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Best tablets for Christmas: Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

We check out the best premium tablets out in time for Christmas 2014, and ask which is best for you: Google’s Nexus 9, Apple’s iPad Air 2 or the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact?

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: At a glance

Tablet Apple iPad Air 2 Google Nexus 9 Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
Size 9.7-inches 8.9-inches 8-inches
Weight 437g 425g 270g
Processor Apple A8x Nvidia Tegra K1 Snapdragon 801
Storage 16/64/128GB 16/32GB 16/32GB + microSD
SIM? Yes, 4G Yes, 4G Yes, 4G
Camera 8MP 8MP 8MP

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: Design

All three tablets here boast a gorgeous design, but they’re beautiful for very different reasons. The iPad Air 2 doesn’t buck Apple’s usual tablet trend, with a metallic sheen that looks suitably premium, while the Nexus 9 opts for a more subtle and clean finish, with the metal confined to the silver trim. We also love the look of the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, with Sony’s iconic circular power button and straight-edged build.

If you’re after portability, your best bet is the Sony Xperia Tablet Z3 Compact. It’s the dinkiest tab here with an 8-inch screen, which might not sound a hell of a lot smaller than the 8.9-inch Nexus 9, but the widescreen aspect ratio and narrow bezels make it much easier to clutch in one hand. It’s also just 270g (compared with around 430g for the other two tablets), making it friendly on the arms if you’re holding it for long periods.

If you want a tablet to use in the bath for some reason, then the Xperia Tablet Z3 Compact is the natural choice too, as it’s fully water resistant.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: Movies and media

All three tablets here feature sharp, colourful screens, perfect for chilling with a movie or flicking through your photo collection. However, the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 opt for a ‘near-square’ 4:3 aspect ratio, while the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact goes all widescreen. That means the Z3 Tablet Compact is best for movies, as you get less of a letterboxing effect.

Of course, the Nexus 9 and iPad Air 2 are better suited to apps and web browsing, so you’re best off working out your priorities.

Sony’s X-Reality tech, which sharpens up any image and boosts the colours, helps the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact to keep up with its rivals for picture quality. We’d happily watch an HD movie on any of these tablets, with crisp playback.

If you’re going to be using your spangly new tablet in a noisy environment, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact’s digital noise cancellation feature will be a serious sway. You need to use Sony’s compatible headset, but it’s worth it – the tab successfully cancels out screaming tykes and irritating chavs, leaving you immersed in your movie or music.

Bear in mind that the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is the only tablet here with expandable storage too. The microSD memory card slot allows you to stick in up to 128GB extra, while the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 will make you upgrade to more internal storage – a pricey way to carry around a decent-sized movie and music collection.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: Families

If you need a tablet that’s going to be passed around many hands, the Nexus 9 is a worthy device. Google Android Lollipop has a new feature which allows you to set up multiple users, something we’re surprised we haven’t seen earlier. You can set which apps each user has access to and password protect each account, to keep your emails, data and photos safe from prying eyes.

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact should get an upgrade to Lollipop soon, which will add this feature.

Check out our full Android 5.0 Lollipop features guide/tips n tricks for more info.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: Games and performance

Gamers will  be best served by the iPad Air 2 or the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact for now. Apple’s App Store is rammed full of awesome games, some of which you can’t find on the Google Play store (used by the other two tablets here). Meanwhile, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact has Remote Play, which allows you to stream games from your PS4 console, using your Dual Shock controller via Bluetooth.

Sadly, the Nexus 9 suffers from a lack of optimised apps as it packs the Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. This ridiculously powerful chip seemingly isn’t supported by many games, including the likes of Asphalt, so many of the usual graphical effects are missing. They still run fine, but they don’t look as good as they do on the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact.

All three tablets here can easily run the latest titles and creative apps, and the K1 really is a powerhouse that’s geared towards gaming, so here’s hoping it gets some love and some optimised games soon.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: Battery life and mobility

If you’re always roaming around, the iPad Air 2 is going to be your best bet. We managed a mighty ten hours of movie streaming on a single charge, compared with the six or so hours we wrung out of the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact and Nexus 9. Still, all three tabs should easily keep you going all day with more restrained use.

All three tablets also come in 4G LTE flavours, so you can keep active and connected on the go.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: Cameras

Do you really want to take shots on your tablet? Well, if you do, the iPad Air 2 has the best camera of any of the tablets here. Of course, you’ll still look like a massive tool wielding the tablet like a camera, but hey ho. The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is at least a little easier to aim, thanks to its slim and light build, and the Superior Auto mode does a decent job of producing sharp and brightly lit photos.

All three tablets have capable front-facing cameras too, so you can get your Skype on.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2 vs Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: Verdict

If you’re after portability or a movie machine, or you’re an avid PS4 gamer, you should probably be swayed towards the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact. Families might want to consider the Nexus 9, while appaholics and anyone constantly on the move will love the iPad Air 2’s impressive battery life and App Store.