It’s been a good few months since the Google Nexus 9 went on sale, and I was one of the first to get my hands on one. I pre-ordered mine the first chance I got here in the UK – I’m a UK resident so, the Nexus 9 was definitely more expensive than the Nexus 7 before it. I bought the Nexus 9 for myself, as my personal tablet of choice, so what do I think of it after using it for a few months? Well, this is what our new “Living With” series is all about, and before anybody asks, this is not a review of the Nexus 9, we did that already and you can find it here. Instead, this is a realistic look at the device after a few months of owning it.
I should start by saying why I chose the Nexus 9 in the first place. Well, I was having some hardware issues with my G Pad 8.3 (which I absolutely loved) and was looking for something larger, but not too large. My choices were pretty much limited to the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 or the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact that was coming out shortly. I was looking for something larger, but not too large. The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 was too large, and the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact was basically a giant version of my Xperia Z2. Elsewhere, choices were slim and the Nexus 7 was just too small for my liking. The Nexus 9 seemed like the perfect candidate what with being fairly large with an 8.9-inch display, but still nice and thin making it portable. So, £319 later and I was the somewhat apprehensive owner of a Nexus 9.
After a few months with the Nexus 9 I can say that generally, I’ve been pretty happy with it. I’ve not once rooted it or unlocked the bootloader, so I can’t speak for any of that, but the software experience has been good, if not a little up and down. I’m very frustrated that I still – as of writing – don’t have Android 5.1 as the performance improvements have me quite jealous. Performance is good, without being stunning, but it’s mostly been very stable for me and yes, games run great. My favorite haunt is SimCity Build It right now and it runs brilliantly on the Tegra K1 here, as do games like Modern Combat 5 and Asphalt 8. Lollipop on the Nexus 9 is a little on the boring side, but honestly I care very little for bells and whistles. A little option to adjust things here and there would have been nice though. Overall on the software side of things, I have little to complain about. It’s not exactly exciting, but for something I mostly browse the web with and play games, it works great.
On to the hardware, and I’m not so happy with things here. The display I have few problems with, aside from some minor light bleed. Now, I could have sent the Nexus 9 back over this, but I was acutely aware that it was the only decent 4:3 option out there and I could do without the hassle. The 4:3 aspect ratio is brilliant. It’s great for browsing the web and using apps makes much more sense here. Sure, movies and TV shows get cut off, but that doesn’t bother me as much as wasted space either side when browsing the web does on a 16:9 tablet. The display is nice and bright, but the colors could be a little more vivid. I do have a little flex on the back where the Nexus logo is, but it’s no trampoline, and this has never really bothered me. I did however feel that the overall fit and finish could have been better. It’s like HTC sort of went so far and said “yeah, this is good enough” and gave up. It charges slower than anything else I own and if you pick it up by the corners (as I often do) it almost feels like it’s going to flop in your hand like a flexible ruler or something.
Excellent performance when playing games, lots of assets can be rendered at once without any slowing down and frame rates are always smooth.
4:3 aspect ratio is great for browsing the web and using apps, I much prefer it to a 16:9 tablet now I’ve gotten used to it.
8.9-inch display size is pretty much the de facto “sweet spot”. It’s portable enough to throw in a bag, but big enough to display the majority of a web page and make the most of games.
Stock Android is great for just getting on with things; no pop ups, no messy added features I didn’t ask for, and you always know what you’re doing more or less.
BoomSound speakers are great on a tablet like this, although they’re nowhere near as impressive as they are on the HTC One line.
Performance isn’t quite as snappy as you’d expect it to be.
Stock Android is lovely, but it can feel a little “barebones” from time-to-time.
WiFi performance is pretty poor on 802.11ac and dual-band N networks compared to Qualcomm-equipped devices.
Charging takes a long time even with a good 2.0A+ charger.
Light bleed continues to be a pain every now and then.
Finding a quality case – or even a case in general – is ridiculously difficult.
The accompanying “Magic Cover” is neither magic, nor worth buying.
Would I recommend the Nexus 9 to my friends and family? No, no I wouldn’t. Why? Because it’s too expensive for what you get and while I’m willing to bite the bullet for a bigger, better 4:3 display that’s great for games and browsing the web, it’s just not all that good value. The Nexus 9 is a classic Nexus in every case; accessories are expensive and few and far between and stock Android will grow tiresome to a lot of users over time. I’m pretty happy with my Nexus 9, but as more 4:3 options hit the market and offer better value, I don’t see myself struggling to part with it. The display is a great size, the tablet looks great in my opinion and its simplicity is one of its charms, but there was so, so much more that could have been done with this and for £319/$399 it leaves a little to be desired.