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Google Nexus 9 (by HTC) hands-on review

We’ve had a fiddle with the Google Nexus 9, a serious iPad Air rival rocking the latest Android (Lollipop), a powerful Nvidia processor and 2K screen. Here’s our full hands-on Nexus 9 review.

The Nexus 9 is an exciting tablet for many reasons, one of the biggest being that this is the first HTC-designed tab since 2011’s HTC Flyer. That dinky tablet might have crashed and burned, but we’ve got high hopes for the Google Nexus 9, especially now that we’ve got our mitts on it.

With its premium specs and slick design, the Nexus 9 looks to be the best Android competitor to Apple’s iPad since Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S. Here’s what we think so far.

Google Nexus 9 tablet design

Unlike last year’s Nexus 7 tablet, which had a stretched appearance thanks to the sticky-out bezels either side of the widescreen display, the Nexus 9 sports an iPad-style design with a 3:4 aspect ratio. This kind of build is much better suited to larger tablets, and we’re well used to it thanks to Apple’s iconic devices.

At 436g, the Nexus 9 is an almost identical weight to the iPad Air 2, which means it’ll be comfortable to clutch and play with over long durations. We found that we could just about stretch one hand around the back of the tablet too, leaving our second hand free to swipe and poke.

The glossy front gives way to a slender brushed aluminium edging, which then morphs into a soft-touch plastic back which feels nice enough in the palm. It’s not a rubbery softness like the Nexus 7, but we’re glad it’s not a glossy, hard plastic either, which would make the Nexus 9 feel cheap.

Google Nexus 9 tablet screen

Although it’s called the Nexus 9, HTC has actually slapped an 8.9-inch screen on it, which of course makes all the difference. That places it bang in the middle between the iPad Mini and iPad Air, and so far we love the screen size. It’s more than big enough for enjoying movies, while the 2048 x 1536 resolution (288 pixels-per-inch, which beats the iPad Air 2) makes HD video look nicely crisp.

Colours are naturally balanced, so don’t expect Samsung-style vibrancy nightmares. Best of all, the brightness levels max out to a level that easily deals with glare, even when outside.

Google Nexus 9 tablet features

Android 5.0 Lollipop is the OS of choice, with no tampering from HTC – this is a Google-branded tablet after all. We can’t talk about the interface itself as it wasn’t final build, but so far it’s unmistakeably Android and it runs as well as you’d expect.

We’re thrilled to see Nvidia’s awesome Tegra K1 processor, a 64-bit chip dedicated towards gaming and intensive creative apps, packed away inside the Nexus 9. So far we’ve only seen this chip stashed in Nvidia’s own Shield Tablet, where it capably runs the likes of Half Life 2 and the latest Android games and can even deal with streaming titles direct from your PC. So, we’re expecting the Nexus 9 to perform better than Ron Jeremy on a whole box of Viagra.

As for the cameras, you get an 8-megapixel snapper at the back and a 1.6-megapixel selfie snapper. Both cameras use the same simple, streamlined interface: just point and tap the on-screen shutter button and a shot takes almost instantly. You can also swipe left to bring up your photo gallery or right to reveal a few extra modes, including the obligatory panorama and a soft-focus lens blur mode.

Of course, only numpties take photos with tablets, so you’re more interested in hearing about that front-facing lens instead, right? Well, it’s perfectly suite to Skype chats or recording your gorgeous mug for that awesome YouTube channel you’ve started, the one where you vlog about how Renee Zellweger’s arse got really fat.

Google Nexus 9 tablet keyboard cover

The Nexus 9 is obviously well suited to staying productive on the go, with its sharp, spacious screen and ridiculous power. So it makes sense that HTC came up with this snap-on keyboard cover to complement it.

That cover attaches to your Nexus 9 using magnets, just like Apple’s official iPad covers, and the keys are hidden away inside when the cover is closed up. When you want to use the keyboard, you just detach the tablet, activate NFC and pair the two by pressing the top edge of the tablet to the top of the keyboard. Once paired, a process which takes all of three seconds, the two then communicate seamlessly via Bluetooth.

You can roll up the front of the cover to form a stand, which the tablet is then propped up against, forming a laptop-style setup. The tablet is also held in place by the magnets, so it’s a pretty sturdy solution.

The board itself is quite comfortable to use for a portable effort, or at least it seemed so in our five-minute hands-on typing session. The keys physically sink into the cover as you type, unlike Microsoft’s Surface board, so you get real-time feedback and it’s obvious if you miss a key. However, it did seem strange not having more Android shortcut keys on the board; what we took for the home button didn’t actually seem to work, while there are no obvious back or menu buttons, or a way to call up Google Now.

Google Nexus 9 tablet UK release date and price

The Google Nexus 9 is available from UK retailers and the Google Play store from November 3rd. It’s priced at £319 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, £399 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model and £459 for the 32GB Wi-Fi and LTE model.

That’s not a massive amount cheaper than Apple’s iPad Air, and of course there’s no expandable storage, one of our biggest bugbears with Apple’s tablets. Still, if you want a big-screen Android alternative to the iPad, the Nexus 9 looks like a winner. Our full review is coming soon.