Huawei P9 Smartphone Review: A Step In The Right Direction

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  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Service, Warranty & Support
      • 7
      • Ease of Use
      • 8
      • Design
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Value
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.40
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Dual rear camera is very creative
    • Credible build
    • Solid battery
    • Intuitive Emotion UI
  • Cons

    • Poor GPU performance
    • Display lacks contrast
    • Confusing camera software
    • No 4K video recording, while Full HD video lacks quality

Quick Take

The Huawei P9 gets the important stuff right. Its main draw is the exceptionally creative and high-quality rear camera, while the solid battery and build also add to its appeal. The poor GPU, display contrast, and video output hinders the overall experience.


Huawei is no longer chasing the competition. With the P9, it has a flagship that matches the most powerful devices on the market. The P9 is also an evident improvement compared to its predecessors, especially with its rear-facing camera.

The Huawei P9 smartphone has two 12-megapixel rear cameras, which it cosigns with Leica. One is monochromatic and the other is color, putting the P9’s camera output on the same level as Samsung’s latest, at least on paper.

The smartphone sports a 5.2-inch IPS-NEO LCD with Full HD resolution, octacore HiSilicon Kirin 955 SoC, Android OS 6.0 (Marshmallow) with Huawei’s Emotion UI 4.1, as well as the 3000 mAh battery, and several design options featuring various materials.

The spec sheet suggests a very impressive smartphone. It’s too bad there are some shortcomings, as you’ll see in this Huawei P9 review.

Build & Design

Huawei P9 back panel

Huawei P9 smartphone back panel

It is clear at first glance the Huawei P9 is a premium smartphone. Its industrial design is familiar to the line, and while it’s not the most inspired look, the P9 is still a very elegant, modern and credibly constructed smartphone. It seems exceptionally light and slim for a 5.2-inch device, even though its dimensions (5.71 x 2.79 x 0.28 inches) and weight (5.08 ounces) are ordinary.

P9 comes in several colors, depending on the material. There’s a ceramic P9 (white), sanded metal P9 (gold) and an aluminum P9 (various shades of gold and silver). Regardless of the finish, our only objections, which the P9 shares with many other devices, is that it’s a little too slick when held.

The front of the phone includes the Huawei logo, situated under the display, along with the phone speaker and 5-megapixel camera above the display. The P9 is buttonless, with the capacitive control keys on the display itself. The display is Gorilla Glass 4, and sports 2.5D glass. Its edges are slightly rounded, offering a pleasant feeling while swiping.

The back features two plastic antenna stripes, with the slimmer of the two located along the lower portion, with the thicker located on the upper. That upper portion also houses two rear cameras, LED flash and the Leica logo. The fingerprint reader sits in the middle. As we’ve stated before, Huawei has one of the most consistent fingerprint readers on the market.

The Huawei P9 has a USB Type-C input.

The Huawei P9 has a USB Type-C input.

The bottom edge includes the speaker, 3.5-mm audio jack, as well as USB Type-C slot. That means your old microUSB accessories are useless without an adapter. USB Type-C is the certain future, and is becoming much more practical as it is symmetrical. The upper edge only houses the secondary microphone. The left side of the phone includes the nanoSIM and microSD card slots, while the right side holds the volume rocker and the power key at thumb’s height.

Display

The Huawei P9 is a 5.2-inch Android smartphone.

The 5.2-inch Huawei P9 smartphone runs Android 6.0.

With most flagships pushing Quad HD or even 4K, Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) is not the top end of the spectrum,. But on the Huawei P9 smartphone’s 5.2-inch display it results in a density of 423 pixels per inch, and that’s more than enough for an exceptionally sharp image. The device has an IPS-NEO LCD display, which is characterized with evidently better contrast sustainability than a regular IPS; however, we found that the basic contrast is still not on the same level as other devices on the top of the market, like the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge.

To be precise, black tones should be slightly darker, while white tones have a dirty hue to them. The colors are well saturated, but are not precisely interpreted by default. Fortunately, Huawei included the option of manually calibrating colors to its display settings.

Overall brightness is exceptional, and can cut through overhead glare as well as almost any smartphone. We give the iPhone 6S, Samsung Galaxy S7 and Lumia 950 the edge over the P9, however.

Performance

Hisillicon Kirin 955 is one of the first chipsets to use Cortex-A72 architecture. Its performance is approximately 15 percent better per megahertz than those offered by Cortex-A57 cores, and is much more energy efficient. Kirin 995 has four such cores running a 2.5 GHz clock and four Cortex-A53 cores running a 1.8 GHz clock. According to synthetic benchmarks, the CPU scores in the same park as contemporary SoCs from rival camps. On the Geekbench 3 benchmark, it scored 6550 on the multi-core test and 1812 on the single-core test. By comparison, the Galaxy S7 edge scored 5454 and 2061, respectively.  The model with 32GB of memory storage offers 3GB of RAM, while the 4GB model secures 64GB. Kirin 995 supports four 2G frequencies, seven 3G frequencies and eighteen 4G frequencies. The device will have no trouble operating on all global mobile networks.

It is a shame then that the graphics performance from the Mali-T880 GPU is far poorer. The Huawei P9 smartphone performs fluidly during all tasks that don’t rely on its GPU, but it struggles running demanding games. To get around this, the P9 features a ROG power saving mode that reduces the display resolution to 720p (HD). Its primary task is to lessen battery demand, but better game performance is the added benefit (or a compulsory solution).

Battery

The 3000mAh battery is solid. P9 offers above average autonomy for a 5.2-inch smartphone, particularly during stand-by, when it requires exceptionally low power. Playing HD videos with maximum brightness enables 7 hours and 30 minutes of continuous playback. The Huawei Mate 8, with its larger battery, lasted just 37 minutes longer.

The rapid 2A USB-C charger ships with the phone, which recharges the battery up to 40 percent in just 30 minutes. Battery life can be extended by switching to Ultra Power Saving mode or the mentioned ROG mode.

Software

Huawei P9’s Android OS 6.0 (Marshmallow) and Emotion UI 4.1 combine Goggle software platform with slight iOS impersonation. The greatest difference between pure Android and Huawei’s UI is the lack of an app drawer. All apps are arranged across the home screens (there are up to 18 Home screens), just like on iOS. Of course, the applications can be grouped into folders as well.

Some of the more likeable quirks are the option of using rotating cover photographs for the lock screen (a different image displayed every time), turning the camera on from stand-by mode by double-clicking the volume down button, and other iOS-inspired swipes and shortcuts. We like Emotion UI, and those that don’t can turn to the Google Now launcher, available in the Play Store, for a more stock Android experience.

Camera

The Huawei P9 has a dual Leica-camera setup.

The Huawei P9 has a dual Leica-camera setup.

The two rear Leica cameras are the P9’s most interesting feature. Both feature identical 12-megapixel Sony sensors, with one monochromatic and the other in color. The monochromatic sensor doesn’t recognize colors as it lacks the Bayer filter. The tradeoff is that it receives three times the light, and it can take excellent photographs in dark settings. They are black and white, but they feature little to no noise.

The double back-facing camera enables other great photographer options. The device ‘knows’ how far the objects are from the phone, and it is possible to add a high-quality optical background defocus effect. What’s more, live-previews are also possible, making the P9 the only smartphone to offer this feature.

The P9 also has hybrid autofocus, which includes laser autofocus too, while the software offers three predefined color capture modes in collaboration with Leica. These include Standard, Vivid Colors and Smooth Colors, which come with the Leica-specific shooting sound. Standard mode offers usual color interpretation; Vivid Colors powerfully saturates the warmer areas of the spectrum; while Smooth Colors offers something in between.

Images look great, especially compared to Huawei’s previous handsets. Compared against other flagships, the P9’s photographs offer comparable exposure and detail level with well-lit day shots, while night shots taken with the color camera are a step below. Night shots taken with the monochromatic camera are better in this regard, however, but remember, they are black and white. The P9 is in many ways the artist’s smartphone camera.

The P9 doesn’t fare so well with video. It lacks 4K recording, and its overall output is anemic. And the camera software is confusing. So many options are not easily accessible, and Huawei does little to inform users some of the options are just a swipe up or down in landscape mode away. Finally, the 5-megapixel selfie camera is average, offering a gimmicky “facelift effect.”

Sample Photos

Huawei P9 sample photo Huawei P9 sample photo
Huawei P9 sample photo Huawei P9 sample photo
Huawei P9 sample photo Huawei P9 sample photo

Conclusion

Huawei has been trying to shed its reputation for low-end and mid-range handsets, and the P9 represents a step in the right direction with its technological innovations, features, and above-average realization. The draw is undoubtedly the exceptionally creative and high-quality rear camera, while the solid battery, premium finish and intuitive user interface add to the appeal. The poor GPU, display contrast, and video output hinders the overall experience, but the Huawei P9 smartphone still gets the important parts right.

Pros:

  • Dual rear camera is very creative
  • Credible build
  • Solid battery
  • Intuitive Emotion UI

Cons:

  • Poor GPU performance
  • Display lacks contrast
  • Confusing camera software
  • No 4K video recording, while Full HD video lacks quality



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