The iPad-like Nokia N1 tablet is so good, I'd move to China for it (hands-on)

/ Updated: March 4, 2015 3:36 PM PST
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BARCELONA -- Nokia surprised us all in November with the Nokia N1 tablet, an Android-based slate that starkly contrasts with the Nokia Lumia 2520 that ran Windows Phone OS. That move has appeared to pay off, however. The N1 tablet has been continually sold out in China -- the only place you can buy it -- since its February 19 release. It sells for 1,599 yuan -- that's around $250, £160 or AU$290.

The N1 made its first international appearance on the Mobile World Congress show floor, and let me assure you: it's a beaut. It impressed me so much during my hands-on time I'd consider moving to the Middle Kingdom (or at least planning a special trip) just to own one for myself.

Design and hardware

The N1 looks trendy and slim. It's 6.9mm thick, with an aluminum frame that comes in dark gray or silver. Its 7.9-inch IPS LCD screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio and boasts a 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution. Inside you'll find a 64-bit 2.3GHz Intel Atom Z3580 CPU and PowerVR G6430 GPU with 2GB RAM.

In your hands, the tablet feels light but solid and not at all unlike the Apple iPad Mini 3 . The aluminum rear is "sand-blasted" for a great matte finish, and it feels good to hold.

Midsize tablets compared

Screen size Resolution Weight Thickness US price
Nokia N1 7.9-inch 2,048x1,536 (326ppi) 318g 6.9mm From $250
iPad Mini 3 7.87-inch 2,048x1,536 (326ppi) 331g 7.5mm From $399
Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch 1,920x1,200 (323ppi) 303g 9mm From $179
Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 8.4-inch 2,560x1,600 (360ppi) 294g 6.6mm From $399

The Nokia N1 houses a whopping 32GB of internal storage. Initially this sounds impressive, until you realise there's no expansion slot. Nonetheless, some manufacturers have the gall to leave you with much less than this tablet does, so it's a satisfactory trade-off. That amount of space can still accommodate a large number of apps, movies and games.

It is one of the first tablets to sport a USB Type-C socket, however. This is the reversible USB port that's set to replace all types of USB connections. That's actually pretty cool -- like Apple's Lightning connector, you don't have to fumble around finding the right way to plug in the cable.

The N1 is also the first to sport Nokia's Android launcher, called Z Launcher. That's the only modification that Nokia made, as the tablet is running the latest stock version of Google's operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop.

The Z Launcher's a pretty cool way of getting to apps quickly. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Interface and OS

The Z Launcher simplifies the home screen with a gridlike display of apps. These apps appear on the screen depending on what the launcher learns about your activity. For example, if you happen to read a lot of news on your morning commute, the Z Launcher will put these apps at the front, and then other apps, such as productivity ones that you use in the office, will appear later in the day after you get to work.

If you want to try out this user interface before you buy the N1, Nokia invites you to download it from Google Play and install it on your current Android tablet or phone.

The Nokia N1 is one of the first to feature a reversible USB socket. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Other features on the Nokia N1 include stereo speakers, Bluetooth 4.0, an 8-megapixel camera on the back and a 5-megapixel one on the front -- rather high for a front-facing camera, but that's for the selfie-loving Chinese crowd.

iPad Mini doppelganger?

Its speedy specs and sleek design beg for a comparison to the Apple iPad Mini 3. The Nokia N1 sets itself apart from the Apple device with its affordable pricing, and from the Android crowd with solid mid-range specs and sturdy construction. It's hard to point out exactly what the catch is with the Nokia N1 -- it sounds almost too good to be true, but when you try one out, you'll be walking away a believer.

Nokia recently left the smartphone business, selling its handset division to Microsoft, and tablets may be one of many areas to which it's now diverting its attention. We're not used to seeing many tablets from the Finnish company, but from the looks of the N1, it's a good start to a new beginning. That being said, it's being made by an external contractor, not the famed phonesmiths for whom Microsoft paid a pretty penny.

Perhaps Nokia will take the lessons learned from the tablet and make a great Android phone in the future. The N1 is a glimpse of what could have been if the company had laid its bets on Android instead of Windows Phone.

The Nokia N1 makes for a compelling reason for Nokia to get back into the handset business. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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