Make no mistake, we do not intend to imply that these two devices are of the same calibre. The Nexus 9 was a tad underpowered from day one, with a focus on bang for the buck being evident in some cut corners. On the other hand, the iPad Pro 9.7 offers all but the very best that the Apple camp has to offer.
Let’s find out what you get for your dollar, see if the iPad Pro 9.7 is worth the extra price over the far less expensive Nexus 9 in this semi-posthumous tablet comparison.
First off, if you are looking for all of the intimate details about these two devices, I will link to their respective reviews or similar below. I don’t want to get bogged down by long specification lists today, let’s just talk about function and value.
Actually looking at the devices, we have fairly different tablets on our hands. Granted, size is not a huge difference, the Nexus 9 measures in with a 8.9-inch display and the iPad Pro 9.7 has that, well, 9.7-inch panel, both at 2048×1536 resolution. On paper, the overall dimensions are fairly similar as well, but in hand, you really notice the difference.
Size alone lends to the idea that the Nexus 9 was designed for in-hand usage, while the iPad Pro 9.7 feels large enough to want to dock it for any lengthy usage. In reality, the iPad is more than comfortable enough for in-hand use, and the Nexus 9 will burn you out after prolonged usage. Point is, despite those impressions and the difference in size, you’ll want to balance your usage with both of these tablets.
Hardware is something we’ll talk about in more detail later, but for now, let me say that the internals are what will make or break your purchasing decision between these two tablets. While the Nexus 9 still performs respectfully for most daily tasks, the iPad Pro 9.7 house the latest and greatest that Apple has to offer. While they say the full iPad Pro is still faster, my perception has been that the smaller Pro tablet is one of the most responsive and fastest tablets on the market today.
This is why we are not really doing a full out comparison of these tablets, in nearly all regards, the iPad Pro 9.7 outperforms the Nexus 9. Do keep in mind that this statement does not take software into consideration, you can experience iOS 9.3 on most any modern Apple product, but the Nexus 9 is one of a select few that have access to both Remix OS and the Android N preview.
Having said all this, both devices offer a good viewing experience, have front and rear cameras with LED flash on the back, stereo sound from multiple speaker configurations, headphone jack, power port that doubles as PC data port and more. However, the fingerprint scanner on the iPad Pro 9.7 can be considered a huge advantage, but so too can the screen double tap to wake and actual front facing speakers on the Nexus 9.
Basically, in a features fight, the Nexus 9 can hold its own against the iPad Pro 9.7, but performance is another story.
Let’s start with the Nexus 9. Equipped with the dual-core NVIDIA Tegra K1 Denver SoC, quite the mouthful, this tablet was instantly considered to be inferior to similar devices with the higher end quad-core Tegra chipset released at the time. This idea that the Nexus 9 was more of a budget device was exacerbated by some build quality issues – that is to say, the primary complaint on the device was that the back cover was not secured in the center, allowing it to ease away from the internals. While not an issue in itself, this certainly lends to a poor build quality feel.
Poor feel aside, actual device performance was above average, all things considered, and the device is still able to keep up with your daily needs now almost two years later. This is mostly thanks to the updates in the most recent versions of Android. We have the Android N preview installed on our Nexus 9, which has greatly improved the previously terrible battery life and added convenient multi-tasking functions, but we’ll talk about that another day.
Truth is, the Nexus 9 was removed from the Google Store a while back, it can still be purchased from third-party retailers, but it I urge you to weigh your needs carefully before buying this tablet and expecting the best of Android in a tablet.
The iPad Pro 9.7, on the other hand, is the cream of Apple’s crop in the A9X processor. The larger iPad Pro is more powerful when you look at the spec sheet, but we were blown away by the iPad Pro 9.7 in ways the larger tablet did not. Perhaps it is just the smaller display, but the Pro 9.7 feels much faster, but feelings are only subjective, you’ll have to take my word for it.
We did run performance tests vs the iPad Air 2, this was where we were truly impressed. Often the iPad Pro 9.7 shaved 10 seconds or more when running the same app loads on the older 10-inch tablet.
We won’t even talk about the productivity that is capable with the iPad Pro line and the associated Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil smart stylus. The latest of iOS includes multi-tasking features like split-screen and picture-in-picture video, and the iPad Pro 9.7 handles it all without trouble.
Related reading: iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7
Once again, let’s keep this as short as we can. These tablets were built at different times with different user needs in mind. The Nexus 9 lends itself nicely as a hand-held device, the iPad Pro 9.7 is still pretty good in hand, but rivals the ultrabook experience when connected to keyboard.
Let’s run through a few key differences:
The iPad Pro 9.7 is a full metal design, the Nexus 9 is plastic backed with a metal frame.
The iPad Pro 9.7 has a fingerprint scanner built into the Home button.
The iPad Pro 9.7 has a 12MP rear camera with support for 4K video recording. The Nexus 9 is limited to 1080p recording with its 8MP sensor. While the Nexus 9 is a solid example of why tablet photography is not popular, the iPad Pro 9.7 has capabilities that only a few of the best current generation smartphones are equipped with.
The iPad Pro 9.7 has four speakers, two firing out the bottom, two out the top. The Nexus 9 has two front facing speakers. To my ears, the iPad Pro 9.7 sounds better, when you aren’t blocking the speakers just to hold the thing, but the Nexus 9 comes across as being louder, we haven’t verified this technically, but with the speakers pointing directly at you, the listening experience is easier to handle.
Finally, while the displays are only an inch apart in size, and rock the same resolution, but actual display quality is another story. The Nexus 9 has a quality panel, but the iPad Pro 9.7 takes things to a new level for Apple, enjoy the advertised 25% brighter panel with greatly improved color gamut over previous iPad models. Add to it four ambient light sensors that control brightness and color temperature to get the absolute most out of your viewing experience.
As we’ve seen and heard before, the key difference between these devices is the software that runs them. You likely already know that the Nexus 9 runs Android and the iPad Pro 9.7 runs iOS, but we might not have yet mentioned that our Nexus 9 is updated to the preview release of Android N.
While both operating systems are designed to help you get the most out of your mobile device, it is only in recent times that better multi-tasking capabilities have been introduced. Apple introduced their split screen and picture-in-picture functions in late 2015, Android is introducing them right now, available in the Android N preview, which translates to an official release of Android N sometime in the fall of 2016.
Related reading: Android vs iOS
We won’t harp on the two operating systems at this time, and let’s be fair, the Nexus 9 is essentially a discontinued device with the iPad Pro 9.7 enjoying just its first three months on the market. The result, at least as far as software performance goes, is a smooth, fast and lag-free experience on the iPad, with decent for its age overall performance on the Nexus 9.
We should point out that the iPad Pro 9.7 is equipped with support for the Pro line detachable keyboard and for the Apple Pencil smart stylus. Android on the Nexus 9 still has an advantage in support for a cursor when connected to a Bluetooth mouse, but the in-house built Smart Keyboard is a solid offering as compared to the generic Bluetooth keyboards typically found for the Nexus tablet.
Related: iOS 9 review
|iPad Pro 9.7||Nexus 9|
|Display||9.7-inch, 2048x1536 resolution||8.9-inch, 2048x1536 resolution|
|Processor||Apple A9X||NVIDIA Tegra K1 Denver|
|Internal Storage||32GB, 128GB and 256GB||16GB, 32GB|
|Operating system||iOS 9||Android Marshmallow
(Android N preview available)
|Camera||12MP iSight rear|
|Connectivity options||WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, dual channel|
|I/O buttons||Power |
Home button with integrated fingerprint scanner
|I/O ports||Lightning port|
Smart Keyboard connection pins
|Stylus||Optional - Apple Pencil||n/a|
Optional magnetically connected keyboard - no touchpad
|Sensors||Ambient light x4 |
Pricing and final thoughts
There is little to say here, comparing these two tablets has nothing to do with pretending they are an even match in size, capability or performance. Instead, it is the fact that the Nexus 9 is the first Android tablet to receive the new multi-tasking efforts in Android N.
The early Android N efforts are exciting to us Android tablet users, but the Nexus 9, while experiencing much improved standby battery life in recent updates, is still showing its age.
The iPad Pro 9.7 almost instantly stood out for us as possibly the best iPad to date. We know it is slightly slower than the larger iPad Pro, but it certainly does not feel that way.
|iPad Pro 9.7||Nexus 9|
(Can often be found for under $200)
$729 with LTE
$599 with LTE
(Can often be found for under $300)
$879 with LTE
$1029 with LTE
With all of our bashing of the Nexus 9 out of the way, be sure to take a look at that price tag. We truly believe the often sub-$200 price tag to be well worth it for this tablet, just don’t drop $300 on it, you can do better.
The iPad Pro 9.7 is still priced at its entry range, starting at $599 and taking you just north of $1000 for a fully loaded device with accessories. We have not regretted our purchase, and we do not think you would regret it either. Just keep in mind that the now discounted iPad Air 2 offers all of the same basic functionality, save for the True-Tone color calibration, Pro features and accessories, for a much more digestible price tag.
Knowing that these devices offer hugely different experiences, does the budget cost and Android N preview entice you to the Nexus 9, or would you prefer to drop the extra money for the more capable, larger, and more recent iPad Pro 9.7?
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