Welcome to the Apple iPad Mini 3 vs Google Nexus 9 shootout.
The overall approach to these two tablets is perhaps similar in that they attempt to offer an excellent overall user experience, and package it up in a fairly mobile device. Neither the iPad Mini 3, nor the Nexus 9 rock the best of specs available, but they are still well equipped and ready to rock.
When we talked about the iPad Mini 3 and the Nexus 7 last week, we presented them as pocket-sized tablets – using that as a reference, I will say that the Nexus 9 is just a little too large for most pockets.
In the basic sense of a modern tablet device, the Nexus 9 and the iPad Mini 3 share similarities in being 4:3 aspect ratio devices with beyond HD displays, house a single power/data port, and have been carefully crafted in shape and materials. Both devices feel solid to the touch, with the minor exception of the Nexus 9’s little back cover loose spot.
When we take a closer look, however, the differences are many. From the top down, the Nexus 9 houses its power button on the right hand edge of the device, where the iPad Mini 3 has a power button that lives up top. Volume rockers are in about the same position on the right edge and are very easy to find by touch on the iPad Mini 3, this is not true of the Nexus 9, as the side has a slight beveling to it that protects the buttons from protruding, eliminating many accidental presses.
Audio is another design difference, while the iPad Mini 3 has speakers on the bottom edge of the device, the Nexus 9 has dual speakers, one at the very top of the device and one at the very bottom, both facing the user. iPad Mini 3 users for whom audio is of the utmost importance may want to check out our iPad speaker docks piece for ideas.
Rear facing cameras live on the back side of each of these tablets, in the top left corner. Front facing cameras are centered above the display on the front. Front bezels are fairly minimal on the sides of the display for both the Nexus 9 and the iPad Mini 3. The top and bottom bezels are a little larger, especially with the Home button in the iPad.
That charging/data port lives on the bottom edge of both of these devices, with the Nexus 9 employing a micro USB port and the iPad with Apple’s new Lightning port.
The back casing of the iPad Mini 3 is of solid metal construction. The Nexus 9, on the other hand, is a full plastic non-removable back cover with a decent soft non-stick finish to it. The full outside edge of the Nexus 9 is where you’ll find metal in HTC’s design.
When Google and HTC put the plans together for the Nexus 9, they decided on a display with resolution of 2048 x 1536. We keep calling it a 9-inch display, but it actually measures in at 8.9-inches, constructed of Gorilla Glass 3.
Viewing angles and brightness are more than adequate for your everyday needs, including when you head into a dark room or head out to enjoy some sunshine. Auto brightness settings are fairly accurate, but you may occasionally need to manually adjust for optimal viewing.
As it turns out, the iPad Mini 3 also rocks 2048 x 1536 on its 4:3 aspect ratio 7.9-inch IPS display.
Auto brightness settings on the iPad Mini 3 will bring you from a dim enough display when viewed at night, to a bright enough display to also see in the sunlight. I find that the auto settings err on the side of darkness, as I’ve only ever had to manually override to turn brightness up.
As mentioned earlier, the Nexus 9 and the iPad Mini 3 each offer specs that are not exactly what you would call the latest and greatest. This is not to suggest that performance suffers on these devices, on the contrary, each plow through the basics without a stutter and only really show signs of weakness in the heaviest of operations.
The Nexus 9 is one of the first 64-bit Android tablets to hit the market, powered by the Nvidia Tegra K1 Denver, which is a well appointed dual core SoC. With some of the benefits of Google’s latest version of Android, version numbers 5 and up Android Lollipop, the tablet does well with memory management from ART. Admitting that there are some issues with Lollipop right now, we won’t talk too in-depth about the operating system performance on the Nexus 9 ta this time.
Overall, the Nexus 9 performs well, we even ran an AnTuTu benchmark on it once, it scored about 58000.
The iPad Mini 3 is a very snappy performing tablet. The operating system is fast and smooth, which speaks both to the hardware and to the rather simplistic approach to iOS on the home screens. Although only equipped with ‘last year’s’ A7 chipset, it is a well performing 64-bit SoC itself. Most applications load in a snap, while you may notice a slow down with some of the larger and more strenuous of applications and processes.
Recently updated to iOS 8.3, the iPad Mini 3 also performs very well. It has been possible to notice a speed difference between it and the larger, faster iPad Air 2, but you really have to go looking for the differences to notice.
The same goes when opening similar apps on the Nexus 9 and iPad Mini 3 side-by-side, overall performance is fairly similar.
In terms of your user experience, the major differences between the iPad Mini 3 and the Nexus 9, aside from the 1-inch of screen size, is that the iPad has a fingerprint sensor and the Nexus 9 has big, loud speakers powered by HTC’s BoomSound.
Certainly, having a physical Home button, as the iPad Mini 3 does, to many is a huge advantage, as the Nexus 9 sacrifices a touch of the display for navigation buttons. That said, there are some, myself included, that now prefer the on-screen controls to a physical button, but that is a personal preference.
The ability to double tap the screen to wake the Nexus 9 is extremely handy, as is the dedicated instant mute switch above the volume rocker on the iPad Mini 3.
Up on top of the Nexus 9 is a standard headphone jack, and out the bottom is that micro USB port. On the inside you’ll find that 64-bit Nvidia Tegra K1 processor with 2GB of RAM and a 192-core Kepler GPU. Sensors on board include an accellerometer, gyro, proximity sensor, compass and ambient light sensor. In addition, this tablet is NFC capable.
Measuring 8.99-inches tall and 6.05-inches across, the Nexus 9 is a fair thickness at 7.95mm (0.31-inches) in depth. Despite having a plastic back cover, with a bit of a loose spot that bothers many users, the Nexus 9 is also a very solid feeling tablet. Once again, it feels very sturdy and shows no signs of compromise when applying a real world use twist or bending pressure.
Battery life is advertised at 9.5 hours of basic web browsing, music or video playback out of the 6700mAh battery. As most advertised tests go, our results differed, providing roughly half the advertised life. Exact numbers are coming soon, stay tuned.
The iPad Mini 3 houses a standard headphone jack and Apple’s Lightning connector port. Hidden under the Home button is a fingerprint scanner that allows for biometric authenticated access into your tablet. Audio output is by the bottom facing speakers, sound is crisp and more than loud enough for most situations.
The iPad Mini 3 measures 7.87-inches tall, 5.3-inches across and is 7.2mm (0.28-inch) thick. The full metal shell of the iPad provides the utmost in strength. It takes a fair amount of pressure to make it bend, but forgive us for not pushing it too far.
Looking inside, we see other sensors, including a gyro, accelerometer, and ambient light sensor. Keeping everything running on the Mini 3 is a 6350mAh battery. Apple says it will provide upwards of 10 hours of web surfing, music or video playback. In our time with the device, it did not last quite as long as advertised, but you’ll have to stay tuned for our full battery life test to see the results.
While tablet photography is a taboo subject for many, you’ll still be able to capture fairly nice photos with these devices. The Nexus 9 houses the larger sensor of the two, clocking in at 8MP.
The iPad Mini 3 has a smaller 5MP sensor, but they are both f/2.4 with auto-focus. Video recording is at full HD and the Nexus 9 has an LED flash. Both tablets offer a panoramic capture, with the Nexus 9 also offering Google’s Photosphere.
The front side of these tablets offer up 1.2mp camera sensors, for all of your FaceTime, Skype or Hangouts needs. 720p video capture is not a premium these days, but is more than adequate for a little video conference.
As I’ve said before, there really is no better way to explain the value of the cameras than to simply put them to work. Here are a few camera samples with the Nexus 9 going first and the iPad Mini 3 following in varying good and low light situations.
Android is one of the most common operating systems found on many devices around the globe today. The latest iteration is Android 5+ Lollipop, which is found on the Nexus 9 as we have it. In fact, the Nexus line is Google’s flagship device approach at showing their vision of Android and Android devices, making the Nexus 9 more than just another tablet offering.
Overall, the software performance is solid, smooth and fast. One might complain about battery life before they complain about a poor experience otherwise. There is a good selection of apps installed by default, with many more apps ready to install from the Google Play Store.
The versatility of Android is well represented on the Nexus 9, allowing you to install third party Launchers, add tweaks as might be found in our Android customization series and so much more. The general approach is to keep the device wireless in all operations, allowing you to perform almost any task without wires. Until you need to charge the battery of course.
iOS on the iPad Mini 3 is a solid and very fluid experience. The tablet benefits wholly from the vast number of apps available that are dedicated to the iPad screen sizes. Straight out of the box, one can enjoy basic web surfing and navigation with just the default apps pre-installed on the device. As you might expect, you’ll need to have an Apple ID if you want to download and install more apps from the App Store.
As with your other iOS powered devices, there is no pressing need to connect your iPad to your PC and sync data through iTunes. Although, that connection may prove the best when it comes to transferring files, such as your pictures or music.
Pricing and final thoughts
Although there are more powerful tablets on the market today, the Nexus 9 and the iPad Mini 3 represent two of the most versatile tablets you’ll find, especially if you are looking for something that is easy to hold and take with you on the go.
Google Nexus 9, by HTC
Apple iPad Mini 3
16GB – $399
32GB – $479
32GB LTE – $599
16GB – $399
32GB – $499
128GB – $599
Add $130 for cellular capability
It is always important to mention that the better choice of these two tablets, for you and your needs, is possibly the one that is most compatible with your other computing devices and accessories. If you have a large iTunes library and have purchased many iOS apps, then the iPad Mini 3 certainly has an advantage for you. Just as a large Google Play library and Android app inventory make the Nexus 9 a strong consideration for your needs.
There is no question that the larger display of the Nexus 9 lends itself to media consumption, but the pocketability of the iPad Mini 3 makes it a treat to slip into a back pocket and head out the door.
If you have had the pleasure of laying hands on both the Google Nexus 9 and the Apple iPad Mini 3, please tell us which tablet you prefer?