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Google Nexus 9 review: A powerful tablet made for everyone

Florence Ion | Nov. 4, 2014
If you’re drawn to the Nexus 9, buy it because you want to see what the future’s like, not because you’re looking for the absolutely perfect tablet device.

The Nexus 9's display has a 4:3 aspect ratio, rather than the somewhat standard 16:9 we're used to seeing on Android tablets, so this device will produce a more box-like picture rather than the elongated, wide-screen view you might be used to. It's good for using the tablet in portrait orientation and for productivity apps, but it has its drawbacks when watching videos. You'll notice a minor bit of cropping around the edges in an effort to fill up the whole screen, or excessive black letterboxing bars.

The Nexus 9's front-facing BoomSound speakers make up for all of that. HTC, which makes the Nexus 9, confirmed that BoomSound doesn't apply to headphones when they're plugged in, but no matter: Whenever you watch a movie alongside a friend, you can simply turn up the volume for a mini-theater experience, with loud stereo speakers positioned on either side of the display.

Unleash the power of this 64-bit tablet
The Nexus 9 is the second major tablet release to come powered by Nvidia's new Tegra K1. The first was the Nvidia Shield tablet, released several months ago, though the two tablets actually use two slightly different CPU architectures.

The Nexus 9 is the first product to use the new version of the K1, which swaps out the Shield's 4+1 32-bit CPU cores (designed by ARM) with a dual-core 64-bit CPU (designed by Nvidia). Thus, this is the first true 64-bit Android device, with both 64-bit CPU and operating system. There's also 2GB of RAM and Nvidia's super powerful 192-core Kepler GPU.

We don't normally do benchmarks for hardware reviews--you can read my policy on why--but Nvidia's nascent SoC is calling out for a little number crunching, not to mention that we were curious to see how it performed against the Shield tablet.

In GeekBench 3, the Nexus 9 scored 3358 in the multi-core test, ranking the highest of any of the major smartphone and tablet releases in the last year, but a little lower than the Shield. In Vellamo's Chrome and multi-core benchmarks, it scored 5855 and 2805, respectively, which is way higher than what the Shield turned in.

As for 3DMark, the Nexus 9 fell short of the Shield tablet's levels by about 5,000. Some of that likely has to do with the fact that Nvidia's tablet has software tweaks built into its version of Android that help rev it up a bit. It might have to do with the lower-res display on that device, too. Either way, the Tegra K1 is pretty bad-ass. 

This is definitely a device for the power hungry. You don't have to worry about the tablet slowing down when you switch between a graphics intensive game and your remote desktop, for instance. It's a tablet you can confidently use for entertainment and productivity.


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