It's no secret that HTC wasn't the obvious choice for Google to make its next tablet. HTC has a strong track record creating excellent smartphones, like its current One M8, but its history in the tablet market isn't that great.
Prior to 2014 the firm's only tablet was the HTC Flyer, an Android device that was viewed by many industry commentators as an outright flop.
As a result, Google's announcement that HTC was the brains behind its first Android 5.0 Lollipop tablet, the Nexus 9, turned some heads in the technology community and led many to question what HTC could add to the increasingly competitive market having been away for so long.
Quite a lot, as it turns out, if our opening impressions are anything to go by.
Design and build
HTC has always been one of the few technology firms capable of matching Apple on the design front. As a result it's no surprise that the Nexus 9 is one of the most visually distinctive Google-branded tablets to be released. Featuring a metal frame and soft-finish polycarbonate back, the Nexus 9 felt significantly better built than past Nexus tablets, which were made entirely of plastic.
The device also felt reasonably comfortable in the hand thanks to its satchel-friendly 154x228x8mm dimensions and 425g weight, even when it was plugged into its attachable folio keyboard case.
Given the lightweight dimensions we can definitely see the Nexus 9 working well as a mobility aid for business folk on the move, and we're looking forward to seeing how it works as a productivity tool come our full review.
In a clear bid to stay competitive, HTC has loaded the Nexus 9 with an 8.9in IPS, 4:3 aspect ratio, 2048x1536 display, giving it the same resolution as the 2013 iPad Air's 9.7in display. Using the Nexus 9 in the brightly lit showroom and outdoor balcony on a rainy London day our opening impressions of the Nexus 9's display are very positive.
Brightness levels were very good and, while the screen did become reflective under a showroom light, the display was generally pleasant to use. Colour balance levels were warm and, unlike many recent Android tablets, not oversaturated. Contrast levels were also decent and we didn't notice any serious performance issues during our time with the Nexus 9.
The Nexus 9 is the first tablet to come with Google's latest Android 5.0 Lollipop. The Nexus 9 we tried didn't have the final build of Android 5.0 installed, so we can't sensibly comment on the operating system just yet.
However, if Google's claims are anything to go by, Android 5.0 should prove a key selling point for any enterprise buyer as it comes loaded with a wealth of new features and services.
The reworked notifications adds a new heads-up form of notification designed to let you know that something urgent has come in without interrupting what you're doing, and instant access to notifications from the lock screen.
Under the hood Android 5.0 adds a number of important security features, chief of which are enhanced encryption support and a Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) mode.
Past Android versions have supported some encryption services but have required activation. Android 5.0 Lollipop changes this and turns on encryption by default.
The SELinux mode is a sandboxing feature that can create separate protected areas on the device. Data can be stored in the protected area and IT managers can set policies on the device, like preventing certain applications being installed or run.
The Nexus 9 is the first Google flagship to take advantage of Android Lollipop's 64-bit support and comes with a 2.3GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 64-bit processor and 2GB of RAM.
Google claims the processor features GPUs based around supercomputers and will grant "all the power and graphics of a desktop computer".
We didn't get a chance to benchmark the Nexus 9 or see how it performed when faced with demanding tasks, such as 3D gaming, but were reasonably impressed with its performance during our hands-on.
The tablet opened applications in milliseconds and smoothly navigated between menu screens stutter and lag free. Overall our time with the Nexus 9 left us excited to see how it performs with more rigorous testing come our full review.
HTC has loaded the Nexus 9 with 8MP rear and 1.6MP front cameras. A few photos taken around the showroom floor using the native camera app's automatic setting were not on a par with most top-end smartphones, but came out reasonably well by tablet standards.
The images featured reasonable contrast and colour balance levels and were suitably crisp. Focus and shutter speeds were also fairly good. We'll be interested to see how the camera performs in more adverse conditions like mixed or dim lighting.
Battery and storage
We didn't have time to burn the Nexus 9's 6700mAh battery but will be sure to do so in our full review. In terms of storage the Nexus 9 is expected to come with with 16GB or 32GB of internal space.
If our opening impressions of the HTC-built Google Nexus 9 are anything to go by, the tablet will be one of the best available this year.
Featuring a reworked design that adds a metal frame, a powerhouse 64-bit Nvidia processor and, from we've seen, top-end display, the Nexus 9 is stellar from a pure hardware perspective.
Hopefully the final build of Android 5.0 Lollipop will do the device's hardware justice come the Nexus 9's release later this year.
For an in-depth look at where you can by the Google Nexus 9, check out V3's round up feature.
Make sure to check back with V3 later for a full review of the Google Nexus 9.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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