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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  • UtilityMax - Sunday, February 15, 2015 - link

    I don't fully understand you comment about the SoC? You think web browser is using the hardware somewhat differently from the dedicated apps?

    My comment is about the fact that there is not point to have most of the dedicated apps when you have a tablet with a screen the size of a small laptop or netbook. Just fire up the web browser and use whatever web site you need. Most dedicated mobile apps exist because the screen size of a cell phone is pretty small, which can make for an awkward experience even when you pull a mobile web site though a web browser.
    Reply
  • UtilityMax - Sunday, February 08, 2015 - link

    It's not entirely true that there isn't much in the tablet space, besides Nexus 9 and Galaxy Tab S. If your pockets are deep enough, you could always get the Apple iPad Air 2. Apple gives you a well balanced tablet with great build quality, fine screen, CPU/GPU performance, and battery life. The only thing that's missing is an SD card slot, but at least there is an option a 64 or 128GB model. Personally, I ended buying a Tab S 10.5 because it was truly difficult to resist it at only $400 sale price, plus $35 for a 64GB SD card. Despite all the disappointing benchmarks, Tab S provides a pretty smooth and fluid android experience with a great screen. Battery life is the only thing that's getting on the way. Five hours of web browsing or standby is pretty disappointing. Reply
  • wintermute000 - Monday, February 09, 2015 - link

    Sony Xperia Tablet Z2. SoC is one gen behind but if you can get it for a good price, you're laughing. Fantastic build, clean stock software, lag free. Reply
  • sunil5228 - Sunday, February 08, 2015 - link

    Brilliant ! Esp loved the segway into the Denver CPU and dual vs quad arcitechture comparisons,very eye opening. thankyou sir Reply
  • bdiddytampa - Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - link

    Picked one of these up a couple weeks ago and love it. It performs phenomenally well, and looks great. It's a bit heavy for its size and the thin bezel on the sides makes it difficult to hold with one hand without touching the screen, but overall its a fantastic tablet. Highly recommend it. Reply
  • Ozo - Monday, February 16, 2015 - link

    Thanks for the lucid explanation of Denver.

    Any insight into why Google/HTC dropped the ball on "wireless" Qi charging? Especially when it was finally added to the Nexus phone!?!

    I was set to upgrade from my Nexus 7 (2013), but no Qi = no sale. :(
    Reply
  • Fardreit - Monday, February 23, 2015 - link

    I'll be honest: I don't understand 80% of what the reviewer wrote. But the 20% that I do understand is enough for me to appreciate the conclusions drawn. I value the informed reviews here much more than those at the 'fan' websites. At Anandtech, people really know what they're talking about, even if I don't.

    When I'm able to follow the high-tech insults you guys sling at each other, then I know I've made progress.
    Reply
  • flashbacck - Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - link

    Does the Shield Tablet use a similar DCO? I have noticed during it has performance issues during regular use. I wonder if it's this DCO that still needs work. Reply
  • ahcox - Thursday, February 25, 2016 - link

    What is the accuracy of the image labelled "K1-64 Die Shot Mock-up"? Is it a colorized and enhanced version of a real die photograph or is it a pure invention? That 16 * 12 array dominating the picture seems a little off to me: surely there should be structures common to each 16*2 group forming an SMX? Kepler is not a simple tiled sea of cores. Reply

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