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Android Headliner: Thanks to a 4:3 Display and a Powerful Processor, the Nexus 9 is a Step in the Right Direction

November 9, 2014 - Written By Tom Dawson

 

While Google still, for some reason, cannot seem to sell the Nexus 6 properly, the Nexus 9 has been shipping to customers and things seem to be going fairly smoothly. That is, of course, you don’t count issues with light blend and a trampoline of a back cover, both of which are issues that HTC need to sort out as they shouldn’t have happened in the first place. My Nexus 9 arrived the day after they went on launch and so far, I am fairly impressed. Is it perfect? No sir. Is it the best Android tablet I’ve ever used? You bet your ass it is. Here’s the thing about the Nexus 9 – it’s actually a tablet, rather than yet another giant smartphone, and while Lollipop doesn’t take things far enough, this is a step in the right direction for Google and Android. As for comparing it to an iPad well, the Nexus 9 is not an iPad and the iPad is not a Nexus 9. Instead, the Nexus 9 is an Android tablet and that’s how I’ve been looking at it through my first week with it.

Let’s get a couple things out of the day; price and build quality. My Nexus 9 has a teeny bit of flex to it on the back, but nothing that bothers me and it’s only ever so noticeable while squinting, the same goes for light bleed there is some there but nothing major. HTC have absolutely no excuse for either of these issues, while I’m happy with mine, I have seen awful examples on Google+ of bouncy back covers and light bleed that’d make a lamp shade blush. For this sort of money, HTC are playing in the major leagues, and regardless of whether they don’t ‘do’ tablets, they need to sort these issues out. Hopefully, these are just first batch issues and that Google and HTC will honor returns and exchanges, with massive improvements to future batches.

Here’s why I think the Nexus 9 is a great move for Android on tablets. First up, 4:3 makes so much more sense in a larger tablet like this and I have missed such an aspect ratio on a tablet. I had an HP Touchpad and refused to let go until it was basically all but obsolete (despite the fact she sits on my desk, running KitKat and showing me the time and my todo list all day). The 4:3 aspect is so much better for browsing the web and I already find myself enjoying mobile games more, too. In my latest haunt, Colin McCrae Rally, the action feels more centered and the controls are easier to use, too. My favorite of all time (go on, judge me) on mobile is Fruit Ninja and I beat my all-time high score in just a couple of tries my new Nexus 9. I could also see myself writing on a Nexus 9, too. Again, thanks to the 4:3 ratio, it just feels more usable and makes better use of the larger screen size.

Lollipop also makes some changes to make Android feel more like it belongs on this sort of display, too. Certain elements pop out to the forefront and while I’ve only really seen them in Google+ and the Play Store app, they’re nice touched. So, too is the change of just one, centralized pull down, it still feels like it’s pulled from a phone, but having just one pull down makes so much more sense. I still miss the tablet UI from the rough days of Android 3.2 up to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, as that UI made my tablet feel like it was a tablet. I could never have used a Nexus 10 thanks to what Google did to the UI with Android 4.2, essentially downgrading tablets to giant phones with one change. I understand that having a consistent experience is important, but neither platform should suffer as a result. The Nexus 9 feels more like a tablet than any Android tablet I’ve owned or tested and I can only hope that further versions of Android improve upon these small steps taken in Lollipop.

Then there’s the Tegra K1. I am pretty much convinced that this is why the Nexus 9 is say $399 instead of $349, but I’m quickly coming around to the idea that it’s worth it. There’s been a few mutters of lag and performance jitters here and there and I’ll add to them; Lollipop needs some polish as there are software hiccups here and there. However, the K1 is not a Snapdragon 801 and does things a little differently, so it’s not going to feel the same. When watching Netflix, browsing the web or playing games, the Tegra K1 is blazing fast and I’m glad Google went this direction. Besides, we could all do with a little break from the Snapdragon.

Is the Nexus 9 perfect? Is it absolutely amazing? No, it’s not, and with some first batch issues that should have never happened it’s clear that Google and HTC haven’t launched the be all and end all of Android tablets. However, for me, it’s the best Android tablet I’ve ever used and it’s finally a step in the right direction for tablets.