Google typically builds the Android software and leaves the actual smartphones and tablets to other companies. The exception is the Nexus line. Google works with various manufacturers to build their own line of phones and tablets every year. The HTC-built Google Nexus 9 is the newest tablet in the Nexus line and I had a chance to test it out before it officially went on sale this week.
In terms of form factor, the Nexus 9 is exactly what we expect from a tablet in 2014. It's a thin slab with glass on the front covering the 8.9" screen and plastic on the back. The edges are made of brushed metal that give the Nexus 9 a solid feeling despite the plastic back. The screen is great although I'm not sure why they went with a 4:3 screen. Everything is 16:9 and the 4:3 screen feels antiquated to me. With a 2048 x 1536 resolution it looks crisp. It has the same resolution as the iPad mini 3 but with an extra inch in screen size.
The Nvidia Tegra processor inside keeps this thing snappy. In my testing apps loaded up quickly and internet browsing was fast.
Some people might not like the plastic back compared to the metal on the back of the iPad. Personally, I like the soft plastic. It doesn't feel as solid as the metal but I think it works well with the brushed metal edges.
Another highlight of the Nexus 9 is that it's running the newest version of Android, Lollipop. You'll soon see Android Lollipop 5.0 on many more tablets but for now, the Nexus 9 is among only a few running the new version. Google redesigned Android and changed a few key things. Notifications are greatly improved, multitasking is easier with the new carousel of apps and the look is just downright slick.
I'm just scratching the surface of new Lollipop features. This is a major Android upgrade and I think most Android users will be very happy with the countless tweaks and updates. Nexus 9 is created by Google so it gets to be on the cutting edge software-wise. Expect to see other Android tablets updated with Android Lollipop soon.
I hate comparing every tablet to an iPad but let's compare this to the iPad. The screen is an inch bigger than the iPad mini 3 but the 16GB model is the same price as the 16GB Nexus 9. So technically you get more for the same amount of money. None the less, iOS people will buy an iPad regardless. So, for that reason, let's stop comparing this to the iPad.
I love the screen but I do wish it was 16:9. I'm guessing the 4:3 screen was chosen for design purposes but in a 16:9 world, 4:3 feels old.
In and of itself the Nexus 9 is one of the best "smaller than 10 inch" tablets on the market. It looks great, feels great in your hand and the processor keeps it humming right along. The screen is clear and bright and the newest version of Android is the best yet.
While I think the Nexus 9 is an awesome tablet I'm not in love with the price. The $399 price tag will be a bit steep for some people and forces us to compare it to the iPad Mini. $299 or even $349 would make it a no-brainer. None the less, for $399 it's a solid option.