Nokia is riding a solid hype machine with tens of millions of phones sold in 2017 and a resurgence of affinity for the brand name. But it's all been on the back of very affordable phones, ranging from $200-400 where it's all about value and not necessarily getting a combination of the best possible specs, design and materials.
The Nokia 8 Sirocco, announced at MWC 2018, changes all of that. It's a €749 phone, which takes aim at some of the best-selling phones from the biggest companies out there. Consequently, it launched just an hour before Samsung's new Galaxy S9, which is almost the exact same price — now that's stiff competition.
When I pick up the Nokia 8 Sirocco, I immediately get flashbacks of the Galaxy S6 edge and S6 edge+. It's extremely thin, and with curved glass on both sides the edges come down to an even finer point. It also has a 16:9 aspect ratio display, so it's rather wide feeling in this ocean of 18:9 phones. So just like the Galaxy S6 edge+, it's honestly a bit awkward to get your hand around it. Nokia wore the fact that the Sirocco is 95% glass on the outside as a badge of pride, but it means you basically have nothing of substance to get your hands on. And as an added consequence, the volume and power buttons on the right side are quite shallow and tough to find and press without looking — all in the name of style, I suppose.
Nokia's designers were clearly given freedom, and used it well.
The phone built every bit as well as I'd expect for €749. The stainless steel body gives the phone a solid, consistent feel throughout and the glass is perfectly sculpted. Using what I'm sure are not full-production devices here at MWC 2018, everything was tight and well manufactured. No matter what angle or distance you're at, the thing is just gorgeous. Nokia's designers were clearly given the liberty to try new things, and took it.
Having not used the phone for long I can't say for sure, but I'm worried that the pOLED display can live up to the same scrutiny we apply to other phones of this price range — particularly ones with curved sides that show off OLED flaws with colors and viewing angles. Looking at the phone straight on you see a pretty significant color shift on the sides where the curves are tightest. I wonder how great the display is overall compared to the Nokia 7 Plus, for example, which has a traditional IPS LCD that looks great.
Android One pairs well with this level of hardware — and I think it's a differentiator.
Having an Android One software experience is a huge benefit of this phone from my perspective. The other Android One phones I've used to this point have been great, and I'm sure the software absolutely flies when paired with a Snapdragon 835 and 6GB of RAM. And speaking of specs, Nokia goes pretty well all-out here with lots of extras that are great to see: 128GB of storage, 3260mAh battery, Quick Charge 4.0, Qi wireless charging and IP67 water resistance. There's a pair of Zeiss-branded cameras on the back, with a 12MP 1.4-micron sensor and f/1.75 lens as the primary and a 13MP 1-micron sensor with f/2.6 telephoto lens as the secondary — I'll reserve judgement there until I've used the phone longer, but that's one area where Nokia has to absolutely nail it if it wants to charge this much for a phone.
And that's the really big question. Nokia's rebirth under HMD Global has been a success, but it's all been at lower price-point phones that can get by with having a few issues on account of their overall great value. When you're charging the same amount for the Nokia 8 Sirocco as the latest Galaxy S9, you're playing a dangerous game — one that other companies have lost in the past few years. But I sure do welcome Nokia's attempt, and the 8 Sirocco is a wonderful phone.