Last week, Apple announced its new 10-inch iPad for 2014 (called the iPad Air 2) and Google also unveiled its 8.9-inch Nexus 9 made by HTC, giving us yet another reason to perform yet another spec shootout.
Spec shootouts have proven to be an excellent examination of tech products so that consumers benefit with deliberations regarding what their next smartphone or tablet will be. We believe that our job is to cut through the “red tape” of tech products so that you can distinguish between the essentials and the extras. We have to say, however, that, while we can always count on the essentials with any tablet, we sure do love the extras!
The iPad Air 2 continues Apple’s tradition of the 10-inch tablet. Apple’s tablet is thinner, lighter, and faster than last year’s iPad Air – but is the iPad Air 2 better than its Android rivals from Google and Samsung, the Nexus 9 and Galaxy NotePRO 12.2? Join us as we arrive at the answer.
The iPad Air 2 features a 9.7-inch, LCD screen with Apple’s tried-and-true Retina display resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels (264ppi). Apple is famous for quoting its screen resolution in tech specs, but the company’s never defined what its screen resolution is outside of Apple’s own marketing term for it (“Retina” is a marketing term, not a standard designation of screen resolution levels). The true designation of Apple’s 2,048 x 1,536p screen resolution is something close to “Full HD” – slightly brighter than the resolution on Apple’s 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus (1920 x 1080p screen resolution).
Google was once the King of the 7-inch tablet, but the company decided to go with an 8.9-inch tablet this year, and ditched the 7-inch tablet. This is clearly seen with the company’s decision to update the two-year-old Nexus 7 (2012) to Android 5.0 Lollipop – a surprising relief, indeed. This year, Google teamed up with HTC to produce a tablet that shares some of HTC’s affinity for aluminum (only brushed aluminum on the sides, however). The HTC Nexus 9 sports an 8.9-inch display with a 2,048 x 1,536p screen resolution (245ppi).
Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 tablet is rightly named because of its 12.2-inch, Super Clear LCD with a Quad HD screen resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels (247PPI).
In the category of larger and brighter displays, the win goes here to Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 with its display size (12.2 vs. 9.7 vs. 8.9) and screen resolution (2,560 x 1,440p vs. 2,048 x 1,536p for the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9), although you’ll get the best pixel density with Apple’s iPad Air 2.
Processor and Memory
The iPad Air 2 features Apple’s new 64-bit A8X processor with the same M8 motion co-processor that we’ve seen in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last month. The new iPad Air also features the same 1GB of RAM that can be found in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, although rumors suggested that Apple would increase the internal RAM to 2GB.
The iPad Air 2 features 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB configurations, a change from years past where the iPhone maker offered 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models. Apple’s decision to eliminate the 32GB option and decrease the price of the 64GB option was done to compel Apple fans to spend $100 more for their tablets as opposed to the usual $499 price tag – no doubt, a win for Apple.
Google’s HTC-made Nexus 9 features NVidia’s 2.3Ghz, dual-core 64-bit, Tegra K1 Dual Denver processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB/32GB of internal memory storage.
The Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 packs a 2.3Ghz, quad-core, Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor for the LTE model, but features Samsung’s own 1.9Ghz Exynos 5420 octa-core processor (1.9Ghz quad-core A15 + 1.3Ghz quad-core A7 chip) for the NotePRO 12.2 Wi-Fi and 3G models. The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 comes with 3GB of RAM and 32GB or 64GB of internal memory storage with a microSD card that lets you expand storage up to an additional 64GB (for a total of either 96GB or 128GB total).
Apple’s iPad has been the standard with its “lightning speed” since the iPad arrived on the market in 2010, but the Nexus 9 is likely to impress with its Nvidia Tegra K1 processor that’s scored an impressive 45,000 points in AnTuTu benchmarks a few months ago. Recent benchmarks confirm that the Tegra K1 is no slouch, but Google’s never provided an Android experience with lag. We happen to believe that the Tegra K1 is Google’s way of making a statement to hard-core Android gamers, rather than average consumers in general.
At the same time, however, the Tegra K1 processor has proven to be faster and has propelled the Nexus 9 and the Tegra K1 above the A8 chip and its iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in Geekbench testing by over 200 points in both single-core and multi-core testing – so we’ll have to wait and see whether or not Apple’s iPad Air 2 A8X processor chip will reclaim the crown.
In this category for now, however, we’re giving the win to the Samsung NotePRO 12.2 because of its octa-core Exynos processor (which has 2 sets of four cores) and its 32GB (minimum) of internal memory storage with expandable memory via its microSD card slot.
The iPad Air 2 comes with a 1.2MP front camera and a new 8MP iSight back camera that serves as an improvement over the 5MP back camera in the first-gen iPad Air (2013). The back camera utilizes the same f/2.4 aperture as that of the 2013 iPad Air. The front camera remained the same in this year’s model as last year’s iPad Air, along with the iPad Air 2’s 720p HD video and 1080p video recording capabilities.
The Air 2 also kept many of the camera capabilities as last year’s iPad Air (Autofocus, Face Detection, Backside Illumination, five-element lens, hybrid IR filter, HDR photos, and Panorama) but added a new Burst Mode feature that allows you to take multiple photos in succession (with one press of the camera shutter button). Apple did the same thing with its 1080p video recording (tap to focus, video stabilization, face detection, backside illumination, 3x video zoom, and time-lapse video) but added a new slow-mo video recording feature that lets you capture film up to either 120fps or 240fps.
The HTC Nexus 9 packs a 1.6MP front camera with a f/2.4 aperture and an 8MP back camera with the same aperture. The Nexus 9 comes with autofocus and LED flash only.
Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 features a 2MP front-facing sensor with Full HD capabilities as well as an 8MP rear camera with LED flash and a 4x digital optical zoom. The NotePRO 12.2 provides 1080p video recording and playback as well. The 8MP sensor provides software features such as autofocus, dual camera, dual recording, dual video call, and shot modes such as beauty, panorama, night, landscape, single, sound and shot, and sport.
All three tablets (iPad Air 2, Nexus 9, and Galaxy NotePRO 12.2) provide the same back camera megapixel count (8MP), but Samsung’s NotePRO 12.2 wins the race in terms of its front camera (2MP vs. 1.6MP of the Nexus 9 and the 1.2MP of the iPad Air 2). When it comes to camera software, however, it seems that we know little (if anything) about the camera software capabilities of the HTC Nexus 9. The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 provides many of the same camera shot modes that match those found in both the Note 4 and the Galaxy S5.
Apple’s iPad Air 2 provides lots of video recording capabilities. Some, photographers and videographers, in particular, will find the time-lapse and slow-mo video recording features to be useful, but most consumers prefer the photo capabilities of beauty, sound and shot, landscape, panorama on the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2, as well as the panorama mode of the iPad Air 2.
While the photography and videography features are a matter of taste, the overall win in the camera category goes to Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2.
Battery and Autonomy
The iPad Air 2 comes with a 27.3-Watt-hour rechargeable battery, which comes out to something around a 15.7% reduction in the battery amount. Last year’s iPad Air featured an 8,827mAh battery, but this year’s battery is somewhere around 7,400mAh (or slightly better than this estimate).
To put this into perspective, Apple’s iPad 2 came with a 25-watt hour (6,900mAh) battery, but Apple increased its first Retina iPad (iPad 3) battery life to a whopping 42 watt-hour (or 11,666mAh) battery. The 42 watt-hour battery of the iPad 3 was maintained in the iPad 4, but Apple’s introduction of the iPad Air last year saw a return to smaller battery life: the company reduced the massive iPad 3 and iPad 4 battery from 42W-h down to a 32.4Watt-hour battery. This year’s iPad Air 2 only has a 27.3 Watt-hour battery.
Despite the reduction in its battery size, Apple continues to promise 10-hour battery life, but doesn’t break down exactly how many hours of Wi-Fi, LTE, video, and audio playback you can get from the new iPad Air 2 (which is a little suspect to us). The company is only able to do this because of its constant optimizations, but we’d like to see Apple maintain significant battery life while adding additional battery life through a battery boost feature that could become an implementation in iOS 8.1 or even next year’s iOS 9 update.
The HTC Nexus 9, on the other hand, comes with a 6,700mAh battery that Google says will provide 9.5 hours of Wi-Fi browsing, 8.5 hours of LTE browsing, and 9.5 hours of video playback. Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 features a whopping 9,500mAh battery and promises 10 hours of Wi-Fi, 10 hours of 4G LTE, 9 hours of 3G, 10 hours of video play time, and 184 hours of audio playback.
The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 will edge out the HTC Nexus 9 when it comes to battery life, but keep in mind that Google’s new Android 5.0 Lollipop update brings an Android battery-saving feature to the operating system that’ll allow users to customize when, where, and how they desire to consume their battery life. Google owes its thanks to Samsung for this, so users may be able to squeeze even more battery life.
Apple’s “10-hour battery life” slide in its presentation leaves many questions unanswered. How much battery life can users expect from Netflix, gaming, etc.? No answers were given, and we think that Apple’s iPad sales, already in great decline, will only decline further. Making the iPad Air 2 “the thinnest tablet in the world” isn’t enough to justify selling the second “first-generation iPad Air” (with the new Touch ID-enabled home button) for the premium price of $499 this year.
With that said, the NotePRO 12.2 gets the win all too easily.
Weight and Dimensions
The iPad Air 2 has dimensions of 240mm x 169.55mm x 6.1mm and weighs 437 grams. The HTC Nexus 9 has dimensions of 228.25mm x 153.68mm x 7.95mm and weighs 425 grams. The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 has dimensions of 295.6mm x 203.9mm x 7.95mm and weighs 750 grams.
As can be seen above, the iPad Air 2 is a little taller than the Nexus 9 but shorter than the Galaxy NotePRO tablet (240mm, 228.25mm, and 295.6mm respectively). The NotePRO is wider than both the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 (203.9mm, 169.55mm, and 153.68), but the 12.2-inch screen is the obvious reason here. Although, the NotePRO 12.2 has an additional 3 inches in its display than the Nexus 9 and weighs an additional 325 grams, the NotePRO 12.2 has the exact same thickness (7.95mm).
In the weight and dimensions category, we’re giving the win to the HTC Nexus 9 because, surprisingly, it defeats the iPad Air 2 this year in terms of its weight (425 grams vs. 437 grams, respectively). The iPad Air 2 is still the thinner of the three tablets, however, making its claim that the iPad Air 2 is the “thinnest tablet in the world.” We don’t think you should buy a tablet just because it’s “thin and light,” but we realize that some tech enthusiasts consider this to be a significant discussion.
The iPad Air 2 comes with its usual $499 (16GB), $599 (64GB), and $699 (128GB) layout, while Google’s Nexus 9 will cost $399 (16GB Wi-Fi), $479 (32GB Wi-Fi), and $599 (Wi-Fi + LTE). The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 costs $649 (32GB Wi-Fi) and $749 (64GB, Wi-Fi) at Samsung’s website, with 32GB Wi-Fi models (refurbished) costing $549 and refurbished 64GB models costing $649 at Best Buy online.
The HTC Nexus 9 offers a 16GB device for $100 less than the iPad Air 2 ($399 vs. $499), while Apple offers 64GB and 128GB versions over Google’s Nexus 9. We’re not surprised this is the case because Google also wants to get customers to indulge in its unlimited photo cloud storage as well as Google Drive. The NotePRO 12.2 models are priced even higher than Apple’s 64GB and 128GB iPad Air 2 models – which many already find hard to stomach pricewise.
It’s likely the case that some NotePRO 12.2 deals are already out in the wild, considering that Samsung announced the NotePRO tablet back in February this year. At the same time, however, $650 and $750 are expensive prices for any tablet, but Samsung’s NotePRO offers a massive “larger-than-life” tablet with a ton of free subscriptions, not to mention its Wacom stylus with functionality that most Android users could only dream of. In other words, there’s a justification behind the price tag – though many will consider the price tag to be nothing short of a turnoff.
Google’s Nexus 9 by HTC gets the win here for affordability, with the company offering its unlimited photo storage, Google Drive cloud storage, as well as its own Google Sheets (similar to Microsoft Excel), Google Docs (similar to Microsoft Word), and Google Slides (similar to Microsoft PowerPoint) apps for free at the Play Store. If you’re wary of the cloud in general, Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 will provide the local flash storage you’re looking for with its expandable microSD card slot.
The Apple iPad Air 2, HTC Nexus 9, and Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 are the best tablets in the tech world when it comes to work and play, and each of these devices will suit consumers nicely. At the same time, however, we must choose which device wins the spec shootout.
Google’s HTC Nexus 9 gives a formidable and respectable effort in this spec rundown, with its affordability and thinness. Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 won in a few areas of the shootout contest with its massive 12.2-inch Quad HD screen, front and back cameras, octa-core Exynos processor, and its incredible 9,500mAh battery that can probably last up to two or three days with moderate usage. The NotePRO also offers an incredible stylus with software features that really make the device stand out from the crowd, but you’ll need to find a good price bargain for such an indulgent gift as the NotePRO 12.2.
The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 wins this contest, not because of its price, heaviness, or cameras but because of its distinguished functionality, microSD card slot for storage expansion, and its gorgeous display that lets you take notes, type, consume media, and get anything done that your heart desires. We’ve been told that some of our committed readership here are die-hard Google fans and that they value pricing above features; we, however, have to disagree. It is a true saying, “you get what you pay for,” and some things in life, though jaw-dropping in price, are worth paying for.