Review: Google's Nexus 9 is an awesome tablet, with some caveats

I used Google's Nexus 9 tablet as my primary device and found that it was one of the best in its size range. But there are a few other things you should know about it.

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Google's Nexus 9 is a nearly perfect device that, with the addition of the (optional) keyboard case, straddles the line between "little tablet" and "laptop replacement."

When I say nearly perfect, put a heavy emphasis on the "nearly" part.

I've spent about two weeks with this little Android-powered rig and, for the last few days at least, I've been attempting to use it as my primary machine. As both my tablet and my laptop. The results were… mixed. But overall quite good.

The size of the tablet is great, though it is a bit too big to fit in (even rather baggy) pockets. But when you buy a 9-inch tablet, you know you're not going to be able to slip it into your pants pocket anyway. So this isn't really a problem.

The screen (with an awesome 2048x1536 resolution) is gorgeous. And its size makes working for extended periods quite enjoyable. The pixel density (281 ppi) isn't quite as high as, say, the Nvidia Shield Tablet (294 ppi), but it's very close.

Now seems like a good time to point out that both of these Android-powered devices sport much higher pixel density screens than Apple's latest and greatest iPad, the iPad Air 2. The only real reason to point this out is to remind my Apple-loving friends how much more amazing Android hardware is than iOS hardware, something that I simply cannot resist doing.

The rest of the guts of this beast of a tablet are similarly impressive: a crazy-fast 64-bit, dual-core ARM processor, 2 gigs of RAM, and the option of 16GB ($399) or 32GB ($479) of storage, respectively. To say this tablet is fast would absolutely be accurate.

I also tested out the magnetic Bluetooth keyboard case, which Google sells for $130. The case, for the most part, works well. The texture of the case feels a bit weird. I don't want to say that it feels "greasy," because that's not it. But I can't quite figure out a word that accurately describes this material. I don't hate it. But I don't love it.

The size and feel of the keys on the keyboard are… not terrible. For the first 15 minutes of usage, I loved it. Then, for the hour or two that followed that, I hated it. The keys felt cramped –  which is reasonable considering the size – and they felt a bit too squishy. But after many days of typing large blocks of text on this keyboard, I don't totally hate it at all. In fact, I find it quite handy to have with me (it's better than typing with an on-screen keyboard). But I still prefer a full-sized keyboard.

Back to the tablet itself. There are two problems.

The first is the lack of any sort of removable storage, so if you get the 16gb model… you're stuck with 16gb. For the rest of your natural life. The Nexus 9 isn't the only device that makes this mistake (Apple, for example, has never made an iOS device with the ability to use, say, an SD Card) but this issue is still noteworthy because other Android tablets provide more flexibility.

The second issue is the feel of the power and volume buttons. They function completely fine, but they're very low-profile and are, especially with the volume buttons, a little hard to press from most angles.

The speakers are completely adequate compared to most Android tablets, and the camera, while nothing to write home about, is actually not too shabby: 8 megapixels on the rear camera, with a lower-resolution camera on the front for video chat. The image quality isn't bad – similar to what you'd get on, say, an iPhone – but nothing truly earth-shattering.

I've mentioned a number of negatives for the Nexus 9, but you know what? I'd still recommend it. I'm not sure that I'd plop down $130 for the keyboard case, but the tablet itself is an excellent machine. And the battery life is fantastic – I use this machine all day without needing to recharge.

Would I recommend others to pay $479 for the 32GB model? Yes. With some caveats.

If you need a tablet that fits in your pocket, this isn't for you.

If, however, you need a tablet that can adequately pull double duty as a netbook-sized laptop, the Nexus 9 is absolutely worth considering. While there is room for improvement, I can confidently say that this is the best tablet out there (powered by any operating system) in its size range.

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