Team-BeyondThePC pre-ordered the Google/HTC Nexus 9s and used them from day one. They performed well in showcasing Android 5/Lollipop, which is Android almost made useable by normal folk. They were also amazing gaming machines. However, the best thing about the Google Nexus 9 tablet came on 21 January 2015 when Microsoft made widely available the preview versions of its touch-enabled Office apps. Microsoft have today delivered final versions of those apps and they, together with Microsoft’s other work of genius for the Nexus 9, the perfect Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard (review to follow), have made the Nexus 9 the killer, quite probably iPad beating, small form factor tablet.
The Nexus 9 was released as a showcase entertainment device for the latest Android hardware, and to a degree as a grandstanding platform for Android 5/Lollipop, and in these roles the little beast shines coruscatingly. The screen is divine, always having sharp, clear text at whatever eyeball-bleeding size you wish to shrink it down to. The CPU/GPU combination also kicks arse, only Apple’s iPad Air 2 can beat it in select CPU benchmarks. The Nexus 9 graphics performance, with its incredibly impressive nVidia desktop-derived GPU, stands head and shoulders above all ARM-based competition. Whatever 3D game or benchmark you wish to lob in its direction it is sure to blow you pants off then light the fart you pop out in surprise! Gaming on it is an absolute joy! Watching videos on its impressive screen is great too!
The Nexus 9 itself is now a great bit of hardware. Whilst some complained about problems on early versions, it seems that (with Team-BeyondThePC having to get a faulty device replaced three months after release, so we have seen how it has been tweaked) these have been, at least in part, addressed. The power and volume buttons now stand tumescently proud rather than shyly shrivelling away as they did when the device was first launched. Furthermore the first release of the tablet had a questionably firmly attached and differently solid back cover; this seems fixed too.
Moreover, the software that the Nexus 9 runs has been incrementally, and largely silently, poked and prodded into a more stable, far more responsive user experience. On release it was a reasonably good showcase for Android 5/Lollipop and the software showed that Android was, at the very least, finally worthy of being used. It had a vastly improved design, with lots of pleasing characteristics such as a smart visual design and a plethora of smart but unobtrusive animations. These even seemed to run smoothly on the Nexus 9’s blisteringly capable hardware.
Android 5/Lollipop was finally a real attempt by Google to make the operating system suitable for general users, with its capabilities more accessible and tuned for easy use then the cussed-awkwardness of previous versions of the OS. It has always been the most hardware battering, resource intensive and generally performance sucking of all the mobile operating systems. OK, I have to admit even on this vastly powerful device, which must be running a version of Android Lollipop finely crafted to take advantage of its capabilities, there is STILL the odd unexplained pause when pressing the soft-buttons or opening the launcher, but this is Android, what the hell do you expect?
Where Google really have still failed to deliver is with its flagship browser Chrome. It takes an age to load when you click on a link in another application – the whole system simply freezes for many seconds. Furthermore, Chrome is an absolute memory hog. If you switch out of it to another application it will have taken up so much of the Nexus 9’s memory that it has to be tomb-stoned and when you return to it there is another lengthy pause whilst it is horse-shoed back into working memory and it will re-load all the pages you had open; there not being enough memory on the device to have kept them loaded. So if you had been filling in a lengthy form, or writing a long comment on a site, all that input will have been flushed down Chrome’s epic-capacity memory toilet. What on Earth Google were doing launching a flagship for their new version of Android that uses a virtually desktop-identical version of Chrome, without giving the Nexus 9 4GB of system memory, is a mystery; presumably also to any of its Google/HTC designers who still use the Nexus 9 on a regular basis.
However, what has made the Nexus 9 the crowning glory of Android tablets, and I would suggest of all small form factor tablets (the Surface Pro 3 remains unchallenged as the best large tablet cum ultrabook cum desktop – review to follow), is what Microsoft have delivered for Android today: final versions of fully featured, touch-enabled Office productivity apps: Word, Excel, Powerpoint and a totally capable preview of Outlook (the effulgent version of OneNote has been improving the life of Android users and generally flinging dollops of fresh horse dung all over Google’s dreary Keep note-taking app for a while now). Just to note, Team-BeyondThePC were amongst the first 100 people to download the final version of Word! Well done Microsoft for going after the largest mobile market, Android, for the first touch versions of Office! Android, together with iOS, were the sensible choices to deliver versions of the touch Office apps rather than target its own Windows 8.1 market. Windows 8.1 remains a woefully underappreciated operating system; as a daily user I have to say I cannot see why it is so widely decried.
These Office apps are free to download and use to view documents, but if you actually want to edit documents you need an Office 365 subscription. That is money going to Microsoft; Google does not even get a rusty ha’penny – HA! Why everyone in the world has not signed up for an Office 365 subscriptions remains a mystery to me. For under a tenner a month you get a fatty’s bum-load of cloud storage space and the ability to run Office – which drops rotten eggs from a great height over the piss-poor, laughably shoddy Google Docs suite – on up to five devices. One of these devices will be your Nexus 9.
Microsoft’s Office apps are bloody marvellous on the Nexus 9! They look fantastic on the high-resolution screen, with crisp text and wonderful display of images. They are piss-easy to use as well. There are nicely spaced touch controls at the top of the screen and if you click on any text in a document there is always a helpful, powerful menu on hand to do whatever you need to do at that point. Indeed, the Office text handling and context menus solved a problem that plagued all Android devices: Google’s utter pants system for copying and pasting text and objects.
Copying and pasting, indeed all object handling, is totally wonderful in all the Office apps. Whilst Google still relies on an ugly button bar suddenly popping up at the top of the screen, which is not tuned to an app’s appearance, to do this very basic text manipulation, in Microsoft’s suite it is all performed with crisp, sharp-looking menus that appear next to the object you are handling. It is just so much smarter, easier and attractive than Google’s rubbish, crapulent system.
The apps are full featured as well. You can save your documents to Dropbox as well as OneDrive, OneDrive for Business and anywhere you fancy on your device. Word, for example, comes with full text reviewing capabilities. It has full ability to insert pictures and graphic objects into your document. You can control the layout of your document in virtually any manner you wish. And, yes, you can print documents from your Nexus 9 as well. These may not be the bulgingly complete versions that run on desktop Windows, but I’ll bet a MicroSD card (I am not allowed to have real money, this will have to do as my betting currency) the Android touch Office apps will have every feature you are likely to use.
The Nexus 9 is just the perfect device to run these Microsoft Office apps on. With a Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard (or even just the onscreen keyboard if you think that getting a brilliant keyboard to turn your pricy Android Nexus 9 tablet into a wonderful productivity device is just a hint too rich for your blood, you tightwad) the apps run snappily, look good in both screen orientations and have rich, powerful functionality which is easy to use even on a small 8.9 inch screen.
The Google Nexus 9’s crowning achievement, if not that it is cracking for games, a good ebook reader and a reasonable video player, is that it is the best small form-factor productivity device totally thanks to Microsoft’s release of the final Office apps (and almost final version of Outlook) that you can run using your no-brainer purchase of an Office 365 subscription. All glory to Microsoft that the Google’s supposed flagship Nexus 9 is saved! All those initial reviews showed it was, at best, a differently loved device of niche interest at best. The boys and girls from Redmond have made it the most desirable, most capable diminutively sized productivity tablet out there – and in that trade it is totally tits!