Introduction and availability
The Huawei P9 is a sign of the company’s slow yet constant progression in the handset department. It looks set to be miles ahead of the mediocre P8 as Huawei are bringing to the table a device with a very special feature. We are of course talking about the dual-cameras bolted on the back. The manufacturer almost seems to be saying, “If we can’t beat them on all fronts, let’s focus on a single point of attack.” We’ve only had the device for a short while but here’s our take on the feel, camera and specification of the new dual-wielding P9.
But first, where can you get your hands on one? If you live in the US it’s a no go. Huawei currently do not have plans to release the P9 or P9 Plus state-side any time soon. In Europe the release date is slated for April 16th, where the device will go SIM-free for £449. Vodafone are bundling it with a w1 Classic smartwatch on contracts starting from £30 a month. The bigger P9 Plus will be available mid-May, exclusively on Vodafone. Carphone Warehouse are offering a free Huawei Active watch with each pre-order. O2, EE and Three will also be stocking the P9, but with no special freebie. Titanium Grey is the colour of choice on all the mentioned mobile operators; with Carphone Warehouse, Vodafone and Three also offering the alternative Mystic Silver as well.
We’d argue that this is Huawei’s most atheistically pleasing device to date (not counting the Nexus 6P for obvious reasons) in the looks department. The diamond cut edges really make the frame stand out but it also highlights how similar it looks to previous Huawei devices. The shape and body is reminiscent of the Mate 8 and P8, while the black camera strip on the rear is strikingly similar to the Nexus 6P.
The aluminium body is smooth as you like and feels great in your hand; this is aided by a decently sized 5.2-inch screen. The screen itself is slightly chamfered; it’s a very small detail most might not pick up on, but it makes swiping through the device a dream. It definitely feels tempting to not slap an obtrusive case on the P9.
With the 6P getting one and the Honor 5X getting one too, it’s no surprise to see the P9 getting on the rear-fingerprint sensor parade. Huawei says it has “Level 4 sense” technology to access your device quicker. Our own testing showed that it is indeed lightning quick and much faster than the Nexus 6P.
This is the part that most of you probably skipped to. Huawei has partnered with legendary lens and camera maker Leica to co-engineer the glass on the P9 camera. So how does the dual-camera system work? One takes pictures in colour while the other snaps in black and white. After the initial snap both images are combined, producing an image with 300% more light and 50% better contrast. I put this to the test by taking a cheeky picture of my shoe under the table for a quick test and it produced an image with clarity and hardly any noise.
The camera interface has also been completely redesigned and it’s so much better. Upon opening the app it looks basic but clean. It relies on gesture swipes from the left and right to get into the cameras other modes (thank you curved edges). For a device with the camera as it’s unique selling point, the Pro mode wasn’t much of a surprise. Pro mode allows you to manually change the camera settings for that perfect picture.
One feature of the camera that Huawei are raving about is Refocus. After initially taking a picture you can then focus again on a different part of the image without the need to re-shoot. It adds a really cool effect that you usually get with extreme macro shots. Pictures come up blurry in the back and focused in the middle, or if you want, you can switch it around. The P9 also allows you to add filters on top of the cool Refocus effect for some really unique photos. For those that want to get Instagram famous, the P9 could potentially be something to consider.
Optical image stabilisation (OIS) has been dropped for laser auto-focusing. Huawei claim that because the P9 focuses for a snap so quickly, there’s no need for OIS anymore. This is a pretty bold claim that we’ll definitely need to test out in more detail. As it stands, we can’t say for certain if the P9’s camera is the best that mobile photography has to offer. A better stress test is needed under harsher conditions is needed before we can come to that conclusion. Expect it in the full review.
The P9 has 32GB of internal memory which can be expanded via microSD up to 200GB. History tells us that things repeats them-self, so we won’t be too surprised to see a P9 Lite with lower internal memory being released. Still, in a day and age of bigger apps and cameras with enough megapixels to capture an ant flipping you off (massive hyperbole), that would be a strange move. If Huawei can downsize but retain the mircroSD slot and 32GB internal memory, a smaller phone won’t be so bad.
Back to the P9, Huawei is continuing to use their internally developed HiSilicon processors and the device is fitted with the all-new quad-core Kirin 955. Initial impression is; it’s snappy and flicking through the UI was no problem. Kirin processors have an awful reputation for lacklustre performance when being pushed by a graphically intense game. We played around with some of the games included with Huawei’s Emotion skin, but they aren’t the most graphically challenging games in the world. The P9 will have to be tested with much better games before we can brand it as a marked improvement.
I mentioned Emotion earlier and yes it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it does have some positives. Huawei continue to copy Apple not only in design but also with the UI, even going so far as having quick tools hidden at the bottom of the device. It’s just a shame that Emotion looks cartoon-ish and has a strange ghosting effect when navigating, which we can only assume is the animations pushing the limits of the panel. The hidden app draw is still there thankfully but it’s equally annoying to have to add apps into it. That said, if you’re using Tinder on the sly and you’re looking for a new phone, get the P9. Oh and it will run Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box, the latest Android software available.
At the moment it doesn’t really feel like the P9 will upset the status quo, nor did we expect it too, but Huawei are quickly improving and the P9 is evidence of that. The camera takes some great pictures that we can’t really fault on initial testing but the Leica certified lens doesn’t really feel like anything special. If anything, it seems like a gimmick that’s been bolted on for extra sales. Again, it’s still early and much more testing is needed before we completely slam the camera. Look out for our full review soon.
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