The Nexus 9 is a strange beast. Where before Google's focus was on affordable yet competitive tech, 2014 saw the company make a u-turn - it released both a phablet and tablet at a premium price point with premium specifications.
The problem is, the Nexus 9 isn't going to persuade iOS fans to deviate from their yearly iPad upgrade - especially when their RRPs are so remarkably close.
The iPad Air 2 is the Nexus 9's closest competitor and is undoubtedly the better product in both build quality, value, and specification.
Not only that, but both Samsung and Nvidia have crept up with solid and comparably-priced tablets of their own. It really does beg the question - who is the Nexus 9 for?
A select few, if those sluggish sales are anything to go by. However, with stock Android, the impressive Tegra K1 processor, and the promise of software updates before anyone else (that includes Android M due out towards the end of this year) those who do take the plunge won't regret it.Design
At 8.9 inches, the Nexus 9 is considerably larger than 2013's fan-favourite Nexus 7, but slightly smaller than the Nexus 10 and iPad Air 2.
It's a great size and feels like the sweet spot between the two - it's just as easy to lug around as the Nexus 7, and not too small for watching movies, reading, or, most importantly, playing a game or two.
The design itself is nothing to write home about. The back houses the Nexus logo and a smooth plastic surface which, though suitably grippy, picks up greasy fingerprints way too easily.
The side is made up of a brushed metal frame that looks and feels very premium but is prone to scratching. You'll also find the power and volume buttons here, but due to their size and a lack of feedback, they can be a little difficult to locate.
Overall it all feels fairly flimsy and, worryingly, there's noticeable flex if you squeeze the back gently with your thumbs. This isn't a tablet that will survive a drop.
It's not a good looking device by any means - and is particularly displeasing to the eye when placed next to an iPad Air 2. But it does have a rugged, old school charm that will appeal to those that care about function before style.Features
A standout feature of the Nexus 9 is its meaty Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. It's capable of some serious portable gaming and can handle PC games like Football Manager 2015 and The Talos Principle without breaking a sweat.
Battery life is similarly impressive and should last you a couple of days of steady use before you need to plug it in for some extra juice. Officially, you should get at least nine and a half hours of talk time before it starts straining.
There are 32GB and 16GB versions for varying storage needs, but there's no SD card slot, which may be off-putting to those who don't like clearing space regularly.
The front-facing HTC BoomSound speakers do throw out impressive volumes but there's a noticeable lack of bass, despite the bass-to-treble balancing software enhancements.
It's perfectly fine for watching films and playing games, but music lovers will definitely want to invest in some headphones or portable speakers.
You also get a 1.6MP front-facing camera for selfies and video calls, and an 8MP rear camera should you, for some bizarre reason, want to take a photo with your tablet. Neither are particularly cutting-edge but they're serviceable enough.Screen
The screen is by far the Nexus 9's biggest disappointment. The IPS LCD 1536 x 2048 screen's resolution may be the same as the iPad Air 2's, and even has a slightly higher PPI due to the smaller screen (281 vs 264), but it's way off the Nexus 6's 2560 x 1440, 463 PPI AMOLED panel, and it's a noticeable dip in quality.
On top of that, the colours look pretty washed out and there have been reports of dreaded light bleed in some units, including the one we're using for this review.
The top and right side of the screen are most noticeably affected, whilst the left is slightly so and the bottom not at all. It's certainly something that you can get used to but not what you expect at all of a tablet at this price point.
Gaming & Performance
Gaming is where the Nexus 9 really excels. It's a comfortable tablet to hold for hours at a time and the battery can handle the strain.
The front-facing speakers mean you'll never accidentally cover up the sound with your hand while playing horizontally (a constant problem of mine with the Air 2), and the HTC BoomSound enhancements lead to decent quality without the need for headphones.
Performance itself is top-notch. The occasional stutter I experienced while playing games on my Nexus 6 isn't present at all here and the silky-smooth manner in which most titles run on the Nexus 9 is a joy to behold.
On top of that, there are a few exclusives like The Talos Principle and Football Manager Classic 2015 (and more surely to follow) that really demonstrate the immense power and potential of the Nvidia Tegra technology.
Early reports suggested that the Nexus 9 was generally sluggish while browsing and opening and switching apps, but a couple of Android updates have followed since then and they've ironed out those issues. The tablet performs flawlessy.The Good
As mentioned earlier, the Tegra K1 processor is the real star of the show here. It's inclusion has resulted in Google's fastest and most reliable tablet to date.
The fact that it's the only Android tablet that runs true stock Android also works in its favour - particularly for fans of the platform.
There's no padding or filler choking up the performance here. Also, you'll get all future updates, including Android M, much faster than any other tablet out there.
HTC's BoomSound speakers, while not perfect, are still better than most, and provide decent sound while playing games and watching films.
The brushed metal frame is also a really nice design choice that feels and looks suitably premium.
The screen is the Nexus 9's biggest downfall, with a lackluster PPI and unforgivable light bleed issues at this price point. Perhaps HTC should have gone for an AMOLED display, but that could have boosted the RRP closer to the iPad Air 2 - a device it's already failing to contend with.
The build quality is also a bit of an issue. This isn't a stylish tablet by any stretch of the imagination, but it also feels fragile and flimsy, which is pretty unforgivable at this price point.
And that's another issue - the price. It's competing directly with the iPad Air 2 but falling massively short of the mark, while the Nvidia Shield and Samsung Galaxy Tab S are comparatively-priced solid Android tablets.
Gone are the days that of the Nexus 7 - a competitively priced, quality tablet.
The Nexus 9 is a strange beast but it's not without its charms. If you're looking for a pacey and reliable stock Android tablet, then there really is nothing better out there right now.
However, if having stock Android isn't a deal breaker, then there are an abundance of comparatively priced devices that the Nexus 9 will struggle against - despite the added power of the Tegra K1 processor.