[highlight color=#336699 ]Introduction[/highlight]
Huawei are getting ever so closer to joining the big boys table, the Huawei P9 is their most recent effort with a kicker. It has a dual-camera system co-engineered by Leica.
Huawei is not in league with Samsung and Apple just yet, but the P9 is a cut above in the second rung of the smartphone world. With high specs and a lower price point than the competition, you can start to see why the P9 is an attractive prospect. Huawei are hoping to get as many people to realise this too, with a mighty advertising campaign starring Henry Cavill and Scarlett Johansson.
How much Huawei spent to get Superman to throw his Lumia 950 into the sun, (the post has since been deleted, so here’s a regram) we don’t know, it was probably enough to send a lone baby into space.
The P9 is available SIM free for £449, a price point way above the mid-range. More so than the OnePlus X (£199) but cheaper than the Galaxy S7 (£559), and the iPhone 6s (£539).
The unique selling point here is the dual-cameras, there’s the worry that it’s got a great camera, but everything else is dire. That’s what we’re going to find out with this review.
The Leica co-engineered camera particularly piqued our interest as the legendary German lens manufacturer brings some serious bragging rights to the table for Huawei. But more on that later.
OS Android Marshmallow 6.0 (Emotion 4.1)
Processor Kirin 955 quad-core 2.5GHz
Screen 5.2 inches
Resolution 1440 x 2560
Memory 3GB RAM
MicroSD compatible? Yes, up to 128GB
Rear camera 12-megapixels
Front camera 5-megapixels
Connectivity 3G, 4G
Dimensions 145 x 70.9 x 6.95 mm
[highlight color=#336699 ]Design[/highlight]
It’s a good thing we start off talking about the design because the P9 just bleeds quality onto your hand, and that’s something to shout about. The P9 is without doubt a beautiful device and I’m not saying that while staring at Scarlett Johansson holding it.
It can seem a bit familiar to the iPhone 6/6s with antenna bands located in almost the same places. But what sets it apart is the the luminous diamond cut edges, running parallel on the front and back of the device.
The full aluminium body makes the P9 feel like a high-range device, it feels super comfortable in your grasp. Aiding the comfort is the rounded edges, making one handed use very comfortable, this was quite important to me.
Weighing in at only 143g with a thickness of 6.95mm, the P9 slipped in and out of my pocket like a dream. It’s a small observation but it really made a difference to slot my P9 away without even having to think about it.
Surprisingly there’s no dual-SIM slot, the majority of Huawei’s releases including it’s sub brand Honor usually include one. The dual-SIM P9 is only available in Asian territories.
The dual-cameras isn’t the only new notable feature from Huawei. Moulded on the back is the convenient level 4 fingerprint sensor, which also got the diamond cut treatment. It’s instantaneous getting into your device, giving the P9 a premium flagship feel you would not expect at all. I touched the power button rarely because of how immediate and reliable the fingerprint sensor was.
As for the dual-cameras it’s bolted on top of the P9 and you can see why Huawei started that #OO hashtag campaign. Both cameras are situated next to each other opposite the Leica branding. It should be noted the lauded camera is flushed into the body, not protruding even the slightest.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Camera[/highlight]
In a market that’s pretty much Apple dominated, Android manufacturers have to do outlandish and innovative things to try and take back some of that market share pie.
The partnership with Leica is an interesting move as the legendary German lens manufacturer are known for high quality products that can cost a lot of minerals. Leica Summarit lens go for roughly at least a £1000, but what needs to be kept in mind is the Summarit lens in the P9 is co-engineered with Leica, not Leica developed.
Even so a partnership with Leica is something to take seriously as the revered manufacturer are serious players in the photography world, we can be guaranteed quality with them. Sony also partnered with a lens manufacturer for their Xperia line, opting to work with Carl Zeiss, another legendary German company. There seems to be a pattern here.
So what does the partnership mean for us? A 12-megapixel dual-camera system, one is a standard colour RGB sensor and the other is monochrome. This set up sets it apart from other dual-camera phones like the LG G5 and HTC One M8.
A monochrome sensor captures in black and white, Huawei claims the monochrome sensor lets 200% more light in, to offer more clarity than the competition. It doesn’t need to be said, as you can see below the P9 takes excellent pictures, even without using the HDR mode. Colours are punchy with plenty of saturation. Detail is very apparent here with the bricks in the background being individually distinguishable.
Stressing the lens under low lighting is what we need to do to challenge Huawei’s claims. Using the office mascot for our usual three stages of lighting test, we really started to see the P9 being pushed.
In moderate low-light in the second picture the P9 does well with it’s f/2.2 aperture lens. But in the extreme test seen on the third picture, stabilisation starts to get a bit, well, wobbly. Shadows aren’t properly captured giving a spectre effect. Quality is improved with the flash on but colour tends to get blown out.
While still a decent effort from the P9, the S7 beats it due to clarity, the S7 has a wider f/1.7 aperture lens (pictured below), allowing in more light resulting in a more desirable picture. Check out how the S7 compared to other flagship devices.
A phone that goes on about it’s camera but doesn’t include manual options, is a show of poor form to be honest (I’m looking at you Xperia Z5). Thankfully it’s all good with the P9, offering a plethora of controls for those that are snap happy. You’re not always going to be carrying your DSLR around, the best camera is the one you got on you now.
A brilliant feature included is post-shot focus. Allowing you to change the focus of a picture after it’s taken. It allows you to create arty bokeh shots, simply tap where you want the focus to be and adjust the aperture for the intended result.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Screen[/highlight]
Interestingly the P9 didn’t join in with the 2K screen gang like it’s distant cousin the Nexus 6P. The P9 feels like a 6P in your hand but on-screen visuals do not compare, well in the specs department at least. Still, it’s not a horrible screen at all. Huawei opted for a full HD 1080p panel, which results in 423 pixels-per-inch.
The difference in screen quality between the 6P and P9 are negligible, it’s the same case when comparing with the S7. Although noticeably the S7 has better colour saturation due to the AMOLED screen, which Samsung are known to always include. Screen response is immediate and it was rare for me to actually have to repeat a command. It really is a joy to tap the screen with it’s responsiveness and slightly curved edges.
The full HD screen does an excellent job in direct daylight, with no readability issues at all when in the park, or going for a run.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Performance[/highlight]
The internals of the P9 was always going to be a point to scrutinise, it’s the case with all Huawei devices due to a lacklustre reputation. The P9 is a fresh slate for Huawei and with it comes a new flagship processor in the form of the quad-core 2.5GHz Kirin 955 . The Kirin 955 is comparable to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, seen in the LG G5 and the North American Samsung Galaxy S7.
3GB is coupled with the Kirin 955, providing a seamless smooth experience. While swiping through the P9 you almost forget you’re using Emotion… almost. The P9 handles intensive use like a dream with a hint of lag only occurring when far too many apps are open. 3GB is really enough, there is a 4GB variant with 64GB of internal memory in other territories, but it doesn’t feel necessary to add another gigabyte.
Huawei devices are usually my least favourite to play games on, which is a massive deal breaker for some. With the Kirin 955 I found no problems at all playing Need For Speed: No Limits intensively for 30 minutes. The P9 is proving that while front-line specs are nice and do make a difference, it shouldn’t be a deal maker when deciding on a new device. It holds its own against other heavyweight competition that you can purchase right now.
Looking at the Geekbench scores compared to the S7, Samsung seem to be the king of optimised Android chipsets at the moment with a multi-core score of 6502. Whilst the P9 is just under with 6472. Single-core the S7 weighed in 2123 and the P9 with 1772.
With scores this close you can’t tell the difference between the devices, both are buttery smooth in every command you ask of them.
I feel like I’m going to sound like a broken record here, that echoes what a lot of critics has already said in the past about Huawei’s Emotion interface. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and it definitely isn’t mine. Visually it looks awkward with some third party apps getting an out of place white background in the app’s icon (e.g Chrome and WhatsApp). Emotion needs a revamp that’s less Apple and cartoony, more it’s own identity. Thankfully Android 6 Marshmallow is already embedded at least, offering the fastest and safest Android experience for now.
Many to this day, even critics moan about the lack of an app tray in Emotion. As a matter of fact there is an app tray, it’s just sneakily hidden in the background under the guise of ‘Hidden apps.” Accessing it requires a reverse pinch of the screen. The Emotion tray works differently, you have to load it on yourself rather than have all of your apps available there already. Got some dodgy apps to hide? Emotion is for you, no need to install the Google launcher.
I really don’t like how Emotion treats apps like a bad case of super gonorrhoea. I’m getting constant notifications on how WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram are siphoning my hard earned power. As a matter of fact Emotion I trust them, well except Facebook. For those that are dying of battery right now, delete Facebook, it really makes a difference.
Overall Emotion isn’t bad, just not suited for me and I did not hesitate to install the Google launcher as soon as I got the P9. I also need to add the keyboard is God awful, the delay for a long press is infuriating.
The battery is where the Huawei P9 fails to attain all five stars. It’s not because of the capacity, but the lack of faster charging. Including quick charge support would future-proof the P9 for at least a while and not to mention be extremely useful. Half an hour of charging with the P9 switched on, gave us a return of 32% for our patience. Charging for an hour gave us a return of 63%, which isn’t so bad. Quick charge support is available on paper, but it doesn’t perform well compared to rivals.
30 minutes of intense gaming drained 17% of battery, which surprisingly beat the S7 (18%). In our video test we played a film on Netflix at full quality for 92 minutes. The P9 only lost 33%, so for those with long train journeys and a decent data package, Netflix and chill on the train is all cool and the gang.
The 3,000mAh is an improvement on the 2,600mAh we got on the P8. You really don’t have to worry about the battery not lasting you all day, it will. I did see the battery hit the lower echelons of the capacity sometimes, so really, for the P10, faster charging please Huawei.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]
The P9 really is worthy of your consideration. It faced assumptions that with a powerful camera, will come with a sacrifice to overall performance. That is not the case at all. The P9 performs like a champ with a chipset that is looking to dispel the bad reputation Huawei devices have. It’s a beautiful, svelte device that will have people pointing, while questioning you about it.
The camera? One of the best we’ve used so far. It’s in the same breath as the S7 in terms of camera quality. The Leica label isn’t just a marketing ploy, Huawei has really upped their snapper game and it’s clear as you like. Although it isn’t the best at low-light photography as you’d expect, the S7 wins that.
If Emotion and screen quality were better aesthetically, I would not have hesitated to give the P9 five stars. It really is an impressive device, leaving the P10 some big shoes to fill.
For more reviews, visit What Mobile’s dedicated reviews page.