There was time, not so long ago, that the brand Huawei was a name associated only with some of the cheapest phones in town. You’d find them in the Post Office with long codenames like the Y320 and the G730 and the only thing you could be sure of was that they were seriously cheap to buy. These phones are tiny, poor quality screens and clunky processors, but they were perfect for anyone who refused to pay hundreds of dollars for a phone.
The Huawei P9 represents a different paradigm. Gone are the low-cost components and in their place we find great hardware wrapped a sleek, modern design. Even the names are better now — the P9 sounds like handgun or a luxury car.
Despite these big steps forward, it is important to remember as you read this review that the P9 is still a fair bit cheaper than the phones it aims to compete with. At launch if is $200 - $300 cheaper, depending on what your compare it to, and this gap will likely open up further in the P9’s favour over time.
The first thing we noticed about the P9 is how great it feels. The design, while attractive, isn’t groundbreaking, but the rounded edges make it very comfortable to hold and use. With a 5.2-inch screen, it has a great size overall.
The IPS LCD screen does a good job of keeping things sharp and easy to see. It isn’t as bright or as colourful as better screens in phones like the Galaxy S7, but it is definitely on par with the iPhone 6s. Colours are a little muted and it definitely doesn’t have the brightness of the S7, which may impact use in bright sunlight a little.
This may be a technological limitation of the screen, but it may also be a deliberate decision to help improve battery life for the P9, and if it’s the latter than we can report that the approach is working. In unison with a large 3000mAh battery the P9 easily gets through a busy day’s use, and get push well into a second day between charges.
Huawei use an internally designed Kirin processor in its devices, including the P9, and though you might not be familiar with these computers, you will be happy with the results. Benchmarking apps report that the P9 performs similarly to the best Android phones today; a little slower, but not far off the mark.
You may notice that some of the most taxing applications may stutter a little where the developers have no optimised the apps for the Kirin chip, but these examples are few and far between.
For photography, Huawei has taken a left turn and attempted something that no other manufacturer has before, with a standard rear-facing camera and a monochrome lens beside it. With this setup, the idea is that the colour camera does what you would expect it to do, and the black-and-white camera develops the details, with the output from both cameras merging in the final image.
This system has been developed with legendary camera company Leica and the results are generally pretty good. Photos looks rich and warm, and details in the darker elements of the images stay sharp. There is quite a bit of noise in all of our photos though, regardless of where and how we shot them.
The image processor gives the photos a slightly ‘unreal’ quality too, as though all of the post-processing has happened without your input. For point and shoot shots, this is good, you’ll get vibrant photos without much effort, but serious photographers, especially those with a passion for the Leica name, might find this a tad frustrating.
Happily there is a middle ground, with a pretty robust ‘Pro’ mode setting available. With this enabled you can manually adjust the shutter speed, the aperture, and you can set manual focus and exposure points in the photo.
We like the Huawei P9 quite a bit. it has the features and performance to give Apple and Samsung a run for their money, and it has the price tag to give phone shoppers pause before they dive into a plan with a more expensive model. There is no one feature which we can identify as being the best in market (perhaps with the exception of the lightning-fast fingerprint reader) but it does everything well all the same.