Head-To-Head: Apple iPad Air 2 vs. Google Nexus 9

Nexus-Nexus, iPad-iPad

On the heels of Google's 64-bit, two-tablet announcement yesterday, Apple in a live press event Thursday unveiled a pair of new and/or improved iPads. The iPad Air 2 is a lighter, thinner and faster version of the already thin-as-air tablet that came before. And the iPad Mini 3 does much of the same for the smaller slate.

First things first. Here's a head-to-head comparison of the Google Nexus 9 vs. Apple iPad Air 2.

The App Processor

The Nexus 9 is built around the Nvidia Tegra K1 "Dual Denver" SoC, which contains four ARM Cortex-A15 cores running at 2.3 GHz. Denver is a reference to the 64-bit microarchitecture that's been under development at Nvidia since 2006. Apple leaks this week had revealed that iPad Air 2 would contain the A8X, an all-new SoC that Apple (on Thursday officially) said packs 3 billion transistors and is 40 percent faster than the A7 custom SoC that preceded it. It incorporates two 64-bit ARMv8 application cores running at 1.3 GHz plus Apple's M7 processor to handle data coming from the device's accelerometer, gyro and compass.

Graphics And Memory

Here's where things get interesting. The Tegra K1 contains a Kepler GPU with 192 Cuda parallel computing cores. These Cuda cores -- which also can be called upon to perform general processing tasks -- are the same as those used in Nvidia's powerful GeForce gaming GPUs. Apple revealed almost nothing about the iPad Air 2 GPU. What it did say was that it's "2.5 times faster" than that of the A7, which includes the PowerVR G6430 GPU from Imagination Technologies. That part incorporates four graphics-processing core clusters and numerous co-processors dedicated to handling pixels, tiling and other specialized tasks. In other words, it was pretty fast already.

Nexus 9 packs 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM and either 16 or 32 GB of storage and there's no way to expand. Apple also was quiet on RAM, but other sources indicate that iPad Air 2 will come with 2GB of RAM (up from 1GB) and with 16, 64 or 128GB of storage.

The Display

An 8.9-inch IPS panel is the centerpiece of the Nexus 9. It pumps out a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 at a squarish 4:3 aspect ratio and has a pixel density of about 288 ppi. It's protected by Gorilla Glass 3, which maker Corning claims is up to three times stronger than Gorilla Glass 2. The 9.7-inch IPS panel in Apple's new flagship remains steady at 2,048 x 1,536. That's the same resolution as Nexus 9, but since it stretches the pixels over a larger area, its pixel density calculates to 264 ppi, a negligible difference.

Weights And Measures

The Nexus 9 is just shy of nine inches long, a hair more than six inches wide and is less than a third-of-an-inch thick (0.31). The iPad Air 2 is 9.4 inches long, 6.6 inches wide and less than a quarter of an inch thick (0.24). Apple has managed to shave five hundredths of an inch from iPad Air's thickness by removing the air gap between the glass and the display panel that exists on every other iPad. According to the company, this not only makes the device thinner, but also improves image sharpness.

In terms of weight, Nexus 9 with Wi-Fi only tips the scales at 15 oz. Adding LTE brings it to a burdensome 15.4 oz. An iPad Air 2 (with its larger screen and Wi-Fi only) weighs in at the same 15.4 oz. It bulks up to 15.7 oz. when sporting both network radios. Not too shabby.


Google put an 8MP auto-focus main camera in the Nexus 9 along with a f/2.4 aperture and LED flash. The front camera can capture 1.6 MP and also sees through an f/2.4 aperture. In iPad Air 2, Apple increases its iSight camera's pixel count from 5MP to 8MP and also sees through an f/2.4 aperture. This sensor can capture 1080p video as well as slow motion and time lapse. There's also a burst and 43MP panoramic modes. Also new, the FaceTime camera captures 1.2 MP photos and 720p video through an f/2.2 aperture. TouchID registers up to five fingers.


Both Apple and Google devices come with Wi-Fi ac, currently the fastest Wi-Fi available. Once 802.11 infrastructure catches up, ac has the potential to deliver Wi-Fi speeds approaching 1 Gbps. Apple on Thursday also claimed iPad Air 2 can provide LTE speeds up to 150 Mbps and has 20 LTE radios for greater high-speed coverage in more areas.

Ins And Outs

Nexus 9 provides a Micro-USB 2.0 port for charging, file transfer and connection to peripherals, a 3.5mm audio jack, front-facing speakers and a pair of mics. The iPad Air 2 has one speaker, two mics and a Lightning connector for charging and connection to peripherals.


Google Nexus 9 runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, the much-lauded 64-bit version that promises improvements to performance, security, interface customization and extensive desktop integration. The iPad Air 2 will come with the 64-bit iOS 8.1, which includes Apple Pay, return of the Camera Roll and tight integration with Mac OS X Yosemite.

The Bottom Line

Google begins taking pre-orders for the Nexus 9 Oct. 17 at prices ranging from $399 with 16GB and Wi-Fi to $599 for 32GB and LTE. Pricing for the iPad Air 2 ranges between $499 for 16GB and Wi-Fi to $829 with 128GB and cellular too. Both companies offer the devices in black, white or gold.