iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9 comparison

Right then Fandroids: let me make something clear from the outset. Here at Macworld UK we are obsessed with Apple and we love Apple products. The iPad Air 2 is one of our favourite ever Apple products, as you can see in our in-depth, best-on-the-web iPad Air 2 review. But as feverish as is our iPad mania, we are not blind to the fact that there are some pretty nifty Google tabs on the market. Indeed our colleagues over at PC Advisor never cease waving their 'droids in our direction.

We decided to take a look at the best of the rest, and compare our beloved iPad Air 2 with the exciting Nexus 9, made in tandem by HTC and Google. As you will see from the article below the Nexus 9 is a great tablet, and if you wish to save a little money on a media-consumption tablet it would make a good purchase. But if you are a dedicated iPad user, require quality productivity tools, or just need a lot of storage, the iPad Air 2 remains the tablet to beat.

Let me know what you think about this article in the comments below, and don't be afraid to vent. But any use of the word 'bias' willl be met with a resounding raspberry: of course we are biased - this is Macworld UK. (Find out what those clowns over at PC Advisor think in their Google Nexus 9 review: hands-on first look at Nexus 9.)

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9 comparison: UK price

First things first: the iPad Air 2 is more expensive than is the Nexus 9. So if you are looking to save a few pennies you may find that a good reason to choose Android over iOS. The 16GB Wi-Fi-only iPad Air 2 costs £399 inc VAT. The 64GB version is £479 inc VAT and the 128GB a whopping £559 inc VAT. The Nexus 9 starts at a very reasonable £319 inc VAT for the 16GB Wi-Fi only model. The 32GB Wi-Fi Nexus 9 costs £399 inc VAT.

Add cellular connectivity to the Nexus 9 and you will pay £459 inc VAT for the 32GB version (although this isn't yet available). The LTE iPad Air 2's 16GB Wi-Fi and cellular price £499 inc VAT. That scales up to £579 inc VAT for 64GB, and £659 inc VAT for 128GB. There is no direct comparison here, so if you want those specifications then you need to stick with the iPad. (See also: Pad buying guide autumn/winter 2014.)

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9 comparison: software

I'm going to dive straight into the Android vs iOS debate, because in this case I think it may be a deal breaker. The Nexus 9 runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, the iPad Air 2 iOS 8.

Here's the thing: Android on smartphone is now great and - as I have written elsewhere on this site - every bit as good as is iOS for iPhone. But in the tablet world it is a little different, because of the lack of productivity apps optimised for tablet in the Android world. On iPad, of course, you can install Microsoft Office. For free. The Nexus 9 and Android is ideal for anyone thinking about buying a tablet for use on the commute home to keep you entertained. You'll be able to achieve some productivity tasks on your Nexus 9, of course, but you'll be limited to mobile apps. (I should point out that Office for Android is on the way - and there are other officey apps available.)

If you are a long-term iPad user you are probably best off sticking with what you know. You have after all almost certainly spent a lot of cash on apps that you'll have to spend again in Android. But it is only fair to point out that your iTunes music files will work in Android, and Android offers the opportunity of shopping around for music, movies, books and TV shows.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9 comparison: hardware and performance

In the words of Salt n Peppa: let's talk about specs, baby.

The Nexus 9 is tricked out with an nVidia Tegra K1 processor. This is a 2.3GHz 64-bit dual-core Denver chip, paired with 2GB of RAM. Rest assured, it is a fast and responsive tablet. We've not yet had a chance to run our full benchmark tests on the Nexus 9 to determine exactly how powerful it is, but it certainly feels that way from our hands-one testing.

But the iPad Air 2 is different. We may well get an Intel-toting iPad Pro early next year, but in the iPad Air 2 Apple has already created the most powerful ARM tablet we have seen. The A8X processor and M8 co-processor, clocked at 1.5GHz, is a triple-core 64-bit processor. Paired with 2GB RAM the iPad Air 2 has turned in some truly stunning benchmarking performances. It is the fastest tablet we have tested thus far, with average GeekBench 3 scores of 1818 (single core), 4520 (multi core). If the Nexus 9 can beat this it will be going some. Reader, it won't.

Both these tablets are speed demons, and any difference is probably unlikely to affect your day-to-day experience. But the iPad Air 2 is a genuinely amazing performer.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9 comparison: design and build

The HTC-designed Nexus 9 looks sleek and sophisticated, with a brushed metal frame and featuring a soft grip plastic back. It is available in any colour you like, as long as you like black, white or Google's new 'sand' colour. The iPad Air 2 is a beautiful device, staggeringly thin, if a little heavier that the Nexus.

They measure up thus: the Nexus 9 is 7.95mm thick, and is 425g, the iPad Air 2 weighs 437g and is just 6.1 mm thick. You really can notice the difference in thickness, but not in weight. However, you may wish to put the iPad in a case which negates this advantage for the iPad. And leaving subjectivity aside we will say that design and build would be no reason to choose the iPad over the Nexus.

Nexus 9

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9 comparison: display

Google's Nexus 9 has an 8.9-inch screen. The aspect ratio of the Nexus 9 is 4:3 like the iPad, and the resolution of the IPS display on the Nexus 9 is 2048 x 1536. This gives it a very healthy pixel density of 281ppi. The iPad Air 2 has a bigger, 9.7-inch display. Because of that bigger display its 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution means a pixel density of 'only' 264 ppi. Again, it's hard to pick a winner on this aspect of these two tablets. So let's make it simple: if you want a marginally bigger display go for the iPad Air 2. Should you desire marginally greater sharpness: the Nexus is for you.

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9 comparison: storage and connectivity

The Nexus 9 offers 16- or 32GB of internal storage. The iPad Air 2 comes in 16-, 64-, and 128GB flavours. The bad news is that neither of these devices offers expandable storage. That is a blow because 16GB is really not enough for a well-used media-consumption tablet. As I mentioned earlier, if you want a good amount of storage you need to get the iPad Air 2 - but you will pay for the privilege.

The Nexus 9 comes with NFC, as well as optional 4G LTE, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1. The iPad Air 2 offers the same, without the NFC. The Nexus 9 connects and charges via a generic USB cable, while the iPad Air 2 uses an Apple Lightning connector. I'm gonna anger you, Macworld reader: I prefer the Nexus way. Apple can win on storage, but we are giving Google props for its connectivity.

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2 vs Nexus 9 comparison: cameras

Do we care about tablet cameras? If so the Nexus 9 both have two cameras, and none of the four is likely to replace your SLR. The Nexus 9's rear-facing camera is an 8Mp sensor with an f/2.4 aperture, accompanied by an LED flash. Video recording capabilities are 1080p, and there's a 1.6Mp camera on the front.

The iPad Air 2 also has two cameras. And 8Mp rear-facing snapper with geo-tagging, touch focus, face/smile detection and HDR. Around the front is a 1.2Mp camera. There's not enough difference here for you to make a purchasing decision based on the cameras.

See also: iPad Air 2 availability and launch date | iPad mini 3 new features, specs, UK price, availability | iPad Mini 3 review

OUR VERDICT

The Nexus 9 is an excellent Android tablet. If you are a first-time buyer looking for a media-consumption tablet, and 32GB is enough storage, you will not be disappointed. And at the bottom end of the spec you can save money. But for performance, productivity and storage options the iPad Air 2 remains unsurpassed. Which is nice.

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