Has HTC’s first Google tablet since the Nexus one got what it takes to revolutionise large Android tablets?
The HTC nexus 9 is Google’s latest attempt to set a standard for what an Android tablet should be. A surprise to many, it has been manufactured for them by HTC rather than Asus (which produced the popular Nexus 7). HTC is critically acclaimed for its design, most recently for the full-metal HTC One (M8) smartphone. However, HTC has not produced a tablet for years and its previous attempt for Google, the Nexus One, while well received, didn’t really represent a major sales success.
Perhaps this is why the HTC nexus 9 looks like a Nexus fi rst and foremost. It shares its design language with the Nexus 5 and the Nexus 7 (2013), featuring a soft-touch back, large horizontal Nexus branding and a very plain front. The slim metal band around the outside of the HTC nexus 9 is a small nod to HTC’s engineering abilities. However, one HTC feature that we’re very glad is included is the BoomSound stereo speakers. Both loud and high quality, the dual speakers offer a supremely immersive experience whether you’re playing games or watching videos.
The Nexus 9’s screen matches the Sony Xperia Z3’s when on maximum brightness, which is certainly no mean feat. Also signifi cant is its 4:3 aspect ratio, the same as the Apple iPad. A large number of Chinese tablets (including the Xiaomi MiPad) already do this, but the Nexus 9 is the fi rst mainstream tablet to rival Apple head-on. The Nexus 9 uses the Nvidia K1 64-bit mobile processor with its 192-core (yes, you read that right!) Kepler GPU. As you would expect, the device can handle anything you throw at it, including the most intensive, graphic-heavy games.
In fact, when paired with a Bluetooth joypad, you end up with a very formidable mobile gaming platform. We did notice that when using the tablet it got quite warm when running the most demanding of games, but not hot enough to cause concern. The Nexus 9 is the fi rst device to launch with Android 5.0 Lollipop, the latest version of the OS. The most visible change in the new system is the new Material design language. From the moment you power on the Nexus 9, everything just looks that much better. The dark backgrounds and limited colours of Holo, which has been around since the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, have been replaced by vibrant, multilayer user interfaces that really pop on the gorgeous screen.
Apps run incredibly smoothly on the Nexus 9, as you’d expect given the powerful hardware,and the new improved multitasking interface makes switching between them easier than ever. One of the biggest problems with large tablets on Android previously has been that with the limited number of tablet-optimised apps available, enlarged phone apps would just look ridiculous on a 10-inch screen. Perhaps it’s that 4:3 ratio again, but it doesn’t seem as much of a problem on the Nexus 9 – apps generally just look great. If we were to looking for a barometer of the Nexus 9’s success, then perhaps it would be that it, together with Material design, may fi nally encourage developers to update their apps to be more tablet friendly – a very important thing if large Android tablets are fi nally to achieve the success that they deserve.
The snapper on the Nexus 9 is best described as adequate. The 16-megapixel main camera does have a fl ash and captures reasonable detail in well-lit situations, but in more challenging conditions it can struggle to focus and accurately represent colours despite letting in a decent amount of light. The biggest problem with the camera, however, is the speed of capture –autofocus on the Nexus 9 is sluggish when compared to most Android phones nowadays. Meanwhile, the front-facing 1.6-megapixel camera is only suited to video calling. The Nexus 9 certainly isn’t a budget tablet, with a starting price of £319.99, but then it is a much more impressive device than the Nexus 7 it succeeds.
For all uses other than watching movies, the 4:3 is a far more usable ratio and the 8.9-inch size makes the device easier to manage in the hand than other large Android tablets. A powerful processor, solid specs and excellent build quality make this the Android tablet to have. Our only reservation is that we would have preferred to see a little more HTC DNA in the device, but maybe a HTC Sense version will deliver that in the future, if the HTC Nexus 9 is successful enough for HTC to overcome its fear of tablet failure.