Non-Microsoft Nokia launches Android N1 tablet with Foxconn

Nokia — not the handset business that Microsoft bought and renamed Microsoft Mobile, but the remaining Finnish firm — has made a shock announcement. It’s launched an Android tablet called the N1.

This will be confusing, because Microsoft is also selling a Nokia-branded Windows tablet, the Nokia Lumia 2520. It’s a shock, because while Nokia has recently made rumblings about its brand returning to the consumer market, it seemed to indicate that this would merely be a matter of licensing the brand to others.

Now we know more about that strategy. The industrial design for the N1 came from Nokia, but the company is no longer in the manufacturing business and has licensed that design — along with its Z Launcher and various intellectual property — to Chinese manufacturer Foxconn, which rather interestingly will handle distribution and sales and customer care, and will even be responsible for liabilities and warranty costs.

Foxconn is of course best (though not exclusively) known as a key behind-the-scenes Apple manufacturing partner, so this is quite a step towards the spotlight for the firm (more properly known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.) Indeed, Foxconn also recently bought mobile spectrum in Taiwan, so it seems it is rapidly evolving its strategy.

Nokia N1 tablet

Funnily enough, the N1 looks quite a lot like the iPad mini, being the same 7.9-inch size and having similar-looking speakers at the bottom. It will cost $249 and will initially go on sale in China, in time for the Chinese New Year (February 19). After that, it will find its way to select European markets, Nokia product chief Sebastian Nyström said onstage at the Slush Festival in Helsinki on Tuesday. “We didn’t set out to build another tablet,” Nyström said. “People need better experiences.”

The device has a 2.3GHz, 64-bit, quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 processor, a 533MHz PowerVR G6430 graphics processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. It will use the new Type C USB connector, which is both slim and reversible, rather like Apple’s Lightning connector.

The N1 has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, so it should be good for videochats. It has a 2048 × 1536-pixel screen. Nokia usually excels on the hardware design front, so this should be a well-made item, though it’s worth noting that Foxconn is responsible for much of the engineering. The dimensions are 200.7mm x 138.6 mm x 6.9 mm and it weighs 318g, which is about the same as the iPad mini.

The N1 will also use the Z Launcher, which it launched in June, on top of Android “Lollipop” 5.0. And yes, that’s not a fork and it will include Google Play “in markets where Google Play is available”, a Nokia spokesman told me — in other words, probably not in China, where Google Play doesn’t handle paid apps and many Google services are in any case blocked these days.

The Z Launcher is… well, an Android launcher. I rarely see the point of those, but I’d need to see how well it is integrated with the general N1 experience before passing judgement.

Turns out that black box Nokia showed off on Monday as a teaser was not in itself a product, but the box for the N1. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to this announcement. As part of the handset business purchase deal, Nokia pledged not to make any smartphones until at least 2016. This, of course, is no smartphone (indeed, it doesn’t even appear to have cellular connectivity.)

Either way, Nokia is back in the consumer hardware business.

The headline was amended at 1.55am PT to remove the reference to the already-launched Z Launcher, and multiple further times to note additional information as it was acquired.