Reports of Nokia’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The classic phone brand doesn’t make mobiles any more since Microsoft snagged that part of its business, but it has been working on something else. Something a bit special.
The Nokia N1 is an Android tablet with a very striking style. With Apple-like quality but a decidedly sub-Apple price, it's no wonder the N1 has created a fair bit of buzz since it was announced last year.
The iPad mini’s estranged brother
First impressions matter, and the Nokia N1 leaves a great one. The look and feel are both top-quality.
Nokia was keen to tell us the tablet is made by Foxconn in China, and this might seem weird given that it's a gigantic megacorp factory which has been plagued by controversy over the years. However, it makes a lot more sense when you remember Foxconn makes Apple’s mobile devices.
And indeed the Nokia N1 is pretty Apple-like, in a flat-out good way. Its frame is aluminium, with the same sort of soft, simple curves as an iPad Mini. The likeness is not coincidental.
It looks and feels great, while the 4:3 aspect and relatively petite size make it pretty convenient for casual use at home or while you’re stuck on the M4 on a Megabus. It’s very, you guessed it, iPad Mini-like.
Firms being inspired by Apple (to be generous) is nothing new, but here it's done well enough to keep a smile on our faces. And there’s more than enough new stuff going on elsewhere.
The biggie is Z launcher. This is a custom Android front-end made by Nokia, more-or-less for the N1 tablet at this point.
It’s rather unusual. Your home screen features 12 icons in a loose grid. But the icons here change based on your behaviour. The Nokia N1 learns about you, and plonks what it thinks you’ll need on there.
It’s not about to put a copy of The Bible and the Allen Carr stop smoking app on your home screen (well, it might), but it does keep a check of which apps you use at certain times of the day. As patterns emerge, the home screen’s app roster gradually firms-up, keeping a schedule through the day. But it should be able to cope should you change behaviour too.
You can also also search for apps/through the web on this screen too. Just draw a letter on the Nokia N1’s display with a finger and it’ll use that as the basis for a search, prioritising apps and then offering web results when that fails. Sounds pretty clever, right?
There’s also a standard apps menu if you want to use the Nokia N1 the old-fashioned way.
Screen and spec load-out
We do hope there’s still a bit of optimising to do here, though, as despite Nokia’s raving about the N1’s speed, we did find it less smooth than some conventional Android tablets. Scrolling through menus was just that tiny bit rickety, like your hands after too much caffeine.
It uses a quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 2.3GHz CPU that should in theory have more than enough power to make Android work slickly, although we have seen consistency issues with some Intel-powered phones and tablets in the past.
Fingers crossed this’ll be smoothed out for the UK launch, because other areas are pretty special. From a quick look, the Nokia N1 screen seems to roughly match the Retina iPad Mini. Sharpness is great, and the laminated IPS LCD panel gets you great viewing angles.
Colours seem fairly natural too. Who knows, maybe its screens are even made in the same factory as those on the iPad Mini 3...
It does take one Apple cue we wish it had left at the Apple Store, though. There’s no memory card slot, so while the 32GB storage is pretty generous given the price, media fanatics will probably be peeved.
There’s also no 3G option, which could well be down to Nokia’s deal with Microsoft. It bought the devices (phones, basically) division of Nokia, and is believed to have had a clause saying Nokia can’t make any phone-like devices any time soon.
But it does have one thing we hope to see a lot more often soon: it’s one of the first mainstream devices to use a USB-C connector. This is an update to the microUSB plugs we currently use, and fits in either way up. No more jamming it in only to find it’s the wrong way around. Now that’s progress.
And the cameras? There’s an 8MP one on the back and a 5MP one on the front. But don’t expect any PureView-style antics here.
A+ for N1?
The Nokia N1 has launched in China already and we think it’ll sell a whole bunch in the UK if it actually makes it into shops. It looks and feels great, and there are some interesting ideas in its Z Launcher software.
It feels like it's a few tweaks and updates away from perfection, but this is one tablet we’d happily spend a bit more time with.