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Google announces Android 5.1 update for the Nexus 9 — two months late

Google’s Nexus 9 tablet seemed like an exciting device when it was announced in late 2014. It was the first mainstream Android tablet with a 4:3 screen (like the iPad), and it ran on Nvidia’s new 64-bit Tegra K1 custom ARM chip. Even with all that going for it, the HTC-built Nexus 9 failed to make a good first impression thanks to build quality issues and buggy software. Google has been extremely slow to update the N9 too. The company has just announced the Android 5.1 update is rolling out to this device, but it’s two months late.

Android 5.0 Lollipop brought a ton of changes to the platform, and it’s been a solid improvement from most perspectives. However, the initial release had a nasty memory leak that could kill device performance after a few days of uptime. Google released a patch that fixed that on most devices, but the Nexus 9 has continued to have a sub-optimal software experience. You don’t always get the most premium hardware buying a Nexus device from Google, but you can expect speedy updates. That has not been the case with the Nexus 9, though.

The 5.1 update started hitting other Nexus devices shortly after it was announced two months ago. This version of Android fixed a few annoyances in Lollipop, patched some bugs, and added a number of minor features. With the N9 desperately in need of bug fixes, owners were understandably anxious for the update to drop. The Nexus 9 is one of the devices I regularly use, but I often have to shake my head at the performance hiccups and bugs I come across. It’s unacceptable for a tablet that starts at $400 and can cost upwards of $600.

Two months of waiting would be nothing for most Android devices — Samsung, LG, and most other OEMs can take two or three times as long to get an update out to their flagship devices. But a Nexus? The entire point of the program is to get pure, Googley Android out to users as quickly as possible.

Google hasn’t offered an explanation for the delay, but hopefully it has paid off by making this a better tablet. It remains the only device in the world running a 64-bit Tegra K1. Even Nvidia’s Shield tablet runs the older 32-bit K1. Perhaps the quirks of Nvidia’s custom Denver CPU core are to blame for the wait.

When the update starts hitting devices, it will take the Nexus 9 from Android 5.0.2 to 5.1.1. Because this is a Nexus device, it will be a simple matter to sideload the update file or flash the factory image to restore your tablet to the stock software. Nexus 9 owners who opt to wait for the official update notification could be left hanging a few more days as the update goes out in waves. As of the time of this posting, it doesn’t sound like the OTA has actually reached any devices.
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