The 8.9-inch device is Google's new flagship tablet, completely replacing the beloved Nexus 7 from last year. And it signals a shift in what Google believes that Android tablets should be.
Where the Nexus 7 democratized Android by bringing the entry level price for a capable device to just over $200, the Nexus 9 starts at $400 — firmly in iPad territory. Oh, and it's got a 4:3 aspect ratio like an iPad now, too, instead of a movie-friendly 16:10 display. And of course, it comes with Android Lollipop, which is adopting a flat UI design at the very same time as Apple.
What you get for your money is a more premium experience... but not necessarily iPad-grade.
Fair warning: I only spent fifteen minutes with the Nexus 9, and I didn't get to try marquee features like the dual-core 64-bit Nvidia Tegra K1 processor that should hopefully make games and desktop-grade apps absolutely scream. I only had time to pick up a pair of tablets, heft them in the air, flip through some Android Lollipop homescreens, check out the look and feel of the device, listen to some Taylor Swift (!) and take a couple quick pictures with the camera.
Honestly? It looks and feels pretty great. But unlike with Apple's iPad Air 2, there's nothing about this tablet's chassis that really pushes the envelope. The large, high-density 2048 x 1440 screen looks nice and sharp, but it throws off loads of glare.
The real aluminum band and buttons around the edge give it a premium feel, but the wrap-around rear cover is plastic — admittedly plastic covered with a luscious soft-touch rubber coating. And that aluminum band is awkwardly broken by an antenna cut which, at first glance, appears to be an extension of the front-facing speaker.
Unlike the latest iPad — but much like the old Nexus 7 — the new tablet feels heavier than it looks. Though it's actually one single gram lighter than the new iPad Air 2, which is crossing the threshold of being usable with one hand, the Nexus 9 is smaller and stouter. It's definitely a two-handed tablet.
None of that means the Nexus 9 isn't impressive in its own right. I particularly like the way the white version feels in my hands, which has a less-fingerprint prone matte coating than the black version (at the expense of oh-so-slightly less grip). The twin front-facing BoomSound speakers are nice and loud, if a little tinny, way better than anything an iPad can muster. It's also pretty neat that you can just double-tap on the screen to wake the device instead of fishing around the edges for a power button.
I'm pretty eager to see what the Nexus 9 can do in action, and damn curious whether it can usher in a wave of 64-bit apps and games that can take advantage of all that the new pair of Nvidia Denver CPUs and Kepler graphics might muster. But it's definitely not as premium as Apple's latest devices, so it had better be more powerful and functional.
Update: One thing that could make a big difference: the optional $130 magnetic keyboard cover that turns the Nexus 9 into a work-friendly tablet. While I wasn't allowed to take any pictures, I just got to try the keyboard for a few minutes, and it's exceptionally functional despite its tiny size and 5mm thickness. The case neatly wraps around the front and back of the tablet, affixed by multiple magnets, and folds out into a two-position laptop configuration that you can actually balance on your lap. The keys have a nice smooth action. I felt like I could actually type on it.
Find more pictures of the Nexus 9 below!
Nexus 9 vs. iPad Mini 3 (about the same thickness):