HTC discusses the Nexus 9, its insides and outsides, and why it costs so much

nexus9

It’s nice that Google partners with different manufacturers for its Nexus devices. It lets diehard stock Android users try out gear from different OEMs, while giving those same OEMs an opportunity to define themselves through hardware design—rather than by how much they can skin a customized version of Android.

HTC was chosen for the latest Nexus tablet. The Nexus 9 was announced last week, and will begin shipping pre-orders next week. Over email, we interviewed Chad Dial, the Executive Director of Emerging Devices at HTC, about the Nexus 9, the strategy behind HTC’s hardware decisions, and why this device is a bit more costly than some of Google’s previous Nexus tablets. 

Greenbot: Why go with Nvidia’s Tegra K1 rather than a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor? How does the 64-bit compare to the quad-core, 32-bit version already on the market?

Dial: We [Google and HTC] both felt that the Tegra K1 delivers PC-class performance that is showcased well in the tablet form factor. It is also the first ARM processor for Android to take advantage of Lollipop’s support for 64-bit CPU architectures.

Greenbot: Is the Nexus 9 geared toward gamers? What about hardcore enthusiasts?

Dial: Tablets have primarily been about content consumption and entertainment. We believe the Nexus 9 expands on that by blending that consumption with productivity. For instance, the available keyboard turns it into a viable productivity machine instead of an entertainment-only device. I find myself carrying my laptop less, and carrying the Nexus 9 and keyboard case more often.

That said, it is great for all the things you mentioned—gaming, heavy media consumption—and the dual front-facing BoomSound speakers enhance the gaming or media watching experience.

Greenbot: What went into the design process behind the chassis? Was the goal to keep it simple, like the other Nexus devices?

Dial: I can’t speak to other Nexus devices, but for the Nexus 9 one of the goals was to develop a tablet with a truly premium look and feel. We approached this device with three concepts in mind: simplicity, which includes purity in design and removal of unnecessary parts; usability, which employs softness and human-centric design and the use of premium materials; and precision, which meant crafting the device with a level of fit and finish that hasn’t been seen on a Nexus device in the past.

Greenbot: HTC has made products with a metal body before. Why opt for plastic this time, when the tablet’s biggest competitor—the iPad—has a thinner, metal body? 

Dial: The Nexus 9 has an aluminum frame to provide rigidity with a brushed finish that accentuates its sleek, layered design. The frame’s slight inward taper fits in the grooves of your fingers and feels comfortable in the palm of your hand thanks to its soft touch back.

Internally, a thin aluminum sheet provides extra rigidity. The plastic layer provides tactility (with its matte, soft grip) and choices of color, while the metallic frame provides structure and a premium feel and sleek look.

Greenbot: How does the Nexus 9 implement BoomSound if it’s running stock Android? Is there a software plugin, for instance, that helps initiate BoomSound? Or is it merely that there are two speakers on the front of the device?

Dial: The Nexus 9 features dual front-facing speakers with dedicated smart amp and HTC BoomSound technology for speaker mode only. BoomSound beyond speaker mode requires additional software and Nexus 9 utilizes stock Android software.

chad dial HTC

Chad Dial, HTC’s executive direction of emerging devices. 

Greenbot: Who decides on the colors behind the Nexus devices? Why not something a little more colorful?

Dial: The color on the Nexus 9 was a collaboration between Google and HTC. Tablet colors were chosen to work well with the accessories. The tinted neutrals of the tablet get enhanced through the bright colors of the additional magnetic Nexus 9 covers.

Greenbot: Can you offer any insight on what decided the display size of the tablet? Why not 10-inches exactly, or 8-inches?

Dial: We collaborated with Google on all the specs, but they came with a strong perspective about what they wanted on the device.

One of the main drivers was opting for a display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. With the focus on productivity this year, Google and HTC felt that this aspect ratio gave users the best experience for getting things done, while this particular screen size fits comfortably in one hand. 

Greenbot: And what’s with the decision to put 2x2 MIMO support in the tablet?

Dial: We felt that 2x2 offered the best ratio of price to performance.

Greenbot: The price is a lot steeper on this Nexus tablet than on those of the past. Is that a strategic decision made in conjunction with Google? Why go for a pricier, “premium” device this time?

Dial: Yes, making Nexus 9 more “premium” was a strategic decision made in conjunction with Google. We believe that there is market demand for a premium Android tablet.

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