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Nokia 8 Sirocco review: A flawed flagship

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  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good

Pros

  • Solid steel frame
  • Android One ensures 2 years of updates
  • 128GB of internal storage
  • IP67 rating for dust/water resistance

Cons

  • Curved 5.5-inch screen not well implemented
  • Screen has dated 16:9 aspect ratio screen

Nokia's handset portfolio ranges from feature phones with legacy candybar styling to a series of smartphones whose numerical naming generally correlates with their capability and price. That's logical enough, but the whole thing has become confused as revisions of the base numbers have been added: so there's a Nokia 6.1 and a Nokia 7 Plus, and now we have an update to last year's 5.3-inch Nokia 8 in the shape of the 5.5-inch Nokia 8 Sirocco.

Confused? Well, put the naming to one side and just think of the Nokia 8 Sirocco as Nokia's flagship smartphone. At £699 (inc. VAT) it should be in the mix if you're considering a top-end handset -- but does it offer enough to compete? (Note: The Nokia 8 Sirocco is not officially available in the US.)

Nokia has tried to give this phone a different look and feel, while also conforming to some widely-accepted design principles. Its metal body, for example, is stainless steel rather than aluminium alloy. Steel is tough, which is good, but does contribute to the Nokia 8 Sirocco's relatively heavy 177g weight. Some will find that this makes the handset feel substantial and solid, and I can certainly live with that -- the weight would not put me off making this my everyday phone.

The glass back is bright and reflective, but is not a serious fingerprint magnet. The camera lenses protrude significantly from the back of the 7.5mm-thick chassis. The circular fingerprint scanner is made of glass too, and can be found by touch thanks to a thin frame.

The top and bottom of the handset are flat, with the USB-C connector centrally located on the bottom edge, next to a speaker grille. The USB-C port caters for charging, PC connection and earphones (supplied); Nokia also provides a USB-C to 3.5mm audio jack converter.

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Things come unstuck a little on the long edges. These taper into a flat section that's just 2mm thick and feels rather uncomfortable in the hand. The power and volume buttons on the right-hand side are narrow and heavily disguised to look just like the edge material itself. They protrude very slightly from the edge so they can be found by touch, but because they have the same smooth finish as the edge, it's not really clear when they've been located. I often found myself pressing in the gap between power and volume buttons and wondering why nothing was happening. It's because I was pressing the edge of the phone, and not a button.

Furthermore, a close look at these buttons showed that the power button did not fit quite flush with the handset's edge. On a premium handset, attention to this kind of detail is very important.

On the plus side, it's good to note that the Nokia 8 Sirocco has an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance (6 = 'dust tight'; 7 = can withstand immersion in up to 1m of water for 30 minutes).

By today's standards, this handset is on the short side, with dimensions of 140mm tall, 72.93mm wide and 7.5mm thick.

The moderate height is down to the Sirocco's 5.5-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio screen, which has a resolution of 1,440 by 2560 pixels (534ppi). That's a good resolution, but pixel density isn't everything. I set the Nokia 8 Sirocco against the OnePlus 6 with its 19:9 aspect ratio 1,080 by 2,280 screen. The OnePlus might have a lower resolution (402ppi), but its greater viewing area is a real plus point. I can read more text, even to the point where I use my handset for ebook reading much more these days than in the past.

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The 5.5-inch, 16:9 Nokia 8 Sirocco (left) next to the 6.28-inch, 18:9 OnePlus 6 (right).

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

I preferred the 18:9 aspect ratio within just a few days of switching to it for my everyday phone. Now I would be hard pressed to go below this, or the 19:9 that notched handsets offer, even if it does mean these taller phones are a bit less pocket-friendly.

Although the screen curves into the phone's long edge, that doesn't mean it's bezel-free: in fact, there's a 2mm dark strip down the long edges. This curving doesn't do the screen any favours. Text on those edges seems distorted, which I found annoying while reading web pages or ebooks. Video viewed in full screen seems to run over the edges in a way that catches the eye.

The screen is P-OLED, which is mostly fine. However, when reading black text on a white background the white has bluish tones. This gets quite dramatic if the handset is tilted, and is rather offputting.

The curved screen and the bluish tinge to whites were the first things mentioned when I handed the phone to a friend, who also thought that some users wouldn't mind all this. Still, I'd advise trying before buying.

My final grumbles about the screen concern the user's ability to fiddle with its colour. There's no blue light filter, and no tools to set the colour profile to your preference. This sort of thing is a feature of handsets like the Asus Zenfone 5 and OnePlus 6, and is fast becoming a standard requirement on high-end handsets. It feels like a backward step to have to settle for what the manufacturer decides is best.

The problems with the screen are a real downer, because elsewhere the Nokia 8 Sirocco is impressive. The chipset is an octa-core Snapdragon 835 chipset with 6GB of RAM, which turned in impressive Geekbench 4 multi-core CPU scores averaging 6697. By way of comparison, the Android multi-core benchmarks are currently topped by Samsung's Galaxy S9+ (Exynos 9810 model) with 8679.

The Nokia 8 Sirocco comes with 128GB of internal storage. After installing an update right out of the box 13.82GB was used, leaving me with 114.18GB remaining. That's a healthy amount -- just as well, as external storage expansion via MicroSD is not available.

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Customising the information displayed on the Glance Screen.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

On the software front, the Nokia 8 Sirocco runs Android 8.1 -- and, as is customary for Nokia these days, it's an Android One handset. That means you get almost pure Android, with rapid software updates guaranteed for two years. One useful Nokia addition is a feature called Glance Screen, which can be configured to display information when the handset is locked.

There are two cameras at the back -- a primary 12MP-f/1.7 wide-angle unit and a secondary 13MP-f/2.6 telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom. This combo isn't as strong as it could be, with low-light shooting suffering slightly, but on the whole images are perfectly acceptable. The Pro mode provides fine controls and is well designed with easy-access on-screen buttons and sliders.

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The camera's Pro mode is well designed, with easy-access on-screen buttons and sliders.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The front camera is a moderate-resolution 5MP unit. Images are decent, but for a £700 handset I'd expect better. Nokia persists with its 'bothie' mode which will take shots from front and back cameras at the same time. You can 'half and half' the screen or go for picture-in-picture. As well as taking stills and video, it's also possible to livestream a bothie to YouTube or Facebook.

The speaker has plenty of volume, but it's remarkably tinny. Much better quality sound is delivered through the provided USB-C headset, although here things go too far in the other direction, with more bass than I'd like going on.

The 3,260mAh battery was just about able to get me through a typical day's usage -- a fair bit of internet access plus some music listening -- without needing a recharge. Commuters who enjoy music, podcasts or video may feel happy giving the battery a boost before heading home though. Fast charging will boost the battery by 50 percent in 30 minutes, and Qi wireless charging is also supported.

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Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Conclusions

The Nokia 8 Sirocco has plenty of plus points: battery life is good, there's plenty of internal storage at 128GB, the Snapdragon 835 processor is competent, the dual rear cameras work well enough, an IP67 rating is welcome, and Android One makes for good future-proofing.

But one glaring issue brings the whole handset down: the 5.5-inch screen. Its curved long edges are a distraction, its blue-tinged hue is irritating, and the lack of user customisation is surprising for a handset at this price. The screen's 16:9 aspect ratio is also out of step with today's top-end handsets. As the screen is the key to a smartphone, this failing makes it difficult to recommend the Nokia 8 Sirocco.

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