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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?

Each size has its own set of pros and cons. A 7-in. tablet is incredibly portable and can fit in the pockets of many pants. It's comfortable to hold with one hand and is kind of like using a supersized phone, with a bit more room to get around and view content -- but it doesn't give you that much more additional space compared to some of the giant phones folks are starting to favor.

A 10-in. tablet, meanwhile, provides ample screen space and is fantastic for things like watching movies -- but its larger footprint makes it less portable and more awkward to use comfortably for active tasks.

So the Nexus 9 is very much an in-betweener: It's small enough to be manageable but large enough to feel like a meaningful step up in screen space from even a plus-sized phone. At 15 oz. -- just under 1 lb. -- the tablet is somewhat on the heavy side, but it's reasonably comfortable to hold with two hands. I find myself propping it up with a pillow more often than not; it's definitely not the kind of device you'd use with a single hand or want to hold in the air unsupported for long.

Display and speakers
Size aside, the Nexus 9 stands out from previous Nexus tablets in that it switches to a 4:3 aspect ratio on its display. Compared to the 16:9 setup most Android tablets tend to use, that makes for a more box-like shape and less of a widescreen experience.

The 4:3 configuration feels natural for Web browsing and general app use in both portrait and landscape orientation, since the screen is more balanced in its dimensions. The downside, though, is that when you play movies and other videos, you end up getting giant 3/4-in. black bars on the top and bottom of the display -- meaning the content itself sits in a relatively small part of the screen while the rest of the space goes to waste. This is a sharp contrast to the 16:9 devices, where videos typically have just a sliver of black on either side but take up almost the entire screen.

On the other hand, photos -- which tend to be 4:3 -- have the exact opposite effect: They take up most of the screen on the Nexus 9 and end up sitting in the middle of the displays surrounded by big bars on 16:9 devices. You win some, you lose some.

As for the display itself, the Nexus 9's 2048 x 1536 LCD panel is good but unremarkable. Colors are less bold and vibrant than what I've seen on other high-end devices; if I look closely at images or small text on the Nexus 9 compared to the Nexus 7, elements on the 9 seem ever-so-slightly less sharp when it comes to fine detail.

 

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