GeekDad Review: Google Nexus 9 Tablet

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The Google Nexus 9 tablet
Google’s new Nexus 9 Android tablet (photo by Brad Moon)

It’s that time of year when holiday gift lists are being checked, and there’s a good chance a tablet is on many of those. Once again Google is offering a new Nexus tablet, which means pure Android with no third party UI nonsense to get in the way. But while the Nexus 7 was a real bargain last year at $199, it’s been replaced by the larger Nexus 9 and the price has jumped to $399. Is the newest Nexus tablet a worthy choice for Android fans? Will its unusual 8.9-inch display size make it a good choice for kids? HTC — the company that manufactures the Nexus 9 — sent me one to try out.

The Size
The Nexus 9 is the replacement for the 7-inch Nexus 7, but Google also discontinued its full-sized Nexus 10 tablet. The Nexus 9 is slotted between the two in size, but it also switched up the aspect ratio, going from a 16:10 display to a 4:3.

The net result is an Android tablet that looks more than a little like an iPad in form factor. It’s smaller than an iPad Air, but larger than an iPad Mini.

The Nexus 9 compared to iPad Mini 2
Nexus 9 (L) compared to iPad Mini (photo by Brad Moon)

I use an iPad Mini extensively, especially for gaming, reading the news every morning and checking e-mail. I find 7-inch tablets (with their 16:10 aspect ratio) too narrow for web browsing, but the Nexus 9 works well in this capacity. It’s still small enough to hold in one hand, but big enough that there’s less text zooming than with the iPad Mini.

If you’re looking for a full-sized, high performance tablet for a child, the Nexus 9 could fill that need. It’s smaller than most and the grippy back plastic case is easier to hold on to than many. However, the Nexus 9 is a bit heftier than the competition at nearly 15 ounces.

Performance
The Nexus 9 was a snappy performer, never lagging. The Nvidia Tegra K1 CPU drove Android Lollipop nicely and it was more than able to handle any apps I threw at it.

The display is a 2048 x 1536 IPS LCD with Gorilla Glass 3 protection. It’s sharp, but the iPad Air 2 has better color reproduction and contrast, while the 8.4-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S blows it away in color accuracy, contrast and resolution. Overall, the Nexus 9’s display is good, but not outstanding.

I was forcing the tablet to do all sorts of battery-draining things like streaming HD movies at high volume (with its front-facing BoomSound speakers, it can get quite loud) but still managed nine hours or so on a charge.

Nexus 9 can be a one-handed tablet
The Nexus 9 is still small enough to hold in one hand (photo Brad Moon)

The Price
One of the reasons the Nexus 7 sold like gangbusters — besides the pure Android experience — was its bargain $199 price tag. That seriously undercut anything Apple was selling and beat most mainstream Android tablet makers too.

At $399, The Nexus 9 is priced competitively, but it’s no longer a steal. Tablets it will be comparison shopped against like Apple’s iPad Mini 3, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and Amazon’s 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX are priced identically. You can buy last year’s iPad Mini 2 (still a great tablet) for $100 less

The Verdict
If you want an Android tablet, the iPad and the Kindle Fire are out, obviously.

Compared to other Android tablets in its price range, the Nexus 9 is a good all-round choice. It’s plenty fast, has a good display, design and build quality are decent and you get Android Lollipop before anyone else, plus the promise to keep receiving Android upgrades to keep the Nexus 9 current.

If I was considering a new Android tablet for myself, I’d certainly have the Nexus 9 near the top of my list. It’s a solid performer and I like that in-between size.

For my kids, not so much.

It’s not just no longer being the $199 steal that might make you a little less cautious about giving a fragile glass slab to a young child. The Nexus is still a little large, too — an iPad Mini is thinner, lighter, smaller and easier to hold. And if breakage is a concern, Amazon will sell you a Kindle tablet for under $200 with a 2-year “no questions asked” free replacement period.

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