It’s not often that two really compelling tablets debut in the same week. Actually, if you ask me, I’d be hard pressed to think of two compelling tablets, but anyway. But just a week ago, we found ourselves with a rather difficult choice – The Nexus 9 or the iPad Air 2. So, we decided to ask our editors, “If you had to spend your own money on one of these two tablets, which would it be?” Our answers were just as varied as our editorial staff. Some were predictable, others not so much. We’re keeping score here, so let’s see what the team says.
“Times, they are a-changin'”
A year ago, this answer would have been easy for me – the Nexus 9. Android is a much more compelling operating system than iOS – you can do more with it. iOS is just too darn expensive to take seriously. True to that philosophy, I once wrote an admittedly harsh piece on how the iPad Mini shouldn’t even exist. But then I went to work for a software developer, and a new perspective emerged.
iPads are simplistic, and boring, but they always work. They’re easy. They have a ton of apps for everything. On a mobile device, the operating system itself simply is not enough. If it was, I’d still be using webOS. The iOS ecosystem is there. And it works stunningly well almost all the time. I love the freedom and extreme lack of boredom that Android offers, but at the end of the day, I want to USE my tablet, not spend all day customizing it and avoiding scams in the minefield that is the Google Play store. So, it’s an iPad for me. For the record, that is a sentence I never thought I would write.
“I already have the best tablet on the market, and it ain’t these.”
Do I also have to use it? I think both of those would sit unused or even stay in their boxes if I was given either for free. I’d take the more expensive one, sell it on eBay and use the money for something more useful. My Surface Pro is already more than capable of taking care of any of my mobile computing needs that can’t be done on a smartphone. I’ll carry a Surface Pro if I might need to do some heavy Photoshop work, batch process a couple thousand RAW photos, edit some video in Premiere Pro, develop a website, or design a phone case for 3D printing. iOS and Android tablets can’t do all of those things very well. I would kind of like to try some of the new Adobe apps for iOS like Premiere Clip, but then I realize I’ve already got the real thing on my current tablet that’s just as portable and far more powerful. Maybe I could use it as a couch tablet just for light web stuff, reading email, or whatnot while my phone’s battery is charging, but I also have a $99 Dell Venue 8 Pro that works extremely well in that scenario. In other words, I’d prefer not to waste my money.
“It’s all about the storage, baby.”
Choosing between the iPad Air 2 and the Nexus 9 is complicated. I’ve been an HTC fan since the brand didn’t even exist, back when it would build products for Compaq, and I’ve remained loyal ever since. I love everything there is to see about the Nexus 9, from its design, to the added value of having this be an HTC product in things like Boom Sound. Sadly, after my underwhelming experience with Android tablets in the past, I’m more inclined for the iPad Air 2.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that content consumption requires storage, and even though a 32GB Nexus 9 is more affordable than a 16GB iPad Air 2, I can’t survive with either storage option. My needs are of at least 64GB of storage, and with Google’s shocking reluctance to provide customers with expandable storage, I’d rather pay for an extra premium for a 64GB iPad, than spend a year deleting and adding stuff as part of a regular routine. Obviously your millage and priorities my vary, but these are mine.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that a guy they call “Joe the Android Guy” would spend my own money on the Nexus 9 over the iPad Air 2, but it’s not just Android versus iOS. As far as specifications and “bang for your buck”, the Nexus clearly has the iPad beat.
Apple’s new iPad Air 2 has a 9.7-inch display with a resolution of 2048×1536 and 264 pixels per inch. Although the screen on the Nexus 9 is a little smaller (read: easier to transport), it’s got the same resolution. That means the Nexus 9 has a clearer crisper screen when measuring pixel density.
Both tablets run 64-bit CPUs with operating systems designed to take advantage of the extra horsepower. But the NVIDIA chip inside the Nexus, with 192 cores of graphics processing power, the “2.5x” boost Apple is advertising seems almost silly by comparison.
That’s when we get to price. The Nexus 9 will come in three different versions, ranging from $399 for the 16GB version to $599 for the a 32GB version WiFi and LTE. The iPad demands a $100 premium – or more.
That’s where it comes back to the openness of each. I can install anything I want on the Nexus 9 – even 3rd party app stores – without jailbreaking or rooting. Apple doesn’t let you do that.
Better specifications, the ability to run the apps that you want, and a savings of $100 or more? I think the choice is clear.
“Tablets are sooo 2010.”
Neither of ’em.
That’s a serious reply, as anyone who listened to the latest Pocketnow Weekly podcast can attest. It’s not that I dislike either the Nexus 9 or the new iPad Air; with strong legacies and capable manufacturers backing them up, I’m confident they’re both wonderful devices in their own ways. But I don’t care, because I carry huge phones.
Whether it’s the second-gen Moto X I use as an Android daily driver or the Note 4 review device that’s currently backing it up, I’ve got over five inches of display in my palm ready to do my bidding – and if you own a 2014 flagship smartphone, odds are you do too. In the case of the Note, Multi Window multitasking and the S Pen make it even more worthy as a tablet replacement. The only time I’m yearning for a larger mobile screen is when I’m carrying my 4.5-inch Lumia 1020, and in that case either Air or Nexus would do, because each offers full access to the Google suite I’m missing on my Windows Phone.
Two years ago, I asked the rhetorical question: With phones this big, who needs a tablet? In the time since, phones have only gotten bigger, and the question’s answer (for me) more firmly rooted. The new Air and Nexus 9 will be exciting to review, but I just don’t need either of them … and I suspect I’m not alone.
Chief News Editor
“Open system versus closed system.”
Well, I’m not loving either tablet, and a big part of that has to do with the display geometry. 4:3 is a queer aspect ratio for today’s mobile apps and media, and no matter how you slice it, its presence is going to mean making sacrifices. I’d be slightly more amenable had the resolution kept at least one figure from common media formats – like if the screens were 1920 by 1440, so you could still at least display letterboxed 1080p content without scaling it (NEVER scale video if you can avoid it) – but the combination of 4:3 and 2K seems horribly ill-conceived.
At the end of the day, I have to choose the Nexus 9 just because of Android. Closed platforms are unacceptable, full stop. But that’s a rant for another time.
“I’m not the only person saying it”
The iPad Air 2. No question. I’ve explained on the Weekly countless times that Android is my goto mobile platform, simply for its flexibility and power, but the tablet support just isn’t there yet. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I don’t like about Android tablets, but I’ve owned dozens of them, yet I keep coming back to the iPad despite preferring Android on my smartphones. Maybe it’s the on-screen navigation buttons (which take up entirely too much space in landscape), maybe it’s the battery life and how most Android tablets tend to die so quickly in standby. I don’t know.
However, what I do know is that the applications I have installed on both my Nexus 7 and iPad mini are better on the iPad. They’re laid out better, designed better, and more useful. That same comparison isn’t true between the iPhone and, say, the One M8 I carry daily.
The only part of the Nexus 9 that makes me want to check it out and hope that things are better for Android tablets is the new aspect ratio. As much as I’ve sang the praises of 16:9 tablets, that could also be the problem. The 4:3 aspect will make the Nexus 9 less awkward to use in portrait.
I know I’ll get some hate for saying all of this, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true and I’m not the only person saying it.
“With two choices this awesome, there is no right answer.”
So, that’s what we’re thinking. A lot of iPad, some Android love, and a couple of renegades that don’t play by the rules – but with good reasons. What about you? Which of these tablets is blowing your digital skirt up? If you had to buy a tablet with your own money, which way are you going. And no, you’re not allowed to say “1/4 of a Surface Pro 3”.