Google Nexus 9 review: Pure Android experience but lacks flair

The Nexus 9 from Google is a solid, competitively priced Android tablet but its LCD display is a letdown.

Google's Nexus 9 tablet is showcased in New York. Jewel Samad / AFP
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Unlike their Apple-loving counterparts, fans of the Android tablet are currently spoilt for choice – whether on size, specs or the price, with dozens of options available between Dh150 and Dh2,500.

Somewhere in the middle of this range is Google’s Nexus 9 tablet, manufactured by HTC. It starts at Dh1,599 (although discounts are available if you shop around) for a 16GB model, making it a higher mid-range device, competing with more expensive tablets such as the iPad Air 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S.

The Nexus 9 has a solid if unspectacular design, with a metal trim and a plasticky back. Not repulsive by any means, but lacking the design flair of HTC’s M8 and M9 smartphone handsets.

If dimensions are important to you, the Wi-Fi-only version weighs in at 12 grams lighter than the equivalent iPad Air 2 (not surprising, given the Apple’s larger display), but is 1.9mm thicker.

The Nexus range’s main selling point has been its pure Android experience, and the Nexus 9 is no exception. Running Android Lollipop out of the box, the interface is clean, uncluttered and a joy to use, free from the bloatware that weighs down tablets from the likes of Samsung.

The Nexus 9 has an 8.9-inch display, placing it somewhere in between the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 (and the 10.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S) and smaller devices such as the (recently discontinued) 7-inch Nexus 7 and the 7.9-inch iPad Mini 3.

One size doesn’t fit all, so it’s a question of what sits well in your hand and bag. It’s not a one-handed device, but is still big enough to offer a good reading and viewing experience.

But only up to a point, sadly. Its IPS LCD display can't compete with the likes of the iPad Air 2, or especially the Galaxy Tab S's Super Amoled display, the latest Star Wars trailer looking slightly drab in comparison.

The Nexus 9 is a solid, competitively priced Android tablet, with a clean interface. But an average design and a subpar display may have you considering other options.


Let me get this straight: is it an HTC or a Google tablet?

Well, it’s a bit of both. Google oversees the design and manufacture process, then gets someone else to build them. HTC, Samsung, Motorola and LG have all made previous models, and this time it’s back to HTC. Given that Google has overseen the design, you can perhaps forgive HTC for not making something as beautiful as the M9.

But with so many making Android tablets anyway, why does Google need its own device?

Like the Nexus phones, the tablets offer a pure Android experience from Google, with the devices uncluttered by third party software from carriers and manufacturers. Not necessarily for everyone perhaps, but a smooth interface, and a great showcase for what Android can do.

Fair enough. Back to the Nexus 9, what else can it do?

While the display is a little lacklustre, the user interface isn’t. Its Nvidia 64-bit processor means that operation is zippy and smooth. It comes in 16GB and 32GB models, but sadly lacks a MicroSD expansion slot to enable you to load up on HD content. While battery life comparisons weren’t possible, third party benchmarks put its performance ahead of the iPad Air 2, lasting a day and a half off a single charge with normal usage.

How about the camera?

It’s standard for a high-end tablet, with an 8MP rear camera and a 1.6MP front camera, compared with 1.2 MP for the iPad Air 2 and 2.1MP for the Galaxy Tab S.