Advertisement

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Advertisement

Nokia 8 Sirocco review: Nokia’s first flagship shakes things up with a curved screen

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
699

Nokia’s 2018 flagship smartphone has finally arrived. Can the curved screen and Android One OS set it apart from the competition?

Pros 
Great security features
Decent CPU and GPU performance
Excellent in-ear headphones
Cons 
Curved screen distorts video
Problematic camera software
Oversaturated display
Advertisement

Nokia announced a slew of smartphones at 2018’s big mobile phone show in February with the Nokia 8 Sirocco enjoying top billing. Since then, it’s gone a bit quiet. We’ve seen and reviewed the £350 Nokia 7 Plus and were impressed but Nokia’s hero product has been notable for its absence.

Well, it’s here now and at £700 it’s double the price of the Nokia 7 Plus. Technically, then, shouldn’t the Nokia 8 Sirocco be twice as good? It isn’t, sadly, but it is still a reasonably powerful, likeable smartphone – if you can adjust to the unusual curved display. It’s also named after a type of especially humid Mediterranean wind, which is nice.

READ NEXT: Best smartphone 2018

Nokia 8 Sirocco review: What you need to know

Nokia has released a string of budget and mid-range smartphones over the past year and it’s all been building up to this. The Nokia 8 Sirocco sets sail with a curved 5.5in 16:9 2K OLED display, an octa-core 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and 6GB RAM. It has 128GB of storage, sadly not expandable via microSD and twin rear cameras, a 13MP and a 12MP with a telephoto (long range) lens, while German tech company Zeiss has helped with the development of the camera optics.

Other interesting features include curved edges to the left and right sides of the display and Android One on board, which means you’re getting a clean installation of Android with no unnecessary bloatware preinstalled.

Nokia 8 Sirocco: Price and competition

There are a number of top-quality competitors at around the same price as the Sirocco, so it has its work cut out right from the off.

First up is the Samsung Galaxy S9, a top-notch handset with this year’s best smartphone cameraand at £739 it’s only £40 more expensive than the Nokia 8 Sirocco. For that extra cash, you’ll get the year’s premier phone camera setup, a stunning Super AMOLED display, and the fastest phone processor on the market today. For £100 more than the Sirocco, you could pick up the Huawei P20 Pro (£799), a 6.1in behemoth with a jaw-dropping design and triple rear camera.

Something cheaper, you say? How about the excellent LG G7 ThinQ? This phone launched at £599 and, aside from slightly disappointing battery life, it’s an excellent smartphone. Then we have the Google Pixel 2, another fantastic Android flagship with an incredible camera and the same processor as the Nokia 8 Sirocco. It’s £70 cheaper, at £629, but does have a smaller display.

Finally, as always, we have to consider the OnePlus 6. Pound for pound it’s the smartphone bargain of the year, has a faster processor, larger screen and superb camera, and it’s £230 cheaper than the Nokia 8 Sirocco.

Best Nokia 8 Sirocco contract and SIM-free deals

Nokia 8 Sirocco: Design

The Nokia 8 Sirocco has an unusual design, to say the least. Reminiscent of Samsung flagships from years gone by, the 5.5in display curves dramatically on either side. The frame is made from a single piece of stainless steel, as opposed to the aluminium used in most modern smartphones, and this is sandwiched by vacuum-moulded Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back.

It looks stunning but the glass back makes the Sirocco a very slippery phone so you need be careful where you put it down. Even the slightest of inclines on a surface causes the Sirocco to slowly drift away from where you put it down, which puts it at risk of a disastrous drop onto the floor.

It’s a trim phone, measuring 7.5mm thin but its thinness, combined with the metal frame and tapered edges, results in sharp sides that are uncomfortable in the hand. And, while the sides of the screen are essentially bezel-free, there are 8mm black borders at the head and foot of the screen. There’s no physical home button here, though, or off-screen back and recent apps buttons.

I am not a big fan of the buttons you do get on the Sirocco, either, especially the power button located on the right-hand side. It’s very thin, and flush to the frame so it’s hard to locate by feel, and it blends in with the steel casing so it’s hard to see, too. You sort of just have to know where it is. There are no issues on the back; the dual camera setup and fingerprint reader are sensibly placed.

I do however take issue with the lack of 3.5mm headphone jack on the Nokia 8 Sirocco – a deal breaker in my book (Nokia does at least include an adapter in the box). The speakers could be louder, too, but there’s no distortion, even when blasting hard rock at full volume. There’s a driver behind each of the phone’s two grilles but you’ll struggle to make out any kind of stereo image as they’re so close together.

The bundled in-ear headphones are much more impressive and they’re stylish, too. The lower half of the cord is fabric-wrapped, while the barrel-shaped metal earpieces are finished in glossy black trimmed with gleaming silver. Sound quality is great, too; every type of music I listened to on them, from Mozart to Wu-Tang Clan, all came across crystal clear.

Other accessories include a transparent snap-on protective case with the Nokia 8 Sirocco, which is a nice addition. Think twice before you put it on, though. Once clipped in place, it’s exceptionally difficult to remove.

Nokia 8 Sirocco: Display

On paper, the Nokia 8 Sirocco’s screen isn’t impressive. It’s 5.5in across the diagonal, about half an inch smaller than most 2018 flagship smartphones and it doesn’t come in the latest tall, thin 18:9 aspect ratio, sticking stolidly with 16:9. The technology used is different from most, too. It uses a 1,440 x 2,560 P-OLED panel, just like Google Pixel 2 XL did. Fortunately, it doesn’t suffer from the same viewing angle problems as that phone.

It’s a vibrant display, too, though be aware that almost all the colours are massively oversaturated. In practical terms, this means that things you’re looking at on screen will appear differently than they would in the flesh – or on a smartphone with a more colour-accurate screen.

In other words, don’t use the Nokia 8 Sirocco to shop for a dress or a new colour of paint for your bedroom, because when it arrives on your doorstep you might be disappointed. Blues, reds and, most of all, greens are so far off the mark that they appear hyper-real.

The curved screen edges are also a problem, causing havoc when playing games or watching videos in landscape mode. For a start, the top and bottom of the screen will be distorted, stretching backwards and away from you. This is definitely not the phone to use for Netflix binges or serious Android gaming. Worse still, if the overhead lighting is harsh, then you’ll lose the uppermost portion of the screen to a white/yellow blur of glare.

When swiping between apps on the home screen or browsing the web, the curves are less problematic. In fact, for tasks like rearranging apps, they actually make life easier. But when it comes to games and video playback there are only downsides.

Nokia 8 Sirocco: Performance and battery life

As you’ll see from the charts pictured below, the Nokia 8 Sirocco fails in the performance stakes when compared with most of this year’s flagship smartphones, including the £230 cheaper OnePlus 6.

In the Geekbench 4 benchmark test, the Sirocco achieved a single-core result of 1,927, and a total multi-core result of 6,247, scores that place it firmly at the bottom of the performance tables alongside the Huawei P20 Pro.

That’s because, while its competitors forge ahead with the Snapdragon 845 (or a derivative of it in Samsung’s case), the Nokia 8 Sirocco is using 2017’s flagship chip, the Snapdragon 835.

It’s not slow, though. At one point I used the Sirocco to run a demanding Android game and stream YouTube Music at the same time, all while Google Play downloaded 27 apps in the background. The Sirocco took it all in its stride.

In the GFXBench Manhattan test the Sirocco returned average frame rates of 33fps, and in the more demanding Car Chase test, 14fps (both run at the screen’s native resolution). These aren’t exactly rookie numbers but they’re not quite flagship figures, either.

The Sirocco’s GPU is smashed by the Samsung Galaxy S9, LG G7 and, of course, the OnePlus 6. If Nokia had gone for the current flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor instead of the 835, the benchmark numbers might have been up to scratch. As it is, they don’t match the £699 price tag.

Finally, in our battery test, the Nokia 8 Sirocco managed 699 minutes (11hrs 39mins) of video playback. That’s an acceptable result, but a far cry from the 1000+ minutes of the OnePlus 6, and still a couple of hours below the Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 Pro. Unless you’re throwing every app you’ve got at it, however, it should still see you through a full 24 hours without requiring a recharge.

When playing a demanding game like PUBG Mobile on the highest possible graphics settings, the battery gauge only fell around 15% for 40 minutes of play; it’s not unusual for a single 20-minute game to use up 25% battery, such as on my oldSamsung Galaxy S7.

Nokia 8 Sirocco: Camera

The Sirocco’s front camera isn’t much to write home about. It’s a throwaway 5MP effort that Nokia doesn’t deem worthy of mention in its own overview of the phone. The dual rear cameras, with optics designed in collaboration with Zeiss, are more interesting.

Here, you get 12-megapixel f/1.8 and 13-megapixel f/2.6 telephoto cameras. That’s a pretty standard-looking setup for a phone in this class and bodes well for image quality.

It’s a shame the camera software isn’t very good. It’s fiddly and confusing and there are all sorts of poorly labelled icons which don’t tell you what they do, to the point at which you’re not encouraged to change the settings at all.

There is a “Pro Camera” mode, which supposedly allows the user to control every aspect of every image, from shutter speed to focus to white balance. In practice, it’s much more complicated. By the time you’ve “perfected” your shot, you may as well have been using a 19th century light exposure camera.

And image quality is disappointing, too. I used the OnePlus 6 as a comparison for the Nokia 8 Sirocco. As you can see, there’s plenty of detail in the Sirocco’s photos, such as brickwork, even at a great distance – HDR improves this, although on my first test the HDR mode wasn’t available, presumably some kind of software glitch. Up close and personal, there’s a fair bit of image noise from the Sirocco’s camera, and it performs poorly in low light as well.

The Nokia 8 Sirocco’s rear video camera does shoot at 4K, but only at 30fps and with no stabilisation.

Nokia 8 Sirocco: Software

The Nokia 8 Sirocco, at its core, runs Android 8 Oreo and the phone is also part of Google’s Android One programme. What this means is the OS on the Sirocco is just as Google intended it. It’s not burdened with extra apps, unnecessary features or awkward user interface overhauls used by other manufacturers like Huawei, Samsung and LG.

The Android One programme also guarantees updates for two years, ensuring that this phone will eventually get Android Q. However, it did randomly delete or rearrange widgets on more than one occasion while I was using it, which is mildly perplexing.

Largely, this is a good thing. The phone is intuitive to use and responsive and is packed with Google goodies, including a healthy selection of convenient unlock features. Using Google Maps’ location finder, you can keep the Sirocco permanently unlocked in safe places, such as work or home. The face unlock feature (Trusted Faces) works well, too, although it’s annoying that it makes you swipe up to reach the home screen after you’ve unlocked it, so it doesn’t really save time over PIN or pattern unlocks in the end.

You can also set up voice unlock through Google Voice and you can wake up the phone with a quick double tap of the touchscreen, which saves you having to pick up the phone to press the power button if it’s lying flat on your desk.

Nokia 8 Sirocco: Verdict

Nokia’s entry into the flagship market with the Nokia 8 Sirocco is not everything we’d hoped for. After a slew of cracking budget and mid-range smartphone launches, it would have been great to see Nokia finish strong with a top-notch high-end smartphone at a competitive price.

Alas, the Nokia 8 Sirocco is a long way from that. Though pretty, it simply can’t match the brilliance of any of its competitors within the same price range, and there’s nothing about it that would push you to purchase it over the OnePlus 6.

Maybe you actually want a curved screen with an oversaturated display, in which case, the Nokia 8 Sirocco may just be the phone for you. If not, it’s worth picking up a OnePlus 6 or LG G7 instead.

Read more

Reviews