Nokia 8 Sirocco review: A unique flagship that's more of a mutation than a market-leader

Nokia 8 Sirocco
  • Nokia 8 Sirocco
  • Nokia 8 Sirocco
  • Nokia 8 Sirocco
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Great Android experience
  • Solid performance

Cons

  • Unique feel-factor may not be for everyone
  • Camera is far behind other flagship phones

Bottom Line

For all its charms and unique design choices, the Nokia 8 Sirocco struggles to feel worthy of that $1199 asking price.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

The new Nokia 8 Sirocco is, perhaps-inevitably, a product that can only really be looked at relative to its immediate predecessor. And where last year’s Nokia 8 managed an easily-likable - albeit maybe-restrained - combination of specs, design and price, the Nokia 8 Sirocco goes a little overboard.

In its efforts to bring the rebooted Nokia brand back into competition with Android heavyweights like Samsung, HMD have swung for the fences here - and I can certainly dig the moxie driving that ambition. After the Nokia 8, I was all in the idea of a flagship Nokia smartphone with a bit more character to it. I just don’t know if I wanted it to have quite this much character.

When it comes to the Nokia 8 Sirocco, there’s a lot to take in - and, unfortunately, not all of it works. This isn’t to say that the experience of the using the Sirocco is awful - but it does leave it in a precarious spot when it comes to justifying what is (unavoidably) a very high-price tag. Like the name suggests, this isn't so much a reinvention of a Nokia smartphone as it is a mutation of one.

Specs

Display size:  5.5-inch

DIsplay type: pOLED capacitive touchscreen (1440 x 2560 pixels)

Processor:  Qualcomm Snapdragon 835

Weight:  181g

Dimensions: 140.93 x 72.97 x 7.5 mm

Operating System: Android 8.0

Fingerprint Sensor: Yes

RAM:  6GB RAM

Storage:  128 GB, MicroSD

Durability: Gorilla Glass 5, IP67-rated

Ports: USB Type-C

SIM:  Dual

Battery: 3260mAh, Quick Charge 4.0, Wireless Charging

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, NFC, Wi-Fi (802.11ac), CAT 12 LTE

Rear Camera:  12 MP Wide (2L7, 1.4um, 2PD, f/1.7, FOV 78.2") + 13 MP Tele (3M3, 1.0um, f/2.6, FOV47.3"), dual-tone flash

Front-Facing Camera:  5 MP, S.LSI 4E8, 1.4um, display flash

Colors:  Black

Price:  $1199

Design

In an age where big brands like Samsung and Apple are frequently criticized for releasing devices that often feel more iterative than evolutionary, there’s definitely something refreshing to how HMD have positioned the Sirocco. Despite being such a visible departure from its name-sake, it settles for being positioned as a premium variant rather than a straightforward upgrade on last year’s model.

If this is the first you’re hearing about it, essentially, the Nokia 8 Sirocco is a spruced-up version of the Nokia 8 that adds a curved (but not quite bezel-less) OLED display, wireless charging and a gorgeous stainless steel frame into the mix. However, as tantalizing as those additions might sound, they don’t come without cost. What HMD giveth, HMD taketh away - and there are a few conspicuous omissions to note in the Sirocco.

Gone is the Always-On display found in the Nokia 8 - a feature I quite liked. So is the headphone jack - an exclusion that'll sting for users yet to make the jump to true wireless. Finally, the dual EIS-OIS found in the Nokia 8’s camera has also seemingly been stripped back to solely OIS. The Sirocco also sees the bottom-end fingerprint scanner on the Nokia 8 relocated to the backside of the device Note 8-style.

At the best of the times, the Nokia 8 Sirocco feels unlike any other phone I’ve reviewed. However, even in those moments, I found myself unconvinced that this uncanny quality was necessarily a positive one.

Almost the entire surface of the Nokia 8 Sirocco (approximately 95%) is made of glass coated in Gorilla Glass 5. Beyond that, all that’s left is the stainless steel chassis. While this combination does result in a significantly thinner (2mm on the sides) and lighter form-factor than the older Nokia 8, it also results in a feel factor that just feels ever-so-slightly off.

The steel edges of the Sirocco are rock-solid enough to live up the legacy of the brand. Seriously, it feels like you could wound someone with this thing if you threw it at them hard enough. However, despite these qualities, I often felt like the Sirocco was always just about to slip out of my grip - which wasn’t ideal.

Even after spending a bit more time with the Sirocco and getting used to the unique feel-factor of the thing, it rarely felt like the device sat in my palm with the kind of effortlessly comfy ergonomics that I could find elsewhere. I’m not just talking about other 2018 flagships here. Even HMD themselves have done better when it comes to this particular aspect of handset design. I feel similarly mixed about the volume and power keys - which are clicky enough but also a little finicky to press at times.

Obviously, the biggest and most-visible improvement on the previous Nokia 8 comes in the Sirocco’s curved display. Unfortunately, it too, proves to be a bit of a mixed-bag. In action, it’s bright, colorful and detailed regardless of whether you’re jumping between apps or watching video content. However, in addition to relying on a more traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, the horizontal bezels on the curved edges of the Sirocco feature black bezels that come across as chunkier than they ought to be when compared to the competition, especially Samsung’s Infinity Display devices. There’s also some noticeable vignetting on the left and right edges of the display.

In fairness, Samsung have been making flagships with curved-edge displays for several years now. However, given the premium price attached to the Sirocco, that’s not really good enough.  If the Nokia 8 Sirocco is supposed to be the Nokia device that puts the brand back in contention when it comes to top-end of the Android arena, it has to be as good (if not better) than the competition - and, when it comes to offering an edgeless display, it falls short and comes off a little dated.

Performance

Still, putting my mixed-feelings about the Sirocco’s design aside, the performance you’re getting out of the Sirocco is surprisingly enough for a device running Snapdragon 835.

If you don’t follow processor trends, the Snapdragon 835 is the Qualcomm-produced processor that powered many of last year’s top devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG V30, Google Pixel 2, OnePlus 5 and the original Nokia 8.

Like the Nokia 8, we found the Nokia 8 Sirocco to be more than up to the task of whatever we threw at it. Apps, videos and web pages loaded quick enough for it to not be an issue. During everyday use, it performed with the same slick precision and consistency of its predecessor - minus the stability issues we encountered when we reviewed its predecessor.

Then, when it came to benchmarking scores, the Nokia 8 Sirocco maintained a competitive position among the rest of the Android crowd - minus the Samsung Galaxy S9+. In fact, almost across the board, it managed to edge out of its predecessor by a few points. 

The reality here is that, unless you're a power-user who wants the best performance available - the everyday usage you're going to get out of a Snapdragon 835 versus the 845 isn't that huge. However, when the Sirocco is priced so closely to devices running 845, you'd be short-sighted not to just go for the more powerful of the two.

Camera

As will certainly be the case with almost every phone released after this year’s one-two-punch of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ and the Huawei P20 Pro, the Nokia 8 Sirocco’s photographic qualities are adequate but ultimately a little diminished by comparison to the competition.

Photos taken with the Sirocco don’t look bad. However, they sit far closer to the mid-tier space than they do flagship fare. They often look sharper and more colorful than you expect but don’t always nail the finer details.

Most of the time, they’re totally suitable for your Instagram but maybe not worth putting printing out onto a poster. At least, in daylight shooting situations.

In terms of low-light performance, the Nokia 8 Sirocco was more inconsistent. This is a bit of a shame, since low-light photography is probably the biggest differentiator between this and the other flagship devices it's competing against.

Like the original Nokia 8, the Sirocco supports Bokeh-style portrait shots. You’ve got a bit of extra control here in the form of a slider that lets you adjust the intensity of the effect but no support for post-focus as found in Huawei’s smartphones.

There’s support for Nokia’s “Bothie” shots and a new Pro mode that allows for more nuanced control over ISO, white balance and shutter speed. Both of these inclusions are nice enough but your mileage is really going to vary depending on whether you actually use them.

As we noted in our review of the revamped Nokia 6, the results that Nokia and HMD are getting out of their partnership with Ziess here don’t feel like they’re in a position to gun for that top DxO Mark ranking just yet.

If I had to make an easy comparison, I’d say this feels like where Huawei were at in the first year of their Leica partnership. It feels like Ziess are helping HMD refine some of the nuances of what the photographic side of their smartphones look like but they aren’t yet at that mature stage of collaboration where they’re capable of building something like Huawei’s P20 Pro.

I continue to watch this space with anticipation but if you’re hoping for something revolutionary when it comes to the Sirocco’s camera, you’ll probably be a little disappointed by the reality.

Battery Life

In terms of everyday battery-life, the Nokia 8 Sirocco would easily make it through the usual 9-5 work day and often well into the evening as well. We’d still have to charge our device back to full overnight - but if we accidentally forgot to do so, we’d usually still have a little bit of juice to go on until we found a power source.

We’re talking eleven or twelve hours of average use here, though - as always - your mileage may vary. Particularly, if you watch or film a lot of video content.

The Nokia 8 Sirocco supports wireless and fast charging (via Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4.0) to the tune of 50% in 30 minutes.

The Bottom Line

As someone who was - and still is -  a big fan of the things that HMD have been doing with the Nokia brand, the Sirocco feels like a bit of a let-down.

For almost everything I like about it, there’s something don’t. I dig that HMD built a premium device with bones made of stainless steel. I dig that this thing feels like it can take a hit. I dig that runs on near-pure Android. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I can confidently say that those gains are worth the iffy feel-factor and the more-practical departure of the headphone jack. Nevertheless, the one thing I can make up my mind on about the Sirocco is that, for all its charms, it indisputably struggles to feel worthy of that $1199 asking price.

Outside of users who aren’t picky about their phone’s camera (and if you don’t care about the that, you can definitely go cheaper than this), there’s just not enough here to compete with the heavy-weights operating in that $1000+ ultra-premium price-range. If the Sirocco sat at the Nokia 8’s original price point of $899, it’d be a very different story. However, at its current haunt, the Sirocco comes across as outgunned on almost every front.

The Nokia 8 Sirocco almost has what it takes to be a great phone but, unless the stars really align for you, it's probably going to have to settle for just being a pretty good one.

The Nokia 8 Sirocco is available now for an Australian RRP of $1199 via JB Hi-Fi.

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Read more on these topics: Nokia, HMD Global, Nokia 8 Sirocco
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