(Pocket-lint) - Nokia's smartphone hardware guardian, HMD Global, now has a full portfolio of devices, hammering the affordable end of the market, with excellent devices like the Nokia 6.1 already under its belt.
The message so far has been about durability and reliability, looking to pick-up on that ideal of the old indestructible Nokia phones of the 90s. Offering metal unibody phones at affordable prices has won the company fans - it shifted over 70 million phones in 2017.
But the Nokia 8 Sirocco attempts to take things a little further...
It's all about design
- Gorilla Glass 5 front and rear
- Stainless steel core
- 141 x 72 x 7.5mm
- IP67 protection
While the Nokia 8 notionally sat in flagship position in 2017, there were always rumours of another device lurking in the wings - something that pushed the design further than the 8. It was February 2018 when this was revealed as the Nokia 8 Sirocco, a device that looked like the manifestation of Nokia phone fandom. Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer at HMD Global, even described it as "the ultimate fan phone" when first introducing it to us.
The core of this phone is stainless steel for added strength over aluminium, making for the most robust Nokia phone ever. The notable other phone that's uses stainless steel is the iPhone X and iPhone XS.
The reason for the steel core is that the front and back of this phone are glass - Gorilla Glass 5 to be exact - with curves running into the edges for a look reminiscent of a Samsung Galaxy handset. At only 7.5mm thick at its fattest part, Nokia has certainly created a striking device; indeed it's among the slimmest phone around.
Although you can liken it to Samsung, the Nokia 8 Sirocco looks and feels quite different, thanks to its compact nature. There's executive appeal in that: you can slip it into a pocket much more easily than most other phones and when you lay it on a table, it makes a design statement - a statement with Nokia neatly emboldened across the back.
The phone's sides are a little sharp though (they're not smooth like Samsung's phones) and the decision to put the SIM tray into the edge means there's a section that's uneven - a surprising oversight in a phone that otherwise shows great attention to detail.
So it's very much a design statement, but there's one thing that draws it back: in the era of notches, the Nokia 8 Sirocco now looks somewhat dated.
- 5.5-inch inch pOLED, dual curve edges
- 2650 x 1440 pixels (543ppi)
The display's curved edges make it the talking point in the Nokia 8 Sirocco. The panel is plastic OLED (or pOLED), which essentially means it's based on a plastic substrate rather than glass, so it can be flexibly formed into different shapes. However, those edges aren't quite as infinite as those in Samsung's Infinity Display, instead retaining a little bit more of a border to the extreme ends of the curve.
The 5.5-inch panel has a quad HD resolution, making for a sharp viewing experience. However, the display isn't quite as vibrant as some and the auto-brightness isn't quite as responsive as rival flagship devices, so we've found ourselves nudging it up and down manually (when gaming, we have to disable it so the screen doesn't get too dark).
Visually it's nice enough to use - there's detail, movies look good and the viewing angles are fine - but there is a lack of responsiveness to those edges. When playing games that curve into these areas, you'll find yourself jabbing at buttons and not getting a response. We've also found that to affect the extreme ends of the keyboard at times too, so it's a slower phone for bashing out messages and sadly not competitive with the response you'll get from a curved Samsung phone.
Hardware and performance
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage
- 3260mAh battery, Qi wireless charging
Sitting at the heart of this new Nokia 8 edition is the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 guts as the regular 2017 phone. Using the outgoing platform might be seen as a minor negative, although we can't complain about the performance we've had from the 835 over the past year.
Yes, Snapdragon 845 is the step-up, but both sit on the same 10nm architecture, so you shouldn't feel so hard done by - not when you take price into account. There's 6GB RAM to keep things skipping along too. Real-world performance is solid, too.
There's 128GB of storage and this isn't supported by microSD, which is something of a downside. That said, it's a large amount of storage and ample enough for most users.
The battery is a 3260mAh capacity, with fast charging through the USB-C, which will also have to provide your wired music because there's no 3.5mm headphone socket. That's right, in the drive to make this phone as slim as possible, the old connector had to be removed.
The battery capacity might sound relatively low, but we've found it to be a strong performer, easily getting us through the day. There just doesn't seem to be the drain on this Nokia that some other devices experience.
But there does seem to be a hardware downside: we've found the reception to be a little patchy compared to a lot of other devices; we've found Bluetooth to be more prone to disruption when putting the phone in a pocket; we've found Wi-Fi doesn't connect as readily as most other devices; and there's some latency on mobile networks too. It just doesn't seem to connect as well as other phones we've tested through the year.
- Dual Zeiss camera offering wide and telephoto
- 1.4µm pixels and f/1.7 aperture for low light capture
- Bothies, bothies, bothies
The Nokia 8 Sirocco adopts the dual-camera unit of the Nokia 7 Plus. This camera system has twin Zeiss lenses - a normal lens and a zoom lens - very much picking up the skill set laid down by Apple and Samsung's dual cameras.
The Nokia is fast to launch and operate, obviously enjoying the additional power that this phone offers over the Nokia 7 Plus, which is a little slow by comparison.
There's no shortage of features packed within Nokia's camera app (the only change from stock Android software that you'll find in this phone), meaning you get live bokeh for that on-trend blurry background, there's a pro mode that will let you tweak a range of settings easily, and there's Google Lens built right into the camera so you can point and Google something in a flash.
The main camera is 12-megapixels with an f/1.7 aperture. This is the camera you'll use to snap most of your photos, while the second has 13-megapixels, but drops down on the pixel size and aperture (it's an f/2.6 lens due to being a longer focal length). That means the zoom lens doesn't really work in low-light conditions - indeed, when it gets dark, the Sirocco defaults to digital zoom from the main camera.
The main camera is capable and will give you good results in good light, but it doesn't really mix it with some of the more sophisticated cameras on the market. Low-light shots are prone to blurring or a lack of detail, while HDR (high dynamic range) shots don't quite get themselves processed to give you the shadow and highlight balance that you'll find elsewhere.
Dare we say it, Nokia isn't leaning on artificial intelligence modes, and while it's refreshing to be spared the the AI hyperbole, there's also the sense that this camera doesn't really excel. It doesn't have the skill of the Google Pixel or the panache of the Huawei P20 Pro.
Android One software
- Pure Android
Nokia has committed to Android One, essentially formalising that relationship with Android that it set out with in 2017. That means that its phones are pure Android with no added apps, no additional services and no bloatware (except the camera app).
What this has meant for some Nokia phones previously is that the move to new versions of Android has been swift. At the time of writing we've not seen the Nokia 8 Sirocco move to Android Pie - and with OnePlus already making the move, there will be those who now question whether Android One is living up to its billing.
Still, what you have in the Nokia 8 Sirocco is a pure Android experience; you're spared the calls to login to duplicate services, there's no wrestling with news aggregators trying to feed you things you don't want, and you're not forever updating apps you'll never actually use.
So this is a phone that runs swift and fast, leaving you with a nice launcher that's about as close to the Pixel phone as you'll get. At the same time, while there's pretty much nothing to complain about, it's true that this isn't a phone that's loaded with extra features, so it doesn't have the out-of-the-box feature set that a Samsung phone would, for example.
The Nokia 8 Sirocco is HMD Global's flagship phone. But compared to rivals, it launches with a hardware disadvantage, sitting on older tech that will make smartphone fans question its appeal, with a slightly older look thanks to that not-notched display.
That said, the Nokia 8 Sirocco runs smoothly and it has an interesting design, but it doesn't really keep up with the best out there when it comes to features and performance. While this handset is cheaper than the latest Samsung or Apple phone, with stellar performance from devices like the Honor 10 or OnePlus 6, you can get more for less money.
What that really leaves you with is design: the Sirocco is a slim and compact phone, free from software clutter that does everything pretty well. And there is some merit in that.
Alternatives to consider
The cult champion of affordable phones is the OnePlus 6. It offers a dual-camera system that's not the best on the market, but given the price offers plenty to keep you entertained. While OnePlus does add some features through Oxygen OS, it has been fast to start the update to Android Pie and is generally considered one of the lightest touches over Android.
Samsung Galaxy S9
When it comes to flagships, there are few that are as flagship as the Samsung Galaxy S9. In terms of software it's as far from the Android One offering of Nokia as you can get - but there's no other phone on the planet that offers so much out of the box. Not only that, but it gives you a display that is executed with a little more panache and the camera has a lot going for it too.