For the past few years, we’ve seen Google place significant emphasis on price as a way of competing with other tablets on the market. The original Nexus 7 managed to deliver a good tablet experience without the conventional 500 USD price for a tablet. The successor to the Nexus 7 was even more incredible, as it pushed hardware that was equal to or better than most tablets on the market at a lower price. However, as with most of these low cost Nexus devices not everything was perfect as corners still had to be cut in order to hit these low price points.

The Nexus 9 is supposed to be the polar opposite. Instead of driving price as the primary differentiator, Google has refocused on the high end tablet market for the Nexus 9. With a new focus on industrial and material design, along with some of the latest and greatest hardware in every dimension. HTC has been brought on as a partner for the first time since the Nexus One to enable this vision. In addition, NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 with Denver CPUs can be found inside as the launch platform for Android Lollipop on 64-bit ARM v8. The Nexus 9 also has a 4:3 aspect ratio on its display, a notable departure from the 16:10 ratio that was shared with phones. There’s also the addition of BoomSound speakers on the front and a metal frame running around the edge of the device for improved in-hand feel. The rest of the key specifications can be found below.

  Nexus 9
SoC 2.3GHz 64-bit dual core Tegra K1 Denver SoC
RAM/NAND 2GB LPDDR3 + 16/32GB NAND
Display 8.9" 2048x1536 IPS LCD
Network WiFi only or 2G / 3G / 4G LTE SKU
Dimensions 153.68 x 228.25 x 7.95mm, 425g WiFi, 436g LTE
Camera 8MP Rear Facing (IMX219) with F/2.4 aperture, 1.6MP FFC (OV9760)
Battery 6700 mAh (25.46 Whr)
OS Android 5.0 Lollipop
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1 (BCM4354) , USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, NFC (BCM2079x)

While specs are nice, one of the key areas where the Nexus 9 has to push the limits is in industrial and material design. To this end, Google seems to have mostly delivered, but not quite at the levels that one might have wished. The back continues to be a soft-touch plastic, with almost nothing other than required regulatory text, the Nexus logo, and the camera with its LED flash. I definitely like the feeling of the back cover with its slight outward curve, but on the black model the finish seems to attract smudges quite easily. This is unlikely to be a real problem, but those that are extremely concerned with fingerprint smudges may want to look into getting the white version of this tablet. There is a small amount of give in the dead center of the device, but this is something that one has to actively try to do instead of being immediately obvious. In my experience, the same is true for the Nexus 5 as well which calls into question whether this is a real issue.

Outside of the back cover, the metal rim definitely makes for a significant contrast in texture and feel. The texture seems to be the same as the M8’s gunmetal grey, with an extremely delicate brushed texture. Unfortunately, this does mean that the metal feels glossy in the hand rather than matte, and I suspect that a more standard matte texture would be better in this case. At any rate, it still feels great to the touch, especially when the device is cold. The metal frame has a noticeable outward angle to it, and does make it feel like the One (M7) in that respect. Along the left side of the rim, the device is barren but there is a microUSB 2 port along the bottom and a hole for one of the microphones on the device. Along the right side, we see another microphone hole, the volume rocker, and the power button. While the feel of the buttons is relatively clicky and the actuation is solid, the buttons are definitely a bit on the thin side and are hard to locate and press. The top side has a 3.5mm jack along the top right, and a single plastic line that breaks up the metal frame in line with the speakers.

Speaking of the speakers, unlike the One (M8) and (M7) where the front-facing speakers are a major design element, the speakers on the Nexus 9 are noticeably hidden away from view. They’re definitely present, but the speaker grilles are recessed and black to match the bezels. The recessed nature helps with the design minimalism that is pervasive throughout the Nexus 9, but it does mean that it’s pretty easy for lint and dust to find its way into the grilles. There’s also a noticeable lip around the entire display which makes for a noticeable rounded metal edge, which should help to some extent for drop protection although the thickness of the lip is really quite thin. This means that it can only help with drop protection on flat surfaces. Other than the speaker grilles, the front of the tablet is almost barren. There’s a front-facing camera on the top, and a light sensor to the right of this camera. Other than this, there’s only a single LED at the bottom of the device but it appears that this hasn’t been enabled in the system as I only see it active when charging the device from a fully-depleted state.

Overall, the Nexus 9’s build quality is decent. It isn’t quite as incredible as an all-aluminum unibody, but the feel is quite comfortable and the design fits well with the rest of the Nexus line-up. I do wish the metal frame had a bit more matte feel to it and the buttons do need some work, but I otherwise don’t really have a lot to complain about in this device. It is quite obvious that disassembling the device starts with the back cover though, as it’s pretty easy to stick a fingernail between the back cover and metal frame to pry it apart like the One X.

SoC Architecture: NVIDIA's Denver CPU
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  • dtgoodwin - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    I really appreciate the depth that this article has, however, I wonder if it would have been better to separate the in depth CPU analysis for a separate article. I will probably never remember to come back to the Nexus 9 review if I want to remember a specific detail about that CPU. Reply
  • nevertell - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    Has nVidia exposed that they would provide a static version of the DCO so that app developers would be able to optimize their binaries at compile time ? Or do these optimizations rely on the program state when they are being executed ? From a pure academic point of view, it would be interesting to see the overhead introduced by the DCO when comparing previously optimized code without the DCO running and running the SoC as was intended. Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    Nice in depth review as always, came a little late for me (I purchased one to gift it, which I ironically haven't done since the birthday is this month) but didn't really change much as far as my decision so it's all good...

    I think the last remark nails it, had the price point being just a little lower most of the minor QC issues wouldn't have been blown up...

    I don't know if $300 for 16GB was feasible (pretty much the price point of the smaller Shield), but $350 certainly was and Amazon was selling it for that much all thru Nov-Dec which is bizarre since Google never discounted it themselves.

    I think they should've just done a single $350-400 32GB SKU, saved themselves a lot of trouble and people would've applauded the move (and probably whined for a 64GB but you can't please everyone). Or a combo deal with the keyboard, which HTC was selling at 50% at one point anyway.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    No keyboard review btw? Reply
  • JoshHo - Thursday, February 5, 2015 - link

    We did not receive the keyboard folio for review. Reply
  • treecats - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    Where is the comparison to NEXUS 10????

    Maybe because Nexus 10's battery life is crap after 1 year of use!!!

    Please come back review it again when you used it for a year.
    Reply
  • treecats - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    My previously holds true for all the Nexus device line I own.

    I had Nexus 4,

    currently have Nexus 5, and Nexus 10. All the Nexus devices I own have bad battery life after 1 year of use.

    Google, fix the battery problem.
    Reply
  • blzd - Friday, February 6, 2015 - link

    That tells me you are mistreating your batteries. You think it's coincidence that it's happening to all your devices? Do you know how easy it is for batteries to degrade when over heating? Do you know every battery is rated for a certain number of charges only?

    Mostly you want to avoid heat, especially while charging. Gaming while charging? That's killing the battery. GPS navigation while charging? Again, degrading the battery.

    Each time you discharge and charge the battery you are using one of it's charge cycles. So if you use the device a lot and charge it multiple times a day you will notice degradation after a year. This is not unique to Google devices.
    Reply
  • grave00 - Sunday, February 8, 2015 - link

    I don't think you have the latest info on how battery charging vs battery life works. Reply
  • hstewartanand - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    Even though I personal have 6 tablets ( 2 iPads, 2 Windows 8.1 and 2 android ) and as developer I find them technically inferior to Actual PC - except for Windows 8.1 Surface Pro.

    I recently purchase an Lenovo y50 with i7 4700 - because I desired AVX 2 video processing. To me ARM based platforms will never replace PC devices for certain applications - like Video processing and 3d graphics work.

    I am big fan of Nvidia GPU's but don't care much for ARM cpus - I do like the completion that it given to Intel to produce low power CPU's for this market

    What I really like to see is a true technical bench mark that compare the true power of cpus from ARM and Intel and rank them. This includes using extended instructions like AVX 2 on Intel cpus.

    Compared this with equivalent configured Nvidia GPU on Intel CPU - and I would say ARM has a very long way to go.

    But a lot depends on what you doing with the device. I am currently typing this on a 4+ year old Macbook Air - because it easy to do it and convenient. My other Windows 8.1 ( Lenovo 2 Mix 8 - Intel Adam Baytrail ) has roughly the same speed - but Macbook AIR is more convenient. My primary tablet is the Apple Mini with Retina screen, it is also convent for email and amazon and small stuff.

    The problem with some of bench marks - is that they maybe optimized for one platform more than another and dependent on OS components which may very between OS environments. So ideal the tests need to native compile for cpu / gpu combination and take advantage of hardware. I don't believe such a benchmark exists. Probably the best way to do this get developers interested in platforms to come up with contest for best score and have code open source - so no cheating. It would be interesting to see ranking of machines from tablets, phones, laptop and even high performance xeon machines. I also have an 8+ Year old dual Xeon 5160 Nvidia GTX 640 (best I can get on this old machine ) and I would bet it will blow away any of this ARM based tablets. Performance wise it a little less but close to my Lenovo y50 - if not doing VIDEO processing because of AVX 2 is such significant improvement.

    In summary it really hard to compare performance of ARM vs Intel machines. But this review had some technical information that brought me back to my older days when writing assembly code on OS - PC-MOS/386
    Reply

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