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Nokia 8 Sirocco review: The right phone for the wrong price

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Nokia 8 Sirocco

(Part #: TA-1005)
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The Good The Nokia 8 Sirocco is fast, feels sturdy, has a long battery life and runs the sleek Android One operating system.

The Bad It lacks any standout features to justify its premium pricing. The Nokia 8 Sirocco's camera isn't reliable enough, and its design, while improved over the regular Nokia 8, feels stout and a little outdated.

The Bottom Line While the Nokia 8 Sirocco does suffer from minor faults, its main issue is being outclassed by similarly-priced competitors.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Camera 7.0
  • Battery 8.0

The Nokia phone comeback has been paved with budget and midrange devices, plus a few nostalgic blasts from the past, but it's the Nokia 8 Sirocco that represents the brand's best nose-in-the-air efforts. However, like last year's regular Nokia 8, the Sirocco here feels less like a comeback and more like catch up, undistinguished by any true standout features and a price that feels higher than it should be given the tight competition.

You should think of the Sirocco as the Nokia 8.5. It's more than a slight update from last October's Nokia 8 ($384 at Amazon.com), but it not enough of a true overhaul to create a compelling reason to buy it over rival phones like the Google Pixel 2 ($649 at Google Store) or, if it's sold in your region, the Huawei P20 Pro ($859 at Amazon.com).

The Sirocco is swankier than its predecessor; it sports Galaxy Note-esque curved edges, a sharp screen and has an excellent build quality. Its processor is a year old, but that doesn't result in any tangible slowdown. The camera's photos can be hit or miss depending on your shooting conditions, but there are no other major gripes I have with the phone.

HMD Global, the maker of Nokia phones won't officially sell the Nokia 8 Sirocco ($650 at Amazon.com) in the US, though it'll cost £649 in the UK and AU$1,199 Down Under. That UK pricing converts to roughly $880. And price is really where the problem lies.

At $599, £499 or AU$799, this would be a worthwhile buy. But its current price puts it in the same neighbourhood as the Samsung Galaxies and Huawei P20 Pros of the world, a neighbourhood the Sirocco doesn't quite fit into.

The Arnold Schwarzenegger of phones

If the Nokia 8 Sirocco were a type of athlete, it'd be a bodybuilder. Meticulously designed, it's easy to see where the attention to detail went, but it may be a little too bulky for most.

Having removed the home button of yesteryear, the Sirocco has more screen and less bezel than its predecessor. Its stainless steel body is also thick and heavy, but in a good way. It has a weight to it that makes it feel expensive. But there are design issues. With its blocky width, it reminds me of Huawei's Mate 10, a phone I loved. But the Mate 10 ($525 at Amazon.com) had a 5.9-inch display, while the Sirocco's shorter 5.5-inch screen, combined with its width, makes it look and feel stout.

nokia-sirocco-9

Ian Knighton/CNET

Although 5.5 inches was once considered a large size for a screen, the Nokia 8 Sirocco's design now feels outdated. The iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy 9 pack 5.8-inch displays into similar frames, leaving this Nokia phone behind in terms of pure screen space. The Sirocco doesn't have the notch screen design of so many phones these days, but it also lacks face-unlock tech that notched Androids and Google phones often have. There's also no headphone jack, a now common design trend. Instead, you'll need a dongle adaptor for the USB-C port.

Less popular all round will be how the phone actually feels. The bezel is reinforced around the sides, such that it feels slightly sharp when you grip the stainless steel body. It does make the device feel more sturdy, but its not worth the discomfort. I did get used to it after a few days, but was reminded of it every time I felt the gentle touch of another phone.

There's no lack of trying on Nokia's part here. But not all of its design swings here hit the mark. 

Nokia 8 Sirocco camera woes

In an era where the $529 OnePlus 6 has the same processor as the latest Samsung Galaxy, a phone's camera is often where it sets itself apart. Here's where the Sirocco fails most.

On the back of the Sirocco you'll find two 12-megapixel cameras with Zeiss' branding of approval, while a 5-megapixel shooter sits on the front. I was pleasantly surprised by the front camera. If you've got lighting on your side, you can get some well balanced and detailed photos. I did sometimes struggle with overexposure, but issues like that almost always come along with selfie cameras.

The rear cameras don't have an excuse, though.

Let's start with the portrait shots. All premium phones have a bokeh mode, where the background is blurred to foreground the subject. The Sirocco does too, except it comes in the form of a slider. As you slide a button from left to right, the bokeh effect intensifies. This would be fine as an additional feature, but as the sole way to take these portrait shots, it requires far more work from you than do other phones.

caitlin-photo-1

Left is the Sirocco, right is Huawei's P20 Pro. When you have optimal lighting conditions -- there was a window right behind me -- and a subject that's standing still (thanks, Katelyn!), the Sirocco can capture some terrific photos. 

Daniel Van Boom/CNET
caitlin-photo-2

However, things get significantly more tricky in imperfect conditions. The Nokia's portrait (L) looks drastically less balanced in this neutral-environment shot than the P20 Pro's.

Daniel Van Boom/CNET

More troublingly, the Nokia 8 Sirocco's cameras are finicky. It takes time to get the slider in just the right spot, and this becomes exponentially more tricky if your subject is moving even slightly. Finally, other phones will tell you if you're standing too close or too far from your subject to actually snag -- this one doesn't, making that perfect portrait even more elusive.

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