For the past few years, we’ve seen Google place significant emphasis on price as a way of competing with other tablets on the market. The original Nexus 7 managed to deliver a good tablet experience without the conventional 500 USD price for a tablet. The successor to the Nexus 7 was even more incredible, as it pushed hardware that was equal to or better than most tablets on the market at a lower price. However, as with most of these low cost Nexus devices not everything was perfect as corners still had to be cut in order to hit these low price points.

The Nexus 9 is supposed to be the polar opposite. Instead of driving price as the primary differentiator, Google has refocused on the high end tablet market for the Nexus 9. With a new focus on industrial and material design, along with some of the latest and greatest hardware in every dimension. HTC has been brought on as a partner for the first time since the Nexus One to enable this vision. In addition, NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 with Denver CPUs can be found inside as the launch platform for Android Lollipop on 64-bit ARM v8. The Nexus 9 also has a 4:3 aspect ratio on its display, a notable departure from the 16:10 ratio that was shared with phones. There’s also the addition of BoomSound speakers on the front and a metal frame running around the edge of the device for improved in-hand feel. The rest of the key specifications can be found below.

  Nexus 9
SoC 2.3GHz 64-bit dual core Tegra K1 Denver SoC
Display 8.9" 2048x1536 IPS LCD
Network WiFi only or 2G / 3G / 4G LTE SKU
Dimensions 153.68 x 228.25 x 7.95mm, 425g WiFi, 436g LTE
Camera 8MP Rear Facing (IMX219) with F/2.4 aperture, 1.6MP FFC (OV9760)
Battery 6700 mAh (25.46 Whr)
OS Android 5.0 Lollipop
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1 (BCM4354) , USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, NFC (BCM2079x)

While specs are nice, one of the key areas where the Nexus 9 has to push the limits is in industrial and material design. To this end, Google seems to have mostly delivered, but not quite at the levels that one might have wished. The back continues to be a soft-touch plastic, with almost nothing other than required regulatory text, the Nexus logo, and the camera with its LED flash. I definitely like the feeling of the back cover with its slight outward curve, but on the black model the finish seems to attract smudges quite easily. This is unlikely to be a real problem, but those that are extremely concerned with fingerprint smudges may want to look into getting the white version of this tablet. There is a small amount of give in the dead center of the device, but this is something that one has to actively try to do instead of being immediately obvious. In my experience, the same is true for the Nexus 5 as well which calls into question whether this is a real issue.

Outside of the back cover, the metal rim definitely makes for a significant contrast in texture and feel. The texture seems to be the same as the M8’s gunmetal grey, with an extremely delicate brushed texture. Unfortunately, this does mean that the metal feels glossy in the hand rather than matte, and I suspect that a more standard matte texture would be better in this case. At any rate, it still feels great to the touch, especially when the device is cold. The metal frame has a noticeable outward angle to it, and does make it feel like the One (M7) in that respect. Along the left side of the rim, the device is barren but there is a microUSB 2 port along the bottom and a hole for one of the microphones on the device. Along the right side, we see another microphone hole, the volume rocker, and the power button. While the feel of the buttons is relatively clicky and the actuation is solid, the buttons are definitely a bit on the thin side and are hard to locate and press. The top side has a 3.5mm jack along the top right, and a single plastic line that breaks up the metal frame in line with the speakers.

Speaking of the speakers, unlike the One (M8) and (M7) where the front-facing speakers are a major design element, the speakers on the Nexus 9 are noticeably hidden away from view. They’re definitely present, but the speaker grilles are recessed and black to match the bezels. The recessed nature helps with the design minimalism that is pervasive throughout the Nexus 9, but it does mean that it’s pretty easy for lint and dust to find its way into the grilles. There’s also a noticeable lip around the entire display which makes for a noticeable rounded metal edge, which should help to some extent for drop protection although the thickness of the lip is really quite thin. This means that it can only help with drop protection on flat surfaces. Other than the speaker grilles, the front of the tablet is almost barren. There’s a front-facing camera on the top, and a light sensor to the right of this camera. Other than this, there’s only a single LED at the bottom of the device but it appears that this hasn’t been enabled in the system as I only see it active when charging the device from a fully-depleted state.

Overall, the Nexus 9’s build quality is decent. It isn’t quite as incredible as an all-aluminum unibody, but the feel is quite comfortable and the design fits well with the rest of the Nexus line-up. I do wish the metal frame had a bit more matte feel to it and the buttons do need some work, but I otherwise don’t really have a lot to complain about in this device. It is quite obvious that disassembling the device starts with the back cover though, as it’s pretty easy to stick a fingernail between the back cover and metal frame to pry it apart like the One X.

SoC Architecture: NVIDIA's Denver CPU
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  • PC Perv - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    It is clear, even though you did not say, why no one other than NV and Google will use Denver in their products. Thank you for the coherent review, Ryan.

    P.S. I can't wait for the day SunSpider, Basemark, and WebXPRT disappear from your benchmark suit.
  • jjj - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    You always make those kind of claims about dual core vs more cores but you have never attempted to back them up with real world perf and power testing.
    In real use there are alerts and chats and maybe music playing and so on. While your hypothesis could be valid or partially valid you absolutely need to first verify it before heavily insisting on it and accepting it as true. Subjective conclusions are just not your style is it, you test things to get to objective results.
    And it wold be easy you already have "clean"numbers and you would just need to run the same benchmarks for perf and power with some simulated background activity to be able to compare the differences in gains/loses.
  • PC Perv - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    Where would you put the performance of "backup" ARM-only part of Denver? Cortex-A7? Is it measurable at all?

    Also, why don't Samsung use F2FS for their devices? I thought it was developed by them.
  • abufrejoval - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    While the principal designer seems to be a Korean, I'm not sure he works for Samsung, who typically used Yet Another Flash File System (YAFFS).
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    It's not measurable in a traditional sense, as the DCO will kick in at some point. However I'd say it's somewhere along the lines of A53, though overall a bit better.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    The design philosophy of the DCO does make a lot of sense. When your mobile device starts to bog down and you start cursing at it, what is it usually doing? It is usually looping or iterating through something. The DCO wont help with small blocks of code that execute in 500uS, but you dont need help with that sort of code anyway. What you want to improve is exactly the type of code the DCO can improve: the kind of code that takes several dozen milliseconds (or more) to execute. That is when you begin to notice the lag in your cpu.
  • mpokwsths - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    Joshua & Ryan,

    please update the charts with the bench results of the newer version of Androbench 4:
    (I had previously commented on the fact that you can't safely compare the i/o results of different OS AND different bench apps).

    Androbench 4 is redesigned it to use multiple i/o threads (as a proper i/o bench app should have) and produces vastly improved results on both Lollipop and earlier Android devices.

    You will not be able to compare the newer results with older ones, but at least it will put an end to this ridiculus ι/ο performance difference between iOS and Android, the one you persistently -but falsly- keep projecting.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    I tested this out on several of my devices and could see only minor improvements, all within 10%. The performance difference to iOS devices does not seem to be a dupe at all.
  • mpokwsths - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    My results strongly disagree with you:
    Nexus 5: Seq Write: 19MB/s --> 55 MB/s
    Rand Write: 0.9 --> 2.9 MB/s

    Sony Z3 Tablet: Seq Write: 21 MB/s --> 53 MB/s
    Rand Write: 1,6 MB/s --> 8MB/s
    Seq Read: 135 MB/s --> 200MB/s

    I can upload pics showing my findings.
  • mpokwsths - Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - link

    Meet the fastest Nexus 5 in the world:


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