Nokia's iPad mini 'clone' a winner
HAVING sold its Devices and Services unit to Microsoft back in 2013, Nokia surprised everybody when it announced a new Nokia-branded device at the end of last year.
Nokia's N1 tablet is an Android-powered 7.9-inch tablet with an all-aluminium build, powered by an Intel Atom Z3580 64-bit 2.3GHz processor with 2GB RAM and 32GB storage. We were able to try out the tablet at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.
Before we start, it is worth noting that the N1 is not actually made by Nokia. It is made by Foxconn, one of iPad-maker Apple's main suppliers. Nokia has licensed its brand to the Taiwanese manufacturing giant for the N1, and it is unclear how much input or control Nokia has over the N1 and its future.
Let us just state the obvious here: the N1 looks almost exactly like Apple's iPad mini tablet. Nokia says there are only so many ways a full unibody aluminium tablet can look (which we have heard before), but even the N1's colours match Apple's.
Two colours are available: natural aluminium, which looks just like the silver/white iPad mini; and lava gray, which looks just like Apple's slate grey finish.
The one area where the N1 does differ from the iPad mini is that it lacks the mini's chamfered front bezel, opting instead for a more rounded edge that is closer in style to the iPhone 6.
Even the speaker grille at the bottom looks very similar to the iPad mini's. Between the speakers, instead of a lightning port, you'll find a new USB Type-C reversible connector (although you could actually mistake it for a lightning port).
The N1 feels quite premium, with a similar level of fit and finish as the iPad mini. It is actually lighter and thinner than the iPad mini 3, weighing just 318g and measuring a mere 6.9mm in thickness. The Wi-Fi-only iPad mini 3 weighs 331g and is 7.5mm thick.
The iPad mini similarities do not stop at the N1's design. The display is the same 7.9-inch size, and even has the same resolution at 2,048 x 1,536 pixels (326ppi). The display looks quite good and colours are bright and vivid. It also boasts excellent viewing angles on a par with the iPad mini.
The N1 runs a stock version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Nokia has also included its Z Android Launcher with the N1, which displays a grid of your most frequently used apps that dynamically changes based on context, such as what day and time it is and where you are.
For example, if you use your tablet during office hours to keep up with e-mail and other productivity tasks, you will soon find that when you power on the tablet during those times, it will show you Gmail, Word, Evernote and any other apps you use regularly for work.
After work, if you are mainly on Netflix, Twitter and the Clash Of Clans game, the launcher will then display those apps.
Nokia says that the launcher learns its user's usage, so after a few weeks, it should be smart enough to know exactly what you want, when you want it.
If the app you want is not displayed on your app grid, the Z launcher also has a clever way of searching for the app. The device has a basic handwriting algorithm built-in that lets you scribble a letter on the homescreen, and it will then list all apps starting with that letter.
If you do not feel like writing anything, or your handwriting is exceptionally poor, you can just swipe to the right to display a full list of all installed apps.
It is a clever system and a good way of keeping your homescreen tidy, but we will reserve judgment until we see for ourselves how well the launcher actually learns.
If you want to try the Z launcher for yourself, Nokia has just put up a beta version on the Google Play Store.
You can search for apps by drawing the first letter of the app you are looking for.
The N1 is basically an iPad mini running Android. That is not necessarily a bad thing, and considering it is lighter, slimmer and - at US$249 (S$340) - cheaper than even the $548 16GB Wi-Fi-only iPad mini 3, the argument could be made that it is actually the superior product.
The only real problem is availability. Currently, the N1 is officially available only in China, and even there, it is hard to get your hands on a set (the first batch of N1s sold out in just four minutes).
Nokia tells us that it is looking to release the N1 in other markets later this year.