Nexus 9 certainly is up to the task of being your main computing device for a day trip or the like.
While the Nexus 9 is a little over a year old, I still have no hesitation in recommending it for anyone looking for a powerful tablet that has a nice form factor, great battery life and you know has Android N coming to it later this year. I have found that it is more than capable of being your primary computing device should you need it to be, with all day battery performance, an easy-on-the-eyes display and all the benefits of being a pure Android device. It’s not perfect for sure. It would have been great to see the display as a 16:9 ratio instead of 4:3 and the cameras are average. If however you can get past that, this is a great tablet that is a bit future proof for around $300.
You can pick up the Nexus 9 from Amazon in a wide range of configurations