In the span of two days, the two hottest tablets of the fall have been announced. On Wednesday, Google took the wraps off the Nexus 9, a spectacular new high-end tablet manufactured by HTC. Thursday, Apple announced the iPad Air 2, a modest upgrade to last year's stellar iPad Air.
Naturally, one runs iOS 8 and its associated apps, and one runs Android Lollipop and its apps. For many users, that's difference enough to choose one over the other. If you're not married to either ecosystem, and you want to know where to dive in, consider these points of comparison.
They both feature fast, dual-core 64-bit processors
The Nexus 9 is based around the new dual-core 64-bit version of Nvidia's Tegra K1 chip, running at 2.3GHz with 2GB of RAM. Early leaked benchmarks suggest it is even faster than the very fast quad-core version of the Tegra K1 you find in products like the Shield Tablet. Android Lollipop is the first 64-bit capable version of Android, so you can enjoy the increased performance and efficiency of native 64-bit apps, in addition to all the 32-bit apps out there already.
Of course, Apple has been shipping a 64-bit mobile chip and OS since last year. The A8X in the iPad Air 2 is also a 64-bit dual-core powerhouse, and though Apple hasn't confirmed it, rumor says the A8X is Apple's first mobile chip to include 2GB of RAM.
Both processors have extremely fast graphics processors. The Tegra K1's GPU is far and away the fastest we've ever tested in an Android device, but Apple consistently offers extremely fast and robust graphics in its mobile processors. Without running some head-to-head benchmarks, it's hard to say which is faster. Suffice it to say, these two tablets are likely to have the best graphics performance of any ARM-based tablet to date.
The Nexus 9 is a bit smaller, but thicker
Google's new tablet is 8.98 inches tall and 6.05 inches wide. The iPad Air 2 is bigger, at 9.44 inches tall and 6.67 inches wide.
However, while the Nexus 9 is a reasonable 0.31 inches thick, the iPad Air 2 is only 0.24 inches thick.
That gives the Nexus 9 a total volume of 16.85 cubic inches, while the iPad Air has a volume of only 13.22 cubic inches. That thinner profile really makes a difference!
The iPad Air 2 has a bigger display
At 9.7 inches, the Apple's tablet gives you almost an extra inch's worth of display compared to the 8.9-inch Nexus 9.
Interestingly, the displays on both tablets are IPS LCDs with a resolution of 2048 x 1536 and a 4:3 aspect ratio.
They weigh about the same
The Nexus 9 weighs 0.93 pounds. The iPad Air 2 weighs 0.96 pounds. I doubt you'll notice the difference in weight between the two. You're more likely to notice the substantial difference in thickness.
They both offer fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi
No matter which tablet you choose, you should get awesome speeds from your advanced 802.11ac router with MIMO. Both tablets have broad support for carrier frequencies in their cellular versions, so you can probably use either tablet on whichever carrier you wish.
Interestingly, the iPad Air 2 only features Bluetooth 4.0, while the Nexus 9 has Bluetooth 4.1. That's not going to make a difference to you as an everyday user, though. All those fancy battery-saving "low energy" Bluetooth devices require only the 4.0 version of the spec.
The Nexus 9 is cheaper
The 16GB Wi-Fi version of the Nexus 9 starts at $400, and you can bump that up to 32GB for $80 more. The LTE-enabled 32GB version is $600.
The iPad Air 2 starts at $500 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version. Apple doesn't offer a 32GB version, but the 64GB version is $100 more. The LTE-enabled versions costs $130 more, so if you want cellular connectivity on your tablet, you will spend at least $630 and get only 16GB of storage.
Only the iPad Air 2 offers more than 32GB of storage
Neither tablet features expandable storage, so if you plan on loading up with a ton of hi-def videos or huge games, you may want more storage. Only the iPad Air 2 offers 64GB and 128GB options. Unfortunately, if you think 64GB is too much and 16GB is not enough, you're out of luck—Apple makes no 32GB version.
They both have 8-megapixel rear and 1.2-megapixel front cameras
Both the Nexus 9 and iPad Air will have an 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.4 aperture. The front-facing cameras on both tablets are really made for video chat more than high-res selfies, and they're both a mere 1.2 megapixels.
Specs are one thing, but megapixels alone don't make for a great photo. The quality of the photos and video taken from these cameras is still unknown. We'll have to get our hands on each of them to do a proper comparison.
The iPad Air has a fingerprint sensor
Apple has finally brought its Touch ID sensor over from the iPhone to the iPad. The Nexus 9 has no similar capability.
You can get a keyboard case for either one
Google is offering an official keyboard cover for the Nexus 9, making it easier than ever to get some work done on your Android tablet. While Apple doesn't make an official keyboard cover for the iPad, several third-party companies do, and they're sure to make updated versions for the iPad Air 2.
The Nexus 9 will have better speakers
Apple doesn't want to mess up the clean front of its tablets with speakers, so it sticks them down along the bottom edge. The Nexus 9 has a pair of front-facing speakers on opposite sides of the screen. You'll probably notice a huge difference when watching videos or playing games.
Android tablets suffer from a bit of an 'app gap'
When it comes to phones, Android has nearly all the major apps the iPhone does. Developers simply can't ignore Google's ecosystem, and with a few exceptions, most of the hottest apps launch on Android either right when the iOS version launches, or very shortly thereafter.
When it comes to tablets, the situation isn't as rosy. The Android tablet app selection is growing quickly, but it's still far behind the iPad's. Many Android tablet apps are just the phone apps, half-heartedly tweaked for the larger display, while iPad apps are more carefully optimized for the format.
Android tablet sales are improving, and with it, the selection of truly tablet-optimized apps. But right now, the iPad has a clear lead in this area.