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Nexus 9 deep-dive review: Bigger, but not necessarily better

JR Raphael | Nov. 7, 2014
Google's new Android Lollipop software is fresh and exciting, but is it enough to make this US$400 tablet worth buying?

nexus 9
Credit: Google

I thought reviewing the Nexus 9 was going to be easy.

When we first heard about Google's newest flagship tablet, it seemed like a natural step forward (on paper, at least) from last year's outstanding Nexus 7: It was bigger, more powerful and outfitted with front-facing stereo speakers. And, of course, it comes preloaded with the tasty new Android 5.0 Lollipop software, fresh out of the box and running exactly the way Google designed it.

Unlike the $229 Nexus 7, though, the HTC-made Nexus 9 is being positioned as a "premium" device -- not just a great experience for an affordable price but a top-of-the-line tablet with a cost to match. At $399 (for 16GB) or $479 (for 32GB) -- and an option for $599 (32GB with built-in LTE support) coming into the mix soon -- this bad boy is playing in the big leagues. That means the standards are higher, and it has to hit it out of the park.

After more than a week of using the Nexus 9 in my day-to-day life, I'm not entirely convinced that it does.

Design and build quality
Like most of Google's recent Nexus products, the Nexus 9 has a minimalist and understated design -- one that closely follows the aesthetic established with last year's Nexus 7 and Nexus 5 devices. It's as plain and unassuming as can be, with a squared-off shape and soft-touch plastic back panel featuring a dark textured Nexus logo in the center.

The back panel has a nice grippy feel to it, but it also has a weakness: If you press on its center, you can sense a little give -- like there's a small air pocket beneath the cover and the material is just barely flexing in on it. Some people have seen pretty extreme movement, but on my review unit, it's fairly minor -- not anything that bothers me or that I would notice if I didn't go out of my way to look for it.

The new Nexus has a black-colored brushed metal frame around its perimeter -- a subtle touch that gives it a more sophisticated and refined look than past Nexus models. The power and volume buttons, unfortunately, didn't get the premium treatment -- they both barely protrude from the side of the device and can be tricky to find and identify by touch alone (though you can also activate the device's display by double-tapping on the screen, which works well and is a handy option).

An in-between size
With dimensions of 6.1 x 9.0 x 0.31 in., the Nexus 9 falls right in the middle of the tablet size spectrum. For comparison, the 2013 Nexus 7 is 4.5 x 7.9 x 0.34 in. while the Nexus 10 measures in at 7.0 x 10.4 x 0.35 in.

 

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