Nexus 9 Android M Hands-On & Impressions

Google’s flagship Nexus 9 tablet hasn’t received the amount of attention or updates as many expected, but it already received the latest Android M developer preview. Here we’ll be sharing our thoughts on the Nexus 9 Android M Beta update, its performance, battery life, and if it fixes some of the issues users have been experiencing on Lollipop.

Late last month Google announced the successor to Android 5.1 Lollipop, called Android M, and the company also released an early developer preview or beta for the Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and more. We’ve updated our Nexus 6 to test out Android M, and now it’s time to see how M fares on the Nexus 9.

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Read: Android M Beta: 6 Things You Need to Know

Now that the Android M developer preview is available, users are curious about what’s new, and if it’s worth installing unfinished beta software, or waiting another 4-5 months for the final Android M release. And while all the new features aren’t included yet, there’s still plenty to see so lets take a look.

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Just like last year with Android L, Google has announced and released the new Android M software update months ahead of the retail release, for developers and early adopters to try out the latest features and new software ahead of its arrival. A few months later in October Android 5.0 “Lollipop” was announced, and we’re expecting a similar release-cycle with Android M later this year. Our guess is Android M “Milkshake”, “Milky Way” or maybe even “Marshmallow”.

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With Android M, Google’s main focus appears to be fine-tuning the entire core experience. With Android 5.0 we saw a major redesign, but that isn’t the case with Android M. Instead Google’s added lots of new features, tweaks, and improvements to Lollipop, introduced fingerprint scanner support, Android Pay, up to 2x better battery life, and much more. Before we get started here’s our initial Android M vs Android 5.1 for those interested.

Read: Android M vs Android 5.1 Lollipop: What’s New So Far

The initial Android 5.0 Lollipop release was riddled with little bugs, issues that were plaguing all users, and that includes those with the Nexus 9. Apps were crashing, reboots, slow performance, gaming was oddly terrible on the Nexus 9, and it was just an overall sluggish device. Something that was unexpected for Google’s new flagship iPad-like 8.9-inch Nexus tablet.

With the Nexus 9 Android M beta software users won’t notice too many visual changes at first, but you’ll quickly realize there is plenty that’s new, battery life is great, and performance is swift. Not all apps support Android M, but I’ve yet to have a single app crash, freeze, or any problems. It’s a pretty excellent experience given this is early beta software that isn’t final.

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Nexus 9 Android M Installation

Google announced the Nexus 9 Android 5.1.1 Lollipop update on May 7th, and eventually it arrived as the first major update since the tablet was released in November. It fixed most of the problems with Android 5.0, but M makes things even better.

Since Android M isn’t available yet as an over the air update, users only option is to manually flash the early developer preview. We’d advise against this if the Nexus 9 is a work tablet, or your primary device. And while it works wonderfully for us, it’s better to wait if you’ve never flashed custom software from Google. This erases all of your data and apps, so this process is only for those who truly want to have the latest software.

Read: How to Install Android M Right Now

The factory images and all the installation details and instructions can be found on the link above. For whatever reason our first install didn’t go well. Android M on the Nexus 9 was completely broken. The notification pulldown bar didn’t work, the home button was unresponsive, and I had to flash the factory image a second time. To be safe I re-downloaded the image, and tried again, which fixed all my problems.

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On the second attempt everything was butter smooth, and it’s been the best experience I’ve had on the Nexus 9 since I bought it back in November. Android M looks very promising, especially for Nexus 9 owners.

Nexus 9 Android M Performance

The Nexus 9 is an extremely powerful tablet, but the initial Lollipop release wasn’t nearly as smooth as I expected, especially given the new NVIDIA 64-bit processor inside. Maybe it took Google a few updates to get everything right and optimized, because with Android M the Nexus 9 feels like a tablet I could actually fully recommend. Yes, features are missing from the M announcement, but everything from Android 5.1 Lollipop works great, and a few new additions makes things even better. It’s fast, fluid, pretty stable, and battery life is finally what it should be. Great.

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I’m actually pleasantly surprised by the noticeable increase in performance and general smooth operations. The Nexus 9 had a little stutter here and there with Android 5.1 Lollipop, but that seems to be gone with M.

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After I downloaded all of my apps and got the Nexus 9 setup the way I liked it, I started testing. The first thing you’ll notice is the slightly changed application tray, and the six “recently opened apps” at the top are very convenient. The notification bar pulls down from anywhere with the same look, which was different depending on the side with Android Lollipop, and you’ll immediately notice battery life has been improved by leaps and bounds. This is a part of the new “doze” feature, which we’ll explain below.

Apps

I’ve only had one app that doesn’t work with Android M on the Nexus 9, and it’s something I use daily. That being Sling TV. Sadly that part of my morning routine isn’t available until the developers update the app, but everything else works great.

So far I’ve streamed tons of video using WatchESPN to catch the NBA Finals, played games like Clash of Clans and Gunner Z, as well as ran Facebook and most social network sites all without any issues. Not a single app has froze, crashed, or even stutters. Even Facebook is running good. Multitasking is as good as ever, Android M is a big step in the right direction. The pulldown bar, volume controls, and app permissions have all been improved, and the only complaints I have is Google Now on Tap missing, and Sling TV not being supported.

In Android 5.0 Lollipop Google confirmed there was a “memory leak” problem that was causing erratic behavior in many apps. Apps would crash, freeze, or just get laggy. This happened extremely quick for some, or would take a few days to finally start happening. A reboot would fix this temporarily, but not for long. As far as we know the memory leak problem was fixed with Android 5.1.1, and so far Android M is the best experience I’ve had yet. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is standby battery life, which is excellent.

Nexus 9 Android M Battery Life

On Android M the Nexus 9 (and all devices) should have much better battery life in general, and with standby battery. Before M if I didn’t use the Nexus 9 for 2-3 days but left it sitting on my desk, it would be 100% empty, and the battery was completely gone. This was unacceptable. With Android M Google didn’t just fix this problem, but they actually made it better. Resulting in such a drastic notice in battery life that users will be amazed.

Android M Doze

In general Android M has some battery life, stability, and memory tweaks to keep performance smooth and battery lasting longer, but it’s new the “Doze” feature that’s doing most of the work. With “Doze” the Nexus 9 will let apps sleep or doze off when not in use, and go into an extremely lower power state. It did this before, but now they doze even further, to the point where apps won’t wake the device, even for notifications.

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You’ll still get emails, Facebook messages, and other important things, but the rest sleeps for longer periods. Apple’s done this for years, and Google’s way has made a significant improvement to battery. I haven’t charged my Nexus 9 in three days, I’ve streamed over 4 hours of NBA finals, played some games, browsed the web and Facebook, and still have 70% battery left. Yes, this is HUGE. That promise of nearly 2x battery life is true, and is very impressive. At this rate the Nexus 9 estimates the battery will last six more days. That’s over a week on a single charge with moderate daily use.

WiFi & Bluetooth

Connectivity is always an area of concern after any update, especially a large one like this. And while the Nexus 9 didn’t have too many issues, we’re not experiencing any either, so that’s good. I’ve used my Nexus 9 around the house, a doctors office, Panera Bread, and connected to my JAMBOX speaker with no problems. WiFi, Bluetooth and more all work excellent.

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With Android M you can actually customize the quick settings in the pulldown bar shown above, but the feature is hidden deep in the developer settings menu. This may be an Android M feature when it’s released, or stay hidden, we’re not sure. And being able to change WiFi or Bluetooth connections right from the pulldown bar (with the little arrows) rather than going into settings, is a great addition Google added in 5.1 Lollipop.

Speed

Google built Android 5.1 for any device, including Android One budget phones for emerging markets. Android M takes this even further by making everything more efficient, and it’s clearly visible on the Nexus 9. This tablet is fast and fluid again, with no hiccups whatsoever. The tablet doesn’t just feel faster, it is faster. So far overall speed, performance and reliability is great since updating. I’ve notice a big increase in gaming performance and multi-tasking, two things the Nexus 9 seemed to struggle with before.

Also hidden in developer options on Android M is multi-screen mode. Essentially running two apps at the same time like Samsung offers one some devices and tablets. This isn’t fully working in Android M yet, but is there. With the official release later this year owners will be able to run two apps at the same time on the Nexus 9, which is one feature we’re very much looking forward to.

Bugs & Issues

Even though Android 5.1.1 fixed most Lollipop bugs, with M being an early developer preview and “beta” test, some new ones may present themselves. At the same time, there are new features missing that you could technically call a bug. Google Now on Tap doesn’t work, and long-pressing the home button you get a popup where this feature will be, saying it doesn’t work yet. In a week with Android M on the Nexus 9 I have not observed any new bugs or problems.

So far I haven’t experienced app crashing or random reboots, which may be due to the fix for the memory leak bug on Android 5.1.1. Things are looking up for Google’s Nexus 9 tablet, and M takes Lollipop and refines it in a few key areas to make for a good experience.

You can check out the Google Nexus Help forum for more information and to see if other users report problems with Android M on the Nexus 9.

Should You Update to Android M?

When Google officially releases Android M later this year as an actual over the air update, absolutely 100% yes you should update. Battery life improvements alone make it a worthy update, even if M has a few bugs here and there. That said, should you update to the Android M beta test and developer preview? Maybe. It’s a daunting task of flashing a factory image over ADB, which isn’t for everyone, but our instructions earlier in this post explain it in a simple fashion.

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If you are having a lot of problems with Android 5.1.1 on the Nexus 9 or are sick of the poor battery life, and ok with erasing all of your stuff and starting over on Android M, we’d say yes, it’s worth updating now. The Android M beta should get monthly updates to slowly add more features, and there’s enough included in this release to make it stable enough for daily use.

At this point we see no reason to warn users against accepting the Android M Lollipop update notification once it arrives in October or November, and if you’d rather not wait, the steps at the top of the page can get you this latest software release right now. If you flashed Android M to your Nexus 9 drop us a comment below with your thoughts, or any problems you may be experiencing.