Huawei P9 review: If it wasn’t clear from the phone’s launch event, the new Huawei P9 is squarely aimed at the big dogs; namely Apple’s iPhone 6S and Samsung’s Galaxy S7. With that in mind, we figure out whether it truly has the stones to be considered a real threat.
As a smartphone (and tablet) maker, Huawei’s blossomed into a serious outfit in recent years and the most obvious example of this evolution can be seen in the design work applied to its devices. The company once known for pumping out forgettable ‘me too’ phones now produces quality, considered handsets hewn from premium materials that are good enough to tango with the best of them.
The P9 is no exception and it doesn’t just look good, it feels great to use too. The company pushed out a lot of measurements on stage to highlight just how thin and elegant this thing is, and whilst in reality you’d be hard pressed to tell that it’s thinner than an iPhone 6S in blind testing, just know that the company’s new flagship feels exceptionally slim and light, but also well built.
The edges of the body are rounded and chamfered for better comfort and aesthetics respectively, whilst the hardware controls are raised, tactile and textured for ease of use. Being such a thin device (6.95mm) it should come as no surprise to learn that the battery isn’t removable, but to make up for it the phone is one of the growing number of devices sporting the more convenient reversible Type-C USB connection.
To improve the feel of the phone in-hand even more, Huawei’s dressed the 5.2-inch IPS LCD panel with 2.5D pillowed glass, making it a pleasure to swipe across, particularly when interacting with elements at the edges of the display. The bezel is actually thicker than the phone’s frame lets on; a trick of the eye that Huawei’s pulled before and something to be aware of as it’s not immediately apparent when the display is off.
It pushes out accurate colours, viewing angles comparable to the latest iPhone and offers improved overall brightness versus its precursors. It’s not a true pixel pusher like the Galaxy S7 or LG G5 with a resolution of 1920×1080, but it packs plenty of detail for the majority of the tasks you’ll likely use the P9 for.
Running atop Android 6.0, Huawei’s take on the operating system loses the apps drawer, packs a heap of company’s own proprietary software, a number of themes (with icon to match) and handy tools like a one-handed mode; but as may be apparent, it’s a very heavy skin as a result and one that users unfamiliar with Huawei’s devices will need time to get used to.
The P9 launched alongside the P9 Plus, but only the latter enjoys the benefits of a Press Touch display.
When we met the sizeable Huawei Mate 8 last year, we were seriously impressed by the performance put out by its Hisilicon Kirin 950 processor. The P9 boasts an even speedier 955 SoC, which twinned with 3GB of RAM is more than enough to ensure that the phone puts out a consistently fluid performance. Raw grunt and graphical power aren’t up there with the likes of Apple’s A9, Samsung’s Exynos 8890 or Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 820 (benchmarking placed it above devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 however), but you’d be hard-pressed to find fault with it during day to day usage.
Surprisingly, unlike most other Huawei and Honor handsets the P9 is devoid of a hybrid SIM slot, which means no dual SIM functionality. That said, it still has room for expanding the 32GB of internal storage by way of microSD cards up to 128GB (or 1TB if you’re to believe what Huawei’s CEO said at the phone’s launch). You lose out on an IR-blaster, which is strictly reserved for the larger P9 Plus, but we appreciate the inclusion of dual-band WiFi (absent on devices like the Huawei Mate S) and NFC, future-proofing the handset for the arrival of Android Pay in the UK.
For such a slim handset, we were impressed to find that Huawei had managed to cram a capacious 3000mAh battery into the P9’s body and all that power means you can expect just shy of two days use on a single charge. With the exception of the Nexus 6P, this is also the first Huawei flagship to boast a reversible Type-C USB connection, through which the P9 can fast charge.
The most distinctive aspect of the Huawei P9 has to be its camera setup. The dual sensor arrangement is closer to the likes of HTC’s One (M8) in its implementation than the wide-angle trickery offered up by the LG G5.
Dual 12-megapixel Sony BSI CMOS sensors work in conjunction with a laser autofocus array and a dedicated ISP (image signal processor) to dress your snaps with superior quality depth of field, hoping to emulate the attractive bokeh usually only found on combinations of high-end DSLR lenses and bodies.
The camera experience is supposedly co-engineered with famed camera brand Leica, however, it’s hard to tell if the partnership is more than skin deep – with the company’s brand name slapped on the back of the phone and an all new camera interface dressed with Leica’s own font.
You’ve got a wealth of camera modes and a rich overall experience, with one of the two sensors specialising in capturing black and white image data – great for monochrome photography or as a means to add greater depth and detail to colour photos.
Check out our extensive Huawei P9 camera review for the full skinny on camera quality and functionality. As we’ve said before, the P9 packs the best camera Huawei’s ever put into one of its smartphones and yet it still doesn’t measure quite up to the imaging capabilities of Apple’s or Samsung’s top handsets.
Read next: Huawei P9 Camera Review: In Depth
Huawei is growing up fast and the P9 represents the best that the company can bring to the table right now. It’s not a perfect phone, taken in some very specific directions in certain areas, but the end result is pleasing to look at and pleasing to use.
At £449, it’s notably more affordable than the likes of Apple’s and Samsung’s flagships, but that pulls it into the firing line of the likes of Sony’s Xperia Z5. As such it’s more a case of whether you want a thin phone or a waterproof one, more megapixels or a dual camera. The Huawei P9 is the company’s strongest smartphone to date and it’s proven itself to be considered a worthy competitor in the premium space, we can’t wait to see how they take it up a gear next year.