As posted on Is there a good tablet to replace a slow and laggy Google Nexus 9?
I own a Google Nexus 9, which my parents use for sofa-surfing and to access the internet when travelling. But in recent months, it has been running slower and slower. I’ve managed to get them to delete any large files and apps they aren’t using, but I think that, given the specs, it’s due an upgrade. It won’t be getting Android updates past Nougat 7.1.1 either.
What would you recommend to replace it?
I’d like to get something with stock Android rather than a skinned version, partly because of the delays to upgrades of custom versions of Android, and also to remove any bloat. I’m reluctant to purchase an Amazon Fire tablet, because the screens are of a lower resolution. Said
The Google Nexus 9 was launched in November 2014 and HTC had ceased manufacturing by May 2016. However, you can still buy them, and the Nexus 9 even features on some of this year’s “best buy” lists of Android tablets.
Unfortunately, it appears that some Nexus 9 tablets have been “slow and laggy”. Clearly, not every Nexus 9 performs badly, but a web search finds plenty of complaints, and numerous attempts to fix them.
Rather than dumping your Nexus 9, you could try to fix it. Alternatively, you could sell it on ebay and put the money towards a replacement.
Nexus 9 fixes
Your email suggests you’ve tried some of the fixes suggested by Nexus Help. If none of them worked, try Wipe cache partition: Google Nexus 9, because it’s easy and it doesn’t remove your settings and data. After that, the usual approach with any Android device is to reset it to factory condition. Nexus Help provides instructions.
The usual caveats apply: you must know your user name and password. You must back up your data or you will lose it.
A more extreme approach is to use your PC to download a new factory image and install that. It’s complicated, but Techno Bill provides a good guide: How To Flash A Nexus 9 With A Factory Image. Assuming your Nexus 9 is already out of guarantee, you could even try an alternative image from the Pure Nexus Project.
Bear in mind that if something goes wrong, your device will probably end up bricked.
The Google Nexus 9 has a large and somewhat unusual processor: the Nvidia Tegra K1. I’ve not had the pleasure of using one, but according to Notebookcheck’s table of benchmarks, it appears to be roughly as fast as a Mediatek MT8176, an Apple A8 and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. There are worse chips still in use, but you might want to get something with a faster CPU, if you can afford it.
Today’s fastest tablet chips include the Apple A9X and two “octocore” chips: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 and Samsung’s Exynos 8895. All three are powerful enough to run Microsoft Windows 10, so they shouldn’t struggle with Android.
The cheaper mainstream options include another three 8-core chips – Samsung’s Exynos 7420, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 and Nvidia’s Tegra X1 – plus the Apple A9 used in this year’s 9.7in iPad and the old iPhone 6. All four are roughly as powerful as an Intel Atom x7-Z8750. A slower Snapdragon 810 would also be acceptable. Below that, you’re getting back into Tegra K1 territory.
You won’t be surprised to hear that you probably can’t get what you want at a reasonable price, at least from the major brands. Your best bet might be one of the Chinese tablets, with which I am not familiar. Perhaps readers can suggest options in the comments below.
Google’s Pixel C tablet with keyboard. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
As it is, affordable Android tablets tend to use chips that are no more powerful than the one in your Nexus 9. In fact, the widely recommended 8in Nvidia Shield K1 – which is The Wirecutter’s top pick – uses a Tegra K1, like your Nexus 9. You could go for one of the Samsung Galaxy Tab range, but you’ve essentially disallowed those by asking for “something with stock Android rather than a skinned version”.
Google’s Pixel C looks good, and has 3GB of memory and a fast Tegra X1. But, frankly, the price is silly: on Amazon it costs £538.52 for the tablet, or £657.52 with the matching keyboard. You could buy a good Windows 10 Ultrabook or 2-in-1 tablet/laptop for less.
The 10.1in Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Pro is also pricey at £399.99, but you get 4GB of memory, 64GB of eMMC storage, and an Intel Z8550 for that. Whether the operating system will get more than one upgrade is another matter.
There is no shortage of Android tablets that have much the same specification as the one you already have, which is why I’ve suggested you try to fix your Nexus 9. You could buy one to last a couple of years while you wait for something better to turn up. Alternatively, unless your parents are wedded to Android, consider a 9.7in Apple iPad (2017), which is decent value at £339.
Why not Amazon Fire?
When it comes to “cheap and cheerful” tablets, it’s hard to beat the Amazon Fire range. Technically, these are not Android tablets, and they cannot access the Google Play store. They run a forked version of AOSP (Android Open Source Project), which doesn’t include all the proprietary Google code.
There are several reasons why Amazon Fire tablets are cheap. One is that they are shop fronts for Amazon products and services, including music and movies. If you are, like me, an Amazon Prime member, this isn’t much of a drawback, but I expect it’s annoying if you’re not.
Amazon has its own store to compensate for the lack of access to Google Play Services, and you have to use its Silk browser instead of Chrome.
Amazon’s store doesn’t have anything like as many apps, and not all Android apps can be made to run. In extremis, you may be able to sideload Google Play and run real Android apps on a Fire tablet, but this isn’t supported by either Google or Amazon.
As you know, these are low-resolution tablets: they only display 1280 x 800 pixels. However, I’ve found this perfectly acceptable for casual use on my original 10in Fire tablet, and the 8in screen has a better PPI rating (189 vs 149).
A couple of the new 8in tablets with Alexa would probably keep your parents happy for £160. They start shipping in the UK on 7 June. If you need a bigger screen, wait until the all-new version of the 10in tablet appears with Alexa. This ships in the USA on 15 July.
Have you got another question for Jack? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com