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Nokia’s back with an Android tablet, and its free, single, and fabulous

There aren’t many surprises in the tech world at the moment, but the Nokia N1 Tablet’s arrival was completely unexpected. Since selling its phone division to Microsoft, Nokia’s new CEO had mumbled some things about not making mobile devices anymore, and many of us wrote the poor company off, relegating it to the dreary world of navigation and network infrastructure. We were judging Nokia based on its performance over the past few years. You know, rolling over for Microsoft and becoming a characterless corporate stooge.

Saying the N1 looks like an iPad Mini is like complaining your girlfriend looks like Mila Kunis.

It turns out, we were wrong. Nokia had a cancer, and that cancer was Stephen Elop. It took four years to cut him out, but now that he’s gone, Nokia has a fresh, new, positive outlook on life. The result is a piece of hardware that with one hand, gives the finger to Elop and Microsoft, and with the other, a reassuring thumbs up to us.

Nokia had all the life sucked out of it during Microsoft’s tenure. Waves of grey-suited middle managers swept through launch events, where even embarrassing basketball-playing executives couldn’t save the day. The brightly colored Lumia phones were the only evidence of Nokia’s passion and glee for producing exciting hardware. Now that the marriage is over, Nokia’s back, and it’s fabulous.

Related: Review: Nokia Lumia 635 is a Windows Phone on the cheap

It has lost some pounds (an entire division, actually), bought itself for some fashionable clothes, and got itself a makeover that would make any newly-minted Beverly Hills divorcee green with envy. It’s fitting then, the company chose a startup conference to launch the N1. Nokia is free, single, and ready to break some hearts. Even the device’s name is appropriate.

You should be excited about the N1 Tablet

All this romanticizing about Nokia’s return would be pointless if the product was dreary. Thankfully it wasn’t the set top box some speculated about (why would we want another one of those), but a well-specced, and very well-priced tablet. The tech world stuttered as it was announced, struggling to find something bad to say about it. The worst anyone could manage is that “it looks like the iPad Mini.” Oh no, how absolutely terrible. Saying the N1 looks like an iPad Mini is like complaining your girlfriend looks like Mila Kunis.

Does that mean the N1 Tablet is faultless? One could accuse it of being a bit dull, but a more legitimate concern is the decision to go with Android, and then slapping its own Z Launcher over the top. The world is hardly starved of Google-based slates, at any price point. Adding the clever Z Launcher over Android 5.0 separates it, but could also isolate it, particularly in the face of the newly released and attractively redesigned Android Lollipop, which is hidden underneath.

Except the Z Launcher looks fun, and does something useful. The Scribble search function is reminiscent of Windows 8’s Start Search, but instead of typing, you scrawl a letter on the screen. Over time, the Z Launcher organizes apps based on usage and location, eventually making search irrelevant. Helpful. Nokia will also take solace in the overwhelming success of the Jolla Tablet, launched at the same event the day after. It has raised a million dollars on Indiegogo already, proving the public isn’t bored of custom tablets just yet.

Related: Google Nexus 9 review: A high-end Nexus for devout Android fans

Then there’s the price: It’s $250. Android tablets costing less than $300 aren’t usually made of aluminum, don’t have 2048 x 1536 pixel laminated screens, or 64-bit Intel chips inside. The Nexus 9 manages it, but costs $400, while the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is closer to $600 at the moment. Nokia makes great products. Whether you like Windows Phone or not, there’s never been any denying Lumia phones look superb and were built to last.

It’s great news for the future

The N1 Tablet is exciting, has a desirable spec, and won’t break the bank. What’s more, it’s made by a popular company emerging from difficult times, and who doesn’t love a spirited comeback? It even runs Android, the operating system Nokia probably should have used for the last four years. We’re struggling to figure out how the N1 Tablet will disappoint.

Nokia’s return is great news for us today, but it’s also fabulous news for the future.

Nokia’s return is great news for us today, but it’s also fabulous news for the future. Right now, Nokia can’t use its name on a smartphone, but it will be able to in 2016. Will it return to phones, as well? Until now, we’d have said no, but Nokia’s technology chief has convinced us otherwise. He told the Financial Times, “We’ll go beyond tablets for sure, and we will be looking at going back into the cell phone licensing business post-Microsoft rights.” It’s all back on.

The last time we were surprised by a low-priced tablet, it came from Amazon, and that worked out pretty well for everyone involved. Nokia could end up following a very similar path, but we doubt it’ll feel the need to blight any future N1 Phone with a 3D interface and a highly optimistic price tag. With the N1 Tablet, and any other products it has under wraps to tide us over, we don’t mind waiting for Nokia’s return to phones. We have a feeling it’ll be worth it.