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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  • mkygod - Saturday, February 07, 2015 - link

    I think so to. The 3:2 ratio is one of the things that Microsoft has gotten right with their Surface Pro devices. It's the perfect compromise IMO Reply
  • UtilityMax - Sunday, February 08, 2015 - link

    I am a little perplexed by this comment. A typical user will be on the web 90% of time. Not only the web browser does not need to be natively designed or optimized for any screen ratio, but it also will be more usable on a 4:3 screen. So will the productivity apps. The only disappointment for me on the 4:3 screen would be with watching the widescreen videos or TV shows. Moreover, there is quite a bit of evidence than a lot of the next generation tablets will be 4:3. Samsung's next flagship tablet supposedly will be 4:3. Reply
  • gtrenchev - Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - link

    Anandtech is becoming more and more boring last year. Sparse on reviews, short on tech comments, lacking on depth and enthusiasm. I can see Anandtech has become a just job for you guys, not the passion it was for Anand :-) And yes, his absence is definitely noticeable.

    George
    Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - link

    Was the Denver deep-dive not sufficient enough? Always welcome for comments.
    As for timing, see Ryan's comment above.
    We've actually had a very good quarter content wise, with a full review on the front page at least four out of every five weekdays if not every weekday.
    Reply
  • milkod2001 - Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - link

    Why not to post on your forum some sort of suggestion box/poll where all could say what should get reviewed first so some folks won't cry where is the review of their favorite toy :) ? Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - link

    Because they'll still cry regardless, and they can't possibly work entirely based on readers' whim, doesn't make sense logistically or nor editorially... Readers might vote on five things ahead of the rest which all fall on the same writer's lap, they won't all get reviewed before the rest, or readers might not be privy to new hardware because of NDAs or cases where Anandtech can't source something for review. Reply
  • tuxRoller - Thursday, February 05, 2015 - link

    While I enjoyed the review, I would've loved to have seen the kind of code driven analysis that was done with Swift.
    In particular, how long does it take for dco to kick in. What is the IPC for code that NEVER gets optimized, and conversely, what is the IPC for embarrassingly instruction-wise parallel code? Since it's relying on ram to store the uops, how long does the code need to run before it breaks even with the arm decoder? Etc.
    Reply
  • victorson - Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - link

    Are you guys kidding? Better late than never, but heck.. this is freaking late. Reply
  • abufrejoval - Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - link

    Thanks for making it worth the wait!

    The in-depth analysis of Denver is uniquely Anandtech, because you can't get that anywhere else.

    And while Charly D. is very entertaining, the paywall is a bit of an impediment and I quite like again the Anand touch of trying to be as fair as possible.

    I was and remain a bit worried that there seems to be no other platform for Denver, which typically signals a deeper flaw with an SoC in the tablet and phone space.

    While I'm somewhat less worried now, that Denver might be acceptable as a SoC, the current Nexus generation is no longer attractive at these prices, even less with the way the €/$ is evolving.
    Reply
  • Taneli - Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - link

    eDRAM cache à la Crystalwell would be interesting in a future Denver chip. Reply

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