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Nokia's iPad mini clone is the nicest Android tablet you can't buy

The N1 has solid design and interesting software

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When we found out that the fading brand of Nokia was going to be used to sell a new tablet back in November, it came as a bit of a surprise. What wasn't necessarily surprising was that the tablet — the Nokia N1 — borrowed its design heavily from Apple, a trend we're seeing a lot of lately.

The tablet is currently only available in China, but Nokia has it on display here at Mobile World Congress running a slightly tweaked version of the software. (That's because Nokia is looking to release the N1 into other markets this year.) It's the first chance we've gotten to see the tablet close up, and if you like the iPad mini, there's a good chance you'll like this, too — provided you're okay with Android instead of iOS.

If you like the iPad Mini there's a good chance you'll like this

The N1 runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, but it's a customized version primarily built to feature Nokia's "Z launcher." It's an interface with two distinct features. The first is that the four-by-three grid of apps on the home screen is adaptive based on what apps you use and when you use them. So, if you spend most mornings checking emails and reading news, your home screen will push those corresponding apps to the grid in favor of others. If you're a big Netflix user at night, the streaming app will be first on the grid when you turn on the device after dinner. There's no app launcher like on most versions of Android; instead, the rest of the apps are found just a swipe away on a second page of the OS.

Nokia N1 tablet hands-on photos

The other component of the Z launcher is the "scribble search" feature, which lets you draw letters on the home screen to search for apps. You can write out the whole name or search with as little as one letter. Drawing "n" will bring up a grid of options like Netflix or Fruit Ninja, and even contacts with first or last names beginning with "n." The circular icons, muted colors, and lack of customization all mean that the N1's software feels like a blend of Lollipop and iOS.

The N1's hardware is, of course, supremely familiar. The aluminum body feels just like the iPad mini does in the hand, the camera on the back is tucked into the same corner, and there's just about the same size bezel surrounding the 7.9-inch screen. The only difference is really the lack of chamfered edges or a home button. Otherwise, you can probably imagine what the N1 feels like if you've held an iPad mini before.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The N1 feels extremely sturdy, but is also very light and was comfortable to hold onto in my brief time with it at Nokia's booth. If it makes its way to North America, and if it stays around the current price of $249, it will be an attractive alternative to the high-price, high-end tablet market.

Nokia N1 tablet hands-on photos