iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: Apple and Google’s latest high-end tablets compared

With both Apple and Google launching new tablets in October 2014 – the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 – you’re probably wondering how they compare with each other, especially since the two tablets are as similar as any we have seen from the two brands in the past. See also What’s the best tablet?

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: price and storage

Let’s start with an area where the differences between the tablets are the easiest to define: price. For the cheapest 16GB models the iPad Air 2 is £400 – 25% more expensive than the £320 Google Nexus 9. That’s significant, especially considering that, in many respects, the Nexus 9 is a match for Apple’s flagship.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9

The 16GB storage option is the only one the two devices share, however. The iPad Air 2’s next available choices are the £480 64GB and the £560 128GB Wi-Fi models, with the 4G versions costing £500 (16GB), £580 (32GB) and £660 (128GB).

The Nexus 9, on the other hand, goes only up to 32GB. That model costs £400, a tempting price, but bear in mind that, as with all of the Nexus range of devices and the iPad Air 2, there’s no microSD card slot on board for expanding the storage.

Declaring a winner here is a tough one to call. The iPad is a slick device and for an extra £80 you’re getting a tablet with the most mature library of tablet specific apps, plus a piece of hardware that not only tends to age gracefully, but also has good resale value. The 16GB Nexus 9 is much cheaper, however, and that’s really hard to ignore for such a well-specified piece of hardware.

Ultimately, this round comes down to what your bank balance says you can afford. If you can stump up the extra £80 for the flagship iPad then you will not be disappointed. However, at £320, the Nexus 9 represents very good value for money.


iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: display

The first thing that needs to be said is that both tablets have an incredibly high pixel count. Both screens boast a 1,536 x 2,048 resolution, the difference being that the iPad spreads these pixels over a screen measuring 9.7in across the diagonal, where the Nexus squeezes them into 8.9in. The result is the Nexus has a higher pixel density, at 281ppi compared to the iPad Air 2’s 264ppi.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: display

The reality, though, is that you won’t be able to tell the difference: both screens are as sharp as you need. Any differences will only become apparent after measurement and close analysis, and since we’ve not yet had the opportunity to test either, we can’t deliver our final verdict yet.

The only other thing we can advise you consider when comparing these two screens is size: the 8.9in screen of the Nexus makes it marginally the more compact device.


iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: design

While Google and manufacturing partner HTC have done a fantastic job with the design of the Nexus 9, it can’t match the iPad Air 2.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: software dimensions

The Apple device is gossamer-thin at a mere 6.1mm, a stunning 23% thinner than the smaller-screened Nexus 9. The devices’ other measurements, though, are pretty similar. The iPad Air 2 measures 169.5 x 6.1 x 240mm (WDH) and weighs 437g, while the Nexus 9 is 153.7 x 7.9 x 228.2mm and 425g.

The aluminium finish of the Air 2 gives it a feeling of sophistication and quality, however the cold material combined with the thinness of the tablet does make it a little tricky to grip at times.

The Nexus 9 has less attractive, yet more practical soft plastic finish, combined with a brushed metal rim. It isn’t an ugly device, but it does look a little chunky compared with the iPad Air 2.

Apple has also upgraded the iPad Air 2 to include its Touch ID fingerprint reader, which enables quick unlocking, and adds a more convenient way to pay for apps and other goods online. The Nexus 9, alas, has no such feature.


iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: software

Both tablets come with revamped operating systems. They comprise far too many new features to cover in this comparison, but the long and the short of it is that both have been upgraded in such a way that they are now more alike than ever before.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: software

Apple has made up ground in terms of notifications and customisation, and Android has closed the gap on performance and reliability. To read a more in-depth analysis of how the two operating systems face up against one another, take a look at our iOS 8 and Android L reviews to find out more.

It’s a score draw from a productivity point of view, too. Both devices are available with native apps that cover word processing, spreadsheets and slide shows. Apple offers this in the form of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, where Android provides Google Docs, Google Sheet and Google Slides for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations respectively. Editing documents on either of these tablet’s native software is a bit of a chore compared to using a laptop, but at least the option is available should you need it.


iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: camera

Taking pictures with tablets still seems odd to us, but plenty of folk indulge these days, and both tablets boast decent snappers. We have yet to get our hands on official review samples for full testing, but the specifications of the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 and the pedigree of each manufacturer, suggests that they’re both going to deliver good quality images.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: software camera

Each has an eight-megapixel (3,264×2,448) rear-facing camera, with the most apparent difference being that the Nexus has a LED flash, where the iPad does not.

Features-wise, Apple claws back some ground with the ability to record 120fps 720p slow-motion clips – both tablets have touch focus and face detection features as well as 30fps 1080p video capture, but no 4K.

The tablets are also equipped with similar front-facing cameras. The Nexus 9 edges this contest: its 1.6-megapixel camera should be able to capture slightly sharper selfies than the iPad Air 2’s 1.2-megapixel iSight camera.


iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: processor and battery

Apple has updated the flagship iPad’s processor to an A8X chip this year complimented by an M8 motion coprocessor. Apple claims this is its best tablet processor yet: 40% faster for CPU-intensive tasks and 2.5X faster for graphics.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: processors

The A8X is more efficient than the A7 from the first iPad Air, so despite the slimmer chassis and improved speed, Apple is still claiming ten-hour battery life for its iPad Air 2.

Google, on the other hand, has opted for the new Nvidia Tegra K1 dual-core 2.3GHz Denver processor with a Kepler DX1 GPU which, judging by the scores we’ve seen published online, should prove a strong challenger.

We haven’t run any tests of our own on either device, though, so it’s impossible to deliver a verdict on performance just yet. We’ll update this section just as soon as we know more.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9: verdict

This is the closest contest we’ve seen between a Google and an Apple tablet. The iPad is still the spoilt rich kid to the Nexus 9’s plucky street urchin, but the devices have far more in common than you might at first suspect.

The iPad Air 2 looks to be the slightly better tablet, but it is £80 more expensive. If money is an important factor for you then opting for the cheaper Nexus 9 is what we’d recommend. However, if you’re happy to spend the money, the iPad Air 2 edges it as the better tablet.

Overall winner: SCORE DRAW

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