Google Nexus 9 full review
Which is the best large-screen Android tablet? We compare the specifications of market-leading Android tablets, including the Amazon Fire HD 10, Google Nexus 9, Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet. Also see: Best tablets 2015 and Best Android tablets 2015.
Best large-screen Android tablet: Price & UK availability
All four large-screen Android tablets are available to buy in the UK today.
The Amazon Fire HD 10 is the cheapest, and right now you can buy either the 16GB or 32GB model from Amazon for £169.99 (add £10 if you want to remove the sponsored ads).
Made by HTC, Google's Nexus 9 is now a year old and the second cheapest. It's currently on sale at Amazon, and you'll pick up the 16GB model for £224.99, 32GB for £284, and the 4G model for £400.55. Also see our full Nexus 9 review.
The cheapest price we could find for Samsung's 9.7in Galaxy Tab S2 at the time of writing was £320.85 from Amazon. That's for the 32GB version.
Most expensive of the four is Sony's 32GB Xperia Z4 Tablet. It has an RRP of £499 direct from Sony, but shop around and you should find it a little bit cheaper. Read our full Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet review.
Best large-screen Android tablet: Build & design
Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 is the thinnest and lightest tablet of our line-up, just 5.6mm thick and weighing 389g. Sony matches that weight with its 6.1mm Xperia Z4 Tablet (although the 4G version weighs in at 393g). The Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is also waterproof. Also see: 100 funny things to ask S Voice
All four are pretty slim, however, with the 7.7mm Fire weighing 432g, and the 7.95mm Nexus 9 weighing 425g (436g for the 4G model).
Size is obviously dependent on the screen, so as you might expect the Sony is the largest at 167x254mm and the Nexus the smallest at 153.68x228.25mm. Amazon's Fire HD 10 measures up at 159x262mm, and the Samsung at 169x237.5mm.
The screen is a key difference in each of these tablets, with the Kindle HD 10 and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablets offering the largest screen area at 10.1in on the diagonal, the Nexus 9 the smallest at 8.9in and the Samsung second-smallest at 9.7in. See all tablet reviews.
In terms of resolution, the Fire HD is the weakest, with its HD resolution of 1280x800 resulting in a pixel density of 149ppi. That's half what you get with the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet, which has the highest-resolution panel here - a true Quad-HD 2K screen with 2560x1600 pixels and a density of 299ppi.
Samsung and Nexus tablets both offer a 2048x1536 '2K' resolution, which falls short of true Quad-HD but their smaller screens mean pixels are stretched over a smaller area and the difference is less notable. For example, the 288ppi pixel density of the Nexus is very close to the 299ppi of the Sony, and even at the Samsung's lower 264ppi we're not convinced you'd be able to tell the difference, particularly given the differing screen tech.
For what it's worth, none of these tablets offer what we call a 'Retina' resolution of 326ppi, which Apple says (and which we don't believe) is the point at which the human eye is no longer able to pick out individual pixels.
The Amazon, Nexus and Sony tablets all feature an IPS panel, which are known for their realistic colours and strong viewing angles. The SuperAMOLED panel on the Samsung is extremely vibrant, and such displays tend to over-saturate colours (an effect you either like or dislike, and we like).
Best large-screen Android tablet: Core hardware & performance
Amazon specifies its Fire HD 10 tablet with a 1.5GHz MediaTek MT8135 quad-core chip, PowerVR G6200 graphics and 1GB of RAM. Google's tablet has only a dual-core processor, yet performance is better (we'll come on to this in a minute). The Nexus 9 is equipped with a 2.3GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 with a 192-core Kepler GPU and 2GB of RAM.
The Samsung and Sony tablets are each fitted with 3GB of RAM and an octa-core processor - the 1.9/1.3GHz Exynos 5433 in the Samsung, and the 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 in the Sony. These processors are closely matched in performance, with the Sony's Snapdragon taking the slight edge. It integrates Adreno 430 graphics, while the Exynos has the ARM Mali-T760MP16.
We run all the tablets we review through Geekbench 3.0, which measures overall performance. In this test we recorded a multi-core score of 1514 points for the Amazon tablet, 3352 for the Nexus 9, 4175 for the Samsung, and 4573 for the Sony.
In real-world use you should find all tablets quite capable, but there is a marked difference between the Fire HD 10 and the other three Android tablets in our group. Amazon's tablet will at times feel a little sluggish.
For storage you get 32GB built-in with the Samsung and Sony tablets, 16- or 32GB with the Amazon Fire HD 10, and 16- or 32GB with the Nexus 9. The only tablet of the group not to support microSD for up to 128GB of additional storage is the Nexus 9.
Battery life will be very much dependent on what you require of a tablet, but from each of these tablets you should expect a good eight hours use, if not more. Amazon doesn't specify the battery capacity of the Fire HD 10, but claims it offers 8 hours runtime. Samsung claims the same for its Tab S2, which has a 5870mAh battery.
This is smaller than average for a large-screen Android tablet, however, with the Sony offering a 6000mAh battery and the Nexus a class-leading 6700mAh, with which it promises 9.5 hours life. Also see: Best kids tablets 2015.
Best large-screen Android tablet: Connectivity & extra features
Connectivity options are pretty standard here. All four tablets support dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 (Bluetooth 4.0 LE for the Fire HD 10). They all support GPS. And 4G is an option for all these tablets.
The Amazon Fire HD 10 is alone in its ommision of NFC, while if you want to hook up your tablet to a large-screen TV you should know that the Nexus 9 doesn't support MHL. None offers an IR blaster.
For extra-secure logins, only the Samsung features a fingerprint scanner. The Sony also has an extra trick up its sleeve with support for PS4 Remote Play.
For audio the Sony stands out with support for high-res audio and stereo speakers. The HTC-made Nexus 9 will also prove a strong contender in this scenario with front-facing stereo speakers.
Best large-screen Android tablet: Cameras
This may seem like a strange thing to compare on large-screen Android tablets, and few people will want to use their tablet to take photos when they can much more easily whip out their smaller and more capable phone or dedicated camera for the job. Still, if they fit them, we'll compare their specifications.
For this reason front-facing cameras are arguably more important than those at the back, used for video chat over Skype and similar services. Sony stands out in this regard with its 5.1Mp webcam. The Samsung is second-best with 2.1Mp; next is the Nexus with 1.6Mp; and last comes the Fire HD 10 with a VGA (0.3Mp) camera.
At the rear, should you wish to use them, the Amazon tablet has a 5Mp camera and the other three are all rated at 8Mp.
Best large-screen Android tablet: Software
Software is a key area for comparison, and the one where the Amazon Fire HD 10 falls down. Amazon installs its own Android 5.1 Lollipop-based Fire OS 5 software, which does not support Google apps. That means the Google Play, Gmail, YouTube and Maps apps with which you're likely quite familiar are all out.
In other respects, though, Fire OS 5 is a nice system. It offers quick access to the features you use most, with dedicated home screen pages for books, games, apps, video, music, audiobooks and newsstand. Amazon also recommends items tailored to your personal interests.
Family Library lets you share content across devices, Mayday offers on-device tech support, and there are new features such as Word Runner that help you to read faster by keeping your eyes focused on the centre of the screen and bringing the words to you. Amazon has its own app store, within which the apps that are genuinely free (both to download and free of in-app purchases) are separately stored. There are more than 300,000 apps in the Amazon AppStore, but that's not a patch on what's available in Google Play for the other three tablets here.
The remaining three Android tablets each run out of the box or can be upgraded to Android Lollipop. An update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow should be available to the Nexus 9 - and, as a Nexus device, it will always be first to get Google updates, and benefits from a plain OS that is exactly as Google intended. Sony and Samsung each put their own stamp on the Android software.
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Google Nexus 9: Specs
- Android 5.0 Lollipop
- 8.9in IPS LCD (2048 x 1536)
- nVidia Tegra K1 2.3GHz 64-bit
- 2GB RAM
- 16/32GB storage
- 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi (2x2 MIMO)
- Bluetooth 4.1
- optional 4G LTE
- HTC BoomSound stereo speakers
- 8Mp rear camera with LED flash
- 1.6Mp front camera
- 6700mAh battery