Nexus 9 review: HTC discontinues Google’s bargain tablet

Price when reviewed

Nexus 9 review: Battery life

Android 5 (Lollipop) also introduces new battery efficiencies under the moniker Project Volta, which are aimed at making the OS more power-efficient, especially in standby. For example, Android won’t now wake up a device to carry out a network task when there’s no network connection active; it can group unimportant app tasks together and run them all at once, instead of waking up the device on demand; and there’s now the ability to delay housekeeping jobs until your tablet or phone is connected to the mains.

This all bodes well for general stamina, and in our tests the Nexus 9 performed with aplomb. The first time we ran our battery test we made the mistake of not putting it into flight mode, but despite syncing data in the background over Wi-Fi for the first eight hours of the test, it still outperformed the the iPad Air 2, lasting 13hrs 46mins in our looping 720p video test. This result also compares well with leading Android tablets: the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet lasted 14hrs 38mins and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 for 16hrs 55mins.

When we ran the test again, this time with flight mode enabled all the way through, the Nexus 9 lasted an impressive 14hrs 59mins – on a par with the Xperia Z2 Tablet, but still not quite as good as the HDX 8.9.

Play games on it and, as with most devices, you’ll see battery life plummet rapidly. However, with the Nexus 9, battery drain is much more pronounced than its key rival. In the GFXBench battery test, a projected runtime of 3hrs 25mins suggests that anyone using it for intensive gaming will need to run to the mains slightly more frequently than owners of the iPad Air 2, which posted a projected runtime of 3hrs 52mins in this test.

This doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but we observed the Nexus 9 artificially limiting the frame rate to conserve battery power: it averaged 34fps during the GFXBench battery test, which is significantly slower than what the Tegra K1 is capable of.

We were slightly concerned, too, by the temperature the rear housing next to the camera reached during the more intensive tests we ran. It hit 46 degrees after periods pf heavy use, which we found unpleasantly hot to the touch.

Nexus 9 review: Cameras, connectivity and speakers

Camera quality isn’t critical with a tablet, but with the iPad Air 2 upping the ante, it’s only fair to compare the two in a little more depth than normal. In terms of raw specifications, the Nexus is on a par, with an 8-megapixel, f/2.4 aperture camera at the rear and a 1.6-megapixel one at the front, and it pulls ahead with the addition of a single-LED flash.


Quality is fine for casual snaps, but we found that the Nexus 9 tended to blow out highlights badly, and that the automatic white balance went wrong frequently; under strip lights in the office, everything took on a bluish tinge. Autofocus was terribly slow, particularly in low light, hunting backwards and forwards for ages before locking on. This isn’t a device you’ll want to take with you to shoot snaps of your kids in the school play, and it isn’t a patch on the iPad Air 2 in this regard.


The Nexus 9 does have the iPad beaten, just, on connectivity, with NFC on board in addition to 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP and aptX audio support. Plus, audio quality is superb. With HTC’s BoomSound front-facing stereo speakers, the Nexus 9 pumps out the audio with an unusual level of strength and fortitude.

Volume levels are high – enough to comfortably watch TV programmes and movies without reaching for the headphones – and there’s even a degree of body and bass. The iPad Air 2 is good but not this good.

Nexus 9 v Sony Xperia Z4 tablet

As well as the iPad Air 2, the Nexus 9 faces another serious competitor in the shape of the Sony Xperia Z4 tablet.

Released at MWC 2015, the Xperia Z4 tablet has a larger, 10.1 in screen with 2K resolution, but at 6.1mm as almost 2mm tinner than the Nexus 9. There are also Wi-Fi only or 4G versions, both of which weigh a sliver under 400g, making them at least 30g lighter than the Nexus.

On the inside, the Z4 tablet has somewhat better specs, including an octa-core processor, although the Nexus has greater battery capacity. We’re yet to be able to fully put the Z4 through its paces, but you can read our hands-on review here.

Nexus 9 review: verdict

Overall, it’s tricky to know what to make of the Nexus 9. On the one hand, it’s the fastest Android tablet we’ve tested, and battery life for light tasks such as watching video is superb. It has a bright, sharp display in a practical, usable 4:3 aspect ratio, and great speakers, plus it’s light and reasonably slim.

In addition, it runs pure Android, and the price for the base model undercuts the iPad Air 2 by a definitive margin. It’s also cheaper than our favourite large-screened Android tablet – the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet.

Yet it has a number of serious flaws, with poor build quality chief among them. Then there’s the high battery depletion under load, backlight leakage around the edges of the screen, no microSD expansion, and a lack of high-capacity models, all of which put a major dent in this tablet’s appeal.

Let us be clear about one thing, the Nexus 9 is a very good Android tablet; however, it’s also far from perfect.

Processor2.7GHz Nvidia Tegra K1, dual core
Screen size8.9in
Screen resolution1,536 x 2,048
Screen typeIPS
Front camera8 megapixels
Rear camera1.6 megapixels
FlashSingle LED
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Wireless data4G model available
Size154 x 7.9 x 228mm
Weight425g (Wi-Fi); 436g (4G)
Operating systemAndroid 5
Battery size6,700mAh
Buying information
Warranty1yr RTB
Price16GB Wi-Fi, £319; 32GB Wi-Fi, £399; 32GB 4G, £459

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