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Nexus 9 review roundup: The best Android experience ... at a price (+video)

The Nexus 9 tablet, the first to run Android 5.0 "Lollipop," is bigger, faster, and more expensive than its predecessor, the Nexus 7. Reviewers say the Nexus 9 offers the best Android experience right now, but that it doesn't quite measure up to the iPad in some ways.

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    HTC's first tablet, the Google Nexus 9 is a promising mixed bag. From a design perspective, it comes perilously close to looking like an Apple iPad knock-off, until you get close to it and notice the tiny front-facing stereo speakers and soft-touch rubber back. The differences between it and an iPad Air are even starker when you power it up, and not always for the better.
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A few weeks ago, Google and hardware maker HTC introduced the Nexus 9 tablet: a larger, more powerful, more expensive replacement for the reasonably popular Nexus 7. Google announced that the 9-inch tablet would be the first to run Android 5.0 “Lollipop,” which includes better multitasking, a lock screen with easy app shortcuts, and a host of other improvements.

But the cheapest Nexus 9, a 16 GB model, costs $399 – nearly double what the now-discontinued Nexus 7 cost. Is a bigger, faster, newer tablet worth the extra cash?

Early reviews suggest that the Nexus 9 is the best Android tablet around right now, but that it might not be right for everyone. In his review for The Wall Street Journal, Nathan Olivarez-Giles writes that the Nexus 9 beautifully showcases Android 5.0, which has a more playful, accessible feel that previous Android operating systems.

Yet there aren’t as many good apps for Android devices with big screens as there are for the iPad, he says, and even big-name apps such as Twitter and Facebook look “like stretched-out phone apps rather than something built for the big screen.” He concludes, “It’s an outstanding piece of hardware, and the best all-around Android experience available on a tablet. But if you care about apps, you’re still going to lean towards an iPad, and if you care about productivity, you may well aim towards the Galaxy Tab S or even a Surface Pro 3 instead.”

Over at PC Magazine, Sascha Segan has a similar take. He found the Nexus 9’s design “spare” and “elegant,” and found that games and resource-hungry apps ran smoothly on the tablet. He adds that the Nexus 9’s speakers are “very good,” but that its cameras (front and back) suffer from noise and a lack of HDR, meaning that photos frequently look blurry or washed out. Mr. Segan also worries about the lack of expandable storage and video output ports on the Nexus 9 (to stream video, you’ll need a Nexus Player or a Chromecast). Overall, Segan recommends the Samsung Galaxy Tab S – or even an iPad Mini 2, which has a smaller screen but costs $100 less – over the Nexus 9.

Finally, Dan Seifert’s comprehensive review for The Verge finds the Nexus 9 to be a reasonably capable jack-of-all-trades tablet, but not quite up to the standard set by the iPad. The Nexus 9 becomes quite hot when it’s working, Mr. Seifert writes, and although the Lollipop OS looks beautiful, the Nexus 9 suffers from frequent crashes and slowdowns. Seifert also writes that the tablet’s construction isn’t great, noting that “the power button and volume rockers feel low-rent and mushy and are too flush with the body,” and that the screen, despite having the same aspect ratio and resolution as the iPad, doesn’t measure up: “Colors aren’t as vibrant or appealing, the screen isn’t laminated to the glass as on the iPad Air 2, and the backlight bleeds into the edges of the screen in unsightly ways.”

All reviews generally agree that the Nexus 9 offers the best Android experience available right now, but that the tablet’s physical shortcomings keep it from being a real competitor to the iPad. If you’re a die-hard Android fan, the Nexus 9 is well worth considering – but if you just want a capable tablet to surf the Web, watch videos, and get some work done, you’re probably better off buying an iPad or waiting for a more refined Android tablet.

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