Hands on: Nokia N1 tablet

Nokia’s N1 is the Android equivalent of an iPad Mini. It looks and feels as premium as Apple’s top-selling tablet, but features the latest and greatest software Android has to offer.

Nokia’s back in the mobile game, but not in the same way it has been in previous years. Instead of giving us a new phone, it has recently launched a tablet called the Nokia N1, and it’s built to showcase Nokia’s own Android launcher. It’s a very fine piece of hardware, with specs and a design to match (almost literally) the Apple iPad Mini.

Made from a single piece of aluminum, and equipped with an 8-inch (zero-air gap, laminated) touchscreen, the Nokia N1 looks fantastic. The rear panel is completely smooth, broken only be the Nokia brand name and a small 8-megapixel camera lens in the top corner. Its placement is very precise, and the curve matches the curve in the tablet’s body, giving it a subtly pleasing, symmetrical look.

The 6.9mm thin chassis is very light at 318 grams, and the body is sized correctly in that it can be comfortably held in one hand. The edges are smooth and rounded, with the three controls nestled around the top right-hand corner. Those who fumble around with Micro USB connectors — and that’s most of us — will like the reversible Type-C USB connection on the bottom.

It all feels very expensive, and that continues when you fire up that display. The 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution makes it as sharp as an iPad, and the IPS panel made viewing possible from most angles. We couldn’t see it used outside, so weren’t able to judge its performance in sunlight, but in theory that’s another bonus of the zero-air gap technology.

Draw the first letter of the app you require on the screen, and the Z Launcher finds it for you.

Nokia has installed the Z Launcher over the top of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Like most launchers, it completely changes the way Android looks, but mostly on the surface. Dig deep enough and you’re back in familiar territory. Z Launcher is designed to learn how you use your tablet, then adapt it so it’s quicker to access the apps and features you use most often. The front page is populated by those apps.

There’s an unusual search feature on this front page, which has you draw the first letter of the app you require on the screen, and the Z Launcher finds it for you. It learns which one you tap, and will bring it to the top of the list. It’s also possible to perform Web searches this way, and the results will include contacts, too. It takes a few days use for the N1 to learn your habits.

A swipe to the right brings up an alphabetical list of all the installed apps, but the tablet often gets confused by the swipe, and registers it as the gesture for deleting a letter you’ve drawn on the screen. Swiping to turn the page has to be made at the right spot for it to properly register, and it could quickly become annoying. However, there’s an option to turn the Z Launcher off if it does.

Nokia N1 22
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Z Launcher is, as third-party launchers go, fairly innocuous. It doesn’t ruin the N1 like some would, but it doesn’t really make it a reason to lust after the N1. The design, build, and performance do that. It’s blazingly fast. Running a series of benchmarks saw it return very impressive numbers — Ice Storm gave it 20,000, and a 23,800 from Quadrant — so there’s no doubt it will make an excellent gaming and home entertainment device. All the power is provided by a 64-bit, 2.3GHz Intel Atom chip with 2GB of RAM.

Interestingly, Nokia’s involvement begins and ends with the design and the Z Launcher. The N1 is built and sold by Foxconn, the mega-corporation responsible for building many of the world’s smartphones and tablets, including Apple’s iPads and iPhones. Currently only for sale in China, the N1 costs an extremely tempting $250, which is $100 less than the equivalent iPad Mini 2. Nokia told us it may sell the N1 outside China in the future, but couldn’t give us even an approximate date, although it hopes to make an announcement soon. The Nokia N1’s great, and we’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t make it to the States.

Highs

  • Great design
  • Beautiful screen
  • Extremely powerful
  • Android Lollipop
  • Competitive price

Lows

  • Z Launcher isn’t very exciting
  • Not available outside China
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