- Android 5.0 Lollipop is excellent
- Swift and stable performance
- Decent battery
- Attractive display
- Mediocre hardware, feels cheap
- Lacks external storage support
- Very slow to start up
Quick TakeThe HTC Nexus 9 is a clear case of excellent software and mediocre hardware. It would be easy to overlook the hardware issues on a less expensive device, but here they are just enough to recommend users look somewhere else for an Android 5.0 fix.
Let’s agree for the purposes of this review that tablets can be segmented into two distinct parts: the hardware and the software. Both play an important role in the device’s quality, but it’s easier to overlook hardware flaws so long as the software is up to snuff. Look no further than the market-leading iPad as an example. Since launch, critics have knocked Apple’s tablet for lacking expandable storage (and to a lesser extent, USB support), but it’s still the market leader by a large margin.
That’s good news for HTC, because its first tablet since the Honeycomb glut of 2011, the Nexus 9, runs the latest and greatest (and we do mean greatest) version of Google’s operating system to date, Android 5.0 Lollipop. And likely because the Nexus 9 was made in conjunction with Google, the OS is wonderfully implemented, with none of the skins or overlays, like HTC’s own Sense, to muck it up. It’s smooth and stable, and feels right at home on the 8.9-inch tablet.
The hardware however, well that’s a different story.
Build and Design
The Nexus 9 is a rather standard 8.9-inch tablet. In total, it measures 8.98 x 6.05 x .31 inches, and weighs 15 ounces. It’s not the thinnest or lightest tablet in its class, but the dimensions are perfectly acceptable.
The screen bezel is approximately three times thicker on the landscape ends than on the portrait sides, which works well as it provides a decent-sized grip and room for the front-facing HTC BoomSound speakers. Yes, this is one of the rare tablets that gets speaker placement right. The landscape sides is the 1.6-megapixel, front-facing shooter is also present.
Overall, the Nexus 9 does not feel like a premium device, literally. The display is a fingerprint magnet (while most tablets are fingerprint magnets, the Nexus 9 is particularly bad), the back panel also smudges very easily, and the buttons feel cheap. This tablet consists of plastic held together with glue, and it feels that way.
The Nexus 9 has an odd shape, where the back panel is slightly larger than the front and juts out around the edges. This actually makes it hard to remove from the packaging, as the back panel gets easily caught. More than once, we witnessed the back open slightly as we forced the tablet free from the cardboard. It’s obvious it wouldn’t take much effort to rip it off
The back panel consists of lightly textured plastic, some prominent Nexus branding, the 8-megapixel lens, and LED flash, which is just to the left of the audio jack. The camera lens housing is odd: It sticks out at the corners, like it’s popping out of the tablet. Camera lenses should be recessed from device to avoid any scuffs or scratches. While the lens remains unscathed, the unit we tested showed scuff marks around the casing’s edges.
Here, the Nexus 9 excels. The 8.9-inch LCD display has 1536 x 2048 pixels, for a pixel per inch count of 281, and features Gorilla Glass 3. That’s not the most pixel-dense tablet in its class; that would be the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, which has a superior AMOLED display with a 360 ppi count.
Still, it’s hard to complain about the Nexus 9, even if there is some noticeable light leaking around the edges, which is particularly pronounced on the landscape side opposite the front-facing camera. Gorilla Glass makes it tough and scratch resistant, the image is crisp, and the colors, while tending toward the warmer side of things, are accurate. It also gets plenty bright at the maximum setting, and though glare still presents problems, it handles it about as well as any tablet not named Microsoft Surface.
Buttons, Ports, and Speakers
The power button, volume rocker, and mic hole all reside on one landscape side, while the 3.5mm audio jack and microUSB 2.0 input sit on opposite portrait ends.
There is no microSD card slot, and that’s near inexcusable. It’s not like HTC and Google were going for maximum thinness with the design, and there seems to be plenty of room for removable storage. But Google doesn’t really approve of memory card slots, and no previous Nexus model has had one.
The HTC BoomSound speakers also perform ably or at least ably for a tablet. This isn’t surprising, considering the HTC typically excels in this area with smartphones. On top of that, most tablet speakers spit out barely acceptable sound, so there’s a low bar here. The Nexus 9 clears it by virtue of having front-facing speakers alone. Sound quality is surprisingly full, with some distortion on the low end. The volume is reasonably loud for personal use.
We’re just getting started: Page 2 covers the performance of the HTC Nexus 9.