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Huawei P9 Review

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Huawei P9 Specifications

→ 5.2in Super AMOLED, 1920x1080 pixels 424ppi display
→ octa-core 64-bit Kirin 955 chipset, 3GB RAM
→ Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Huawei Emotion UI
→ 32GB storage expandable up to 128GB via microSD
→ dual 12MP rear-facing camera expandable up to 128GB
→ 3,000mAh battery 145x71x6.95mm, 144g

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  • Design

CHINESE PHONE MAKER Huawei has had a good run over the past couple of years. We were impressed with the Huawei P8 but feared with its iPhone-style design, the firm was in danger of aping Apple a little too much. Huawei needed to carve its own path through the tricky smartphone waters of the Western world to succeed.

It’s more a case of innovation than imitation with the Huawei P9. Huawei has collaborated with camera royalty to create a phone that smacks an identity crisis on first impressions. Can the P9’s Leica credentials alone win out among the likes of the Galaxy S7, iPhone 6S, and LG G5?

 Huawei P9 review

Design

There’s no doubt that the Huawei P9 is a good-looking phone. The clean and simple design is evident in the chamfered edges and brushed aluminum finish. Huawei has gradually honed the design of its smartphones for a few years, and we reckon the P9 represents the pinnacle of that work. It’s premium through and through.

It’s a little longer and wider than the Samsung Galaxy S7‘s 142x70x7.9mm at 145x71x6.95mm, but it’s thinner and lighter at 144g.

Huawei P9 review

The recessed rectangle on the rear houses the fingerprint scanner, a style Huawei first explored on the Nexus 6P. We had concerns about its position, but we adapted after a few days of use and find it perfectly usable. The added ability to tap and take a photo is nice and doesn’t leave you scrambling around for the camera shutter.

Huawei has also done away with the unwelcome camera bulge that plagues so many of today’s devices, and we really noticed the difference when placing the phone on a flat surface.

Huawei P9 review

The power button is located conveniently on the right-hand side under the volume controls. A dual microSD/SIM slot lives on the left, while the headphone jack, USB-C port, and front-facing speaker are at the bottom.

You can see the Titanium Grey model looking resplendent throughout our review, but the Huawei P9 also comes in Rose Gold, Mystic Silver, and Prestige Gold.

Performance

The brain behind the operation is a 64-bit octa-core Kirin 955 chipset. This comprises four Cortex-A72 cores running at 2.5GHz, and four Cortex-A53 cores running at 1.80GHz.

The Huawei P9 uses the same Mali-T880 GPU found in Samsung’s latest handset for graphics, but Huawei has unfortunately opted for a Mali-T880 GPU with just four cores, whereas the S7 and its ilk go for 12.

Kraken 5,450ms (S7 2,551.9)
Sunspider 462.6ms (S7 313.2)

A lower Kraken and Sunspider score is better.

The Huawei P9 doesn’t exactly set the world alight when it comes to JavaScript performance, but we noticed some strange anomalies as we continued our tests.

Some of our other benchmark scores were higher than others we’ve seen in the field. We can’t be sure whether this is down to handsets running different software builds or software is not quite finished. We’ll keep an eye on things and report back.

One thing that we fear won’t change, however, is the poor showing in the 3DMark tests. This will be down to the nobbled GPU as mentioned above.

PCMark work performance score 7,090 (S7 4,758)
3DMark 981 (S7 2155)
Antutu 98,480 (S7 126,092)
Geekbench single-core 1,798 (S7 2,092)
Geekbench multi-core 6,508 (S7 6,292)

A higher score is better in these more demanding tests.

Nevertheless, we successfully ran graphics and processor-intensive titles like Dead Trigger 2 and Need For Speed: Asphalt 8, despite the 3DMark results. The handset did get warm during heavy use, but not uncomfortably so.

Camera

Is it a camera or is it a phone? Smartphones that make a fuss about their cameras are nothing new. Nokia’s PureView and HTC’s One M8 had a tendency to underwhelm, and are ultimately forgotten. Regardless, this is what we’re all here for.

 Huawei P9 review

The Huawei P9 has two 12MP Sony IMX286 sensors paired with two Leica Summarit H 1:2.2/27 lenses. These offer an aperture of f/2.2, equivalent to 27mm focal length. One of these sensors captures RGB, while the other records in unadulterated monochrome.

The cameras work in tandem when shooting in color. The monochrome sensor takes in extra light and detail, so you’re effectively getting the benefits of two cameras for the price of one.

We’ve already shone a light on the inner workings of Leica’s dual-camera technology, so we won’t go over old ground, but we’d love to spend more time with the mono camera. That’s a ringing endorsement right there.

 Huawei P9 review

Black and white is often only an afterthought in this modern age of digital photography, an effect achieved through a filter or two, so it speaks volumes that specialist camera maker Leica introduced the M Monochrom camera that shoots only in black and white.

The Leica-certified lenses in the Huawei P9 are never going to compete fairly on quality (one costs £5,000 the other £500) but a device capable of producing pure monochrome images is still relevant today. A great many photographers favor the results and, like vinyl records, it has never really gone away.

The monochrome camera deserves top billing, but Huawei has made quite a song and dance about the ability to take shallow depth-of-field shots. The P9 achieves this using a depth measurement chip that can dramatically alter the focus of the original subject even after the picture has been taken.

 Huawei P9 review

The ability to refocus and apply these ‘bokeh’ effects is ultimately just a gimmick. It may have landed Huawei in the headlines for a few days, but we really don’t feel it’s something we’d return to.

It’s capable of producing stunning results, and many people will embrace, but it’s all a bit fiddly for the rest of us and it takes time to capture a shot worthy of all the trickery. The typical smartphone owner isn’t going to care for such a niche feature.

You can, of course, ignore this and take control of your output via the Pro model. A savvy DSLR user will immediately feel at home with the control over ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and the ability to shoot in RAW. Incidentally, the refocusing hi-jinks are accessible only while using the standard/default shooting mode (and can’t be used in the video at all) which should indicate the more casual user at which Huawei is aiming this feature.

Display

The 5.2in Full HD LCD display delivers a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels (424ppi), with 96 percent color saturation and 500 nits of brightness.

 Huawei P9 review

Viewing angles are excellent and there’s a certain cinematic quality to the picture, making for a muted and moody experience. It’s like Huawei has taken a leaf out of Sony’s book as it recalls the Mobile Bravia Engine found across the Sony Xperia range. As nice as it is, Huawei knew it had to keep something in the tank so the top-tier P9 Plus has a Super AMOLED display.

Also reserved for the Huawei P9 Plus is something called Press Touch, Huawei’s attempt at Apple’s 3D Touch. It’s certainly no deal-breaker, but it would have been a nice ‘to have on the P9.

Software

We really tried to live with Huawei’s Emotion UI, but it’s ghastly and hides the Android experience we know and love under an unnecessary layer of confusion. Some have compared it to a sweet shop, and it certainly does sit at the technicolor end of the spectrum. We just think it looks tacky.

 Huawei P9 review

And another thing – the default keyboard experience is horrible. No amount of practice warmed us to Huawei Swype with its misspelled words, erroneous spacing, and carriage returns that activate Google Now. We’d recommend switching to the Google keyboard immediately and then installing your input method of choice.

The amount of bloatware is also unacceptable, and you’ll have a hard time trying to hide it because the Emotion UI has done away with a separate apps drawer. There are normally two options with Android apps: delete or move. Here you’ll run into trouble if you try to delete a system app, so your only choice is to pop it away in a folder hidden from view. It’s a maddening waste of your phone’s precious resources and makes for an untidy experience.

Swiping downwards from the top of the screen reveals a Notifications list and a Shortcuts screen. Again, this is likely to throw you if you’re an Android user. The Notifications area does keep track of your active step count, which we thought was a nice addition, but this puts an extra hurdle in the way of accessing WiFi and connectivity settings, sound profiles, brightness levels, etc.

Battery and storage

The Huawei P9 comes with 32GB of storage as standard with the option of expandable storage to add a further 128GB.

 Huawei P9 review

We were disappointed to learn that the Huawei P9 lacks the fast-charging ability of the P9 Plus, which we felt Huawei didn’t really make clear during the London launch event.

That said, you can still recharge in a few hours and we found that the handset lasts a good day of use, a lot of which was spent using the camera.

Price

If you’ve fallen for the dual-camera charms, the Huawei P9 will be available from mid-May at a SIM-free price of £449.99.

Huawei P9 review

The Huawei P9 is priced competitively at Carphone Warehouse, which offers it for £26 a month with no upfront cost.

In short

Let’s get this straight. The camera really is the main draw here and Huawei knows it. You’re not going to pick up the Huawei P9 on the merits of its specs. It looks nice, and competes with the grunt of its Samsung, Apple, LG, and HTC competitors, going on our test results at least.

Huawei P9 review

The refocusing tricks are all very clever, but when would you actually use them? We just don’t feel it’s the killer feature Huawei (and Leica) thought it would be.

But something good will come out of all this as Huawei has shown that it is serious about making a mark. Carphone Warehouse, EE, Vodafone, and Three all stock the phone, indicating that this could see the mass-market acceptance that Huawei needs.

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