Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Introduction and design

Update: Apple has offered up iOS 8.3 for the iPad Air 2, bringing with it performance improvements, new emojis and faster performance of things like the Control Center and Wi-Fi signal connection. We’re currently putting the new software through our battery of tests, and will update the review imminently with the results!

It was hard to see how Apple could improve on the first iPad Air – arguably the finest tablet ever produced.

And then it went and did so with the iPad Air 2. You can talk all you like about what counts as "too thin" but there’s no denying that this new tablet is a feat of engineering that again pushes the limits of what makes a premium slate. Plus, unlike the iPhone 6 Plus it doesn’t bend either!

Not only that, but the relentless desire to make the thing thinner has resulted in a better screen too, as the layers that make up the backlight, touchscreen digitizer and LCD screen are so close that Apple now claims there is zero air in between them.

The result? A less reflective display that looks brighter and more colorful. And it really is.

There’s the question of where the iPad Air 2 sits in the market, as it’s US$499 (£399, AU$619) for the basic version, and you can pay up to US$829 (£659, AU$1,019) for the fully specced, Wi-Fi + 4G model.

iPad Air 2 review

But while that cost is high, it’s no more than is being charged by Samsung or Sony for their comparable tablets.

Of course on contract it’s ridiculously expensive, but then again I think most people will still want to buy the iPad Air 2 as a sofa-dwelling device, so the 4G option isn’t going to be the real reason you buy this tablet.

I’ll get onto the design in a moment – but it’s worth noting that the design alone is a good reason to pick up the new iPad Air 2. It’s super light, amazingly slim and will delight over and over again for the first fortnight of ownership, before you slip back to the standard tech nonchalance that creeps over us all eventually.

Did the iPad Air need to get thinner and more powerful? Not really – I’m already struggling to find must-have reasons for the improved A8X chip beyond a much faster interface and the promise of better apps and games to come – but once you actually handle the new iPad Air 2, you’ll be sold.

Design

At 6.1mm thick, the Apple iPad Air 2 is easily one of the slimmest tablets on the market. It’s not actually the thinnest, but we’re at the point now where fractions of a millimetre really don’t matter.

Thinness for its own sake can be an error – there is a point of diminishing returns where only marginal improvements can be achieved, at the cost of structural integrity, battery life and overall performance – but Apple hasn’t reached that point yet.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air 2 feels like a very solid tablet that can be held easily for hours without it getting uncomfortable. The iPad Air was hardly a big tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S matches the iPad Air 2 in weight, if not thickness.

Where the Apple device wins though is the overall packaging. Samsung’s option is good, but clearly an assemblage of distinct parts. The plastic back, the larger-bezelled screen and the rim are all competing parts, where the iPad Air 2 is a complete package, smooth and easy to hold in one hand.

I was almost loath to put it in a case – it needs to be protected if you’re going to be running it around town, as that back and chamfered edges will scuff up eventually – but if you’re going to be a sofa-warrior with your new tablet, the Smart Cover will do just fine and won’t obscure the impressive design.

iPad Air 2 review

The sad thing here is the loss of the silencing switch, which has departed due to size restrictions. Apple would argue that this is because the new Control Center makes the option available throughout the OS with just a flick of the hand, but in truth I’m really going to miss being able to silence the tablet without even looking.

iPad Air 2 review

The power button remains at the top and the volume keys have shuffled a little upwards now free of the silence key, but otherwise the only real design changes are the speaker grill at the bottom of the tablet (now a single row of holes, rather than the two before) and the Touch ID on the home key.

You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Air without a spotter’s guide, but the iPad Air 2 has a deeper black bezel which helps enhance the picture – plus it now comes in gold to join space gray and silver.

iPad Air 2 review

The camera stays where it has been, both front and back, with the new 8MP iSight snapper not jutting out as it does on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The fact no tablet camera needs to be that high res, nor should people be taking pics with a tablet anyway, is something to discuss in another article.

Does the iPad Air 2’s design warrant the high price tag? Yes, more than any other tablet on the market. It brings a premium build, quality finish, great looks and while it doesn’t need to be this thin, the structure doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the actual performance of the tablet, and does add something in the palm.

Key features

Before the launch of the Apple iPad Air 2, I’d have been hard pressed to predict Apple’s improvements.

I wondered if Apple might have shaved some weight off, added some bits to the camera, shoved an upgraded processor in there (or at least matched that of the iPhone 6) – but that seemed like a very middling upgrade.

But somehow, the combination of the above, plus the improved screen and Touch ID, has created a very complete package. Not one that I’d ever recommend to those that have the iPad Air, but definitely a brilliant jump for anyone coming from the iPad 3 or earlier.

Pencil lasers

Apple showed off its improvements to an already-impressive tablet by lasering through the pencil it used to demonstrate the thickness of the iPad Air. While the width is obviously a design element, it’s worth reiterating here as it’s a really key feature of this tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

The 437g weight is more important than the thickness, in fairness. The width of the thing is largely unnoticeable in the hand, especially when we’re talking millimetres, and is more of a marketing tool.

But the lower weight, combined with the smooth, ceramic-style back, makes the new Apple iPad Air 2 feel like a really premium product.

On top of that, it’s closer than ever to perfect when it comes to being a laptop replacement when teamed with a Bluetooth keyboard. The reduced weight and thickness enhance the tablet’s elegance and portability, and that pushes the iPad Air 2 further into consideration.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

On the iPhone, Touch ID is a brilliant addition. It’s a way to add a passcode without really noticing it’s happened, and (when widely implemented) will allow you to pay for things on the go without your credit card around.

This makes a lot of sense to me, and is a really great addition to the mobile ecosystem.

iPad Air 2 review

I’m not as bothered about it on the iPad Air 2, mostly because I don’t feel the need to secure my tablet as much as my phone. I take it out of the house less, I pull it out of the bag less, and generally don’t worry about security on it as much.

It’s still a great feature – I was confused when Apple didn’t include it on the original iPad Air – but given the fact that the iPad is an unwieldy substitute for a credit card, it’s not vital here.

It’s a nice-to-have feature, rather than a crucial one. Apple is making a big deal about the fact you can secure apps with it as well, but this is only useful if you want to secure certain apps (which, admittedly, some people will want to do – it’s more convenient to only have the key things locked down).

It would be nice to have the Mail app use Touch ID, and then I could get rid of it on the lock screen. I’m already considering turning it off, as it’s more cumbersome to press given the dimensions here, and the fact the tablet mostly stays at home.

A8X chip

The A8X chip is screamingly fast, according to Apple, and nothing I’ve been able to do on the new iPad has suggested otherwise.

It’s hard to know how to really push a tablet with this kind of power, as the likes of Real Racing or Sky Gamblers have always looked rather good on the larger screen.

iPad Air 2 review

And even though this is second (and a bit) generation 64-bit architecture from Apple, which does have some efficiency upgrades, we’re still light years away from that being a useful addition, when really all it does right now is make apps a bit bigger and take up more room internally.

The big change here appears to be to the battery life – it’s no coincidence that the graphical capabilities of the Air 2 are 2.5x that of the Air, and that means stuff can be run more efficiently.

There’s also the ability to use the touchscreen more effectively – the response time of the touch is much increased here, and browsing with the iPad Air 2 is a pleasurable experience.

That’s not directly linked to the chipset at the heart, but it does help.

All new screen

The new screen technology on the iPad Air 2 is one of my favorite changes here. The improvement in thinness is negligible, the camera superfluous, but the screen of a tablet is something that always needs refining. I love it when brands show ambition, whether they do it by increasing the resolution, the contrast ratio or the brightness.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air screen was pretty neat in itself, with resolution of 1,536 x 2,048. The Air 2 has kept that sharpness, but because the internal layers of the screen are laminated together, there is less air between the components (in fact, Apple says there’s no air whatsoever) which leads to deeper blacks and more vibrant colors. Pictures really come alive when viewed on the iPad Air 2, markedly so compared to its predecessor.

The other benefit of that compressed screen is that it reduces reflectivity – combine that with the anti-reflection coating, and watching films with a light behind you isn’t impossible.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Laboratory testing at DisplayMate Technologies compared the iPad Air 2 with its predecessor, as well as the iPad Mini 3 to explore the difference. As you can see from the graph above, the average screen reflection on the iPad Air 2 is down to 2.5 per cent compared to the 6.5 per cent recorded by the iPad Air.

Similarly, the iPad Air 2 more than doubled the score of its predecessor when it comes to contrast rating for high ambient light.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Apple would like you to believe that you can watch anything without difficulty, but that’s not the case. However, the reflections are much diminished, and it’s a satisfying step forward on the screen front.

New camera

I’ll return to this in more depth later in the review, but it is one of the key features. Apple has bundled an 8MP iSight camera on the rear of the new iPad Air, and thanks to the A8X chip, the tablet can now also take slow motion video, like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

The new resolution does produce nicer pictures, and the ability to time lapse or see bigger panoramas is a plus, but I’m still not bothered by the additional technology stuck on the back of the tablet.

However, if you’re one of those people that finds it acceptable to use a tablet as a camera in public, this is the best and most feature-rich option from Apple. Doesn’t mean you should use it, though.

Interface and performance

The interface on the iPad Air 2 is something that will be familiar to anyone who’s used an Apple product in the past. It’s the first device (along with the iPad mini 3) to run iOS 8.1 right out of the box, and as such you’d expect it to be stable and easy to use.

Early testing showed crashes were kept to a minimum, something that sadly couldn’t be said for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which don’t play nicely with Google Chrome or the inbuilt Mail app.

Since launch Apple has applied some minor updates its iOS platform to improve stability (and engage Apple Pay) and the iPad Air 2 now sports the leaner, meaner iOS 8.3, which both improves the slate’s performance and adds a bunch of new emojis.

The larger 9.7-inch screen of the iPad Air 2 is great for navigating around the grid of icons, but not so much if you’re looking to use this device one-handed.

iPad Air 2 review

Although if you are, you’ve probably not understood basic ergonomics. And possibly physics, as this is a two handed device and as such the lower weight makes it easy to tap and swipe around.

I won’t run through the impressive tweaks that run through iOS 8, as they’re ably covered in my colleague Matt Swider’s iOS 8 review, but suffice to say that everything is much slicker on the iPad. Got an iMessage? The notification from the top of the screen lets you answer it without having to exit the app.

Want to switch the Air 2 on silent? (This one is important as the hardware switch allowing you to do just that has disappeared) Then it’s a quick trip into the Control Center, found at the bottom of any screen on the tablet – although it can be something of a nightmare trying to pull it up when swiping skywards from the home button.

But anyway – you can look at the rest of that yourselves in the dedicated review – and iOS 8 works superbly on the iPad Air 2. What I want to talk about is the improved touchscreen responsiveness: it’s brilliant.

Clearly a response to Google’s constant refinement to its Android software (which began with Project Butter in Jelly Bean and really made a difference to touching the front glass of Android devices) the iPad Air 2 features a much more responsive touch panel which makes it much simpler to register swipes through.

It’s one of those things that you don’t really notice until it comes, as I never really thought the Air lagged previously. But the slick Samsung Galaxy Tab S showed that it could be so much better on a tablet, and Apple has stepped up here with the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 review

And talking of stepping up – it’s done something magical to that A8X chipset at the heart of the tablet. It’s nearly 40% faster than the competition, including the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and all the other top smartphones. In the GeekBench 3 tests, the iPad Air 2 averaged 4,500, compared to around 2,800 for any big handset you can think of.

Apple promised big upgrades, but this is so huge that I have to wonder if there’s some kind of optimization here – although the faster speed under the finger and smooth graphics (Zen Garden, for instance, runs much more smoothly on the Air 2 than the iPhone 6 Plus) show the improvements are evident in normal use too.

Battery

Apple decided to go for design over battery life with the iPad Air 2, and while this is a bugbear of mine when it comes smartphones I don’t mind it here, it’s less of a hindrance in a tablet.

The battery life of 10 hours of web browsing or watching video has been ported over to the new iPad Air from the original, but given that had a thicker chassis it’s really impressive that the power has been preserved, which is largely down to that improved A8X chip chugging along at the heart of things.

iPad Air 2 review

The screen is still as hungry as ever before, as the battery test was pretty power-sucking compared to its rivals. The iPad mini 2 only took down 16% in the looped video test last year (a Full HD 90 minute video from 100% at full brightness), where the iPad Air 2 went down by 21%.

It’s not a terrible result though – while you’ll lose about 20% watching streamed video at full brightness over 80 minutes’ use, the general power consumption when out and about is bordering on negligible.

I’ve left the tablet in a bag for a quite a few hours and come back to only find 2% gone, so Apple’s really worked on making sure apps don’t chew down power without you looking.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s a slightly different scenario when it comes to gaming, as the longer sessions really take it out of the power pack, especially with the higher-power titles.

It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the iPad Air 2 on a long haul flight if I was thinking of playing Real Racing 3 for three hours. Mostly because I would have played too much of one game, but also because my battery would be in danger of running out.

iPad Air 2 review

While I’ve yet to find out the official numbers of how big the battery is in the iPad Air 2, for most people the battery on the new tablet, even if browsing the web or using the tablet as a laptop replacement, is pretty good indeed.

I don’t think battery life is that much of a worry for most tablet users given than you’ll have to be pretty forgetful to not plug it into power once in a while before it runs completely dry.

Camera

iPad Air 2 review

I wish I could somehow type the long sigh I emit whenever I begin to talk about the camera on any tablet – and Apple’s only gone and made the camera better here, which makes things worse for people like me trying to hold off the barbarians.

Like the selfie phenomenon, the idea of bringing a tablet as main camera to important events suddenly seems to be acceptable. I’ve seen people taking pictures of a bride walking down the aisle with an iPad mini, and missed a big goal at a football match because someone thought it the right time to try and take a picture of themselves on a tablet.

The problem is, companies like Apple are extolling the virtues of using the large screen as a more ample viewfinder.

No. Use a phone screen if you must, or even get a proper camera. But don’t use a tablet. While you’ll get acceptable shots with the iPad Air 2, and the resolution gives a clearer picture, it’s still not a great experience – and you break a basic law of civilization in the process.

But if you must use the camera, at least Apple has imbued the iPad Air 2 with some of the higher-power tricks. Slow motion video is included this time around (although only to 120 frames per second (fps), not the super smooth 240 fps that comes with both the new iPhones).

iPad Air 2 review

There’s time lapse mode, burst mode (front and back cameras) and a larger panorama mode making it easy to take wider pictures of over 40MP using the tablet screen.

I don’t mind the idea of using this for time lapse, as the larger screen and longer battery are actually pretty handy for setting up a shot – but why you’d have a tablet at a beautiful landscape which might require a panorama is beyond me. Group shots, maybe.

The other win here is the built in editing suite in the Photos app – it’s good on the iPhone, but with the larger screen it’s great for touching up photos.

The new iCloud shared photo stream is also a really handy way of sharing photos between an iPhone and an iPad – simply have both devices logged into the same iCloud account, favorite something on one and it will instantly appear on the other.

The overall camera prowess of the iPad Air 2 isn’t that bad, but it’s nothing special. In side by side comparisons with the iPad Air, the photos have very little difference bar sharpness, and the low light capabilities are nothing to write home about, and certainly not in the iPhone 6’s league.

iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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Media

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for consuming media on – although there is an interesting talking point here.

I think it’s great that Apple is now offering a 128GB option for all its iOS devices now – but why are the increments 16GB, 64GB and 128GB?

I like that Apple has doubled the middle storage option, bringing the 64GB model in at the same price as last year’s 32GB – so why does the 16GB still exist? Make that 32GB, Apple, and solve this problem.

I make this point as it’s a real issue: if you’re downloading all the free apps from Apple, like Pages and iMovie, you’ll have eaten up a good portion of the inbuilt space already. And thanks to the move to a 64-bit architecture from Apple last year, the iPad Air 2 games and apps take up even more space for not that much extra in terms of performance.

iPad Air 2 review

So if you’re going for the 16GB option, you’ll need to watch how many movies you store, how high the quality of your Spotify music library is, and make sure you don’t save too many home movies on there either.

Of course, there’s every chance you won’t do a lot of this with your new iPad – apart from music and the odd movie, most people won’t be taking photos (fingers crossed) meaning you’ll be able to pick and choose your apps.

But if you’re not using the iPad Air 2 for movies or TV shows, then you’re really missing out. It’s a great device for a marathon movie session thanks to being light with a less reflective screen and improved color and contrast ratios.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s actually even visible in daylight (just) and while it’s not in the same league as the Sony Xperia Z3 when it comes to visibility, the iPad Air 2 is one of the best tablet screens on the market – bested possibly only by the Galaxy Tab S, which has brilliant color reproduction and black levels.

iPad Air 2 review

The single speaker is impressively powerful too – I wouldn’t have thought with the thickness shaved, the mono speaker would be any good, but it’s rich, strong and really pumps out the bass on the new iPad.

It’s really good for showing off movies or video clips to friends, although if it were front facing then it would be a much better experience.

And through the headphones, the experience follows Apple’s established prowess in music, with rich and punchy sound coming through even lower end cans.

Gaming on the iPad Air 2 is something to behold. Its rich, immersive screen is perfect for either the point-and-prod gaming on the go (it’s no surprise to see popular TV game show app companions as high sellers on the App Store) or a speedier car game.

iPad Air 2 review

Both of these are easy to play, the choice is fairly vast and while the selection isn’t particularly strong (there surely have to be more game titles coming soon that take advantage of the sheer number of sensors, GPU performance and Metal, which allows a stronger and slicker game play performance on the iPad) it will only get better – plus there are plenty of kids’ games to pass off to your children if you’re brave enough with your new tablet.

The essentials

Sure it’s a fancy tablet when you’re using all those clever apps, but how does the iPad Air 2 handle the basics?

Handoff

The best thing about the iPad Air 2 is that it not only does the basics really well, it now allows more functionality thanks to the Handoff features from iOS 8.

Admittedly, this is a limited feature that’s only enabled for those who have an iPhone running the latest software, but many will. If both are linked into the same iCloud account, even if your phone isn’t in arm’s reach you can still make and receive calls on the tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

You can either use the inbuilt speaker and microphone, or pair it with a headset. Whichever you choose, it’s a nice way to de-clutter the desk if you’re one to keep things neat. The other party is able to hear you fine over the speakerphone, so in essence Handoff turns your tablet into a smartphone when you need it.

You can even make calls from your contacts list too – it’s not the best as Apple’s contacts app is still, well, poor thanks to confusing social integration and a very uninspiring design (this is an area where Android phones really excel) but it works.

The only thing that stops the iPad Air 2 from being a brilliant smartphone replacement is the fact it can’t send or receive text messages. It can do iMessage happily, and a Mac running Yosemite can handle those missives, but annoyingly, the iPad won’t get any SMS.

That aside I was really, really impressed by the functionality. It’s not new and it’s not vital, but it works without needing any input from the user. That’s the best way things should be.

Messaging

The messaging side of things on the iPad Air 2 is pretty good outside of the text message problem, but then again it always has on the iPad. The large and expansive keyboard allows you to rattle out messages rather quickly in landscape view when placed on the knees, and as such can be more of a laptop replacement than you’d expect.

This is doubly true given last year’s move from Apple to bring its office software into the mix for free. Now you can edit documents and spreadsheets from the iPad without needing to pay extra.

iPad Air 2 review

And the Mail app, which does share the same boring view as the contacts app, is still a powerful tool and improved again with iOS 8. You can see important emails on the lockscreen and then choose to archive or mark as read without needing to unlock the phone.

The same thing happens with the notification window at the top of the phone when you’re in another app. This kind of integration is really useful, and more than that, it brings a feeling of satisfying unity to using the iPad.

Internet browser

The other thing to note is the internet browsing on the new iPad Air. Thanks to that A8X chip, combined with faster Wi-Fi and improved 4G bands, using the internet wherever you are is really slick, with instant tapping and loading in some cases.

iPad Air 2 review

Apple would prefer you to use Safari for everything, and it’s probably the slightly speedier browser here, but Chrome is equally impressive and useful if you’ve linked everything together on other machines.

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for the things you need to do with a tablet on a day to day basis – and that’s before we even get into the fact it’s got, by far, the best app ecosystem.

The competition

The good news for you tablet fans out there is that even if you’re not a fan of the iPad Air 2, or want to make sure you’re getting the best value for money, there are plenty of other decent options.

In fact, the last 12 months have seen arguably the greatest jump in quality from the competition yet – so take a look at these pretenders to the iThrone:

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Galaxy Tab S

Samsung’s been making reasonable tablets for a while now. It’s been a curious situation actually: while the tablets were always powerful, they were simultaneously cheap-feeling and expensive.

The Tab S is still pricey, but no more than the iPad Air 2, and in some cases actually a little cheaper. However, it’s got the same low weight, a comparable thickness (although a tiny bit deeper) and trumps the Apple tablet when it comes to screen quality, with that Super AMOLED screen sharper, brighter and bigger.

However, while it’s put together in a rigid and premium way, it lacks the cohesive design language Apple has created in the Air 2. However, the Tab S is one of the best Android tablets on the market right now, and a worthy competitor to the iPad Air 2.

Nexus 9

Nexus 9

The new Nexus slate is a really great device and warrants a mention here, as it too goes for a 4:3 screen aspect ratio meaning a more expansive display, although not as good for watching movies on.

The rubberized back might not please everyone, but it’s every comfortable to hold and light too – plus the metal rim adds to the character of the design.

On top of that it’s cheaper than the iPad Air 2, has a comparable UI with the new Android Lollipop 5.0 OS and is generally the tablet of choice if you want naked Android.

It doesn’t quite have the impressive feature set of the Air 2, but it is one of very few that can come close to Apple’s prowess when it comes to benchmarking. It’s a cut above much of the current smartphone range, and as such is a good consideration for day to day browsing and the like.

  • All you need to know about the Nexus 9

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Xperia Z4 Tablet

If there’s any tablet that makes as strong a first impression as the iPad Air 2 it’s the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet. At 6.1mm thick it’s just as thin and at 392g it’s even lighter.

The polycarbonate build of the slate isn’t quite as impressive as the iPad Air 2’s aluminium unibody, but the Xperia Z4 Tablet is perhaps more durable with water and dust resistance added into the mix.

There’s a whole lot of power here too and a gorgeous 10.1-inch 2560 x 1600 display, which beats the iPad Air 2 for pixel density. Yet despite all this tech it’s still got a heft battery life.

It’s got a premium price tag and Sony’s UI isn’t the best we’ve come across, but the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is still easily one of the best iPad alternatives around.

iPad Air

IPad air

Of course there’s always the option from the previous year to check out – and the Air is staying around at the lower price point.

What you get for your smaller spend is a less vibrant screen, a heavier device and a slower chipset at the heart, without the benefit of Touch ID.

It’s quite a lot to lose as Apple has touched up and tinkered with nearly every element to make the Air 2 a real step forward, but for the cash you’re still getting a brilliant tablet that’s now playing at a more palatable budget level.

It’s got all the same iOS 8.1 upgrades too, so while you don’t get slow motion video, a lot of other treats will appear. A slightly older but my no means unworthy tablet.

Hands on gallery

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

Verdict

Some summaries are easy to write. 2013’s iPad Air, for example: a stunning tablet, with an obvious case for winning the first 5 star review I’d given to such a device. It was a sign that the market had evolved to the point of delivering a truly useful tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

But I remember wondering how that could be topped, whether Apple would just give it a tiny push and call it all-new (like it’s done with the iPad mini 3, lest we forget).

The challenge is even greater this year, as not only does Apple have to top its own lofty goal, but also beat off the much-improved competition from Samsung, Google/HTC and Sony. So how has the iPad Air 2 fared?

We liked

When I saw this getting unveiled onstage, I was nonplussed. Better screen? A bit thinner? I needed to be convinced. Then I held it, and I really was.

It’s not just lighter, it’s perceptibly lighter. I’ll regret writing this in a year’s time, but I think there’s no way tablets can get any thinner, without some genius move in engineering. It feels like there should be a danger that this tablet is too fragile, although it hasn’t seemed to be in testing.

I really like the improved screen, and there will probably be a few smug faces over in South Korea looking at the fact colors seem more vibrant on the new iPad Air 2, rather than focusing on natural hues.

The battery life is impressive, the power under the hood unprecedented and generally, everything on this tablet really just works.

And in comparison to the competition, it’s not even that expensive, although spending up to US$829, (£659, AU$1019) on the Wi-Fi and 4G 128GB version is a little on the pricey side, especially when Macbooks aren’t a lot more and general laptops can be had for less.

We disliked

The 16GB option is still too small for Retina HD apps, as they’ll munch through your capacity in no time at all.

Add to that the increased space a 64-bit app will take and if you’re thinking of nabbing a load of high-power apps (which you should want to, given the new grunt from the A8X chip) then you’re going to quickly run into problems with storage.

And as we know, there’s no room for expansion on Apple tablets. Given the brand has been "generous" enough to double the 32GB option to 64GB for no extra money, it seems odd it wouldn’t do the same for the entry-level model.

The rest of the dislikes are beyond nitpicking: the slow motion video is capped at 120fps (although that is irritating as 240fps on the iPhone 6, a less powerful device, is actually awesome) and you can’t get text messages, only iMessages, on the tablet.

If that’s all I can find wrong with the Air 2, that has to bode well.

Verdict

Apple has improved on perfection with the iPad Air 2, making something that anyone using a tablet from 2012 or earlier should be thinking very strongly about upgrading to.

The combination of power, better screen, improved design and upgraded OS make this a very, very compelling device – and that’s before getting into the fact the app ecosystem is so much stronger than on Android.

It’s even better now iOS 8 is capable of scaling apps so seamlessly – the days of low-res iPhone apps are gone. It’s another hammer blow to the Google tablet market, although I’m fully confident that’s going to catch up in quality soon.

It’s no good just saying that a tablet has good design, power or specifications. The ultimate success or failure of any device depends on how it’s packaged and whether it comes in at the right price. Apple has drawn on all its strengths to make a tablet that seems to have no flaws, and it will be the best tablet in the market throughout the next year.

The only problem the brand will have is how to make it better in 12 months time. I’m glad that’s not a problem I have to solve.

If you’re thinking about which tablet to buy, don’t. Just pick up the iPad Air 2 and you won’t want to make another choice.

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Hands-on review: Lenovo ThinkPad 10 (2015)

Hands-on review: Lenovo ThinkPad 10 (2015)

Despite being in the tablet space for a relatively short time, Lenovo carved a name for itself by producing the excellent ThinkPad 8 and ThinkPad 10. Now, a year later, the Chinese computer company is back at the Windows slate game with next generation ThinkPad 10.

Rather than being a whole new device, this 10-inch tablet comes as more of a refresh than a completely new product. The 2015 edition sports the same slim design as the last year’s Lenovo ThinkPad 10, but the internals have been updated with quad-core Intel Atom Z8500 or Z8700 processors, plus a few new software features.

Design

Seeing the same body style is hardly a complaint in this case, because the older Lenovo ThinkPad 10 already set a great precedent with its solid, metal chassis. As a business-oriented device, this tablet comes with a minimalistic, black paint job and anodized finish, which feels very reminiscent of the iPad Air 2.

Lenovo ThinkPad 10 review

That said, the Lenovo ThinkPad isn’t quite as thin, with a frame measuring in at 10.1 x 7.0 x 0.35 inches (256.5 x 177 x 9.1 mm) as opposed to the 6.6 x 9.4 x 0.24-inch (169 x 240 x 6.1 mm) iPad Air 2. Unsurprisingly, the iPad Air 2 is also significantly lighter, weighing in at 0.96 pounds (437 grams), while the ThinkPad 10 tips the scales at 1.36 pounds (617 grams).

While the Lenovo ThinkPad weighs over a quarter pound more than the lightest tablet in the world, this isn’t a device that will strain your arm anytime soon. It feels incredibly light to grasp in your hand while feeling completely solid.

Lenovo’s 10-inch slate is also a step ahead compared to the Dell Venue 11 Pro, which weighs in at 1.6 pounds (0.72kg) and measures 11.01 X 6.95 X 0.42 inches (279 X 176 X 1.07 mm) overall. Then again, Dell’s tablet comes packing a 10.8-inch display.

Lenovo ThinkPad 10 review

At the front, the tablet sports an edge-to-edge sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 that helps to protect the ThinkPad 10’s 1,920 x 1,200 WUXGA display. The 10.1-inch screen also, unsurprisingly, happens to be touch sensitive and will detect up to 10 fingers at a time.

Extra extra

As an extra software flourish, Lenovo has also added a WRITEit software feature that allows users to easily scribble down notes whenever they please. Though I didn’t get a chance to test this feature with a pre-production unit at a Lenovo event event in Beijing, a Lenovo spokesperson explained that WRITEit will work with any textbox that normally brings up a text cursor prompt.

WRITEit is one of the few newly added bundled applications I’m actually looking forward to, since it’s another way to avoid the dreadfully small keyboard. Packing any keyboard into a tiny, confined peripheral for a 10-inch screen is a herculean task, but with the Lenovo ThinkPad 10’s Ultrabook keyboard, I found the typing experience especially terrible.

Lenovo ThinkPad 10 review

Don’t get me wrong, the keys feel just as good as any AccuType keyboard seen on Lenovo’s other laptops. But the tight spacing of the whole thing makes it a pain to type on.

On top of a hard keyboard attachment, users will also be able to pick out yet another typing solution with the Foilo keyboard. Additionally, the Quickshot cover is designed with a folding section that allows tablet photographers to get to shooting faster.

Quicker parts

Under the hood, Lenovo has made a few more changes by swapping out the old Bay Trail Intel Atom processor with more modern Cherry Trail Intel Atom Z8500 and Z8700 chipsets. The new systems-on-a-chip should give the ThinkPad 10 an extra kick in in the pants.

And like the rest of Intel’s new Broadwell lineup, Lenovo claims this new processor will allow the ThinkPad 10 to last a maximum of 10 hours on a single charge. That’s a step up from the 8 hours we saw the slate’s predecessor pulled off.

Chipset aside, the ThinkPad 10 still comes with an anemic 2GB of memory and 64GB of onboard storage. This alone almost requires you to immediately upgrade to the higher-spec model, with 128GB of solid-state storage and a 4GB of memory.

Lenovo ThinkPad 10 review

The Lenovo ThinkPad 10 will be available in August 2015 to coincide with the Windows 10 launch. Alongside all the new improvements, Lenovo promises full integration between REACHit, the company’s in-house cloud database directory and search client and Microsoft’s Cortana to make searching for files more natural than ever.

The 10.1-inch tablet will come at a starting price of $549 (about £358, AU$712). The Folio keyboard, meanwhile, begins at $110 (about £78, AU$142), an Ultrabook cover goes for $119 (about £154, AU$154) and lastly, the QuickShot cover asks for $45 (about £29, AU$58).

Early verdict

The Lenovo ThinkPad 10 was an excellent device, and so it should come as no surprise the new model is just as good if not better. However, without fully testing the tablet, it’s too early to say whether the new Cherry Trail processor truly offers up more potential for this machine.

Additionally, the Windows tablet space has changed quite a bit, with sales for slates declining. What’s more, Dell has come up with a doozy of a device with the Venue 11 Pro 7000 that offers nearly as much portability with a thinner, fanless design.

We’ll reserve final judgment until a full review, but what I’ll say is that the latest ThinkPad 10 is looking mighty fine amid some serious competition.

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Review: Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Review: Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Introduction, design and display

If Android tablets are to have a shot at taking on the iPad, Sony’s new challenger is exactly what they need.

The tablet market is a very different place since Sony last launched a 10-inch tablet. Where then the Xperia Z2 Tablet was a credible threat to the iPad in a new and exciting arena, the Xperia Z4 Tablet has landed in a very different place.

Right now there isn’t really any Android device standing up against the almighty iPad Air 2 with the Nexus 9 not proving all that popular and Samsung stopping its flood of the market with a huge range of slates.

Sony now has a chance to smash and grab with a fantastic Android tablet and it comes at a good point in its cycle as well, as due to the Sony Xperia Tablet Z3 Compact coming through in the latter half of last year we’ve not had a full blown 10-inch slate from the company for over a year either.

Design and display

Sony’s design is as polarising as you can get – you really do either love it or hate it.

If you can see what the brand is trying to do, then the first thing you notice when picking up the Xperia Z4 Tablet is the weight. It’s lighter than ever before and it’s very noticeable coming in at 392g.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The back of the Xperia Z4 Tablet isn’t as cheap feeling, or looking, as it has been on previous iterations. This time around it’s a high-end polycarbonate material that, while not feeling as nice as the iPad’s brushed metal, does still look great and also feels easy and comfortable to grip.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Sony has managed to make the slate even thinner this time around without giving it a flimsy feel. It’s only 6.1mm thick, the same as the iPad Air 2, but there is a sense it would blow away a little easier than Apple’s slate would.

At one point I was taking some photos of the sky with the Xperia Z4 Tablet (for reviewing purposes – I’m not into clouds or anything) and did have to tighten my grip at one stage due to a slight gust. If you’re not concentrating a heavy wind could easily blow this tabletfrom your hands.

Sony’s infamous flaps are once again in play, there to keep the tablet water and dust resistant to a high degree of IP65 and IP68 but they don’t protrude as much as previous models and are a lot less obvious on first glance.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The Z4 tablet is sturdier too, despite being thinner: when reviewing the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet I managed to break off one of the flaps by mistake. It just snapped off in my fingers when trying to open it up ready for charging.

This time around Sony has taken the criticism of the flap system on board and whilst not replacing them entirely, it has just refined them to make them a little sturdier and much easier to pop in and out again without risking them coming off.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Waterproofing the slate is a big bonus making it a lot more useful around the house. Take it into the bath to read a book or watch a video and you haven’t got any concerns of it breaking when it slips under the surface.

I find the feature useful whilst cooking – it doesn’t matter if you manage to slather your slate in flour and grease whilst using your grimy finger on a recipe app, it’ll just wash off afterward.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Although the feature does arguably make it one of the most robust tablets on the market the rest of the design does make it feel like it’d snap on the slightest drop.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Along the left hand side you’ll find the power button with the volume rocker sat just underneath. Each is difficult to reach but it’s not clear where it’d be easier to put those on a 10-inch slate. You just have to deal with the fact you’ll be using two hands whenever changing the volume or turning the screen on and off.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

That isn’t a big problem with a 10-inch tablet though; when you sign up to use one you pretty much know you’ll be using both hands in most situations.

A big design change is the lack of a dock connector at the bottom – it makes the tablet that little bit thinner.

Display

Round the front is a 10.1-inch stunning 2K display with a pixel resolution of 2560 x 1600. It looks great with really sharp images, a real step up compared to the 1200 x 1920 setup we saw on the Xperia Z2 Tablet.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Watching video is a real treat here – you’re getting 299 pixels per inch sharpness, better than the 264ppi on the iPad Air 2, as well as the screen itself being significantly bigger than Apple’s alternative.

Like in the past Sony has chucked some pretty hefty bezels surrounding the tablet. Those have been whittled down a little further than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet but they’re still quite cumbersome.

I like them though – I’ve got some pretty thick thumbs to fit in those bezels and it means I’m not tapping the tablet when I’m focusing on a different area, like I sometimes find myself doing with a caseless iPad.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

It’s not to everyone’s taste and Sony could do with shaving them down a little more and making the slate a little smaller overall.

The actual display itself shows colour beautifully. Whether it’s through apps, video or just browsing the web the slate’s colour was very impressive.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Brightness on the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet left a little to be desired though; while using the tablet outside I sometimes struggled to see the picture clearly and got a lot of glare off the front.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

I didn’t have any issues whilst using it in our bright office though, but you’re going to need it on full brightness in any other time using it out and about.

Key features and laptop dock

Key features

Sony has a few unique selling points up its sleeve – and one of them may even tempt others away from the Apple tablet most seem to go for.

That one feature is PlayStation Remote Play support. The service allows those with a PS4 to connect up over the same Wi-Fi network as the tablet and use it as a second screen.

It’s been available on Sony’s other flagship products before and this isn’t the first time a tablet has been compatible but the display on the Z4 Tablet is another level compared to previous Sony devices and just makes me want to use it to play games on.

Connecting up your PS4 here allows for a second 2K screen – you really can’t fault that.

I hooked the Z4 tablet up with my PS4 at home and, believe me, you’re not going to want to clip it onto your controller. The weight isn’t an issue here but it’s just too big to try and wield it.

Instead I found myself just leaning it up against something on a table, connecting up my controller and playing games in beautiful 2K.

As for the Wi-Fi signal it dropped out once when first connecting up but from there I managed to fit in a full 30 minute GTA V session without any issues at all.

You can play games without a controller and use the display instead but I really don’t recommend it unless you’re just playing some puzzle games – it’s too unwieldy.

It’s a big selling point though – as Sony begins to expand its Remote Play service so it can run off different Wi-Fi signals this will only become more and more obvious as a key feature.

When Sony finally adapts that in it’ll mean you can be on the other side of the world playing your PS4 games running in your living room at home. That’s pretty neat and playing them on a beautiful 2K display is even neater.

Laptop dock

Sony has never really been one for accessories in the past but has decided to buck the trend with the Xperia Z4 Tablet and offer a Bluetooth keyboard alongside it.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I had one to test alongside the review and I have to confess that I loved it. I’ve always found Sony’s slates to be a little difficult to prop up so having a Bluetooth keyboard to dock it into so it doesn’t fall over worked a treat.

Sadly the dock only goes to one position. This is certainly not the Surface Pro 3 with its countless available ways to prop it up, but it does give a good view whilst typing and makes it easy to stand when watching movies.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The keyboard connects up via Bluetooth and a nifty feature is the tablet automatically recognises it’s there and notifies you to turn on Bluetooth.

It is a smart feature and gives you a quick kick under the table to warn you why typing isn’t working.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I found it connected up quickly without any issues and threw me straight into the action. The keys are well placed but take some getting used to, but then again so does every keyboard you’re going to use.

The trackpad is a little on the small side and I found myself ditching it in favour of the touch functionality on the main screen. Some may prefer to use the trackpad but I found it a little slow as well.

Another smart feature is the Xperia Z4 Tablet automatically opens up a little taskbar along the left hand corner of the screen with key apps you’ll be using when on the keyboard.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

These kick off with Google apps such as Chrome, YouTube and Gmail but you can easily swap in more useful apps by pressing the two dots to the right and opening up the little menu.

The slate also snaps down onto the keyboard to give it that little extra bit of protection when in your bag, it makes it feel like a mini laptop when you’re carrying it around.

Be warned even though the tablet is water and dustproof the keyboard isn’t so don’t forget that.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Everything just kind of works with the new Bluetooth keyboard but the main subject will be the price. If you could pick this up alongside the Xperia Z4 Tablet for less than £100 / $120 it’d be a great accessory to come with it but my thinking is Sony may want a little more for it.

Pricing hasn’t been announced at this stage so we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled and see whether it’s worth your while picking one up as soon as it’s out.

Battery life and interface

Battery life

Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet has a 6,000mAh non-removable battery inside, a hefty size for any tablet, but it’s not changed since the same cell was included in the original Tablet Z many moons ago.

Considering Sony has upped the display – the biggest battery drainer – it begs the question of whether the battery should have been increased as well.

The Xperia Z4 Tablet has a similar battery life to the 17-18 hours of video Sony was stating at the Z2 Tablet launch.

Sony should be praised for creating that kind of life considering the sharpness of the display here. You’re going to be able to get through a full long haul flight watching quite a few films and not have to worry about your it dying off.

We ran the Nyan Gareth video – our traditional battery test of a 90 minute straight video at 100% brightness – and managed to get a score 79%.

Considering the Xperia Z2 Tablet came out with 72% at the end of the test this is quite impressive and Sony has clearly made some impressive improvements under the hood to make this work.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

I then ran the test again later at 60% brightness as personally I’m willing to sacrifice a little screen light for an extra film of battery life and managed to get a score of 81%. It’s kind of not worth dropping the brightness down when watching video as you won’t get a big difference in battery life.

General battery life proved impressive as well; I had the tablet in my bag idle over a weekend and I didn’t see more than 20% of the battery die off even though it was connecting up to Wi-Fi and receiving notifications.

It just proves the big battery drainer on here is the display – but it’s worth it for such a beautiful looking screen.

I did find charging an almighty task though. Tablets do usually take quite a while to jump up to full charge but using my normal phone charger meant for a real slow process. Fast charging technology would have been a much nicer touch here and it’s a shame Sony didn’t implement it.

Also it’s worth noting there’s no wireless charging option here either, that would have been a lovely addition for those who don’t want to be restricted by a cable going in the side of their tablet.

Interface

Android 5.0 Lollipop is on the slate from day one and you get to use all of Google’s freshly implemented features.

Sony’s UI is as prevalent as ever, which will disappoint some. It’s a little bland in that it doesn’t offer a massive amount of differentiation and can be a little bit overbearing in the style.

It doesn’t really add much to the Android experience and I can see how it may confuse new users. Sony won’t ever want to drop it though so it seems we’re stuck with it.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Sony has taken inspiration from Google’s new Material Design but the full effect isn’t present – I like the new minimalist design Google is offering with stock Android but Sony changing all the icons to its standard look just puts a dampener on it for me.

One of the big new features from Android Lollipop is lock screen notifications and these really come in useful. Instead of having to swipe down to read your latest goings on you can just hit the power button on the left hand side and everything is waiting there.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Tap and unlock to view the notification in more detail or just swipe it away if you’re not all that interested. It’s smart and it’s one of the nicest Android additions we’ve seen in a few years.

With Samsung dropping a lot of its bloatware apps from the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge it now makes Sony potentially the biggest culprit for filling its devices with largely useless services.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Some of the pre-installed apps are appreciated; the PlayStation app, for example. Being installed ready and waiting makes sense especially with the Remote Play feature on the new tablet.

But there is also stuff like Sketch, Xperia Lounge, SocialLife and Lifelog that I find just useless and taking up precious storage space. The worst part is none of them can be deleted either.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Sony really needs to understand that people don’t want to waste their precious storage spent on apps they’re never going to use and filling it full of these will make people look toward stock versions in the future.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

The slate also comes pre-installed with a few third-party services some will like such as Facebook, Spotify and Skype.

The addition of the Android Lollipop features is appreciated but Sony has some real work to do before I want to shout from the rooftops about its tablet software – it’s a bland, functional interface that harks back to darker days of tablet design, although it is thoroughly usable.

Performance and the essentials

Sony’s tablet range has been criticised heavily in the past for all manner of things, but one thing that can’t be said: it sure doesn’t lack power. Every time Sony opts for the biggest and best chipset, and this time is no exception.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 64-bit octa-core processor clocked at 2GHz is present here accompanied by 3GB of RAM.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

It makes all your processing needs on a tablet a breeze and compared to most Android tablets this is quite an impressive set up.

To really push it to its limits I played Real Racing 3, a very graphically intensive game, and didn’t experience any of the lag I’ve seen on other slates.

In fact, this time around the frame rate was more impressive than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet from a little over a year ago.

I found upon the first play through the game crashed out on me – after that I played through five different levels and experienced no problems at all suggesting this was down to it just booting up.

Storage

As for storage you’ve only got one 32GB option. That’s enough for some but if I’ve got a tablet I’d enjoy a little more space as I stuff it full of apps and video.

However, there’s good news: Sony allows for 128GB of storage through microSD, a lovely touch and one I really appreciate.

Software and core apps take up almost 11GB of the space already on the Xperia Z4 Tablet so if you’re not planning to shell out on a microSD card you’re going to be restricted to 21GB of space.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Throw in a 128GB card and you’ve got 149GB of space to fill – I know even with my big movie collection I’d struggle to fill all of that.

The essentials

Sony has a microUSB slot in the middle of the right hand edge of the tablet. It’s uncovered this time around and it’s still waterproof, which raises the question of why the rest of the connections can’t be given this technology.

It’s there for charging and data transfer and it still allows for easy use of the tablet whilst it’s on charge. It means you can stick it in your dock or lean it up against something whilst on charge and don’t have to worry about the battery dying off.

On the very top left of the slate you’ve got a 3.5mm headphone jack, once again waterproof whilst being left open.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

It’s right on the very edge this time, an interesting design choice but it allows the tablet to be placed in its Bluetooth keyboard dock while listening to music and doesn’t cause any issues.

As for music the speakers on here aren’t the best you’re going to find – there’s no BoomSound like technology on the Xperia Z4 Tablet, but they’re still sufficient enough.

High-res audio and noise cancelling technology make for an impressive audio set up though. I keep finding myself plugging my headphones into the tablet for time with Spotify even though my phone is sat even closer on the desk.

It’s just a more enjoyable experience and noise cancelling is a big bonus to cut out the environment around me, although you do need dedicated Sony headphones to make it work.

Connectivit- wise you’ve got Wi-Fi 802.11 for fast internet connections. I used the slate at home, at work and in a coffee shop and never experienced any problems connecting up to the network. My home Wi-Fi was a little temperamental for a while but that’s down to the poor connection I expect and it never caused any issues whilst using it on super-fast connections.

Bluetooth 4.1 is here to use on the slate and comes in useful for connecting up accessories like the new keyboard.

NFC support is here to connect up quickly to compatible devices – you’re not really going to be using that feature all that much and I only found myself using it with a speaker just to test it out.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I find NFC a little redundant on tablets as it’s very rare you’re going to be using it for payments or anything when out and about, nor really connecting up accessories.

Sony also has the courtesy to point out where the NFC connector is with a little logo on the back, which I find some manufacturers can’t really be bothered to do meaning I can’t tell where to tap. I’m looking at you HTC.

The logo isn’t easy to spot at first but when you know it’s there you’ll find it really quick to get the connection.

Camera

Camera

Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn’t really have a need for a new kickass camera on the back of this slate and Sony knows it. No-one walks around with a 10-inch camera on the back taking shots of stuff (and if you do, you shouldn’t) – we all have phones that take much better images than that.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

As such the rear camera on the Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn’t seem to be anything special. It has an 8.1MP sensor taking images of 3264 x 2448 pixels but it never seems to really make those specs work.

A slight zoom with the camera loses quite a bit of clarity in an image and it’s a real shame.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

It also has a strange position on the slate. When most manufacturers would place it slap bang in the middle so when you hold it up that’s the image you get, Sony has placed it on the far right in the top corner.

Whenever you’re lining up an image I found myself instinctively using the middle of the Z4 Tablet but instead I had to keep moving it around a little after remembering where the snapper really was.

It means when you’re taking photos of loved ones and others you’re bound to be doing the ‘Mum and Dad’ thing of waving it around for a few minutes before you actually get that snap.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Colours seem to pick up quite well with the camera but it’s just all down to the sharpness of each image. I’ve not been impressed with the rear camera at all.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

I’ve been far more impressed with the front facing camera. It comes with a 5.1MP sensor and features a wide-angle lens to accommodate a lot more than you’d expect it to.

Whilst colours may not be as good on this side of the slate I was quite impressed by the clarity and found it to be better than on the rear.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

That means video calling is quite clear as well, as long as you’re on some good quality internet to keep up with the high res image.

A quick note on the camera UI, which generally hasn’t changed much since last time, is it’s a pain in the posterior to take a selfie.

When taking this image with my pet squirrel I tried to do it one handed and it just wasn’t possible – this is when you really miss a dedicated camera button instead of having to throw your thumb over the bezel and onto the button inside the UI.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Sony has an entire app store to bring new features to its camera as when it wishes. This time around you’re kicking off with Superior Auto, Manual, AR Mask, Face in Picture, Sound Photo, AR Fun, Multi Camera, AR Effect, Creative Effect and Sweep Panorama.

Sony has been supplying the AR apps for quite some time now but I never cease to be entertained by adding a roaming dinosaur into my photos and videos.

I always find AR apps entertain kids for at least twenty minutes and love to show them off to my niece and nephew whenever I have a new device hanging around.

This time Sony has added in AR Mask, an app that sounds like it’s going to be lots of fun with popular masks like Vader, V for Vendetta or Jim Carrey’s. But no, it’s actually terrifying.

Here are some of the results from my experiments with AR Mask.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Instead of throwing a mask on top of your face it throws someone else’s face on top and it’s horrible. So, so, so horrible.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

It’s not just for selfies though, you can even do it on the rear camera to your friends.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

All the rest of the apps are good fun to play around with or offer up some real functionality and Sony has some interesting features within – especially when it’s not trying to scare the pants off me.

As for video recording we’re restricted to 1080p@30fps, there’s no 4K video recording like there has been in the past.

Some may miss this feature but considering it doesn’t have a 4K screen I don’t see it as a big mistake. It would have been nice to double up the resolution and get a 2K video recording to use on such a good screen, I don’t really understand why Sony didn’t pay the extra and go for it.

All in all video recording looks great and I didn’t find any key issues with it – I’d rate it up there with some of the other best options of the market.

The competition

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2

Apple’s latest tablet is the lightest, thinnest and best looking iPad we’ve ever seen – we gave it five out of five in our full review. On the front is a 9.7-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1536 x 2048 equalling 265ppi.

TouchID has been brought over to the tablet range now so you know you’ve got a secure way to unlock the iPad whilst it runs the latest in iOS 8 software as well.

A brushed metal back panel makes for a premium feel design making the iPad Air 2 arguably the best slate on the market. Just remember it’s going to cost you quite a bit compared to others with prices starting at £399 ($499, AUS$619) and jumping up as you ask for more storage space.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Sony’s last attempt at the tablet market saw them drop the 10-inch gauntlet and drop down to an 8-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1200 x 1920.

Design wise it’s pretty similar to the Xperia Z4 Tablet, it’s just shrunk down a little but still features IP68 waterproofing and the glass fronted look. Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz accompanied by 3GB of RAM whilst storage is a little on the low side with only 16GB to play with but there’s microSD support up to 128GB.

We quite liked the Z3 Tablet Compact giving it four out five stars praising it for some impressive battery life, a thin design and PS4 Remote Play features.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Samsung’s latest tablet is designed to be the iPad killer and comes in two different sizes: one with an 8.4-inch screen and another with a 10.5-inch display.

Those are some stunning high-res displays as well offering a pixel resolution of 1600 x 2560 and 359ppi on the smaller version and 1600 x 2560 with 288ppi on the larger one.

It’s pretty powerful under the bonnet as well with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3GHz and 3GB of RAM. Storage wise you’re limited to either 16GB or 32GB options but microSD is there for up to 128GB to make up for that.

Our review gave it four and a half stars out of five with focus on the strong battery life and great looking display.

HTC Nexus 9

Google Nexus 9

The Nexus 9 tries to take everything people loved about the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, throw an 8.9-inch display on it and call it the best tablet on the market. And to be fair it does a pretty good job.

HTC has taken on the 4:3 aspect ratio from the iPad and applied it to the new tablet thrown Android Lollipop inside and stuck on a cracking pair of speakers.

Design wise it may feel a little low-end to some and not inspire as much as the Sony or Apple tablets whilst there is also no microSD support meaning you’re stuck with either the 16GB or 32GB version you buy.

The price has also made a big jump up from previous Nexus tablets costing £319 (about $500, AUS$626) for the 16GB version and £379 (about $600, AUS$725) for the 32GB one.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is a great alternative to the iPad. It’s easily going to scream into second place in the race for best tablet, and will be streets ahead in the league table of best Android tablets.

We liked

It’s got a lovely screen, lightweight design, all the Sony elements you’d look for and the right power combination to keep it at the forefront of slate technology for a few years, which is how long users will have it for.

A waterproof design is one of the nicest features on the tablet and makes it a much more attractive proposition rather than less robust slates on the market.

The new keyboard alongside it is also a welcome addition but it’s hard to judge whether it’ll be worth it until we know the official price.

The ‘under the hood’ mechanics are impressive too and you’ll struggle to make that work at a full capacity while the battery life proves better than ever before.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

We disliked

Although adding in Android Lollipop is great, Sony’s UI is still a big problem for many and it does restrict what you can do with the platform – and most importantly how it looks.

Storage on the Xperia Z4 Tablet is also questionable and it would be nice if Sony offered a 64GB version – microSD storage is good, but files on there don’t perform as well as on the main memory.

The camera set up won’t be enough for some either with the rear camera encountering some real problems – it’s not a big thing for me but some do love to use their slates when taking snapshots.

The issue that it has to overcome – and there’s not a lot Sony can do about this – is that Android still trails iOS for dedicated tablet apps.

The ecosystem for the iPad is such that no matter how much stuff you can do with the Android version, unless there’s something very specific you’re looking for the Apple tablet is generally the better choice.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Verdict

I think the Xperia Z4 Tablet is great and I do believe it’s the one true alternative to the iPad. Android is still not the perfect ecosystem for tablets but with a 2K display on the front and such a nice looking design this is the best way to do it yet.

It does still have its issues in the camera and the UI set up but overall it’s a much more enjoyable experience than we’ve seen from a Sony tablet before.

Another big problem for some is the price though – if you’re opting for the 4G version it’s going to cost £579.99 (about $910, AUS$1135) whilst the Wi-Fi version will cost £499.99 (about $785, AUS$980). Pricing for both the US and Australia has yet to be announced by Sony.

It’s expensive but when you compare that to Apple’s pricing, which is at a very similar level, it’s not all that much of a surprise for a high-end top quality tablet experience.

As for a release date there’s still quite a wait as it won’t be launching until June 2015 – you can pre-order it here – but that is a worldwide date so there’s not much waiting around in certain markets.

If you want to avoid Apple’s slate or want something just a little bit different to the iPad then give the Xperia Z4 Tablet a go. It’s the best slate from the company yet and in my opinion it’s the best Android option out there, but you’re going to have to part with a bit of cash to experience it.

First reviewed: May 2015

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Review: UPDATED: Nexus 9

Review: UPDATED: Nexus 9

Introduction and design

  • Update: Nexus 9 has been updated to Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, and our review reflects that

Google’s Nexus 9 has been designed by HTC to be the Goldilocks of pure Android tablets and, for the most part, it succeeds at being "just right" next to anything but an iPad.

It’s not as big as the seriously outdated Samsung-made Nexus 10 and not as small as the ASUS-crafted Nexus 7. It’s the silver bullet tablet entry that costs a little more of your hard-earned gold.

There’s a specs bump behind the 8.9-inch display to help justify the price of $399 (£319, about AU$460) for the space-limited Wi-Fi-only 16GB model.

A few post-holiday discounts have it for $350 or £287, but I still prescribe the $479 (£399, about AU$552) for the 32GB Wi-Fi-only option that’s harder to find on sale. Then there’s the $599 (£459, around AU$777) 32GB LTE model.

In the UK mobile network O2 has started to offer the Nexus 9 with a range of contracts. The lowest price per month gives you a Nexus 9 for just £39.99 upfront, and then £25 a month for two years with a 500MB 4G data allowance.

You can also get the Nexus 9 for no upfront cost. The cheapest contract with no upfront cost is £29 a month for two years, and gives you 1GB of 4G data each month.

When it comes to the new specs, I’m talking about the latest Nvidia 64-bit processor, a decent 2GB of RAM, dual front-facing speakers and a decent battery to keep it all up and running for a little over nine hours.

Nexus 9 review

Even with those internal specs, Nexus 9 has a hard time measuring up to the iPad Air 2 in almost every category. Its own Android competition includes the Samsung Tab S, which flanks Google’s 9-inch option with 10.5- and 8.4-inch sizes, and the sleek Sony Z3 Tablet Compact.

What Nexus 9 has going for it more than hardware is the fact that it’s the biggest and so far one of the few ways to drive headfirst into the Android 5.0 Lollipop update along with the Nexus 6. Even better, it’s been upgraded to Android 5.1.1 this week.

That makes it a sweet enough Google tablet in more ways than one and enough to be among the best tablets for 2014.

Nexus 9 review

Design

It’s about time HTC engineered a Nexus tablet or any modern-day tablet for that matter. After all, the crafty designers at the company brought us the polished-looking HTC One M8.

No surprise, the Nexus 9 includes a metallic frame around the perimeter of this larger device. It’s nice as long as you don’t expect that all-metal design to continue around back.

This year’s tablet sticks with a soft, rubberized back cover – the same one that’s adorned by the smaller Nexus 7. It’s not an all-metal HTC One M8 equivalent, but it is easier to grip.

Nexus 9 review

And grip matters here. The Nexus 9 weighs in at a 0.94 pound (425g), which isn’t heavy, but a tablet with an 8.9-inch display should theoretically be a lot lighter than the 9.7-inch iPad. Yet Apple’s device weighs almost as much: 0.96 pound (437g).

It does suck up fingerprint grease like nothing else, and accidentally lay it on some cooking fat in the kitchen and that sheen might never come off.

The weight and size gap between it and the 0.64 lbs (290g) Nexus 7 is also fairly pronounced. Nexus 9 measures out to be 8.99 in. (228mm) tall, 6.05 in. (154mm) wide, with a 0.31 in. (7.95mm) depth, which is thicker than both the new iPad and Nexus 7.

Nexus 9 review

I would have liked to see better buttons on the Nexus 9 rim. Having tested the Nexus 6 and the new Moto X before that, I’ve come to appreciate the power button accented with ridges that don’t feel so cheap.

That was a smart Motorola design choice that helped me differentiate between the tiny volume rocker and even tinier power button in the dark.

Thankfully, it’s not always imperative to find that itty-bitty power button when the tablet is lying flat on a desk. A new "double tap to wake" feature conveniently wakes the Nexus 9 screen. HTC One M8 has the same knock-twice-to-wake perk, but it’s even more useful on this larger, weightier device.

No more awkwardly clutching the rim to press the tiny power button.

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9’s trio of colors include a premium-looking off-white called lunar white, the tan-colored sand and a fingerprint-attracting matte black, dubbed indigo black. All look and feel resilient enough to adventurously go without a cover.

The only thing I feel as though I need to protect against is lodging dust in the speakers slots. There are two dust-collecting traps at the top and bottom of the tablet that also happen to contain powerful front-facing speakers.

Nexus 9 review

The speakers slots don’t have me worried, though. It’s the lack of a micro SD card slot that is the biggest design omission. There’s no expandable storage whatsoever, meaning the 16GB model is going to be a tough sell if you use even a little bit of non-streaming multimedia.

I’ve actually come to expect this on many Android tablets (although usually the mid-range ones), so once again, the extra cost of the 32GB model is the only way to safeguard yourself from larger apps or big HD movie libraries.

Key features

Display

Nexus 9 is a new 8.9-inch display size for Google’s Nexus range. It’s a few tenths of an inch smaller than the iPad Air 2, but happens to be the same resolution as Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet.

Nexus 9 review

In fact, it’s Google’s QXGA-level slate that actually has a few more pixels per inch packed into its 2048 x 1536 IPS LCD screen.

That’s why it’s surprising that there’s no comparison: the new iPad has a richer display in a side-by-side test. Apple’s thinner, gap-free screen improves everything for better results.

The Nexus 9 is, frankly, uninspiring. The display quality watching HD movies isn’t impressive and nothing gave me that ‘wow’ factor like the first time I saw a QHD screen on a phone. It’s high res, but the color reproduction and contrast ratios were distinctly average.

nexus 9 review

I also found minor, but noticeable backlight bleeding around the bezel, which made the Nexus 9 picture quality less uniform when watching full-screen videos – or as full-screen as videos could get. Nexus 9 has a 4:3 aspect ratio that makes it more useful for productivity. The video-friendly 16:9 Nexus 7 now seems very narrow, but it’s a better fit for movie watching.

Nexus 9 review

With more height in landscape mode, it’s a two-handed device with additional headroom to read text. That’s great for surfing the web or editing a document. The screen size makes sense for work, even if the technology behind it doesn’t shine as much.

Android Lollipop

Google went from incremental updates like Android 4.4 KitKat to the full Android 5.0 with Lollipop, and the new operating system is pre-installed on the Nexus 9. This was the first device on which you could play with all of its new features, though it’s starting to trickle out to other devices now.

More stability can be found in the Android 5.1.1 over-the-air updated that’s reaching the Google-powered tablet right now.

Nexus 9 review

All of the changes from KitKat to Lollipop are realized immediately. The new unified look, "Material Design," is bright and colourful within Google’s operating system as well as its own apps. It’s almost a complete overhaul like we saw when Apple moved from iOS 6 to iOS 7.

Added conveniences like lockscreen notifications and priority mode are welcomed answers to existing Apple features, and I couldn’t be happier. Something that iOS devices don’t have is the double tap to wake the screen idea that’s borrowed from HTC’s flagship smartphone.

BoomSound speakers

Even though the all-metal design wasn’t carried over from the HTC One M8, at least the powerful BoomSound speakers point the audio in the right direction and sound just as good as on the phone.

Nexus 9 review

Unlike the Nexus 7 and iPad Air 2, these speakers aren’t facing the back or at the bottom of the tablet. YouTube videos at least sound better than they look on the 4:3 Nexus 9 display.

This makes audio from movies, games and music clearer on this tablet than anything else I’ve tested. For once, I wasn’t reaching for my Astro A38 Bluetooth headphones right away.

Magnetic keyboard attachment

This Keyboard Folio accessory wasn’t available for me to test with the Nexus 9 review unit and the Google Play Store only recently put it up for sale, so you couldn’t try it either, at least up until a few days ago. However, it’s a sold-separately productivity perk that may factor into your tablet-buying decision.

Nexus 9 review

The keyboard case folds at two angles and never needs to be plugged into the USB port. It connects wirelessly through Bluetooth and uses NFC to easily pair up. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the mechanical keys, which have 1.4mm of travel and include a Google search key – no surprise there.

Now that it’s out, I’ll test out hundreds of keystrokes for a future update to determine whether or not this business-focused add-on mounts a real challenge to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 keyboard attachment. Or if it’s better than the run-of-the-mill cheap alternatives sold on Amazon. Google’s version is $129 (£110, about AU$151), which means its targeted at serious on-the-go typers.

Interface and performance

Nexus 9 marks everyone’s first lick at Android 5.0 Lollipop, and this year’s software update stands to be more exciting than the hardware specs bump.

That’s because the new operating system fixes a handful of the problems I’ve had with prior Android versions, and it sports a cleaner look – just enough to stay fresh next to Apple’s iOS 8 update.

The problem-fixing won’t stop here, either. Nexus 9’s best feature is bound to get even better, as the latest firmware of 5.0.1 transitions to Android 5.1 in early 2015.

Interface

Google’s "Material Design" dials things back for a flatter, geometry-focused interface, one that pops off the screen with a more colourful palette. It’s bold and refreshing.

Nexus 9 review

Android Lollipop features have you do more tapping too. In addition to the aforementioned "double tap to wake," its new "tap and go" concept makes it easy to set up or restore a new device from an older one. Back-to-back, two devices transfer all data through NFC and take Android Beam to the next level.

Manually waking the screen isn’t even necessary on this tablet. Lockscreen notifications show up by default and briefly brighten the display. Don’t worry: Just in case you like to pretend people are peeking into your life via glimpses at your tablet, these automatic alerts can be blocked on a per-app basis.

A similar option comes to the all-new, system-wide Priority Mode that acts as Google’s more advanced Do Not Disturb feature. It can silence the tablet indefinitely or in intervals that range from 15 minutes to 8 hours. Certain apps can be set to function in this night-time-friendly mode, which makes paying for inferior third-party apps irrelevant.

Nexus 9 review

Quick settings are easier to access through an all-in-one menu within this pure Android version of Google’s operating system. Swiping down on the Nexus 9 screen just once will display notifications. Swiping down again or swiping down with two fingers initially reveals quick setting controls.

This menu within a menu is a much better way of organizing everything compared to prior Android tablet setups. Before, the notifications menu appeared when swiping down on the left side of the tablet and quick settings showed up when swiping down the right side. This was hit or miss when holding a tablet – especially the narrow Nexus 7 in portrait mode.

Nexus 9 review

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and airplane mode are joined by new switches including flashlight, display slider and Google Chromecast cast screen. Sadly, the quick settings can’t be changed or moved. Likewise, the battery percentage is hidden in this second menu. There’s no way to make it appear in the first swipe-down menu or, better yet, system tray next to the vague battery drain icon.

Performance

HTC outfitted this year’s Nexus tablet with an all-new heart that’s care of Nvidia’s K1 Tegra processor, a switch from the typical Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset that I’m used to finding behind tablet displays. The good news is that it’s still a 64-bit system on a chip.

Coupling the Tegra K1 with the new Android Lollipop that takes advantage of such 64-bit architecture makes the new Google tablet a good bet for the future. The two together will result in more powerful and useful apps going forward.

Nexus 9 review

Sure enough, Nexus 9 benchmarks indicate that behind the unexceptional display is a more than powerful chipset, as shown by its GeekBench 3 results. Tests indicated that the tablet averaged a 3326 multi-core score next to the iPad Air 2‘s 4500 multi-core score.

As a dual-core processor, the Tegra K1’s single-core GeekBench 3 score actually surpassed that of the new iPad. The Nexus 9 averaged a 1939 single-core score, while one core of iPad’s three-core processor averaged an 1815 score in similar tests.

But as future-proofed as the Nexus 9 CPU may be, there’s only 2GB of RAM backing it up. It won’t really be able to fully take advantage of the 64-bit ability, but will have some slight performance enhancements. It’s actually only a dual-core CPU, but don’t let that put you off as the overall benchmarking numbers for this tablet have remained impressive.

Nexus 9 review

I do have to note that I ran into a few performance hiccups with our review unit including unregistered touch abnormalities and slowdown when there were only a few tasks going at once. Google has promised that it fixed these Nexus 9 problems in a last-second firmware update that made it to the end-consumers device.

Media

The Nexus 9, despite my screen quality criticisms, plays movies just fine. In fact, the Play Movies app is already sporting the new Material Design. It provides simple movie recommendations and seamlessly links right to the Play Store’s Movies & TV section. The red-and-white colour scheme pops nicely and matches the unified look of other Android Lollipop apps.

Nexus 9 review

Streaming Django Unchained, currently the most popular selection on Netflix, proved that the Nexus 9 has more than adequate brightness levels and a solid contrast ratio. However, the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in which this movie was shot doesn’t convert well to the 4:3 display.

Nexus 9 review

Like on the similarly shaped iPad, app developers are making the best of it. For example, on Netflix, the movie title, Chromecast cast button and volume controls appear along the top to take up that large black void. Scrubbing through the timeline and the 30 second rewind button line the bottom. Don’t worry, all of the controls fade away if the screen isn’t touched for five seconds.

Games are a mixed bag. Some stretch to meet the new full-screen standard and it shows. Other games have been made with the new aspect ratio. The more that Nexus 9 finds its way into mobile gamers’ hands, the more that game apps are likely to adapt to the 4:3 high-resolution screen size. It’s just now becoming prevalent among tablets.

Nexus 9 review

Google Music goes all-orange, but features a similar unified design that can be seen on the app and all-you-can-eat music streaming website. Fun categories like "Boosting Your Energy" and "Having Fun at Work" line the top of the main page, and recent activity and recommendations take into account your past listening habits.

Nexus 9

Movies, music and games sound better than they look thanks to the BoomSound speakers. That was a major problem I had with the Nexus 7 and similar tablets that placed the speakers in the wrong direction – usually at the bottom of the device. You won’t have to plug in external speakers in a normal movie-watching environment.

Reading through longer text via the Play Newsstand app receives the biggest positive change on the Nexus 9. That 4:3 aspect ratio allows for more reading and less scrolling. Plus, there’s the ability to translate periodicals instantly, something that I find interesting in the Chrome browser and expect to make use of in Newsstand.

Battery life, camera and essentials

The Nexus 9’s battery life actually bests that of the iPad Air 2, giving Google’s tablet a rare win in the annual Android vs iPad slate comparison.

Its 6,700 mAh battery is rated up to 9.5 hours of Wi-Fi browsing and movie playback. The iPad Air is supposed to get 10 hours when performing the same exact tasks and teardowns have revealed that Apple squeezed in a 7,340 mAh battery.

Nexus 9 review

At full brightness, our Nexus 9 battery tests concluded that a 90-minute Full HD video took the battery life down to 82% from its original 100% charge. That’s a small 18% drop-off that the iPad Air 2 just didn’t match. Apple’s device went down 21% (to 79%) while running the same 90-minute video.

In other real-world testing, the Nexus 9 lasted a day and a half before I needed to recharge it. Battery life is less of an issue on a tablet than a smartphone, and the Nexus 9 is no slouch.

I was able to get stream a full HD-quality movie during a 90-minute flight, surf the internet and play a game on a 45-minute train commute and edit documents during a 20-minute Uber ride.

Planes, trains and automobiles – and I still had close to 50% battery life at full brightness.

Gaming obviously depleted the battery faster than the typical browsing and movie watching, so, while traveling, I retired from Real Racing 3 more quickly than I would have normally.

Nexus 9 review

Juicing the Nexus 9 took a little under five hours. That’s about how long it takes to recharge a fully depleted iPad. But while the Nvidia processor was great for 3D gaming, it doesn’t feature Qualcomm’s Quickcharge 2.0 technology used by HTC’s own HTC One M8.

Motorola’s Turbo Charger powers up the Nexus 6 and Moto X with anywhere from six to eight hours of battery life in just 15 minutes. And it’s not just Android smartphones that are benefitting from this Snapdragon-enabled technology. Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet and Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact use it to their advantage too.

Camera

Maybe this is a good thing, but the Nexus 9 doesn’t have a great camera embedded in its tablet frame. There’s less of a chance you’ll be tempted – for whatever reason – to snap photos with its 8.9-inch viewfinder.

Nexus 9 review

The rear-facing 8 megapixel with a f/2.4 aperture produced darker-than-normal photos with an average 1.25MB file size and 3264 x 2448 resolution.

Nexus 9 review

The single LED flash doesn’t do much unless the subject is close. The Nexus 7 actually snapped brighter, clearer and faster photos in mild low light without a flash, though it revealed more than the acceptable amount of noise.

But it's dakrer than you'd expect

It’s hard to tell which tablet I wanted to walk around town with taking test photos with less – the Nexus 9 or the Nexus 7. And this is from someone who routinely wears Google Glass. At least with the iPad Air 2 and its so-called "focus pixels," the shots are better, compensating for the ridiculous-looking viewfinder.

Nexus 9 review

The front-facing camera also shot darker, but the photos were less soft on this 1.6-megapixel camera that has a f/2.4 aperture. It’s good enough for video conferencing when the image quality isn’t all too important. Nexus 9’s rear-facing camera can take 1080p video, but it’s, again, a job best left up to your smartphone.

Messaging

Google’s messaging options can be effective, but are all over the place. The email app still exists but directs you to the close it in favor of the superior Gmail app. This original app can’t be deleted. Okay…

Nexus 9 review

Gmail, is of course wonderful compared to the default email apps by Samsung and LG. In addition to allowing users to access multiple Gmail addresses, it goes as far as supporting rival email services like Outlook and Yahoo. That’s confidence.

Then there’s Hangouts. It’s still here and works relatively well by integrating your existing Gmail contacts into the fold. But the annoyance of having friends who have personal and work accounts often leads to missed messages outside of the 9 to 5 work day and the inverse.

There’s also an issue of sending either a Hangout or an SMS on a phone, but only being able to send and receive Hangouts on a computer or a tablet like the Nexus 9. Apple’s iMessages syncs across all devices and it always tries sending an internet message first, then resorts to a carrier-sent text message if all else fails. With Hangouts, it’s either a Hangout or an SMS on a phone, and SMS is missing from Google’s cross-platform messaging ecosystem.

Nexus 9 review

The Nexus 6 doesn’t do much to fix this. It adds another app called "Messaging" to further confuse the situation.

The Nexus 9 sport a new default keyboard theme that coincides with Material Design. Both its light and dark color variants are borderless, which can be a bit jarring at first. Then you realize that this is a Google keyboard that often knows what you want to type or what you meant to type. No matter how it looks, it’s a lot smarter than the redesigned iOS 8 QuickType keyboard.

Internet

The extra Nexus screen space makes surfing the web a breeze and visiting TechRadar.com loaded up nice and quickly. Like in the Newsstand app, there’s more reading to be done and less scrolling compared to the narrower Nexus 7. I didn’t find myself constantly needing to use the 10-point multitouch display to zoom into every web page in order to read the text.

Nexus 9

Chrome has always been fast and full of options. The most recent update features faster browsing with support for preloading pages in the background. Android Lollipop includes a new guest mode and the ability to pin apps, which further secures the browsing history of your main account.

Chrome for Android has the cross-app Material Design look, though it’s less relevant because of its rather muted state. The bold colors are saved for websites, which completely makes sense.

Camera samples

Nexus 9 review

The following are Nexus 9 photos samples vs Nexus 7 2013 photo samples:

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 review

The competition

Nexus 9 comes in at a good price, but there are slightly more expensive tablets to take notice of before dropping your $399 (£319, about AU$450).

Apple, Samsung, Asus, Sony and even Microsoft have challengers large and small. It’s really about which features you can’t live without and how much you’re willing to spend to get them.

iPad Air 2

Nexus 9

You can’t have a modern-day tablet comparison without immediately bringing up the iPad. Apple’s newest slate is the iPad Air 2 and it’s the 9.7-inch version of what the Nexus 9 so desperately wants to be. It has a nicer-looking laminated screen, sleeker design and better tablet app ecosystem.

It is a little more expensive than the Nexus 9 and it doesn’t include BoomSound speakers. Audio is still projected from the bottom of the new iPad, while Google’s tablet has the speakers front and center on either side of the screen.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Nexus 9

As much as Apple’s gap-free screen design makes the iPad Air 2 a lightweight leader among tablets, the almost-as-thin Samsung Galaxy Tab S has a slightly better-looking display. It also fared better in sunlight.

That’s because Samsung’s two S tablets have a Super AMOLED screen. Its 10.5-inch edition is sharper, brighter and bigger than the Nexus 9. The 8.4-inch edition is sharper and brighter with a similar size and the exact same price as Google’s tablet.

Of course, Samsung Galaxy Tab S comes with Android 4.4 KitKat pre-installed, giving the Nexus 9 the edge in software – for now anyway.

Google Nexus 7

Nexus 9 review

Google is discontinuing its Nexus 7 tablet with the advent of the Nexus 9. It appears as if 9 ate 7 instead of 7 ate 9. That’s a shame because the 7-inch slate is a great little device at an affordable price. It had been the cheapest introduction to Google’s pure Android ecosystem.

Nexus 7 features a classic 16:9 aspect ratio that’s ideal for widescreen movies. The obvious downside to that is it isn’t great for browsing the internet or reading text in general. Because it was sold as a Google Nexus device, it’s first in line for the post-Android 5.0 Lollipop launch.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet

Nexus 9 review

Sony makes an excellent tablet that fits in between the Nexus 7 and Nexus 9. At 8 inches, it’s small, light and durable. It’s both dust and waterproof with an IP67/68 rating.

It has a better camera (unimportant), and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.5 GHz Quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM (important). What it’s missing is Android 5.0 Lollipop. Like all other tablets at the moment, it’s still packing Android 4.4 KitKat.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Nexus 9 review

Microsoft tries to market its Surface Pro 3 as a MacBook Air competitor, but it’s still very much a tablet. That makes it ripe for a Google Nexus 9 comparison.

The newest Surface Pro comes with a fully functional keyboard, multi-position kickstand, and uses a pen. This 12-inch super-tablet runs Windows, Office and desktop apps. Nexus 9 with its own keyboard case seems as if it’s posing as a productivity tablet, but costs a lot less.

Verdict

What was great about the Nexus 7 is that it was an easy entry into the Android ecosystem. It was an affordable first tablet that you could buy when picking up the inexpensive Chromecast. There wasn’t too much thought too it.

That’s not the Nexus 9, however. It’s a serious tablet with significant internal specs boot and an equally serious price tag. It’s $399 (£319, about AU$450) for 16GB version that I don’t recommend. It’s comes down to whether there’s enough here for you to look beyond its flaws.

Nexus 9 review

We liked

If you were to adhere to "it’s what’s on the inside that counts," the Nexus 9 would be better off. It has Nvidia’s 64-bit processor, HTC’s BoomSound speakers and an impressive battery.

Google and HTC clearly designed this tablet for productivity more than widescreen movie watching. The 8.9-inch display’s 4:3 aspect ratio really does make surfing the web and editing documents easier.

Its new operating system is just as efficient. Android 5.0 Lollipop is the ultimate perk of owning this brand tablet, though the update will come out for other devices – eventually. Features like lockscreen notifications, priority mode and knock-to-wake make it the best Android version yet.

Nexus 9 review

We disliked

It’s hard to not like a pure Nexus device, but it’s the outside of the Nexus 9 that has the most trouble. Its 2K resolution screen doesn’t look as nice as the iPad Air 2 display you can get for a little more money.

Google has issued a patch to correct some of the performance problems I experienced with the tablet. However, backlight bleeding and a mediocre design that doesn’t live up to the standard that HTC is known to deliver on its own products are unfixable flaws. The camera, as expected, is terrible.

And the price – it’s hard to know whether to lambast this tablet, as it is cheaper than the competition in some cases. But previous Nexus models have always been vastly cheaper than the rivals, so it’s a shame to see the same thing not happening here.

Final verdict

Google’s Nexus 9 tablet has display size and price that’s indicative of everything you need to know about how it stacks up against the iPad Air 2. It’s just a little less.

Nexus 9 review

The smaller 8.9-inch screen is good enough until you sit it next to a richer-looking, laminated 9.7-inch iPad display. The LCD backlight bleeding doesn’t help either. Among Androids, its 4:3 aspect ratio makes it a great two-handed upgrade over the narrower and slower Nexus 7. But it’s not as thin and nowhere near as sub-pencil-thin as Apple’s "laser-cut" iPad.

More design cues have been taken from the ASUS-made Nexus 7 than HTC’s own all-metal HTC One M8. The soft rubberized back is easy to grip, yet doesn’t feel as premium. That’s a problem because this Android tablet costs much more than last year’s model. It starts at $399 (£319, about AU$450) for the 16GB version, and that space fills up rather quickly.

Android 5.0 Lollipop, and now Android 5.1.1, gives Google’s slate a software facelift, even if the hardware construction isn’t exceptional. Material Design sets the right tone and lockscreen notifications and priority mode add overdue functionality.

Nexus 9 is a few tenths of an inch shy of matching the iPad Air 2, which wouldn’t be so bad if the display and design didn’t come up short as well.

If you’re looking for a naked Android tablet, the Nexus 9 performs well and comes with some really premium touches to make it one of the best around. However, it’s not the winner in any category at this point, so it will be interesting to see how Google uses this base model to improve the entire tablet ecosystem.

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Review: UPDATED: Nexus 9

Review: UPDATED: Nexus 9

Introduction and design

  • Update: Nexus 9 has been updated to Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, and our review reflects that

Google’s Nexus 9 has been designed by HTC to be the Goldilocks of pure Android tablets and, for the most part, it succeeds at being "just right" next to anything but an iPad.

It’s not as big as the seriously outdated Samsung-made Nexus 10 and not as small as the ASUS-crafted Nexus 7. It’s the silver bullet tablet entry that costs a little more of your hard-earned gold.

There’s a specs bump behind the 8.9-inch display to help justify the price of $399 (£319, about AU$460) for the space-limited Wi-Fi-only 16GB model.

A few post-holiday discounts have it for $350 or £287, but I still prescribe the $479 (£399, about AU$552) for the 32GB Wi-Fi-only option that’s harder to find on sale. Then there’s the $599 (£459, around AU$777) 32GB LTE model.

In the UK mobile network O2 has started to offer the Nexus 9 with a range of contracts. The lowest price per month gives you a Nexus 9 for just £39.99 upfront, and then £25 a month for two years with a 500MB 4G data allowance.

You can also get the Nexus 9 for no upfront cost. The cheapest contract with no upfront cost is £29 a month for two years, and gives you 1GB of 4G data each month.

When it comes to the new specs, I’m talking about the latest Nvidia 64-bit processor, a decent 2GB of RAM, dual front-facing speakers and a decent battery to keep it all up and running for a little over nine hours.

Nexus 9 review

Even with those internal specs, Nexus 9 has a hard time measuring up to the iPad Air 2 in almost every category. Its own Android competition includes the Samsung Tab S, which flanks Google’s 9-inch option with 10.5- and 8.4-inch sizes, and the sleek Sony Z3 Tablet Compact.

What Nexus 9 has going for it more than hardware is the fact that it’s the biggest and so far one of the few ways to drive headfirst into the Android 5.0 Lollipop update along with the Nexus 6. Even better, it’s been upgraded to Android 5.1.1 this week.

That makes it a sweet enough Google tablet in more ways than one and enough to be among the best tablets for 2014.

Nexus 9 review

Design

It’s about time HTC engineered a Nexus tablet or any modern-day tablet for that matter. After all, the crafty designers at the company brought us the polished-looking HTC One M8.

No surprise, the Nexus 9 includes a metallic frame around the perimeter of this larger device. It’s nice as long as you don’t expect that all-metal design to continue around back.

This year’s tablet sticks with a soft, rubberized back cover – the same one that’s adorned by the smaller Nexus 7. It’s not an all-metal HTC One M8 equivalent, but it is easier to grip.

Nexus 9 review

And grip matters here. The Nexus 9 weighs in at a 0.94 pound (425g), which isn’t heavy, but a tablet with an 8.9-inch display should theoretically be a lot lighter than the 9.7-inch iPad. Yet Apple’s device weighs almost as much: 0.96 pound (437g).

It does suck up fingerprint grease like nothing else, and accidentally lay it on some cooking fat in the kitchen and that sheen might never come off.

The weight and size gap between it and the 0.64 lbs (290g) Nexus 7 is also fairly pronounced. Nexus 9 measures out to be 8.99 in. (228mm) tall, 6.05 in. (154mm) wide, with a 0.31 in. (7.95mm) depth, which is thicker than both the new iPad and Nexus 7.

Nexus 9 review

I would have liked to see better buttons on the Nexus 9 rim. Having tested the Nexus 6 and the new Moto X before that, I’ve come to appreciate the power button accented with ridges that don’t feel so cheap.

That was a smart Motorola design choice that helped me differentiate between the tiny volume rocker and even tinier power button in the dark.

Thankfully, it’s not always imperative to find that itty-bitty power button when the tablet is lying flat on a desk. A new "double tap to wake" feature conveniently wakes the Nexus 9 screen. HTC One M8 has the same knock-twice-to-wake perk, but it’s even more useful on this larger, weightier device.

No more awkwardly clutching the rim to press the tiny power button.

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9’s trio of colors include a premium-looking off-white called lunar white, the tan-colored sand and a fingerprint-attracting matte black, dubbed indigo black. All look and feel resilient enough to adventurously go without a cover.

The only thing I feel as though I need to protect against is lodging dust in the speakers slots. There are two dust-collecting traps at the top and bottom of the tablet that also happen to contain powerful front-facing speakers.

Nexus 9 review

The speakers slots don’t have me worried, though. It’s the lack of a micro SD card slot that is the biggest design omission. There’s no expandable storage whatsoever, meaning the 16GB model is going to be a tough sell if you use even a little bit of non-streaming multimedia.

I’ve actually come to expect this on many Android tablets (although usually the mid-range ones), so once again, the extra cost of the 32GB model is the only way to safeguard yourself from larger apps or big HD movie libraries.

Key features

Display

Nexus 9 is a new 8.9-inch display size for Google’s Nexus range. It’s a few tenths of an inch smaller than the iPad Air 2, but happens to be the same resolution as Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet.

Nexus 9 review

In fact, it’s Google’s QXGA-level slate that actually has a few more pixels per inch packed into its 2048 x 1536 IPS LCD screen.

That’s why it’s surprising that there’s no comparison: the new iPad has a richer display in a side-by-side test. Apple’s thinner, gap-free screen improves everything for better results.

The Nexus 9 is, frankly, uninspiring. The display quality watching HD movies isn’t impressive and nothing gave me that ‘wow’ factor like the first time I saw a QHD screen on a phone. It’s high res, but the color reproduction and contrast ratios were distinctly average.

nexus 9 review

I also found minor, but noticeable backlight bleeding around the bezel, which made the Nexus 9 picture quality less uniform when watching full-screen videos – or as full-screen as videos could get. Nexus 9 has a 4:3 aspect ratio that makes it more useful for productivity. The video-friendly 16:9 Nexus 7 now seems very narrow, but it’s a better fit for movie watching.

Nexus 9 review

With more height in landscape mode, it’s a two-handed device with additional headroom to read text. That’s great for surfing the web or editing a document. The screen size makes sense for work, even if the technology behind it doesn’t shine as much.

Android Lollipop

Google went from incremental updates like Android 4.4 KitKat to the full Android 5.0 with Lollipop, and the new operating system is pre-installed on the Nexus 9. This was the first device on which you could play with all of its new features, though it’s starting to trickle out to other devices now.

More stability can be found in the Android 5.1.1 over-the-air updated that’s reaching the Google-powered tablet right now.

Nexus 9 review

All of the changes from KitKat to Lollipop are realized immediately. The new unified look, "Material Design," is bright and colourful within Google’s operating system as well as its own apps. It’s almost a complete overhaul like we saw when Apple moved from iOS 6 to iOS 7.

Added conveniences like lockscreen notifications and priority mode are welcomed answers to existing Apple features, and I couldn’t be happier. Something that iOS devices don’t have is the double tap to wake the screen idea that’s borrowed from HTC’s flagship smartphone.

BoomSound speakers

Even though the all-metal design wasn’t carried over from the HTC One M8, at least the powerful BoomSound speakers point the audio in the right direction and sound just as good as on the phone.

Nexus 9 review

Unlike the Nexus 7 and iPad Air 2, these speakers aren’t facing the back or at the bottom of the tablet. YouTube videos at least sound better than they look on the 4:3 Nexus 9 display.

This makes audio from movies, games and music clearer on this tablet than anything else I’ve tested. For once, I wasn’t reaching for my Astro A38 Bluetooth headphones right away.

Magnetic keyboard attachment

This Keyboard Folio accessory wasn’t available for me to test with the Nexus 9 review unit and the Google Play Store only recently put it up for sale, so you couldn’t try it either, at least up until a few days ago. However, it’s a sold-separately productivity perk that may factor into your tablet-buying decision.

Nexus 9 review

The keyboard case folds at two angles and never needs to be plugged into the USB port. It connects wirelessly through Bluetooth and uses NFC to easily pair up. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the mechanical keys, which have 1.4mm of travel and include a Google search key – no surprise there.

Now that it’s out, I’ll test out hundreds of keystrokes for a future update to determine whether or not this business-focused add-on mounts a real challenge to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 keyboard attachment. Or if it’s better than the run-of-the-mill cheap alternatives sold on Amazon. Google’s version is $129 (£110, about AU$151), which means its targeted at serious on-the-go typers.

Interface and performance

Nexus 9 marks everyone’s first lick at Android 5.0 Lollipop, and this year’s software update stands to be more exciting than the hardware specs bump.

That’s because the new operating system fixes a handful of the problems I’ve had with prior Android versions, and it sports a cleaner look – just enough to stay fresh next to Apple’s iOS 8 update.

The problem-fixing won’t stop here, either. Nexus 9’s best feature is bound to get even better, as the latest firmware of 5.0.1 transitions to Android 5.1 in early 2015.

Interface

Google’s "Material Design" dials things back for a flatter, geometry-focused interface, one that pops off the screen with a more colourful palette. It’s bold and refreshing.

Nexus 9 review

Android Lollipop features have you do more tapping too. In addition to the aforementioned "double tap to wake," its new "tap and go" concept makes it easy to set up or restore a new device from an older one. Back-to-back, two devices transfer all data through NFC and take Android Beam to the next level.

Manually waking the screen isn’t even necessary on this tablet. Lockscreen notifications show up by default and briefly brighten the display. Don’t worry: Just in case you like to pretend people are peeking into your life via glimpses at your tablet, these automatic alerts can be blocked on a per-app basis.

A similar option comes to the all-new, system-wide Priority Mode that acts as Google’s more advanced Do Not Disturb feature. It can silence the tablet indefinitely or in intervals that range from 15 minutes to 8 hours. Certain apps can be set to function in this night-time-friendly mode, which makes paying for inferior third-party apps irrelevant.

Nexus 9 review

Quick settings are easier to access through an all-in-one menu within this pure Android version of Google’s operating system. Swiping down on the Nexus 9 screen just once will display notifications. Swiping down again or swiping down with two fingers initially reveals quick setting controls.

This menu within a menu is a much better way of organizing everything compared to prior Android tablet setups. Before, the notifications menu appeared when swiping down on the left side of the tablet and quick settings showed up when swiping down the right side. This was hit or miss when holding a tablet – especially the narrow Nexus 7 in portrait mode.

Nexus 9 review

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and airplane mode are joined by new switches including flashlight, display slider and Google Chromecast cast screen. Sadly, the quick settings can’t be changed or moved. Likewise, the battery percentage is hidden in this second menu. There’s no way to make it appear in the first swipe-down menu or, better yet, system tray next to the vague battery drain icon.

Performance

HTC outfitted this year’s Nexus tablet with an all-new heart that’s care of Nvidia’s K1 Tegra processor, a switch from the typical Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset that I’m used to finding behind tablet displays. The good news is that it’s still a 64-bit system on a chip.

Coupling the Tegra K1 with the new Android Lollipop that takes advantage of such 64-bit architecture makes the new Google tablet a good bet for the future. The two together will result in more powerful and useful apps going forward.

Nexus 9 review

Sure enough, Nexus 9 benchmarks indicate that behind the unexceptional display is a more than powerful chipset, as shown by its GeekBench 3 results. Tests indicated that the tablet averaged a 3326 multi-core score next to the iPad Air 2‘s 4500 multi-core score.

As a dual-core processor, the Tegra K1’s single-core GeekBench 3 score actually surpassed that of the new iPad. The Nexus 9 averaged a 1939 single-core score, while one core of iPad’s three-core processor averaged an 1815 score in similar tests.

But as future-proofed as the Nexus 9 CPU may be, there’s only 2GB of RAM backing it up. It won’t really be able to fully take advantage of the 64-bit ability, but will have some slight performance enhancements. It’s actually only a dual-core CPU, but don’t let that put you off as the overall benchmarking numbers for this tablet have remained impressive.

Nexus 9 review

I do have to note that I ran into a few performance hiccups with our review unit including unregistered touch abnormalities and slowdown when there were only a few tasks going at once. Google has promised that it fixed these Nexus 9 problems in a last-second firmware update that made it to the end-consumers device.

Media

The Nexus 9, despite my screen quality criticisms, plays movies just fine. In fact, the Play Movies app is already sporting the new Material Design. It provides simple movie recommendations and seamlessly links right to the Play Store’s Movies & TV section. The red-and-white colour scheme pops nicely and matches the unified look of other Android Lollipop apps.

Nexus 9 review

Streaming Django Unchained, currently the most popular selection on Netflix, proved that the Nexus 9 has more than adequate brightness levels and a solid contrast ratio. However, the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in which this movie was shot doesn’t convert well to the 4:3 display.

Nexus 9 review

Like on the similarly shaped iPad, app developers are making the best of it. For example, on Netflix, the movie title, Chromecast cast button and volume controls appear along the top to take up that large black void. Scrubbing through the timeline and the 30 second rewind button line the bottom. Don’t worry, all of the controls fade away if the screen isn’t touched for five seconds.

Games are a mixed bag. Some stretch to meet the new full-screen standard and it shows. Other games have been made with the new aspect ratio. The more that Nexus 9 finds its way into mobile gamers’ hands, the more that game apps are likely to adapt to the 4:3 high-resolution screen size. It’s just now becoming prevalent among tablets.

Nexus 9 review

Google Music goes all-orange, but features a similar unified design that can be seen on the app and all-you-can-eat music streaming website. Fun categories like "Boosting Your Energy" and "Having Fun at Work" line the top of the main page, and recent activity and recommendations take into account your past listening habits.

Nexus 9

Movies, music and games sound better than they look thanks to the BoomSound speakers. That was a major problem I had with the Nexus 7 and similar tablets that placed the speakers in the wrong direction – usually at the bottom of the device. You won’t have to plug in external speakers in a normal movie-watching environment.

Reading through longer text via the Play Newsstand app receives the biggest positive change on the Nexus 9. That 4:3 aspect ratio allows for more reading and less scrolling. Plus, there’s the ability to translate periodicals instantly, something that I find interesting in the Chrome browser and expect to make use of in Newsstand.

Battery life, camera and essentials

The Nexus 9’s battery life actually bests that of the iPad Air 2, giving Google’s tablet a rare win in the annual Android vs iPad slate comparison.

Its 6,700 mAh battery is rated up to 9.5 hours of Wi-Fi browsing and movie playback. The iPad Air is supposed to get 10 hours when performing the same exact tasks and teardowns have revealed that Apple squeezed in a 7,340 mAh battery.

Nexus 9 review

At full brightness, our Nexus 9 battery tests concluded that a 90-minute Full HD video took the battery life down to 82% from its original 100% charge. That’s a small 18% drop-off that the iPad Air 2 just didn’t match. Apple’s device went down 21% (to 79%) while running the same 90-minute video.

In other real-world testing, the Nexus 9 lasted a day and a half before I needed to recharge it. Battery life is less of an issue on a tablet than a smartphone, and the Nexus 9 is no slouch.

I was able to get stream a full HD-quality movie during a 90-minute flight, surf the internet and play a game on a 45-minute train commute and edit documents during a 20-minute Uber ride.

Planes, trains and automobiles – and I still had close to 50% battery life at full brightness.

Gaming obviously depleted the battery faster than the typical browsing and movie watching, so, while traveling, I retired from Real Racing 3 more quickly than I would have normally.

Nexus 9 review

Juicing the Nexus 9 took a little under five hours. That’s about how long it takes to recharge a fully depleted iPad. But while the Nvidia processor was great for 3D gaming, it doesn’t feature Qualcomm’s Quickcharge 2.0 technology used by HTC’s own HTC One M8.

Motorola’s Turbo Charger powers up the Nexus 6 and Moto X with anywhere from six to eight hours of battery life in just 15 minutes. And it’s not just Android smartphones that are benefitting from this Snapdragon-enabled technology. Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet and Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact use it to their advantage too.

Camera

Maybe this is a good thing, but the Nexus 9 doesn’t have a great camera embedded in its tablet frame. There’s less of a chance you’ll be tempted – for whatever reason – to snap photos with its 8.9-inch viewfinder.

Nexus 9 review

The rear-facing 8 megapixel with a f/2.4 aperture produced darker-than-normal photos with an average 1.25MB file size and 3264 x 2448 resolution.

Nexus 9 review

The single LED flash doesn’t do much unless the subject is close. The Nexus 7 actually snapped brighter, clearer and faster photos in mild low light without a flash, though it revealed more than the acceptable amount of noise.

But it's dakrer than you'd expect

It’s hard to tell which tablet I wanted to walk around town with taking test photos with less – the Nexus 9 or the Nexus 7. And this is from someone who routinely wears Google Glass. At least with the iPad Air 2 and its so-called "focus pixels," the shots are better, compensating for the ridiculous-looking viewfinder.

Nexus 9 review

The front-facing camera also shot darker, but the photos were less soft on this 1.6-megapixel camera that has a f/2.4 aperture. It’s good enough for video conferencing when the image quality isn’t all too important. Nexus 9’s rear-facing camera can take 1080p video, but it’s, again, a job best left up to your smartphone.

Messaging

Google’s messaging options can be effective, but are all over the place. The email app still exists but directs you to the close it in favor of the superior Gmail app. This original app can’t be deleted. Okay…

Nexus 9 review

Gmail, is of course wonderful compared to the default email apps by Samsung and LG. In addition to allowing users to access multiple Gmail addresses, it goes as far as supporting rival email services like Outlook and Yahoo. That’s confidence.

Then there’s Hangouts. It’s still here and works relatively well by integrating your existing Gmail contacts into the fold. But the annoyance of having friends who have personal and work accounts often leads to missed messages outside of the 9 to 5 work day and the inverse.

There’s also an issue of sending either a Hangout or an SMS on a phone, but only being able to send and receive Hangouts on a computer or a tablet like the Nexus 9. Apple’s iMessages syncs across all devices and it always tries sending an internet message first, then resorts to a carrier-sent text message if all else fails. With Hangouts, it’s either a Hangout or an SMS on a phone, and SMS is missing from Google’s cross-platform messaging ecosystem.

Nexus 9 review

The Nexus 6 doesn’t do much to fix this. It adds another app called "Messaging" to further confuse the situation.

The Nexus 9 sport a new default keyboard theme that coincides with Material Design. Both its light and dark color variants are borderless, which can be a bit jarring at first. Then you realize that this is a Google keyboard that often knows what you want to type or what you meant to type. No matter how it looks, it’s a lot smarter than the redesigned iOS 8 QuickType keyboard.

Internet

The extra Nexus screen space makes surfing the web a breeze and visiting TechRadar.com loaded up nice and quickly. Like in the Newsstand app, there’s more reading to be done and less scrolling compared to the narrower Nexus 7. I didn’t find myself constantly needing to use the 10-point multitouch display to zoom into every web page in order to read the text.

Nexus 9

Chrome has always been fast and full of options. The most recent update features faster browsing with support for preloading pages in the background. Android Lollipop includes a new guest mode and the ability to pin apps, which further secures the browsing history of your main account.

Chrome for Android has the cross-app Material Design look, though it’s less relevant because of its rather muted state. The bold colors are saved for websites, which completely makes sense.

Camera samples

Nexus 9 review

The following are Nexus 9 photos samples vs Nexus 7 2013 photo samples:

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Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 review

The competition

Nexus 9 comes in at a good price, but there are slightly more expensive tablets to take notice of before dropping your $399 (£319, about AU$450).

Apple, Samsung, Asus, Sony and even Microsoft have challengers large and small. It’s really about which features you can’t live without and how much you’re willing to spend to get them.

iPad Air 2

Nexus 9

You can’t have a modern-day tablet comparison without immediately bringing up the iPad. Apple’s newest slate is the iPad Air 2 and it’s the 9.7-inch version of what the Nexus 9 so desperately wants to be. It has a nicer-looking laminated screen, sleeker design and better tablet app ecosystem.

It is a little more expensive than the Nexus 9 and it doesn’t include BoomSound speakers. Audio is still projected from the bottom of the new iPad, while Google’s tablet has the speakers front and center on either side of the screen.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Nexus 9

As much as Apple’s gap-free screen design makes the iPad Air 2 a lightweight leader among tablets, the almost-as-thin Samsung Galaxy Tab S has a slightly better-looking display. It also fared better in sunlight.

That’s because Samsung’s two S tablets have a Super AMOLED screen. Its 10.5-inch edition is sharper, brighter and bigger than the Nexus 9. The 8.4-inch edition is sharper and brighter with a similar size and the exact same price as Google’s tablet.

Of course, Samsung Galaxy Tab S comes with Android 4.4 KitKat pre-installed, giving the Nexus 9 the edge in software – for now anyway.

Google Nexus 7

Nexus 9 review

Google is discontinuing its Nexus 7 tablet with the advent of the Nexus 9. It appears as if 9 ate 7 instead of 7 ate 9. That’s a shame because the 7-inch slate is a great little device at an affordable price. It had been the cheapest introduction to Google’s pure Android ecosystem.

Nexus 7 features a classic 16:9 aspect ratio that’s ideal for widescreen movies. The obvious downside to that is it isn’t great for browsing the internet or reading text in general. Because it was sold as a Google Nexus device, it’s first in line for the post-Android 5.0 Lollipop launch.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet

Nexus 9 review

Sony makes an excellent tablet that fits in between the Nexus 7 and Nexus 9. At 8 inches, it’s small, light and durable. It’s both dust and waterproof with an IP67/68 rating.

It has a better camera (unimportant), and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.5 GHz Quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM (important). What it’s missing is Android 5.0 Lollipop. Like all other tablets at the moment, it’s still packing Android 4.4 KitKat.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Nexus 9 review

Microsoft tries to market its Surface Pro 3 as a MacBook Air competitor, but it’s still very much a tablet. That makes it ripe for a Google Nexus 9 comparison.

The newest Surface Pro comes with a fully functional keyboard, multi-position kickstand, and uses a pen. This 12-inch super-tablet runs Windows, Office and desktop apps. Nexus 9 with its own keyboard case seems as if it’s posing as a productivity tablet, but costs a lot less.

Verdict

What was great about the Nexus 7 is that it was an easy entry into the Android ecosystem. It was an affordable first tablet that you could buy when picking up the inexpensive Chromecast. There wasn’t too much thought too it.

That’s not the Nexus 9, however. It’s a serious tablet with significant internal specs boot and an equally serious price tag. It’s $399 (£319, about AU$450) for 16GB version that I don’t recommend. It’s comes down to whether there’s enough here for you to look beyond its flaws.

Nexus 9 review

We liked

If you were to adhere to "it’s what’s on the inside that counts," the Nexus 9 would be better off. It has Nvidia’s 64-bit processor, HTC’s BoomSound speakers and an impressive battery.

Google and HTC clearly designed this tablet for productivity more than widescreen movie watching. The 8.9-inch display’s 4:3 aspect ratio really does make surfing the web and editing documents easier.

Its new operating system is just as efficient. Android 5.0 Lollipop is the ultimate perk of owning this brand tablet, though the update will come out for other devices – eventually. Features like lockscreen notifications, priority mode and knock-to-wake make it the best Android version yet.

Nexus 9 review

We disliked

It’s hard to not like a pure Nexus device, but it’s the outside of the Nexus 9 that has the most trouble. Its 2K resolution screen doesn’t look as nice as the iPad Air 2 display you can get for a little more money.

Google has issued a patch to correct some of the performance problems I experienced with the tablet. However, backlight bleeding and a mediocre design that doesn’t live up to the standard that HTC is known to deliver on its own products are unfixable flaws. The camera, as expected, is terrible.

And the price – it’s hard to know whether to lambast this tablet, as it is cheaper than the competition in some cases. But previous Nexus models have always been vastly cheaper than the rivals, so it’s a shame to see the same thing not happening here.

Final verdict

Google’s Nexus 9 tablet has display size and price that’s indicative of everything you need to know about how it stacks up against the iPad Air 2. It’s just a little less.

Nexus 9 review

The smaller 8.9-inch screen is good enough until you sit it next to a richer-looking, laminated 9.7-inch iPad display. The LCD backlight bleeding doesn’t help either. Among Androids, its 4:3 aspect ratio makes it a great two-handed upgrade over the narrower and slower Nexus 7. But it’s not as thin and nowhere near as sub-pencil-thin as Apple’s "laser-cut" iPad.

More design cues have been taken from the ASUS-made Nexus 7 than HTC’s own all-metal HTC One M8. The soft rubberized back is easy to grip, yet doesn’t feel as premium. That’s a problem because this Android tablet costs much more than last year’s model. It starts at $399 (£319, about AU$450) for the 16GB version, and that space fills up rather quickly.

Android 5.0 Lollipop, and now Android 5.1.1, gives Google’s slate a software facelift, even if the hardware construction isn’t exceptional. Material Design sets the right tone and lockscreen notifications and priority mode add overdue functionality.

Nexus 9 is a few tenths of an inch shy of matching the iPad Air 2, which wouldn’t be so bad if the display and design didn’t come up short as well.

If you’re looking for a naked Android tablet, the Nexus 9 performs well and comes with some really premium touches to make it one of the best around. However, it’s not the winner in any category at this point, so it will be interesting to see how Google uses this base model to improve the entire tablet ecosystem.

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Review: UPDATED: Nexus 9

Review: UPDATED: Nexus 9

Introduction and design

  • Update: Nexus 9 has been updated to Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, and our review reflects that

Google’s Nexus 9 has been designed by HTC to be the Goldilocks of pure Android tablets and, for the most part, it succeeds at being "just right" next to anything but an iPad.

It’s not as big as the seriously outdated Samsung-made Nexus 10 and not as small as the ASUS-crafted Nexus 7. It’s the silver bullet tablet entry that costs a little more of your hard-earned gold.

There’s a specs bump behind the 8.9-inch display to help justify the price of $399 (£319, about AU$460) for the space-limited Wi-Fi-only 16GB model.

A few post-holiday discounts have it for $350 or £287, but I still prescribe the $479 (£399, about AU$552) for the 32GB Wi-Fi-only option that’s harder to find on sale. Then there’s the $599 (£459, around AU$777) 32GB LTE model.

In the UK mobile network O2 has started to offer the Nexus 9 with a range of contracts. The lowest price per month gives you a Nexus 9 for just £39.99 upfront, and then £25 a month for two years with a 500MB 4G data allowance.

You can also get the Nexus 9 for no upfront cost. The cheapest contract with no upfront cost is £29 a month for two years, and gives you 1GB of 4G data each month.

When it comes to the new specs, I’m talking about the latest Nvidia 64-bit processor, a decent 2GB of RAM, dual front-facing speakers and a decent battery to keep it all up and running for a little over nine hours.

Nexus 9 review

Even with those internal specs, Nexus 9 has a hard time measuring up to the iPad Air 2 in almost every category. Its own Android competition includes the Samsung Tab S, which flanks Google’s 9-inch option with 10.5- and 8.4-inch sizes, and the sleek Sony Z3 Tablet Compact.

What Nexus 9 has going for it more than hardware is the fact that it’s the biggest and so far one of the few ways to drive headfirst into the Android 5.0 Lollipop update along with the Nexus 6. Even better, it’s been upgraded to Android 5.1.1 this week.

That makes it a sweet enough Google tablet in more ways than one and enough to be among the best tablets for 2014.

Nexus 9 review

Design

It’s about time HTC engineered a Nexus tablet or any modern-day tablet for that matter. After all, the crafty designers at the company brought us the polished-looking HTC One M8.

No surprise, the Nexus 9 includes a metallic frame around the perimeter of this larger device. It’s nice as long as you don’t expect that all-metal design to continue around back.

This year’s tablet sticks with a soft, rubberized back cover – the same one that’s adorned by the smaller Nexus 7. It’s not an all-metal HTC One M8 equivalent, but it is easier to grip.

Nexus 9 review

And grip matters here. The Nexus 9 weighs in at a 0.94 pound (425g), which isn’t heavy, but a tablet with an 8.9-inch display should theoretically be a lot lighter than the 9.7-inch iPad. Yet Apple’s device weighs almost as much: 0.96 pound (437g).

It does suck up fingerprint grease like nothing else, and accidentally lay it on some cooking fat in the kitchen and that sheen might never come off.

The weight and size gap between it and the 0.64 lbs (290g) Nexus 7 is also fairly pronounced. Nexus 9 measures out to be 8.99 in. (228mm) tall, 6.05 in. (154mm) wide, with a 0.31 in. (7.95mm) depth, which is thicker than both the new iPad and Nexus 7.

Nexus 9 review

I would have liked to see better buttons on the Nexus 9 rim. Having tested the Nexus 6 and the new Moto X before that, I’ve come to appreciate the power button accented with ridges that don’t feel so cheap.

That was a smart Motorola design choice that helped me differentiate between the tiny volume rocker and even tinier power button in the dark.

Thankfully, it’s not always imperative to find that itty-bitty power button when the tablet is lying flat on a desk. A new "double tap to wake" feature conveniently wakes the Nexus 9 screen. HTC One M8 has the same knock-twice-to-wake perk, but it’s even more useful on this larger, weightier device.

No more awkwardly clutching the rim to press the tiny power button.

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9’s trio of colors include a premium-looking off-white called lunar white, the tan-colored sand and a fingerprint-attracting matte black, dubbed indigo black. All look and feel resilient enough to adventurously go without a cover.

The only thing I feel as though I need to protect against is lodging dust in the speakers slots. There are two dust-collecting traps at the top and bottom of the tablet that also happen to contain powerful front-facing speakers.

Nexus 9 review

The speakers slots don’t have me worried, though. It’s the lack of a micro SD card slot that is the biggest design omission. There’s no expandable storage whatsoever, meaning the 16GB model is going to be a tough sell if you use even a little bit of non-streaming multimedia.

I’ve actually come to expect this on many Android tablets (although usually the mid-range ones), so once again, the extra cost of the 32GB model is the only way to safeguard yourself from larger apps or big HD movie libraries.

Key features

Display

Nexus 9 is a new 8.9-inch display size for Google’s Nexus range. It’s a few tenths of an inch smaller than the iPad Air 2, but happens to be the same resolution as Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet.

Nexus 9 review

In fact, it’s Google’s QXGA-level slate that actually has a few more pixels per inch packed into its 2048 x 1536 IPS LCD screen.

That’s why it’s surprising that there’s no comparison: the new iPad has a richer display in a side-by-side test. Apple’s thinner, gap-free screen improves everything for better results.

The Nexus 9 is, frankly, uninspiring. The display quality watching HD movies isn’t impressive and nothing gave me that ‘wow’ factor like the first time I saw a QHD screen on a phone. It’s high res, but the color reproduction and contrast ratios were distinctly average.

nexus 9 review

I also found minor, but noticeable backlight bleeding around the bezel, which made the Nexus 9 picture quality less uniform when watching full-screen videos – or as full-screen as videos could get. Nexus 9 has a 4:3 aspect ratio that makes it more useful for productivity. The video-friendly 16:9 Nexus 7 now seems very narrow, but it’s a better fit for movie watching.

Nexus 9 review

With more height in landscape mode, it’s a two-handed device with additional headroom to read text. That’s great for surfing the web or editing a document. The screen size makes sense for work, even if the technology behind it doesn’t shine as much.

Android Lollipop

Google went from incremental updates like Android 4.4 KitKat to the full Android 5.0 with Lollipop, and the new operating system is pre-installed on the Nexus 9. This was the first device on which you could play with all of its new features, though it’s starting to trickle out to other devices now.

More stability can be found in the Android 5.1.1 over-the-air updated that’s reaching the Google-powered tablet right now.

Nexus 9 review

All of the changes from KitKat to Lollipop are realized immediately. The new unified look, "Material Design," is bright and colourful within Google’s operating system as well as its own apps. It’s almost a complete overhaul like we saw when Apple moved from iOS 6 to iOS 7.

Added conveniences like lockscreen notifications and priority mode are welcomed answers to existing Apple features, and I couldn’t be happier. Something that iOS devices don’t have is the double tap to wake the screen idea that’s borrowed from HTC’s flagship smartphone.

BoomSound speakers

Even though the all-metal design wasn’t carried over from the HTC One M8, at least the powerful BoomSound speakers point the audio in the right direction and sound just as good as on the phone.

Nexus 9 review

Unlike the Nexus 7 and iPad Air 2, these speakers aren’t facing the back or at the bottom of the tablet. YouTube videos at least sound better than they look on the 4:3 Nexus 9 display.

This makes audio from movies, games and music clearer on this tablet than anything else I’ve tested. For once, I wasn’t reaching for my Astro A38 Bluetooth headphones right away.

Magnetic keyboard attachment

This Keyboard Folio accessory wasn’t available for me to test with the Nexus 9 review unit and the Google Play Store only recently put it up for sale, so you couldn’t try it either, at least up until a few days ago. However, it’s a sold-separately productivity perk that may factor into your tablet-buying decision.

Nexus 9 review

The keyboard case folds at two angles and never needs to be plugged into the USB port. It connects wirelessly through Bluetooth and uses NFC to easily pair up. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the mechanical keys, which have 1.4mm of travel and include a Google search key – no surprise there.

Now that it’s out, I’ll test out hundreds of keystrokes for a future update to determine whether or not this business-focused add-on mounts a real challenge to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 keyboard attachment. Or if it’s better than the run-of-the-mill cheap alternatives sold on Amazon. Google’s version is $129 (£110, about AU$151), which means its targeted at serious on-the-go typers.

Interface and performance

Nexus 9 marks everyone’s first lick at Android 5.0 Lollipop, and this year’s software update stands to be more exciting than the hardware specs bump.

That’s because the new operating system fixes a handful of the problems I’ve had with prior Android versions, and it sports a cleaner look – just enough to stay fresh next to Apple’s iOS 8 update.

The problem-fixing won’t stop here, either. Nexus 9’s best feature is bound to get even better, as the latest firmware of 5.0.1 transitions to Android 5.1 in early 2015.

Interface

Google’s "Material Design" dials things back for a flatter, geometry-focused interface, one that pops off the screen with a more colourful palette. It’s bold and refreshing.

Nexus 9 review

Android Lollipop features have you do more tapping too. In addition to the aforementioned "double tap to wake," its new "tap and go" concept makes it easy to set up or restore a new device from an older one. Back-to-back, two devices transfer all data through NFC and take Android Beam to the next level.

Manually waking the screen isn’t even necessary on this tablet. Lockscreen notifications show up by default and briefly brighten the display. Don’t worry: Just in case you like to pretend people are peeking into your life via glimpses at your tablet, these automatic alerts can be blocked on a per-app basis.

A similar option comes to the all-new, system-wide Priority Mode that acts as Google’s more advanced Do Not Disturb feature. It can silence the tablet indefinitely or in intervals that range from 15 minutes to 8 hours. Certain apps can be set to function in this night-time-friendly mode, which makes paying for inferior third-party apps irrelevant.

Nexus 9 review

Quick settings are easier to access through an all-in-one menu within this pure Android version of Google’s operating system. Swiping down on the Nexus 9 screen just once will display notifications. Swiping down again or swiping down with two fingers initially reveals quick setting controls.

This menu within a menu is a much better way of organizing everything compared to prior Android tablet setups. Before, the notifications menu appeared when swiping down on the left side of the tablet and quick settings showed up when swiping down the right side. This was hit or miss when holding a tablet – especially the narrow Nexus 7 in portrait mode.

Nexus 9 review

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and airplane mode are joined by new switches including flashlight, display slider and Google Chromecast cast screen. Sadly, the quick settings can’t be changed or moved. Likewise, the battery percentage is hidden in this second menu. There’s no way to make it appear in the first swipe-down menu or, better yet, system tray next to the vague battery drain icon.

Performance

HTC outfitted this year’s Nexus tablet with an all-new heart that’s care of Nvidia’s K1 Tegra processor, a switch from the typical Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset that I’m used to finding behind tablet displays. The good news is that it’s still a 64-bit system on a chip.

Coupling the Tegra K1 with the new Android Lollipop that takes advantage of such 64-bit architecture makes the new Google tablet a good bet for the future. The two together will result in more powerful and useful apps going forward.

Nexus 9 review

Sure enough, Nexus 9 benchmarks indicate that behind the unexceptional display is a more than powerful chipset, as shown by its GeekBench 3 results. Tests indicated that the tablet averaged a 3326 multi-core score next to the iPad Air 2‘s 4500 multi-core score.

As a dual-core processor, the Tegra K1’s single-core GeekBench 3 score actually surpassed that of the new iPad. The Nexus 9 averaged a 1939 single-core score, while one core of iPad’s three-core processor averaged an 1815 score in similar tests.

But as future-proofed as the Nexus 9 CPU may be, there’s only 2GB of RAM backing it up. It won’t really be able to fully take advantage of the 64-bit ability, but will have some slight performance enhancements. It’s actually only a dual-core CPU, but don’t let that put you off as the overall benchmarking numbers for this tablet have remained impressive.

Nexus 9 review

I do have to note that I ran into a few performance hiccups with our review unit including unregistered touch abnormalities and slowdown when there were only a few tasks going at once. Google has promised that it fixed these Nexus 9 problems in a last-second firmware update that made it to the end-consumers device.

Media

The Nexus 9, despite my screen quality criticisms, plays movies just fine. In fact, the Play Movies app is already sporting the new Material Design. It provides simple movie recommendations and seamlessly links right to the Play Store’s Movies & TV section. The red-and-white colour scheme pops nicely and matches the unified look of other Android Lollipop apps.

Nexus 9 review

Streaming Django Unchained, currently the most popular selection on Netflix, proved that the Nexus 9 has more than adequate brightness levels and a solid contrast ratio. However, the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in which this movie was shot doesn’t convert well to the 4:3 display.

Nexus 9 review

Like on the similarly shaped iPad, app developers are making the best of it. For example, on Netflix, the movie title, Chromecast cast button and volume controls appear along the top to take up that large black void. Scrubbing through the timeline and the 30 second rewind button line the bottom. Don’t worry, all of the controls fade away if the screen isn’t touched for five seconds.

Games are a mixed bag. Some stretch to meet the new full-screen standard and it shows. Other games have been made with the new aspect ratio. The more that Nexus 9 finds its way into mobile gamers’ hands, the more that game apps are likely to adapt to the 4:3 high-resolution screen size. It’s just now becoming prevalent among tablets.

Nexus 9 review

Google Music goes all-orange, but features a similar unified design that can be seen on the app and all-you-can-eat music streaming website. Fun categories like "Boosting Your Energy" and "Having Fun at Work" line the top of the main page, and recent activity and recommendations take into account your past listening habits.

Nexus 9

Movies, music and games sound better than they look thanks to the BoomSound speakers. That was a major problem I had with the Nexus 7 and similar tablets that placed the speakers in the wrong direction – usually at the bottom of the device. You won’t have to plug in external speakers in a normal movie-watching environment.

Reading through longer text via the Play Newsstand app receives the biggest positive change on the Nexus 9. That 4:3 aspect ratio allows for more reading and less scrolling. Plus, there’s the ability to translate periodicals instantly, something that I find interesting in the Chrome browser and expect to make use of in Newsstand.

Battery life, camera and essentials

The Nexus 9’s battery life actually bests that of the iPad Air 2, giving Google’s tablet a rare win in the annual Android vs iPad slate comparison.

Its 6,700 mAh battery is rated up to 9.5 hours of Wi-Fi browsing and movie playback. The iPad Air is supposed to get 10 hours when performing the same exact tasks and teardowns have revealed that Apple squeezed in a 7,340 mAh battery.

Nexus 9 review

At full brightness, our Nexus 9 battery tests concluded that a 90-minute Full HD video took the battery life down to 82% from its original 100% charge. That’s a small 18% drop-off that the iPad Air 2 just didn’t match. Apple’s device went down 21% (to 79%) while running the same 90-minute video.

In other real-world testing, the Nexus 9 lasted a day and a half before I needed to recharge it. Battery life is less of an issue on a tablet than a smartphone, and the Nexus 9 is no slouch.

I was able to get stream a full HD-quality movie during a 90-minute flight, surf the internet and play a game on a 45-minute train commute and edit documents during a 20-minute Uber ride.

Planes, trains and automobiles – and I still had close to 50% battery life at full brightness.

Gaming obviously depleted the battery faster than the typical browsing and movie watching, so, while traveling, I retired from Real Racing 3 more quickly than I would have normally.

Nexus 9 review

Juicing the Nexus 9 took a little under five hours. That’s about how long it takes to recharge a fully depleted iPad. But while the Nvidia processor was great for 3D gaming, it doesn’t feature Qualcomm’s Quickcharge 2.0 technology used by HTC’s own HTC One M8.

Motorola’s Turbo Charger powers up the Nexus 6 and Moto X with anywhere from six to eight hours of battery life in just 15 minutes. And it’s not just Android smartphones that are benefitting from this Snapdragon-enabled technology. Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet and Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact use it to their advantage too.

Camera

Maybe this is a good thing, but the Nexus 9 doesn’t have a great camera embedded in its tablet frame. There’s less of a chance you’ll be tempted – for whatever reason – to snap photos with its 8.9-inch viewfinder.

Nexus 9 review

The rear-facing 8 megapixel with a f/2.4 aperture produced darker-than-normal photos with an average 1.25MB file size and 3264 x 2448 resolution.

Nexus 9 review

The single LED flash doesn’t do much unless the subject is close. The Nexus 7 actually snapped brighter, clearer and faster photos in mild low light without a flash, though it revealed more than the acceptable amount of noise.

But it's dakrer than you'd expect

It’s hard to tell which tablet I wanted to walk around town with taking test photos with less – the Nexus 9 or the Nexus 7. And this is from someone who routinely wears Google Glass. At least with the iPad Air 2 and its so-called "focus pixels," the shots are better, compensating for the ridiculous-looking viewfinder.

Nexus 9 review

The front-facing camera also shot darker, but the photos were less soft on this 1.6-megapixel camera that has a f/2.4 aperture. It’s good enough for video conferencing when the image quality isn’t all too important. Nexus 9’s rear-facing camera can take 1080p video, but it’s, again, a job best left up to your smartphone.

Messaging

Google’s messaging options can be effective, but are all over the place. The email app still exists but directs you to the close it in favor of the superior Gmail app. This original app can’t be deleted. Okay…

Nexus 9 review

Gmail, is of course wonderful compared to the default email apps by Samsung and LG. In addition to allowing users to access multiple Gmail addresses, it goes as far as supporting rival email services like Outlook and Yahoo. That’s confidence.

Then there’s Hangouts. It’s still here and works relatively well by integrating your existing Gmail contacts into the fold. But the annoyance of having friends who have personal and work accounts often leads to missed messages outside of the 9 to 5 work day and the inverse.

There’s also an issue of sending either a Hangout or an SMS on a phone, but only being able to send and receive Hangouts on a computer or a tablet like the Nexus 9. Apple’s iMessages syncs across all devices and it always tries sending an internet message first, then resorts to a carrier-sent text message if all else fails. With Hangouts, it’s either a Hangout or an SMS on a phone, and SMS is missing from Google’s cross-platform messaging ecosystem.

Nexus 9 review

The Nexus 6 doesn’t do much to fix this. It adds another app called "Messaging" to further confuse the situation.

The Nexus 9 sport a new default keyboard theme that coincides with Material Design. Both its light and dark color variants are borderless, which can be a bit jarring at first. Then you realize that this is a Google keyboard that often knows what you want to type or what you meant to type. No matter how it looks, it’s a lot smarter than the redesigned iOS 8 QuickType keyboard.

Internet

The extra Nexus screen space makes surfing the web a breeze and visiting TechRadar.com loaded up nice and quickly. Like in the Newsstand app, there’s more reading to be done and less scrolling compared to the narrower Nexus 7. I didn’t find myself constantly needing to use the 10-point multitouch display to zoom into every web page in order to read the text.

Nexus 9

Chrome has always been fast and full of options. The most recent update features faster browsing with support for preloading pages in the background. Android Lollipop includes a new guest mode and the ability to pin apps, which further secures the browsing history of your main account.

Chrome for Android has the cross-app Material Design look, though it’s less relevant because of its rather muted state. The bold colors are saved for websites, which completely makes sense.

Camera samples

Nexus 9 review

The following are Nexus 9 photos samples vs Nexus 7 2013 photo samples:

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 review

The competition

Nexus 9 comes in at a good price, but there are slightly more expensive tablets to take notice of before dropping your $399 (£319, about AU$450).

Apple, Samsung, Asus, Sony and even Microsoft have challengers large and small. It’s really about which features you can’t live without and how much you’re willing to spend to get them.

iPad Air 2

Nexus 9

You can’t have a modern-day tablet comparison without immediately bringing up the iPad. Apple’s newest slate is the iPad Air 2 and it’s the 9.7-inch version of what the Nexus 9 so desperately wants to be. It has a nicer-looking laminated screen, sleeker design and better tablet app ecosystem.

It is a little more expensive than the Nexus 9 and it doesn’t include BoomSound speakers. Audio is still projected from the bottom of the new iPad, while Google’s tablet has the speakers front and center on either side of the screen.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Nexus 9

As much as Apple’s gap-free screen design makes the iPad Air 2 a lightweight leader among tablets, the almost-as-thin Samsung Galaxy Tab S has a slightly better-looking display. It also fared better in sunlight.

That’s because Samsung’s two S tablets have a Super AMOLED screen. Its 10.5-inch edition is sharper, brighter and bigger than the Nexus 9. The 8.4-inch edition is sharper and brighter with a similar size and the exact same price as Google’s tablet.

Of course, Samsung Galaxy Tab S comes with Android 4.4 KitKat pre-installed, giving the Nexus 9 the edge in software – for now anyway.

Google Nexus 7

Nexus 9 review

Google is discontinuing its Nexus 7 tablet with the advent of the Nexus 9. It appears as if 9 ate 7 instead of 7 ate 9. That’s a shame because the 7-inch slate is a great little device at an affordable price. It had been the cheapest introduction to Google’s pure Android ecosystem.

Nexus 7 features a classic 16:9 aspect ratio that’s ideal for widescreen movies. The obvious downside to that is it isn’t great for browsing the internet or reading text in general. Because it was sold as a Google Nexus device, it’s first in line for the post-Android 5.0 Lollipop launch.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet

Nexus 9 review

Sony makes an excellent tablet that fits in between the Nexus 7 and Nexus 9. At 8 inches, it’s small, light and durable. It’s both dust and waterproof with an IP67/68 rating.

It has a better camera (unimportant), and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.5 GHz Quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM (important). What it’s missing is Android 5.0 Lollipop. Like all other tablets at the moment, it’s still packing Android 4.4 KitKat.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Nexus 9 review

Microsoft tries to market its Surface Pro 3 as a MacBook Air competitor, but it’s still very much a tablet. That makes it ripe for a Google Nexus 9 comparison.

The newest Surface Pro comes with a fully functional keyboard, multi-position kickstand, and uses a pen. This 12-inch super-tablet runs Windows, Office and desktop apps. Nexus 9 with its own keyboard case seems as if it’s posing as a productivity tablet, but costs a lot less.

Verdict

What was great about the Nexus 7 is that it was an easy entry into the Android ecosystem. It was an affordable first tablet that you could buy when picking up the inexpensive Chromecast. There wasn’t too much thought too it.

That’s not the Nexus 9, however. It’s a serious tablet with significant internal specs boot and an equally serious price tag. It’s $399 (£319, about AU$450) for 16GB version that I don’t recommend. It’s comes down to whether there’s enough here for you to look beyond its flaws.

Nexus 9 review

We liked

If you were to adhere to "it’s what’s on the inside that counts," the Nexus 9 would be better off. It has Nvidia’s 64-bit processor, HTC’s BoomSound speakers and an impressive battery.

Google and HTC clearly designed this tablet for productivity more than widescreen movie watching. The 8.9-inch display’s 4:3 aspect ratio really does make surfing the web and editing documents easier.

Its new operating system is just as efficient. Android 5.0 Lollipop is the ultimate perk of owning this brand tablet, though the update will come out for other devices – eventually. Features like lockscreen notifications, priority mode and knock-to-wake make it the best Android version yet.

Nexus 9 review

We disliked

It’s hard to not like a pure Nexus device, but it’s the outside of the Nexus 9 that has the most trouble. Its 2K resolution screen doesn’t look as nice as the iPad Air 2 display you can get for a little more money.

Google has issued a patch to correct some of the performance problems I experienced with the tablet. However, backlight bleeding and a mediocre design that doesn’t live up to the standard that HTC is known to deliver on its own products are unfixable flaws. The camera, as expected, is terrible.

And the price – it’s hard to know whether to lambast this tablet, as it is cheaper than the competition in some cases. But previous Nexus models have always been vastly cheaper than the rivals, so it’s a shame to see the same thing not happening here.

Final verdict

Google’s Nexus 9 tablet has display size and price that’s indicative of everything you need to know about how it stacks up against the iPad Air 2. It’s just a little less.

Nexus 9 review

The smaller 8.9-inch screen is good enough until you sit it next to a richer-looking, laminated 9.7-inch iPad display. The LCD backlight bleeding doesn’t help either. Among Androids, its 4:3 aspect ratio makes it a great two-handed upgrade over the narrower and slower Nexus 7. But it’s not as thin and nowhere near as sub-pencil-thin as Apple’s "laser-cut" iPad.

More design cues have been taken from the ASUS-made Nexus 7 than HTC’s own all-metal HTC One M8. The soft rubberized back is easy to grip, yet doesn’t feel as premium. That’s a problem because this Android tablet costs much more than last year’s model. It starts at $399 (£319, about AU$450) for the 16GB version, and that space fills up rather quickly.

Android 5.0 Lollipop, and now Android 5.1.1, gives Google’s slate a software facelift, even if the hardware construction isn’t exceptional. Material Design sets the right tone and lockscreen notifications and priority mode add overdue functionality.

Nexus 9 is a few tenths of an inch shy of matching the iPad Air 2, which wouldn’t be so bad if the display and design didn’t come up short as well.

If you’re looking for a naked Android tablet, the Nexus 9 performs well and comes with some really premium touches to make it one of the best around. However, it’s not the winner in any category at this point, so it will be interesting to see how Google uses this base model to improve the entire tablet ecosystem.

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Hands-on review: Kobo Glo HD

Hands-on review: Kobo Glo HD

Hands on: Kobo Glo HD review

Many who already own an ereader are happy with their purchases and it’s a real struggle for companies such as Amazon or Kobo to get them to upgrade as their so happy with their purchases.

Kobo’s CEO Michael Tamblyn told me the aim of this device is to get into a new audience – those who have a passing interest in technology and read often, but have yet to make the jump from the page to the eink screen.

Design and screen

Kobo’s Glo HD hasn’t drastically changed since the original was released at the back end of 2012 – overall the design language is quite similar to what we’ve seen on the previous release.

Heavy set bezels surround the display giving a good amount of space to place your thumbs without touching the digital page.

Kobo Glo HD Review

Ereaders are one of the few gadgets where I breathe a sigh of relief at the sign of a thick bezel as it makes for a much more comfortable way of handling it than on smaller devices.

Along the bottom bezel sits a slightly raised up Kobo logo but apart from that there isn’t much to distract your eye from the page you’re supposed to be reading on the front of the device.

The sides of the device are reasonably thin and mean the device fits in the hand well while the microUSB slot for charging and data transfer sits on the bottom.

Kobo Glo HD Review

This is surrounded by a load of device specific information which used to ruin the look on some Kobo devices; this time around it’s a little less obvious but it may be different on the white or lighter colour versions as we’ve yet to try them out.

Kobo Glo HD Review

The power button sits on the top edge which I find a poor position as it means you have to switch to two hands to press it comfortably. I’d much prefer this button on the right hand edge of the handset so it was easy for the thumb to thump it.

That said, you’re unlikely to be pressing this button much – it’s only real use is to set it into sleep mode when you’ve finished up reading.

Kobo’s Glo HD comes with a soft touch back with a slight bobble design all over to enhance the grip, and it does help it stay in your hand a little bit easier.

Kobo Glo HD Review

Now for the display – arguably the only important part of an ereader. As is the nature of a book, you’re going to be concentrating on it for quite long periods of time so it’s going to need to be really comfortable on the eye.

This time around Kobo has upped the screen to the highest resolution available on an ereader, but it’s the same as we’ve seen on other Amazon ereaders, for the cheapest price currently on the market.

It is a 6-inch Carta e-ink HD touchscreen with a pixel resolution of 1448 x 1072 ppi and once again it’s the best experience I’ve had on an ereader. It gives for a much better reading experience than previous Kobo displays and would be more suitable for long reading periods.

Kobo Glo HD Review

In bright sunlight there is still no glare on the display, the photos I’ve taken show off the ereader on a very sunny day and it’s still possible to read the display with ease.

I’ll get to work on testing it in a different amount of lighting as well and give you a full rundown in the full review coming soon.

Store and battery

So far I’ve not managed to test out the battery properly but I’ve been told it’ll give up to two months of battery if you’re using it for 30 minutes a day with ComfortLight and Wi-Fi turned off.

Kobo Glo HD Review

As for the store, it’s never going to stand up to the biggest book retailer in the world, but it sure tries. The Kobo Store is certainly more restricted than Amazon’s but new books are added regularly with the option to download from other sources and port them in.

Plus Kobo also takes your likes into account by giving you the best experience for recommending other novels – it doesn’t just rip your recommendations straight out of the top 50 books. It’ll always compare your previous reads to what others like you read and enjoyed.

Kobo Glo HD Review

On top of that it takes note of books you haven’t finished, if you got 10% into one book it won’t make it’s way into the formula to work out new books you’d like whilst a book you’ve read three times would count more.

Verdict

If you’re in the market for a new ereader the Kobo Glo HD is certainly worth a look. It supplies a similar set up to the Amazon Kindle Voyage but the price difference is strong.

The design varies quite a bit but considering the Kindle Voyage is going to cost you £169.00 whilst the Kobo Glo HD is only going to cost you £109.99 ($129.99 or AUS179) it’s difficult to argue for Amazon’s option.

The price difference alone will mean many see Kobo’s Glo HD as a stronger option. The display is exactly the same resolution, the design is a little smaller and it even offers the same amount of storage.

If you’re already invested in Amazon’s store it may be difficult to switch over but the selection of books and magazines in Kobo’s store is growing and the fact you can add in books from other sources is an attractive prospect.

If you’re in need of a full blown ereader it’ll be difficult to go wrong with the Kobo Glo HD.

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Hands-on review: Kobo Glo HD

Hands-on review: Kobo Glo HD

Hands on: Kobo Glo HD review

Many who already own an ereader are happy with their purchases and it’s a real struggle for companies such as Amazon or Kobo to get them to upgrade as their so happy with their purchases.

Kobo’s CEO Michael Tamblyn told me the aim of this device is to get into a new audience – those who have a passing interest in technology and read often, but have yet to make the jump from the page to the eink screen.

Design and screen

Kobo’s Glo HD hasn’t drastically changed since the original was released at the back end of 2012 – overall the design language is quite similar to what we’ve seen on the previous release.

Heavy set bezels surround the display giving a good amount of space to place your thumbs without touching the digital page.

Kobo Glo HD Review

Ereaders are one of the few gadgets where I breathe a sigh of relief at the sign of a thick bezel as it makes for a much more comfortable way of handling it than on smaller devices.

Along the bottom bezel sits a slightly raised up Kobo logo but apart from that there isn’t much to distract your eye from the page you’re supposed to be reading on the front of the device.

The sides of the device are reasonably thin and mean the device fits in the hand well while the microUSB slot for charging and data transfer sits on the bottom.

Kobo Glo HD Review

This is surrounded by a load of device specific information which used to ruin the look on some Kobo devices; this time around it’s a little less obvious but it may be different on the white or lighter colour versions as we’ve yet to try them out.

Kobo Glo HD Review

The power button sits on the top edge which I find a poor position as it means you have to switch to two hands to press it comfortably. I’d much prefer this button on the right hand edge of the handset so it was easy for the thumb to thump it.

That said, you’re unlikely to be pressing this button much – it’s only real use is to set it into sleep mode when you’ve finished up reading.

Kobo’s Glo HD comes with a soft touch back with a slight bobble design all over to enhance the grip, and it does help it stay in your hand a little bit easier.

Kobo Glo HD Review

Now for the display – arguably the only important part of an ereader. As is the nature of a book, you’re going to be concentrating on it for quite long periods of time so it’s going to need to be really comfortable on the eye.

This time around Kobo has upped the screen to the highest resolution available on an ereader, but it’s the same as we’ve seen on other Amazon ereaders, for the cheapest price currently on the market.

It is a 6-inch Carta e-ink HD touchscreen with a pixel resolution of 1448 x 1072 ppi and once again it’s the best experience I’ve had on an ereader. It gives for a much better reading experience than previous Kobo displays and would be more suitable for long reading periods.

Kobo Glo HD Review

In bright sunlight there is still no glare on the display, the photos I’ve taken show off the ereader on a very sunny day and it’s still possible to read the display with ease.

I’ll get to work on testing it in a different amount of lighting as well and give you a full rundown in the full review coming soon.

Store and battery

So far I’ve not managed to test out the battery properly but I’ve been told it’ll give up to two months of battery if you’re using it for 30 minutes a day with ComfortLight and Wi-Fi turned off.

Kobo Glo HD Review

As for the store, it’s never going to stand up to the biggest book retailer in the world, but it sure tries. The Kobo Store is certainly more restricted than Amazon’s but new books are added regularly with the option to download from other sources and port them in.

Plus Kobo also takes your likes into account by giving you the best experience for recommending other novels – it doesn’t just rip your recommendations straight out of the top 50 books. It’ll always compare your previous reads to what others like you read and enjoyed.

Kobo Glo HD Review

On top of that it takes note of books you haven’t finished, if you got 10% into one book it won’t make it’s way into the formula to work out new books you’d like whilst a book you’ve read three times would count more.

Verdict

If you’re in the market for a new ereader the Kobo Glo HD is certainly worth a look. It supplies a similar set up to the Amazon Kindle Voyage but the price difference is strong.

The design varies quite a bit but considering the Kindle Voyage is going to cost you £169.00 whilst the Kobo Glo HD is only going to cost you £109.99 ($129.99 or AUS179) it’s difficult to argue for Amazon’s option.

The price difference alone will mean many see Kobo’s Glo HD as a stronger option. The display is exactly the same resolution, the design is a little smaller and it even offers the same amount of storage.

If you’re already invested in Amazon’s store it may be difficult to switch over but the selection of books and magazines in Kobo’s store is growing and the fact you can add in books from other sources is an attractive prospect.

If you’re in need of a full blown ereader it’ll be difficult to go wrong with the Kobo Glo HD.

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Hands-on review: Kobo Glo HD

Hands-on review: Kobo Glo HD

Hands on: Kobo Glo HD review

Many who already own an ereader are happy with their purchases and it’s a real struggle for companies such as Amazon or Kobo to get them to upgrade as their so happy with their purchases.

Kobo’s CEO Michael Tamblyn told me the aim of this device is to get into a new audience – those who have a passing interest in technology and read often, but have yet to make the jump from the page to the eink screen.

Design and screen

Kobo’s Glo HD hasn’t drastically changed since the original was released at the back end of 2012 – overall the design language is quite similar to what we’ve seen on the previous release.

Heavy set bezels surround the display giving a good amount of space to place your thumbs without touching the digital page.

Kobo Glo HD Review

Ereaders are one of the few gadgets where I breathe a sigh of relief at the sign of a thick bezel as it makes for a much more comfortable way of handling it than on smaller devices.

Along the bottom bezel sits a slightly raised up Kobo logo but apart from that there isn’t much to distract your eye from the page you’re supposed to be reading on the front of the device.

The sides of the device are reasonably thin and mean the device fits in the hand well while the microUSB slot for charging and data transfer sits on the bottom.

Kobo Glo HD Review

This is surrounded by a load of device specific information which used to ruin the look on some Kobo devices; this time around it’s a little less obvious but it may be different on the white or lighter colour versions as we’ve yet to try them out.

Kobo Glo HD Review

The power button sits on the top edge which I find a poor position as it means you have to switch to two hands to press it comfortably. I’d much prefer this button on the right hand edge of the handset so it was easy for the thumb to thump it.

That said, you’re unlikely to be pressing this button much – it’s only real use is to set it into sleep mode when you’ve finished up reading.

Kobo’s Glo HD comes with a soft touch back with a slight bobble design all over to enhance the grip, and it does help it stay in your hand a little bit easier.

Kobo Glo HD Review

Now for the display – arguably the only important part of an ereader. As is the nature of a book, you’re going to be concentrating on it for quite long periods of time so it’s going to need to be really comfortable on the eye.

This time around Kobo has upped the screen to the highest resolution available on an ereader, but it’s the same as we’ve seen on other Amazon ereaders, for the cheapest price currently on the market.

It is a 6-inch Carta e-ink HD touchscreen with a pixel resolution of 1448 x 1072 ppi and once again it’s the best experience I’ve had on an ereader. It gives for a much better reading experience than previous Kobo displays and would be more suitable for long reading periods.

Kobo Glo HD Review

In bright sunlight there is still no glare on the display, the photos I’ve taken show off the ereader on a very sunny day and it’s still possible to read the display with ease.

I’ll get to work on testing it in a different amount of lighting as well and give you a full rundown in the full review coming soon.

Store and battery

So far I’ve not managed to test out the battery properly but I’ve been told it’ll give up to two months of battery if you’re using it for 30 minutes a day with ComfortLight and Wi-Fi turned off.

Kobo Glo HD Review

As for the store, it’s never going to stand up to the biggest book retailer in the world, but it sure tries. The Kobo Store is certainly more restricted than Amazon’s but new books are added regularly with the option to download from other sources and port them in.

Plus Kobo also takes your likes into account by giving you the best experience for recommending other novels – it doesn’t just rip your recommendations straight out of the top 50 books. It’ll always compare your previous reads to what others like you read and enjoyed.

Kobo Glo HD Review

On top of that it takes note of books you haven’t finished, if you got 10% into one book it won’t make it’s way into the formula to work out new books you’d like whilst a book you’ve read three times would count more.

Verdict

If you’re in the market for a new ereader the Kobo Glo HD is certainly worth a look. It supplies a similar set up to the Amazon Kindle Voyage but the price difference is strong.

The design varies quite a bit but considering the Kindle Voyage is going to cost you £169.00 whilst the Kobo Glo HD is only going to cost you £109.99 ($129.99 or AUS179) it’s difficult to argue for Amazon’s option.

The price difference alone will mean many see Kobo’s Glo HD as a stronger option. The display is exactly the same resolution, the design is a little smaller and it even offers the same amount of storage.

If you’re already invested in Amazon’s store it may be difficult to switch over but the selection of books and magazines in Kobo’s store is growing and the fact you can add in books from other sources is an attractive prospect.

If you’re in need of a full blown ereader it’ll be difficult to go wrong with the Kobo Glo HD.

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Review: Updated: iPad Air

Review: Updated: iPad Air

Introduction and design

The original iPad Air showed us all what we needed to know about Apple’s changed approach to tablets – with a 43% thinner bezel and a 28% lighter body than the iPads that came before it, the iPad Air champions the ‘easier to live with’ ideal.

Although the iPad Air’s successor, the iPad Air 2, has now been out a while it doesn’t mean that the original iPad Air isn’t worth considering if you’re after a tablet, especially since that the price has dropped now that there’s a new iPad Air on the block.

The original iPad Air took many of its design cues from the iPad mini 2. It’s got the same smooth back design, thinner bezel and more attractive speakers at the bottom of the slate to make it look like more of a family with the cut down tablet from Apple’s stables.

While it’s a clear copy of that smaller device, I’m not going to get upset as the mini already had a stunning design, and the Air takes that message and brings it to the big leagues.

It also has machined buttons that don’t feel loose when shaking, bringing up the premium feel to the device.

On top of the improved design the Air also got Apple’s A7 chip, bringing with it 64-bit processing power and reams of battery saving techniques to keep your tablet going even longer in day to day use. Again, that’s been superseded by the A8X chip in the Air 2, but you still get a decent slug of power here.

And the greatest thing about the iPad range in my eyes is the price – Apple is starting the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model at the same cost as its rivals, and while that outlay does spiral up as capacity and connectivity increase, for an Apple device to not charge an (unnecessary) premium is something I’m really happy to see.

Even better, since the arrival of the iPad Air 2, prices for the original iPad Air have fallen.

You’re looking at a price range of £319 – £459 ($399 – $579 or AU$499 – AU$709), starting from the 16GB version (Wi-Fi only) to the 32GB cellular option.

Apple has discontinued the 64GB version of the iPad Air, so if you’re after a larger capacity then you’ll want to invest in the iPad Air 2.

You could also scour the internet for a second hand iPad Air 64GB model. With the launch of the iPad Air 2 many people have put their perfectly good original iPad Airs up for sale, so with a bit of careful shopping you could net yourself a bargain.

iPad Air review

Apple has lobbed in a lot of useful free software, as well as bringing a more refined experience with iOS 8, and you can see that it’s put a lot of effort into making the iPad Air the tablet that shows it’s not losing its relevancy in the market, even if it’s nearly been two years since its launch.

If you’re coming here thinking about buying the iPad Air right now – remember that the iPad Air 2 is now out with a number of enhancements over this model.

The keynote for the launch of the iPad Air talked a lot about Apple’s dominance in terms of tablet usage, but since then a large number of users are starting to warm to the idea of an Android model as their main device – Samsung is currently the big name in Android, with its Galaxy Tab S line offering an improved screen and better ergonomics for those preferring the Android experience in a tablet.

iPad Air review]

It’s worth noting that the 16GB option of the iPad Air is nigh-on useless as a purchase if you’re thinking of pulling in all the free apps Apple is slinging your way – this was an issue when the Retina display landed on the iPad 3, and has only got worse as more HD apps from developers have been slipped onto the App Store.

The fact that the original iPad Air now only comes in 16GB and 32GB configurations may make you reconsider your purchase if you’re looking on storing a large number of photos, music, videos and apps.

iPad Air review

Even so, the iPad Air remains a tempting purchase on paper – but how does it actually perform in the hand when subjected to rigorous daily use?

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Design

The iPad Air is an odd device when you pick it up for the first time. When you hear all the numbers being bandied about you’d rightly assume that you’d feel something that was almost ghost-like in the hand, a tablet that could almost get blown away.

And I’m utterly not disputing that – the iPad Air is the most balanced tablet on the market, with great precision going into the engineering throughout.

However, if you’ve touched an iPad mini or just haven’t held an older iPad for a while (and with some people we tested with, even those that had) you won’t feel as much of a step up as you’d be expecting.

iPad Air review

The design of the iPad Air is, as I’ve mentioned, very impressive. Yes, it’s totally based on the iPad mini, and the smooth aluminium back is really great to feel in the hand. It’s a shame that most people feel the need to slap a cover on an iPad as soon as it’s bought – while I get the notion of protection, it hides away some cracking design.

That said, at least it keeps the fingers away from the chassis, and the iPad Air is a real magnet for prints. The back cover isn’t too bad, but the mirrored Apple logo sucks down finger oil and is loathe to give it back even with hard scrubbing with a cloth.

iPad Air review

It might not sound like a big deal, but it makes your premium new tablet look a bit unkempt right from the start.

But in actual operation, the design of the iPad Air complements the impressive innards superbly. It’s unsurprisingly not possible to hold your hand the entire way around the edge of the Air, but then again it’s so light (and comes with the ability to disregard erroneous thumbs entering the screen, again like the iPad mini) that it doesn’t really make a big difference.

iPad Air review

The rest of the buttonry – the top-mounted power key and the silencing rocker switch and volume buttons at the side – haven’t moved far, but protrude nicely to make them very easy to hit no matter where you’re holding the device – being able to find such things without looking is often sacrificed in the quest to make tablets look sleeker, so I’m happy Apple has gone the other way here.

There is one note of criticism in terms of design for such a decent (and still expensive, despite costing the same as many of its peers) piece of kit: the screen has a plastic thud to it when tapping, thanks to the smaller and lighter innards.

It’s most noticeable when grazed with a fingernail, although in a case the effect is lessened. I’m surprised Apple let this feature go unchallenged, but it seems in making the design thinner and removing part of the inner cage the overall strength of the chassis is somewhat reduced.

It’s not a major issue by any means, and certainly one that you’ll only pick up on sporadically, but it’s still enough to irk at times when you’re expecting a truly premium experience.

Many of you will also be wondering why there’s no Touch ID onboard the iPad Air when it’s such a large selling point for the iPhone 5S.

iPad Air review

We’re in the same boat. The architecture is there. It surely can’t be an issue of space seeing as the technology fitted into the iPhone 5S.

Turns out Apple held it back as one of the ‘big upgrades’ for the iPad Air 2 – which certainly raised a few eyebrows.

Display

The display on the iPad Air is nothing overly new – but it’s still amazing. It uses a new technology to make sure that the power isn’t sucked as heavily, which is as much to do with the overall battery pain as it is about making sure we don’t see a repeat of the ultra-warm tablets of previous years.

But in reality, things look very nice indeed, with Retina already a mainstay of Apple’s larger tablet for years now.

I still think it’s a touch too reflective for watching video (and that’s something that’s been changed in the new iPad Air 2), but according to DisplayMate, it’s not that bad.

There’s also the small matter of the higher-res, sharper and more colour-saturated tablet screen on the market with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S – while I’m still waiting for the test results between these two tablets, I’ve no doubt that the South Korean model will be more impressive overall than Apple’s version when it comes to web browsing and movie watching.

Ray Soneira of the same laboratory testing facility has found that things are actually pretty good on that front, with less than 10 per cent of the light hitting the screen surface actually reflecting back into your peepers.

However, Apple hasn’t made the best large-screen tablet display on the market according to DisplayMate. While the Air performs fairly well in most scenarios, it’s bested by the competition – namely the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9.

iPad Air review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

It’s clear that the iPad Air is much better than the Nexus 10, which is predictable given that’s a device that’s well past the end of its life.

The PPI on the iPad Air may make it look like it’s a tablet that isn’t as sharp as the competition, but in reality that makes no difference given the distance you hold it from your eyes.

There’s no doubt that the iPad Air isn’t as good as the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, which has dynamic contrast to make pictures look simply stunning on the screen.

But the Air is powerful enough and won’t let you down on the display front in any way.

iPad Air review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

As you can see here, the iPad Air is like the rest of the competition when it comes to flicking the tablet around in your hands – the brightness and color will quickly shift away from perfection when you begin to tilt.

This wasn’t a problem in most scenarios, as you’ll be the only one using the device in day to day use. However, if you’ve got it set up on a stand in a kitchen while cooking, for instance, it will irk a little. It’s nothing major, but I saw that the Kindle Fire HDX was superior here in that example.

iPad Air review

As I mentioned, the reflectivity of the iPad Air isn’t the best on the market, and might irritate lightly at times. The Nexus 10 still looks like an awful tablet, but given it has a much lower cost than the competition, we can’t castigate it too much.

You can head over to the DisplayMate report to see the full findings of the tablet test, but the results were that while the Amazon tablet was the best in all tests – and the best the laboratory had ever seen, apparently – the iPad has made some significant gains here too, offering a more power efficient display.

Crucially, it’s larger too, meaning you’re getting more of a viewing experience – I think that the 8.9-inch screen of Amazon’s offering isn’t the best for an extended movie marathon.

Interface

The iPad Air launched with iOS 7, but Apple has kept up with its update commitment by pushing iOS 8 to the slate. More specifically the Air runs the very latest software – iOS 8.3 – which is the same as the iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6.

I’ll run through some of the key features and how they perform on the Air in a moment, but the main thing to know is that the iPad Air is fast. Really fast.

We’re getting to a point where describing a smartphone or tablet as quick under the finger is pointless – once you reach a certain point there’s not a lot more speed to be gained.

iPad Air

Even dual-core phones were more than acceptable, so why make a point of highlighting the speed of the new iPad?

Well, it’s just virtually flawless through all kinds of tasks. A millisecond faster from a finger press might not seem like much, but once you do a hundred or a thousand of them in a day, and then go back to something like the iPad 3, you’ll realise that there’s a real difference in the operation.

Our benchmarking scores saw the iPad Air narrowly eclipse the iPhone 5S, also running the 64-bit A7 chip, in terms of overall speed – which makes sense given it’s slightly more optimised for the larger screen but still maintains the same power output.

Since the upgrade to iOS 8 its performance has improved further. Back on iOS 7 it scored 2629, but now we’re looking at a score of 2660. That’s not a difference you’ll notice, but it’s nice to see something getting faster not slower over time.

Like it or loathe it, iOS 7 is still a real step forward for a company that desperately needed to refresh its offering in the face of stiff competition from Android and iOS 8 further improves things.

The new flatter interface takes away the pointless need to pretend all apps are real-life objects just to integrate them into people’s lives – users know that pressing the Photos app will take them there, no matter the result.

Like most popular platforms that get upgraded, there’s been a large amount of flack coming Apple’s way for iOS 7, with features like the parallax effect (no, there’s no way of saying that word without thinking it should be the name of a Marvel supervillain) being turned off by a number of users.

It’s also fair to say that the troubled launch of iOS 8, which suffered from a number of bugs, has also left some iPad Air owners unhappy.

iPad Air

Parallax is where tilting your iPad will see your wallpaper move with the motion, giving a 3D effect on the screen. And while this was annoyingly unpredictable on the iPhone 5S, on the Air it’s much better and I wouldn’t advise you turn it off, unlike on other Apple devices.

It doesn’t even have a huge effect on battery life, which is impressive in itself.

The rest of the interface is easy to use and makes sense for the most part. One of the bigger features of iOS 7 and iOS 8 is the notification bar, found by dragging down from the top of the tablet. This gives access to updates, calendar entries and missed messages. Initially it was one of the weaker parts of the OS, as it always started on the calendar, which doesn’t often give a lot of useful information.

The ‘Missed’ section was often also sparsely populated, but update to iOS 8 and a swipe will start you on the Today and Notifications menu, the latter of which is a condensed version of the All and Missed tabs from iOS 7. It’s a big improvement all round.

However, there are a lot of other areas in which the Cupertino brand has made strides in terms of improving the user experience too with iOS 7 and iOS 8.

For instance, swiping upwards with all five fingers (or double tapping the home button) will lead to the multi-tasking pane, which shows all of your apps in large thumbnails. This is an excellent interface, although perhaps a little large, and you can swiftly jump between apps or flick a thumbnail upwards to end it.

On top of that, the home screen is now updated to allow a much larger number of apps in each folder. Now you can create collections just by dragging icons on top of one another, and continue to do so almost ad nauseum. This prevents the need to make loads of folders called ‘Game 1′ ‘Game 2′ and ‘Why do I have this many games that I don’t play?’, and allows a much less cluttered home screen.

iPad Air

Apple still hasn’t updated its operating system to allow users to autosort their apps, meaning if you uninstall something (by long-pressing the icon until everything jiggles and then tapping the ‘x’) then the space won’t be filled by an app from another screen. When in the edit mode you can rearrange things, but it’s not the most time-efficient way of making everything look neat.

The new Control Center is something worth highlighting too – drag up from the bottom of the screen and you can control music, brightness, turn on Wi-Fi and loads more. I would have thought that most people know all about this feature, but the number of iOS 7 and iOS 8 users who get their minds blown when I show them that this exists means it’s worth highlighting.

And it is well worth upgrading the iPad Air to iOS 8, for new features such as keyboard extensions, Siri improvements and more.

There are tonnes of nuances to Apples UI that I’d like to laud here, but I invite you to go and use it for yourself, as despite there being no tutorial, there’s very little here that the novice user won’t be able to pick up.

I would like to give a special mention to the ‘five finger pinch’ if you’ve not used it before on previous iPads. Make sure it’s enabled in Settings->General, and then simply pinch in with four or five fingers in any app to return to the home screen. You’ll be trying to do it on your phone before you know it, such is its simplicity.

Contacts, messaging and Facetime

The iPad Air is a fine device for a number of things – but you might not necessarily think that calling is one of them. But with the addition of Facetime Audio, and the improved Facetime HD camera, this is a great device for when you’re marooned in a hotel room and desperate to say goodnight to your child / cat / favourite potato.

The camera on the front of the iPad Air, a 1.2MP option, shows your whole face very nicely, with a detailed level of sharpness. Of course, it depends on your internet connection as to whether this detail is transmitted to the person on the other end of the call, but it’s a great way to keep in touch with other iUsers.

And with Facetime Audio now an option, you can have free voice calls with other enabled users thanks to VoIP technology. Once in the app you can set up your favourite people as instant contacts to call – and helpfully they can also be set to call through voice or video by default.

The 1.2MP camera of the iPad Air is good enough that Apple didn’t see the need to replace it on the iPad Air 2, which features the same front-facing snapper.

iPad Air review

While there aren’t that many other ways to talk to people over the iPad Air, the Contacts app is still obviously on board, giving access to all the people you’ve spoken to and saved over the years.

However, be careful when adding accounts, as you’ll likely have a few on there and it’s very easy to have information from Exchange, Gmail, Hotmail and iCloud all jostling for position in your list, as well as those from Facebook too.

It’s not as easy as on Android to change these though, as you’ll need to jump into the external Settings app once more to check the right boxes. However, when this is done things are nice and simple, showing the friends you’ve saved as well as their Facebook picture (or other that you’ve tagged) if you’ve linked the accounts.

However, here’s an issue we’re not sure why Apple hasn’t fixed as yet: contact linking is nigh-on impossible unless you drill right down through the editing menu. You can pull all manner of social network account info into a contact card, but when adding the names in you’re not going to link to the right person unless you’re exact with your spelling.

It’s confusing as to why your contact lists aren’t pulled from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and more when you’re trying to perform this task, but it’s very difficult to tag people together, which is irritating when you want pictures to go alongside each name.

Messaging

While it can be hard to find the people you want (or at least have all the social networks linked) messaging on the iPad is a much better experience. There’s iMessage and the decent inbuilt email app on offer as standard, and the variety of other chat apps you can download is mind blowing.

iMessage remains a slightly confusing app in that it can pull in information on your phone number and email addresses and use these to connect to other users – however, this isn’t always accurate when you’re trying to share details and can result in people trying to contact you in the wrong way. It’s better than it is on the iPhone, which has texting to worry about too, but it’s never the most reliable system to set up in our eyes.

Thankfully, the Mail app is a lot better, with a wide and expansive view that makes full use of the screen size. You get a decent column down one side to see all your missives, and a gentle swipe across allows you to move or edit the mail or send it to the trash can.

iPad Air review

On top of that, emails are grouped together nicely when in conversation flow, email folders are easy to use and you can have all your messages in one inbox, even with a variety of accounts being used.

I also like the VIP setting, allowing you to tag only your boss and colleagues, so you know when to panic should you see a mail arriving there.

The Apple keyboard on the iPad Air is an odd experience. Not because it’s inaccurate or poor to use – far from it, I found that we could get up quite a speed thanks to the larger keys – but because of that strange plastic thud when you strike the screen each time. It’s most off-putting, and lacks the quiet rigidity the early (and much weightier) iPads used to offer.

However, I do like the keyboard, as it’s easy to split and move, which is great for both portrait and landscape use – it’s nothing Earth-shattering, but it’s features like this that open up the scope of the iPad so much.

If you don’t get on with it then that’s not such a problem any more either, as iOS 8 includes support for third party keyboards and with iOS 8.3 you’re treated to Apple’s new range of emojis. Exciting!

Internet

The internet browser on the iPad Air needs to be impressive, as otherwise one of the key functions for this device is really negated. While you might not be seeing much of an upgrade over older iPads in terms of functionality, the speed in overall use of the device is definitely something to be lauded.

The main difference over the iPad 3 / iPad 4 (out of the box) is that iOS 7 makes everything a little cleaner and less obtrusive. For instance, the URL bar won’t dynamically retreat like it does on the iPhone range, but with 9.7 inches of space to play with, I can’t say that I blame it too much.

The bar is actually chock-full of functionality in the same way as its Android counterpart, although there’s perhaps a spot more relevance to everything that’s run with the Air. For instance, the reading mode is just a simple icon of text lines in the URL bar, allowing you to easily switch to a more text-friendly mode.

iPad Air review

It’s a little irritating that you can’t sync this with Pocket, as although you might be fine using the ‘Saved for Later’ function of Safari on the iPad, if you’re not using an iPhone as your smartphone then there’s no central repository for all the articles you want to read later.

At least if you copy the URL of the site you’re reading the app can intelligently work out that you might want to save it to Pocket – but when you can share links over Facebook and Twitter with such ease then it doesn’t seem fair that other popular apps aren’t supported.

Of course this is completely subjective, and something we would have expected from Apple a few years ago. It’s become more relaxed about working with partners recently, however, so perhaps the functionality will come.

In reality, all these reading modes don’t mean much when you’ve got such a speedy and responsive browser. Apple is touting the fact the iPad Air is one of the first tablets to use MIMO wireless connectivity, (although many on the market, Samsung Galaxy Tab S included, now do the same thing) allowing for a stronger and faster Wi-Fi connection. In reality this means that you can wander further from the router and still get access to the internet when you’ve decided against shelling out for the cellular version of the iPad.

iPad Air review

The text looks supremely clear on this larger screen, which might have the same resolution as previous iterations of the iPad but in side by side comparisons looks a little clearer and brighter. It’s no surprise that Apple would make strides in this area, although text wrapping when zoomed in could still do with some work.

However, the internet browser on the iPad Air is one to be rather respected, as it does what it needs to do with considerable aplomb. Whether you want to see a list of shared links from Twitter (which is a rather underrated feature, drawing only the tweets from your friends that contain links) or save articles to check out when you don’t have connectivity, there’s little the iPad can’t do.

If you’re in a family home with a number of Apple devices then you can easily share links using AirDrop, and this will be useful for those that hate doing the same over messaging or Facebook – although with iMessage, it’s hardly a chore.

But Apple has kept things simple on both functionality and the interface on the iPad Air’s internet browser, and that makes a lot of sense to me.

Camera and Video

iPad Air review

What’s better than an 8MP iSight camera on the iPhone 6? Well, it’s not what you can find on the iPad Air, that’s for sure. Apple has kept the same 5MP iSight camera from previous iterations of the tablet, which does at least have half-decent backside illumination and acceptable low-light performance.

I’m not sure what Apple is doing with the camera interface though – it’s like a completely bare version of that seen on the iPhone 6, with fewer options to choose from. Want to take a photo or video? That’s fine. You can even take a square snap for those moments when you need a portrait pic too.

iPad Air review

However, there’s no filter option in sight, nor the ability to change to a Slo-Mo camera as we’ve seen on other recent Apple hardware. Given that the Air is running the necessary A7 64-bit chip to enable the enhanced video mode, I’ve no idea why you can’t do the same here.

Even the filters would make sense, as the iPhone 5C can use these, and that’s hardly as powerful a beast. This is probably the biggest criticism of the iPad Air I can throw at the new tablet from Apple, as the decision is slightly perplexing.

But in a way, that’s wonderful. You might have noticed that I’m hardly a fan of the cameras on tablets at the best of times, and if there was one thing that I’d happily sacrifice for a thinner tablet, it’s this functionality.

That Apple has put anything in there at all is testament to some clever engineering, so while the performance isn’t that good (although shutter speed was very impressive as I’d expected) it’s more than adequate for something that shouldn’t be replacing a smartphone or dedicated camera anyway.

iPad Air review

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iPad Air review

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iPad Air review

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iPad Air review

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iPad Air review

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iPad Air review

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Media

The iPad Air has a lofty bar to beat when it comes to media performance, as Apple is creating a rich heritage in this area. Its all-encompassing iTunes software and store are used by so many people that a device to properly output the music and video is a must.

Well, I can’t fault many things media-wise on the iPad Air, not least because it ticks most of the boxes we can think of.

Music

The audio performance of the iPad Air is hugely impressive, even with the most basic of earbuds on offer. There are plenty of other reviews out there that seem to gloss over the fact that the iPad is as much a media-centric device as anything else, and no matter how many streaming services you subscribe to, the output is always going to be limited by the hardware.

But what Apple has done, and to be honest, always managed to do, is bring refined audio output to a system that commands a premium price.

iPad Air review

Through a decent pair of headphones it’s possible to capture all the nuance of high-bitrate audio, and even streamed to an external speaker via Bluetooth things don’t sound as muddy and horrendous as they might on other devices.

OK, you’re not going to use your iPad as a primary music player for either Spotify or onboard tracks, but I found myself increasingly popping the tablet out on the table next to where I was working to get my fix of Cascada or Haddaway. (Please tell us: WHAT IS LOVE?)

So while sonically I’m enamoured, the interface still feels like, as with other elements in iOS 7 and iOS 8 for iPad, it’s designed for an iPhone and stretched up.

I get that it’s meant to be a simple way to show as many songs as possible, and appreciate the widgets on the lock screen and in the Control Center. However, can’t we have a more beautiful interface? You can either have a long list of songs with a tiny controller at the top, or a Now Playing screen that is surrounded by bland and unsubtle white.

iPad Air review

What happened to the Cover Flow beauty of the first iPhone? Where did that go? It’s made even worse by the fact that finally we have a processor that can keep up with all the artwork, yet all we get is this pool of limpid uninterestingness.

It’s not a deal breaker, and it speaks volumes about the overall quality of the iPad Air that I’m so annoyed about a tiny thing. If there were bigger fish to fry, this would be glossed right over.

I could mention that it’s rather irritating to not be able to get music on and off the device without using iTunes if you’re against wires, but that’s an old refrain. The second Apple lifts that lid, it’s going to see its share of on-device downloads plummet thanks to cheaper options elsewhere.

Consumer choice vs Apple profits? That’s an easy one to work out, strategy-wise.

Video

Another strength Apple has is its ability to display video in a really rather attractive way. Whether it’s stuff you’ve bought and downloaded directly to the device, or videos that you’ve chucked on there yourself, it all looks brilliant on the Retina display.

It’s worth noting that if you want to download in super-high quality you’re going to have to make sure you have enough space to keep it all – more on that a little later in the section.

The video player itself is a bit of a mixed bag. While anything you’ve already bought is nicely labelled and sorted, any other content you’ve lobbed on the device through iTunes (again, there’s no other way) can look out of place, mis-named and have a weird sorting or odd thumbnail.

iPad Air review

You can alter all of this in the menu through iTunes, but it’s a bit of an effort for those that aren’t as au fait with the working of Apple’s media management.

Add to that the fact Apple refuses to budge on the 4:3 ratio on its iPad screens, and watching video that’s not encoded from the 1990s isn’t much fun. On top of that the file support is limited, and even those that are supposed to play have to be at a pretty specific bitrate to make it past the iTunes gatekeeper and onto your precious tablet.

You can download a third party player and place much more content on that way, but unless you’ve got one of the good ones (FlexPlayer is a decent choice) then you can find a lot of crashing while trying to watch your favourite movie.

However, for support for files like AVI you’ll have to use something like this – otherwise it’s a time-consuming and difficult process of re-encoding your movies.

iPad Air review

I would like to mention the excellent performance of the speakers – they’re incredibly powerful in a package so thin and come with a decent slug of bass too.

They’re not going to replace your headphones – and nor should they, especially on public transport – but if you’re alone in a hotel room and want to watch a special interest movie or two, then you’ll get the full effect of what the… actors are trying to convey.

Storage

One issue that plagues modern iPads is that of storage. If you opt for the 16GB option then you’re really only allowing yourself to get half the experience, so I advise you bump that up a little bit straight away.

It’s not hard to fill up double that space with apps alone – you’re munching through 2-3GB of storage just by downloading Apple’s free apps already.

iPad Air review

On top of that, most HD movies and apps designed for the Retina screens can fill up huge swathes of megabytes, meaning if you’re not careful you’ll be told you can’t download some apps pretty soon after buying your shiny new iPad.

Battery life and Apps

Battery life on the iPad Air is quoted at "Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music". I would say that’s actually not a bad estimate, although the drain was closer to 2% every 10 minutes in general use, which equates to around nine hours’ use.

Standby time is much, much better though. I found that I could stick the iPad Air in a bag, taking it out for the commute and messing about with it on the sofa at home, for at least three days before it began to get low on battery.

In fact, the only real task that killed it was connecting to an amplifier via Wi-Fi while simultaneously streaming music to the same device through Bluetooth. It’s doing things like this that make you realise that this is the kind of thing that we envisaged at the turn of the century, a tablet that has the brains and connectivity to do all the tasks we could want.

iPad Air review

In terms of connectivity, we’ve already mentioned the excellent Wi-Fi performance (in terms of distance from router, rather than improved speed) through the Multiple In, Multiple Out (MIMO) technology.

4G bands are now covered throughout the globe, and low power Bluetooth is also on board as well, making it an incredibly well-connected device.

Apps

Apple has thrown on reams of free software with the iPad Air (and other iOS 7 and 8 devices too), so you now get access to the likes of Pages, Numbers, Keynote from the iWork tribe as well as iPhoto, iMovie and Garageband for free.

These are incredibly powerful tools for what is still essentially a cut-down mobile device – I can’t say that I’d recommend using them regularly without a keyboard (in the case of iWork, or the newer Office for iPad) but elements such as iPhoto and Garageband really give you the chance to express yourself fluidly.

When you consider that the iPad Air will be appearing under the Christmas tree for a few lucky (and wealthy) people, having software right out of the box (well, you do have to download it actually, and it’s a fairly hefty download) is a big plus for a shiny new toy.

iPad Air review

On top of that, I still feel the need to laud the Apple App Store for its ability to offer the best apps around. We’re talking about things like BBC iPlayer and Sky Go, both of which offer improved user interfaces and allowed downloads first before the Android hop came.

The gap between Apple and Google’s app portals is narrowing, but there’s no doubt that users will still feel far more secure in the app experience they’ll get on an Apple tablet compared to an Android one for now, and that’s a big reason to purchase.

iPad Air review

Maps should also gain something of a special mention, as while it was a PR disaster for Apple, it’s slowly clawing its way back to usable thanks to constant upgrades.

It’s still far from the best out there, and we’d recommend you download the excellent Google Maps as soon as possible, but we rarely find that Apple Maps is offering an inaccurate course for us to navigate down to the shops – just don’t ask it to find obscure towns whose names appear in multiple places.

Competition

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2

The natural successor to the Air comes with more power, an even slimmer design and enhanced cameras – improving on the overall iPad experience.

Even though it sports the same screen resolution as the original Air, the iPad Air 2 has been given a boost in brightness and colour, making a marked improvement over its predecessor.

You also get the added security of Touch ID – something which is missing on the Air – although you’ll have to pay full price for all this and at the end of the day usage isn’t all that different between this and the original Air.

There’s also better storage options with 64GB and 128GB models joining the 16GB entry level Air 2 – although the latter is best avoided for the same reasons as I explained earlier in this review.

iPad mini 2

iPad mini 2

Like the iPad Air, the iPad Mini 2 has also been replaced – by the iPad mini 3 – which means the slate has witnessed a price drop and considering the tiny increment between the 2 and 3 it makes this mini iPad the best proposition.

If you’re sold on the iPad offering, but less so on the £319, $399, AU$499+ price tag or general size than the 7.9-inch mini 2 could well be perfect for you.

It’s got a heap of power, the same premium styling and the latest iOS software from just £239, $299, AU$369. You can get it in either 16GB or 32GB sizes (I’d recommend the larger of the two) plus there’s the option to add cellular connectivity too.

Nexus 9

Nexus 9

The Nexus 9 is a direct rival to the iPad Air in terms of price, design and form factor. The HTC made tablet sports a metal chassis, 8.9-inch display, dual-core Tegra K1 processor and Android 5.0 Lollipop.

It also has more RAM (2GB vs 1GB), a better camera (8MP vs 5MP) and a lighter frame (425g vs 469g).

There are some short comings however, with screen quality subpar and a design which isn’t a premium, sleek or appealing as Apple’s slate.

Hands on photos

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

Official photography

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

Verdict

The iPad Air is a big step forward for Apple in so many ways – not least through design and setting a precedent for the future.

It’s 28% lighter and 20% thinner, taking up 24% less volume overall. I can see that Apple has really pushed the envelope when it comes to design, and the result is pretty phenomenal.

It’s getting a little longer in the tooth now (check out our review of the iPad Air 2 for all the info about the sequel or the Samsung Galaxy Tab S range if you’re on the market for an Android option) so if you’re not desperate to buy now, perhaps wait a while to see what the new version brings.

We liked

Reading back over the iPad 4 review, the issues I came across before have largely been resolved. The design is better. The bezel is smaller. The price is palatable in comparison to the competition.

The speaker output is immensely impressive, the overall look and feel of iOS 7 more intuitive and it’s got even better with iOS 8, while the general speed of operation is unsurpassed.

The range of accessories, the ecosystem and the general speed with which the iPad works, especially when it comes to the heavy lifting, is massively impressive. Nothing is a huge leap forward, more a set of constant steps towards the perfect tablet that make everything that little more slick to use.

We disliked

As mentioned, there’s very little that Apple hasn’t addressed here for me to really criticise. The 16GB option of the tablet simply isn’t enough storage for most to be able to get the best out of their iPad.

iOS 7 doesn’t feel like a completed operating system for this advanced device though iOS 8 has since gone some way towards fixing things, and while I’m not that bothered with the simplistic functionality which is almost a plus to some, the absence of Touch ID is strange given it was so widely expected.

The camera is no great shakes, but I wouldn’t be complaining if Apple had got rid of it altogether – however, to not offer the software that’s found on the iPhone 5S is odd.

And here’s an odd one: the iPad Air is lighter, but it’s not light. It’s not got the same feel we found when we first picked up the iPad mini, or the iPhone 5, or the Sony Xperia Tablet Z. It’s not too heavy or anything, but it didn’t wow me the first time I held it.

Verdict

Make no mistake – Apple finally nailed the tablet with a great combination of specs, power and a decent OS in this option.

It’s a joy to hold the iPad Air – even though it’s now the thicker option. From the clever construction to the fast processor to the improved user interface, Apple has found an answer to every criticism I had of the device and then some.

The fact it’s not even more expensive than its large-screen brethren is really impressive for an Apple product, and the suite of apps that are now free, coupled with the excellent App Store and premium build, make this a no brainer for anyone looking to enter the tablet market.

I’d advise that you get the largest capacity of iPad Air your budget can manage – although at the top end you’re verging on Macbook territory, so make sure you’re ready to use a tablet and think about getting an external keyboard to make full use of the extra apps you’ve now got.

You’ve seen the score, and for those keeping tabs you’ll realise the iPad Air is TechRadar’s first five-star tablet. It’s a device with almost no flaws – and even though the iPad Air 2 is out, it’s still remains one of the best tablets available today.

First reviewed: November 2013

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