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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?

The screen also suffers from a bit of light bleed -- a white halo-like effect that you can sometimes see along the top edge of the display. I haven't found it to be particularly bothersome in real-world use, but it's definitely there if you look for it.

To be sure, all of this is nitpicking; while the Nexus 9's display doesn't necessarily stand out as a stunning highlight, it generally looks quite good and is perfectly fine for everyday use. Ninety-nine percent of people won't notice these issues or give the screen a second thought.

One thing people will notice is the Nexus 9's speakers: The tablet has dual front-facing speakers optimized with HTC's BoomSound technology. The fact that they pipe sound toward you in stereo goes a long way in enhancing the device's audio experience, whether you're watching a video or listening to music. The actual audio quality is decent but not outstanding, however; the speakers are reasonably loud and full-sounding, but they're surprisingly muffled compared to phones like the One (M8) and even the single-speakered 2014 Moto X.

Performance and stamina
There's been a lot of talk about the Nexus 9's 64-bit Tegra K1 processor and the desktop-like performance it's supposed to provide. So does it actually deliver?

The answer is sometimes -- but not always. The Nexus 9 is by no means slow; for the most part, it loads apps quickly and handily keeps up with any task you throw its way. Even with resource-intensive things like video playback and graphic-heavy game play, the tablet zips along admirably without so much as a single stutter.

The problem is just that it isn't entirely consistent -- and at times, the Nexus 9 feels less snappy and responsive than do other high-end devices. I'll often observe that there's a second or two delay after tapping the Recent Apps button before anything happens, for instance, and the actual act of switching between apps isn't always as instantaneous as it should be. Occasionally, I even find myself having to tap an app a couple of times in the Recent Apps list before my touch is recognized.

Beyond that, I've noticed that the system doesn't seem to keep apps running in active memory as long as most Android devices do. If I switch back to an app I haven't used in a little while, it'll often "refresh" and start from scratch instead of picking up where I left off. That's an odd behavior I've never encountered before, and it's mildly annoying.

I should mention that during my first few days with the Nexus 9, the tablet was running what turned out to be a non-final software build. This past Sunday, Google pushed an 800MB update to the device that was supposed to improve performance and bring it up to date with what consumers would see at launch. The observations I'm making here are all based on what I've experienced after that update; prior to it, performance was slightly worse and things were a little more glitchy all around.

 

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