With the recent release of Apple‘s latest small form-factor tablet, the iPad Mini 4, we were eager to see what its new higher powered specs were capable of, this time we’ll put it up against Google‘s Nexus 9.
It would be a treat if Google were to announce a new Nexus tablet in the coming weeks, along side the release of Android M and a couple new Nexus phones. Unfortunately, we are expecting that the now one year old Nexus 9 tablet, built by HTC, will remain the best that the Nexus line has to offer for a while longer. (Google has launched the Pixel C, a large tablet with keyboard option, not exactly like the Nexus tablets we’re used to, though.)
On the Apple side of things, we are very excited to see a new iPad Mini on the market. Although it did not receive much air time during the Apple announcement, we believe it is one of the best piece from the show. In the iPad Mini 4 we have what you might say the iPad Mini 3 should have been, basically, the specs from the iPad Air 2 packed into a smaller display.
Welcome to our Apple iPad Mini 4 vs Google Nexus 9 shootout.
I want to be fair to our regular readers today, we have talked at length about the Nexus 9 and more recently about the new iPad Mini 4, so I want to keep things short. Instead of boring our faithful with all of the specs and intimate details of these two great devices, I will instead try to focus more on the strengths of each device.
That out of the way, we have here two fairly portable devices that fit well in hand, are capable of keeping up with most all of our mobile computing needs and serve as a flagship, at least on some level, for their respective ecosystems.
Neither the iPad Mini 4, nor the Nexus 9 rock the best of specs available today. We cannot deny that we were very excited when Apple mentioned that the iPad Mini 4 was (basically) the iPad Air 2 specs in a smaller form factor, then to be slightly disappointed to learn that it is close, but not quite there, I’ll explain later.
Overall design is the aspect of the new iPad Mini 4 that has changed the least. Aside from a thinner profile, you will be hard pressed to see any other updates from the iPad Mini 2 or iPad Mini 3 without close inspection.
Similarities between the Google and new Apple tablets are found in the 4:3 aspect ratio display, power port on the bottom edge of the devices, camera placement just to the back side of the similarly located volume keys and more. Perhaps the highlight to the Nexus 9 is the dual front facing speakers, which are very loud, but the plastic build leaves a bit to be desired when enjoying the sturdy feel of the all metal iPad Mini 4.
Still present on the Apple tablet is the fairly large physical Home button on the bottom front display bezel. Doubling as a fingerprint scanner certainly makes it worth it most times, but every once in a while the software Home button of Android is easier to use.
Finally, the Nexus 9 employs a micro USB port while iPad continues with their Lightning port on the iPad Mini 4.
Keeping things simple, both of these tablets enjoy a display resolution of 2048 x 1536. Of course, the Nexus 9 has that 8.9-inch display while the iPad Mini 4 measures at 7.9-inches. While this does give the iPad the advantage in the pixels per inch measure, you’d be hard pressed to actually see the difference without magnification.
You will find viewing angles and brightness more than adequate for your everyday needs, including when you head into a dark room or head out to enjoy some sunshine. Auto brightness settings are fairly accurate, but you may occasionally need to manually adjust for optimal viewing.
You may have to put in some effort if you desire to completely tax these devices. Neither the Nexus 9 nor the iPad Mini 4 offer the best specs you can find on the market today, but this shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying your favorite content.
As we back-track just a little on the above statement, do keep in mind that the iPad Mini 4 is a brand new device, one that offers a noticeable improvement over its immediate predecessor, the iPad Mini 3. On that same token, the Nexus 9 is nearly a year old and came off the starting line at a disadvantage, equipped with a step down from the top of the line NVIDIA 64-bit processor available at the time.
The Nvidia Tegra K1 Denver SoC in the Nexus 9 is a dual core processor, and the tablet runs Google’s latest version of Android, Android 5.1 Lollipop. Overall, the Nexus 9 performs well, back when it was brand new we ran an AnTuTu benchmark on it, it scored about 58000. Admitting that these benchmarks only tell a portion of the tale in terms of performance, the score still commands respect compared to the latest and greatest Android phones and tablets.
In a bit of a surprise move, Apple made the somewhat disappointing decision to update the iPad Mini 4 with just the A8 chipset. We were hoping to see the more powerful A8X chipset, advertised as being just slightly more powerful than the x-less A8, but we’ll try not to complain.
Performance is excellent on the iPad Mini 4, we have only just had time enough to weigh it down with our favorite apps and some data, so we’ll have to see if it degrades over time. For now, the OS is snappy, apps and games load as fast as the best Apple device we have had our hands on and the entire experience is fluid and smooth.
We quickly and unscientifically put the Nexus 9 and the iPad Mini 4 side by side to load the same apps and websites. The Apple tablet does perform faster in loading apps, but we failed to see any advantages in loading web pages, where our internet connection was the bottleneck that made all things equal.
We could almost completely copy and paste most of our iPad Mini 3 vs Nexus 9 shootout here, the same 1-inch difference in screen size exists, as does the fingerprint scanner on the iPad and loud front facing speakers on the Nexus, thanks to HTC’s BoomSound.
Continuing to echo the previous comparison, the Nexus 9 has a nifty double tap the screen to wake the device feature, and the iPad Mini 4 rocks the same dedicated instant mute switch above the volume rocker.
Looking inside each of these devices, they now both have 2GB of RAM, dual-core 64-bit processors, and a range of sensors, including an accellerometer, gyro, compass and ambient light sensor. In addition, the Nexus 9 has NFC and a proximity sensor while the iPad Mini 4 comes with a barometer.
Measurements for the devices are obviously different, with the Nexus 9 clocking in at 8.99-inches tall and 6.05-inches across, and a thickness of 7.95mm (0.31-inches.) The out edge of the device is metal, providing all of the rigidity that is not provided by the somewhat flimsy plastic backing.
On the other side, the iPad Mini 4 hits 8-inches in height, 5.3-inches across and a fair stunning 6.1mm (0.24-inches) in depth. We are not rich enough to see if it bends, but the full metal design feels as sturdy as ever.
In terms of battery life, the Nexus 9 is advertised at 9.5 hours of basic web browsing, music or video playback out of the 6700mAh battery and the iPad Mini 4 is said to last 10 hours out of its (unconfirmed) 6350mAh battery.
With 8MP sensors in the back of each of these two tablets, set at a f/2.4 aperture with auto-focus, taking quality photographs is not out of the question. The iPad Mini 4 takes on the latest iSight camera, including the addition of a burst-mode. The Nexus 9 offers up Google’s Photosphere, otherwise, these two are near identical on paper.
There is little of note to say when talking about the front facing 1.2mp camera sensors, for all of your FaceTime, Skype or Hangouts needs. 720p video capture is not a premium these days, but is more than adequate for a little video conference.
We’ll save the in-depth camera review for another day, for now, let’s take a quick look at a few comparison sample photos taken by the iPad Mini 4 and Nexus 9.
iPad Mini 4 camera samples
Nexus 9 camera samples
The main thing here is the pure competition between Android and iOS. Google’s latest Android 5.x Lollipop keeps the Nexus 9 moving along smoothly, and iOS 9 on the iPad Mini 4 brings one of the most versatile and productive experiences ever seen out of Apple’s mobile OS.
The latest multi-tasking features of iOS 9 bring some serious productivity power to the iPad Mini 4, more so than stock Android offers. Of course, available apps and widgets on Android far exceed the capabilities of iOS 9, but we’re just happy for all the options.
Overall, the software performance is solid, smooth and fast. You will certainly see signs of aging on the older Nexus 9, at least if you have a daily driver on your hands, take a near-stock Nexus 9, however, and things are nearly as fast as on day one of the device. One might complain about battery life before they complain about a poor experience otherwise. There is a good selection of apps installed by default, with many more apps ready to install from the Google Play Store.
Old age is not a factor for the iPad Mini 4, with both the OS and the device at less than two weeks old at this point. As mentioned, iOS 9 is one of the most impressive iOS updates in a long time. While new productivity tools sound a little boring, the capabilities of the new multi-tasking tools allows Apple devices to go places they’ve not gone before, at least not well.
Pricing and final thoughts
At this stage in the game, it is hard to rightly recommend the Nexus 9 for purchase compared to the new iPad Mini 4. Both are good tablets, and the Nexus 9 is still worth its asking price, but it is a little long in the tooth, and some days it really shows.
It should go without saying by this point that if you are thoroughly invested in either the Android or iOS ecosystems, the better choice of these two tablets is the one that runs your preferred OS. Otherwise, in a pure horsepower contest, and in considering which tablet will serve you the longest, the iPad Mini 4 is the smarter purchase today.
Please keep in mind that the iPad Mini 4 is a brand new device, you are not likely to come across any big deals or savings at this point. On the flip side, the Nexus 9 is not so new, you are most likely to find significant savings as compared to the original MRSP we have listed here.
|iPad Mini 4||Nexus 9|
$529 with LTE
$599 with LTE
$629 with LTE
$729 with LTE
Final thought, if your focus is on a productivity device, something with a bit larger display and a good selection of accessories like a mouse and keyboard, you know I am about to say that the Nexus 9 is the better option here. On the other hand, if you are looking for a couch companion, something to check your social media and maybe read a book, the iPad Mini 4 is undoubtedly the better device for you.
Update July 2016: Of course, now that the Nexus 9 is, officially, discontinued, it is getting harder and harder to find it in new condition from resellers. Our device is running as good as ever on the Android Nougat preview, but age is not kind to this device. There are no major issues to speak of, but the battery doesn’t last like it used to and there’s a few creaks and groans, mostly acquired when bouncing off the ground a couple times. Our iPad mini 4 has been around only half the amount of time, but so far it is holding up quite well. Luck or superior build quality? We have to assume the latter, as we feel more than ever that the Nexus 9 was built on a budget.
Are you enticed by the new iPad Mini 4, or are you as excited for it as Apple was to announce it – not very?