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Nexus 9 Keyboard Folio and Cover hands-on: HTC's design shows in these accessories

The new Google Nexus 9 is made by HTC and the two official accessories have some cool HTC design elements, but at a rather high price.
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1 of 19 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

It's been a couple of years since I owned an Android tablet, but after selling a couple of older phones I decided to purchase the sand colored Google Nexus 9. HTC then sent along a couple of their Nexus 9 accessories to test out and both show obvious signs of HTC's design skills.

My Surface Pro 3 is a fantastic device that serves as my primary home and traveling computer. While I do use it once in a while as a tablet, it's still not as convenient as an iPad mini or smaller Android tablet. The Nexus 9 Keyboard Folio helps make the Nexus 9 valuable for extensive text entry and the Nexus 9 Cover adds some display protection with a slick kickstand with barely any added mass.

Keyboard Folio

The Nexus 9 Keyboard Folio is designed as both a keyboard and protective cover. It's pricey at $129 and would make more sense to be sold as a bundle with the Nexus 9 for something like an additional $100.

The Keyboard Folio is designed with two pieces joined with a hinge piece. The back cover is found on the top and keyboard on the bottom. The keyboard takes up about two-thirds of the bottom with a flat soft touch platform above the keyboard.

The brains and battery of the Keyboard Folio are found in the hinge piece. You charge the Keyboard Folio via microUSB, located without a port cover on one end of the hinge piece.

The top piece is a cover divided into three pieces that bend so that the Nexus 9 can be used at a couple different angles. I prefer the steeper angle, about 45 degrees. A lower angle, looks to be about 20 degrees, also works well for those who want to look down on their writing platform.

The three pieces are constructed of stiff material covered with soft touch polyurethane, very similar to what you find on Apple's Smart Cover. The magnets hold everything together, but don't trust them to hold the Nexus 9 in the case by itself. Make sure to hold onto your Nexus 9 while you switch into keyboard orientation.

I never use the back camera on my tablets, but if you do you can fold down one panel to reveal the camera and capture images or video.

The keyboard is tight, but there is good spacing between the keys and the travel is excellent. HTC takes up the entire width of the Nexus 9 for key spacing and to be honest it fits my hands nearly perfectly.

I typed this review using just the keyboard and was able to bang out words quickly without error. A key to successfully using the keyboard is learning and understanding the ten Nexus 9 Keyboard Folio shortcuts. It only takes a few uses to help you remember them for future use, but you should view the website for all the details since the shortcuts are not intuitive or shown on the keyboard itself.

There is a large central space bar, two Alt keys that also serve as emoji keys, a Ctrl button, two shift keys, a search button, and a number row. There are no media controls that we typically see on iPad keyboards so if you listen to music when you type you will have to use the Nexus 9 volume buttons to control your media.

Magnets are used to hold the Nexus 9 in place and keep the cover closed on the display. There is no slot or bracket to place the Nexus 9 in so the stability of the Nexus 9 in keyboard mode isn't the best. I was able to easily use the combo on my lap, but if you press too hard on the Nexus 9 it can slip down and onto the keyboard. I did that a couple of times while reaching to tap the volume buttons.

The magnet arrangement doesn't let you use the Keyboard Folio in portrait orientation, but even with this capability on my past iPads I always worked in landscape. Landscape is preferred for entering text into various text editors anyway.

Google's website states that the battery will last up to five months with a full two hour charge. I obviously haven't had that much time to verify this battery claim.

The Nexus 9 Folio Keyboard is only available in black. It is priced at $129. In order to justify this purchase you really need to be someone who uses their tablet for extensive text entry. There are other Bluetooth keyboard options as well, at half the price, but they are less elegant and don't integrate as well as this one does with the Nexus 9.

Nexus 9 Cover

HTC also developed a cover for the Nexus 9, again similar to the idea of the iPad Smart Cover. The Google Nexus 9 Cover bends in half along the long axis with each of the four corners bending along a hinge piece to form triangles.

The Cover is uniform on both sides so it doesn't matter which way you place it on your Nexus 9. I test the black one so the color is the same on both sides, but the other three colors have two colors so you can flip it to your preferred color. The Cover only weighs in at 135 grams and is a nice way to provide some display protection on your Nexus 9 without sacrificing bulk or weight.

I highly recommend you look through the visual guide provided in the retail package as it shows you the various ways to bend the Cover to prop up your Nexus 9. There are three basic steps to get the Nexus 9 Cover into the kickstand position.

After you get to the base setup, you hold your Nexus 9 either with the display towards you or away from you. If it is towards you, then you magnetically connect the Cover and flip down the Nexus 9 to transform into a low viewing angle arrangement. The angle is about 25 degrees from the horizon.

If you have the back of your Nexus 9 facing you and attach the Cover in base position then you will be able to view your Nexus 9 at a steep angle, approximately 65 degrees from the horizon.

Again, I don't like using my tablets for photos, but if you do take photos you just have to flip down one of the triangles to access the camera when you have the Cover flipped to the back. The camera launches automatically when you flip down the triangle.

When you are using your Nexus 9 the Cover flips around and secures to the back with the magnets. The Cover stays on the front, but the magnetic connection is not strong enough to keep it from sliding off if you push too hard or your Nexus 9 slides against something in your bag.

On the other hand, when you have the Nexus 9 propped up into one of the two viewing angles, the magnets do hold it quite well and I never had it topple or teeter even when pressing hard on the display.

The Nexus 9 Cover is available in black, lime/stone, coral/amethyst, and mint indigo. I tested out the black color. The Nexus 9 Cover is available now for $39. Again, this is pricey for a cover, but it works very well with the Nexus 9 and adds very little mass while serving as a solid platform for viewing media.

I will be interested in seeing how both of these covers last over the long term given that the hinge pieces are rotated often and the edges appear to be glued and pressed material.

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Sand color Google Nexus 9

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Google Nexus 9 with Cover on back

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Nexus 9 Cover in place on the display

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Directions sheet for using the Nexus 9 Cover

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Cover folded to mount the Nexus 9 at the low angle

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Cover folded to hold the Nexus 9 at the high angle

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Side view of the steeper angle

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Directions for three home screen shortcuts on the Keyboard Folio

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Keyboard Folio opened up

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Keyboard Folio in hand

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Hinge piece with the battery and brains of the Keyboard Folio

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Side view of the Keyboard Folio

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Back view of the Keyboard Folio at the higher angle

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Front view of the Keyboard Folio

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Side view of the Keyboard Folio at the low angle

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Backside view of the Keyboard Folio at the low angle

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Left side of the Keyboard Folio

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Right side of the Keyboard Folio

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