Nokia 8 Sirocco phone review: almost feels like a winner, but let down by average camera and battery life
Nokia’s latest smartphone has great build quality and dramatic curves, but it isn’t quite comfortable to hold, with buttons that are flush but hard to find; a fast focusing camera takes crisp photos, but doesn’t match top-tier models
The “Sirocco” is an update of last autumn’s Nokia 8, the Finnish brand’s first flagship smartphone in more than a decade. And for the first time since the iPhone changed the mobile landscape, Nokia has a handset that mostly looks and feels like a top-tier, modern product.
Design and hardware
I say “mostly” because, while the Sirocco – launched by Nokia licensee HMD Global – features an eye-catching dual-curved OLED screen design just like Samsung’s popular Galaxy handsets, the resemblance is closer to the older Galaxy S6 Edge and S7 Edge than the S8 and S9.
That means the curvature of the Sirocco’s display is dramatic and pronounced, and not soft and subtle like the S8 and S9. Samsung made the refinement after realising that the hard curves of the S6 and S7 Edge resulted in erroneous palm touches and a slightly uncomfortable sharp feel when gripping the phone over long periods.,
The edges of the Sirocco’s display look cool – images appear to spill off the screen like water from an infinity pool – but it is a 2015 Samsung design that’s less ergonomic than the 2017 Samsung refinement.
Everything else about the hardware build quality looks and feels top notch. The glass sandwich design uses stainless steel instead of the more flimsy, aluminium and the top and bottom bezels have been trimmed from the company’s 2017 phones.
It’s clear Nokia is trying to craft the phone to resemble a gemstone, with that shiny, jet black finish and side buttons that are completely flush with the phone’s sides. The latter is aesthetically pleasing, but it’s harder to find the volume rocker by feel when you’re listening to music on the go. Likewise for the fingerprint reader, which is frustratingly hard to find by feel.
The 5.5-inch OLED panel uses a more traditional 16:9 aspect ratio instead of the taller 18:9 that almost all other handset makers are opting for, so the phone feels a bit wide in 2018.
The Sirocco is powered by a Snapdragon 835; it’s not the newest Qualcomm chip set around, but you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 835 and the 845 in normal usage other than battery efficiency (more on this later). The 6GB of RAM helps keep things smooth.
Software and features
The Sirocco, being a member of the Android One programme, has a completely clean, stock version of Android with no bloatware.
With the exception of an always on display and a couple of Nokia-specific camera modes, there are no other additional features; this is a skeleton version of Android.
Performance and battery life
The Sirocco has an improved camera over the standard 8, with an f/1.8 aperture lens and a 1.4 micron sensor (compared to the 8’s f/2.0 and 1.12).
When judged by itself, the Sirocco’s camera system is fine; producing crisp images with fast shutter speeds and focus times. But when I examined Sirocco’s photos next to those taken by the Galaxy S9, the Sirocco’s shotas are noticeably inferior.
In the images below, for example, notice the image taken by the Sirocco has poor dynamic range – the sky is blown out, the shaded areas are too dark – while Samsung’s shot is more balanced and detailed across the board. The disparity in quality is even more glaring in night shots, as the Sirocco struggles with noise and exposure.
On the positive side, the Sirocco’s bokeh mode is excellent and allows for real-time adjusting of depth of field, and videos come out steady.
Battery life is less than desired too. The combination of an older, less battery efficient processor; a hi-res Quad HD display; and the relatively small 3,260 mAh battery cell has the Sirocco struggling to last a full day. It’s not terrible by any means, but I’ve been spoiled by the Huawei P20 Pro and LG G7, both go an entire day – the former does it easily.
There’s a lot to like about the Sirocco, most notably its eye-catching design and clean Android software. Anyone upgrading to this from a phone from more than two years ago will find little to complain about.
But when it goes up against other top flagships on the market, the Sirocco’s camera is lacking. It is a bit cheaper than Huawei and Samsung’s top phones, but likely not enough to give it any sort of edge.
Dimensions: 140.9mm x 73mm x 7.5mm
Display: 5.5-inch curved P-OLED panel with 1,440 x 2,560 pixels
Battery: 3,260 mAh
OS version reviewed: Android 8.1
Processor: Snapdragon 835
Cameras: 12MP with f/1.8 aperture lens; 12-megapixel with f/2.6 aperture telephoto lens; front-facing 5-megapixel lens
Memory: 128GB; 6GB RAM