Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Does Google’s Flagship Live Up?

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Does Google’s Flagship Live Up?

By Rich W Woods

The Nexus 9 is a device that I have been waiting for for years. I have always used an iPad because of the aspect ratio. Apple has always used a 4:3 aspect ratio because it’s the same as a piece of paper. Android tablets have typically been 8:5, making them better for watching movies because of the widescreen display.

Because of the 8:5 aspect ratio, none of them natively sit in portrait mode. The Nexus 9 is the first flagship Android device to have a 4:3 aspect ratio. I was super excited about it. I wanted to wait for the LTE model, which is why I didn’t buy it on launch day, which was November 3.

 Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Specs

Nexus 9 iPad Air 2
Processor 2.3 GHz Dual Core Nvidia Tegra K1 1.5 GHz Triple Core A8X
Display 8.9″, 1536×2048, 281 ppi, LCD 9.7″, 1536×2048, 264 ppi, LCD
Body 228.2×153.7×8 mm, 436 g 240×169.5×6.1 mm, 444 g
Camera 8 MP, 3264×2448, 1.6 MP Front 8 MP, 3264×2448, 1.2 MP
Video 1080p – 30 fps, Front 720p – 30 fps 1080p – 30 fps, Front 720p – 30 fps
Aperture F/2.4* F/2.4
Storage 16/32 GB 16/64/128 GB
RAM 2 GB 2 GB
Battery 6700 mAh 7340 mAh
Price $399/$449 Wi-Fi, $599 for LTE/32 GB $499/$599/$699 Wi-Fi, $130 additional for LTE

*The aperture on the Nexus 9 rear camera is listed everywhere as f/2.4; however, all of the photos I took say f/1.29.

This may be the first time that an Apple iDevice had as much RAM as a flagship Android device. Also, it might be the first time the processor has more cores. The iPad Air 2 is the first iDevice to use more than 1 GB of RAM and more than a dual core processor.

The Nexus 9 has a smaller battery and a more powerful processor than the iPad Air 2, so the iPad Air 2 is obviously going to get better battery life, and it does.

It’s also a bit disappointing that Google decided to go with 16 and 32 GB models. Even the Nexus 6 uses 32 and 64 GB models. There isn’t even an SD card slot.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Camera

I am the last person that wants to promote using the camera on a tablet but we must admit, people do it and so it is important.

Both of these devices use 8 MP rear cameras with a 4:3 aspect ratio. There is a key difference here. Apple doesn’t allow users to change the aspect ratio of the photos. Because of that, 8 MP is a higher resolution than 4K UHD, which is 8.3 MP at 16:9. If the resolution of the photo is higher than the resolution of the display, the user won’t be able to tell the difference. If the Nexus 9 user switches the aspect ratio to 16:9, the resolution would be substantially less.

Aperture relates to depth of field. A smaller aperture brings a larger depth of field, meaning that the background of the image will be more focused. Both of these cameras have an aperture listed as f/2.4; however, if you click on any of the images taken with the Nexus 9, you’ll see that they say that the aperture is f/1.29. That could be a software error.

Also, the Nexus 9 rear camera includes a single LED flash where the iPad Air 2 does not include a flash. It’s a single LED, so it’s not a very powerful flash; however, it’s still a flash being compared to a device without a flash.

Please note that in order to enlarge the images, simply click or tap them and scroll through the carousel. To view the full size images, there is a link in the carousel. Also, I realize that some of the photos might not be perfectly focused or the angles might not be perfect. These photos are unedited. Unlike some web sites that might take 50 samples and choose the best five, I show everything I take to attempt to provide an instance of real life usage. Also, I don’t look at the photos until after I include them.

Nexus 6 iPad Air 2

There are a few things we can tell from these photos. For one thing, the iPad Air 2 focuses much better in low light. In regular light, it would seem that the Nexus 9 takes better photos. The colors are more saturated. Unfortunately, like many Android smart phone cameras, it doesn’t handle bright lights well. Just look at the photo of the Christmas tree.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Benchmarks

Normally, I don’t include benchmarks in my reviews or comparisons. The reason for this is because they so rarely provide a good idea of what real world usage is going to be like. I’m going to show them here because people have been requesting them. If you don’t understand what they mean, don’t worry. Just skip this section.

The benchmark screenshots above are from Geekbench 3. The top row is the Nexus 9 and the bottom row is iPad Air 2. While the Nexus 9 beats the iPad Air 2 by a very narrow margin, the iPad Air 2 blows away the Nexus 9 in multi-core.

The iPad Air 2 also blows away the Nexus 9 in battery. The Nexus 9 gets about 4 hours of battery life, which is horrible for a tablet. In real life usage, it’s even worse; however, this could be because I have the LTE model, which was delayed for some time.

As you can see, the iPad Air 2 blows away the Nexus 9 in GFXBench and AnTuTu as well.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Battery

You saw the battery benchmarks; however, benchmarks rarely reflect real life usage of a device. For example, the iPhone 6 shows three hours of battery life from a Geekbench test and the Nexus 6 shows four and a half hours. In real life, the iPhone gets great battery life while the Nexus 6 won’t even get you through the day with moderate usage.

iOS is a much more efficient operating system than Android is. That is why an iPhone can get by on 1 GB of RAM while flagship Android devices need 3 GB. Because of the higher power needed to run a flagship Android device, they also need larger batteries.

Unfortunately, the Nexus 6 has a less powerful battery than the iPad Air 2 does, coming in at 6700 mAh while the iPad Air 2 comes in at 7340 mAh. Because of this, the iPad Air 2 gets much better battery life than the Nexus 9 does. In a typical day, playing a game here and there, maybe reading a book, the battery on the Nexus 9 will die before the end of the day where on an iPad you can expect a solid 50% at the end of the day. It’s that big of a difference.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Reading

Possibly the most common use case for a tablet is reading eBooks. There are a number of services that one could use to read eBooks, the most popular of which is Amazon Kindle. If you read your books on Amazon’s Kindle platform, you will have the same experience on either device.

If you use Google Play services, Android will place your most recently viewed TV shows, movies, and books right on your home screen, which can be pretty nifty if you’re reading book and tend to go back to it often.

Of course, Google Play Books is available on iPad as well, although your recents will not be shown on your home screen. iBooks has a pretty nifty feature, which is reading books in scrolling mode. Rather than flipping a virtual page, you just scroll through the book. Honestly, once you read a book in scrolling mode, you won’t want to read it any other way. iBooks is not available on Android.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Movies and Music

I have been waiting for an Android tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio for a very long time because I prioritize reading. If you prioritize movies and TV shows, neither of these tablets might be for you.

Most movies and TV shows have a 16:9 aspect ratio, so the video ends up looking very small on the screen. It looks a bit better on the iPad Air 2, as the screen is a bit bigger, but neither are great.

Between the two, I would say that the Nexus 9 is better for movies, TV shows, and music because of the front facing speakers on the Nexus 9. HTC’s BoomSound is possibly the one advantage that the Nexus 9 has over the iPad Air 2.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Apps

Google and therefore Android made a large mistake in their tablet strategy. For a very long time, the general Android tablet strategy was mini tablets with an 8:5 aspect ratio. Now, not only is there not enough full size tablet optimized apps but they are also not optimized for a 4:3 aspect ratio.

It is a well known fact that the iPad app ecosystem is much richer than the Android tablet ecosystem. After all, Android tablets have historically been 7″ or 8″. After all, as of December 1, 4.7 % of Android devices are over 7″.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: OS

The Nexus 9 is the first Android device to ship with Android 5.0 Lollipop. Because of this, there are certainly some bugs that need to be ironed out. I can tell you that the Nexus 9 LTE model is slow, apps crash, and apps look distorted on the 4:3 aspect ratio.

The on-screen keyboard is much better on the iPad Air 2. The size of the iPad Air 2 is just right to where the user can feel comfortable typing quickly as if it was a physical keyboard. Of course, on both iOS and Android, the user can download a new keyboard if he wishes.

If you are using an iPhone, you’re going to want a tablet that runs iOS. You will be able to send and receive text messages from it, make and receive calls, and have complete continuity between devices. You also get Siri and you get free movie and music editing software in iMovie and Garage Band, respectively. You also get TouchID, a fingerprint reader that is more secure than any Android fingerprint reader out there.

Just as iOS has a bunch of features that Android doesn’t, Android has a bunch of features that iOS doesn’t. The big one is widgets. iOS allows users to have widgets in the notification center but with Android, users can have widgets right on the home screen.

You also get Google Now with Android. If you don’t know, Google Now is a service that Google put together with links, weather, and a whole bunch of useful stuff that they figured out to show you by reading your email, watching your Internet traffic, and watching over and other Google service you might use.

Nexus 9 vs iPad Air 2: Overall Experience

The Nexus 9 is the second worst tablet I’ve ever owned, behind the Dell Venue 8 Pro. It is slow, apps crash, and many apps look distorted on the 4:3 aspect ratio. That being said, I have no doubt that it will get better. I’m sure that the LTE Nexus 9 was delayed or a reason and I can’t speak to the Wi-Fi only Nexus 9.

The iPad Air 2 is a tablet that has been refined over six generations. It’s super thin, super light, super fast, and the battery performance is super great.

Here’s the bottom line. You can’t go wrong with the iPad Air 2. If you are hellbent on getting an LTE Nexus 9, wait a couple months. Let Google iron out the bugs.

About the author
Rich Woods

Being a computer programmer wasn't enough to fulfill his love of technology. In 2013, Rich founded For the Love of Tech and has been writing about his love of tech ever since.

  • Hmm you must have a buggy N9, mine works flawlessly. Also you mentioned bugs on android 5 but did not mentioned the ones on IOS 8.hmm must be an ipad user. Not saying nexus is better than ipad, but not praising the air either as you trying to painted.

    • rwoods716

      Well, I did point out a few times that it may have been because I have the LTE model. They did hold it back for a month and a half and I highly doubt it’s because they didn’t have the parts. I’m sure they will continue to work the kinks out. As for the bugs in iOS 8, there aren’t any particularly noticeable ones, like how with the Nexus 9 and Lollipop, it is noticeable slow, apps constantly crash, and battery life is short. There is nothing to that effect on iOS 8. Apple makes a good tablet and there isn’t an Android tablet to compare yet. The Nexus 9 is proof of that.

  • Luis

    Not sure why you have such a bad experience with the Nexus 9. I own one (the WiFi version) and it is amazing. Battery lasts so much longer than 4 hours, and Android Lollipop is a beauty, I absolutely love my Nexus 9.

    • rwoods716

      Yes, like I mentioned a couple times, I’m pretty sure that I had a bad experience because I have the LTE model.