Huawei P9: Australian Review

Launching this month in Australia, the P9 is the latest flagship smartphone from Huawei. In an effort to push the bounds a little, the phone features a rather special dual lens camera developed in conjunction with Leica. But how does it hold up in actual use?

Huawei is an interesting company, if nothing else because they are comparatively unknown in Australia, despite being the third largest in the market, after Samsung and Apple. The Chinese brand does a lot more than make smartphones, though its consumer division is where the action is, with 70% growth in 2015. They also filed more patents than any other company in 2015, and one third of people around the world use a Huawei device, in one form or another.

Huawei isn’t messing about when it comes to hardware either, and is working hard to actually innovate in time when smartphones are more and more similar. You know the Force Touch feature launched by Apple on the iPhone 6? Huawei actually had their own version out first. Features such as the P9s dual cameras are also rumoured to be coming to the iPhone 7.

Huawei also makes the excellent Nexus 6P, as well as a range of smart watches, other phones and other devices.

What Is It?

The P9 is Huawei’s latest flagship smartphone, which will be announced in Australia on June 22nd.

*Update* Pre-orders open on the 28th of June, while the actual phone goes on sale on the 5th of July, with an RRP of $799. Huawei have stated that the P9 will be available in Australia in Titanium Grey with 32 GB on-board storage through Optus, Telstra, Vodafone, Virgin, JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Leica Boutique and Digi Direct. No prices for on contract phones are available yet.

It’s already available in other markets though, and we managed to get grab one early for some in depth hands on.

At first glance, the P9’s stand out feature is the dual cameras, developed in co-operation with Leica. Other smartphones, such as the excellent LG G5 also offer a two lens camera, but the P9 takes a different approach. The G5 uses two different lenses to better handle swapping between wide and close up shots, and only one is in use at any time.

Specifications
  • 5.2" 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD
  • Dimensions: 145x70.9x6.95mm, 144 g
  • Processor: Kirin 955 Octa-Core
  • 32/64GB Storage, 3/4GB RAM
  • Dual 12MP Cameras
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow

The P9 uses the same lens on both cameras, but has two different 12MP sensors buried inside. One shoots in colour, while the other is purely black and white, with the result combined in software. The advantage here is that the black and white sensor can gather more light, and makes for sharper photos and better low light performance.

The actual sensors feature a 1.25 µm pixel size, a 12 MP resolution and a f/2.2 lens with 27mm focal length. The camera app also has a full manual mode, the ability to save RAW image files, a dual tone flash, and can record 1080P video at 60FPS.

The P9 is also just 6.95mm thick, which makes it slimmer than a lot of the competition. It does not sacrifice quality though, with a metal body and tiny bezels.

The P9 packs a 5.2” IPS LCD into the 145 x 70.9 x 6.95mm frame, with a 1920 x 1080 resolution and a 423 ppi pixel density.

The phone runs Android Marshmallow (6.0), with the Huawei EMUI skin over the top. Inside it features the Kirin 955 chipset, which has a quad-core 2.5 GHz Cortex-A72, quad-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A5, and a Mali-T880 GPU. The P9 comes in a 32GB versions with 3GB of RAM, and a 64GB model with 4GB of RAM.

Round the back the phone sports a fingerprint scanner, and underneath a USB-C port.It’s also got the usual 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS and NFC

The Huawei phone comes in silver, titanium grey, white, gold, rose gold, and haze gold, but it’s not yet known if all will be available on launch.

The P9 also comes in two others flavours - a Plus model, as well as a Lite variant that has lower spec hardware and no dual camera. Once again, it’s unknown at this stage if these will launch in Australia alongside the P9, or at a later date, or not at all.

What’s It Good At?

No surprises here - the P9 takes great photos. Sure, most of the competition also takes nice happy snaps, but the P9 stands out in a couple of key areas. Of course, it’s no miracle worker, but the results are a cut above most smartphones, and on par or better than the other flagships.

Night shots on the P9 are pretty good, especially when it comes to capturing small details. The black and whites images are also a cut above those taken with a colour sensor and then converted to black and white in software.

The dual cameras mean that the Huawei boffins have been able to ditch the camera bump, and give a smooth, flush back.

The thing is, the P9 is more than just it’s camera. Whilst super thin, it also feels like a solid, premium device in the hand. The large screen and small 1.7mm bezels also makes it easy to use without sacrificing screen real estate.

The screen itself is quite vibrant, and bright enough for use outdoors without an issue. The P9’s 1920 x 1080 resolution (and ~423 ppi) feels just about perfect. Of course, higher resolution is always nice, but it comes at the expense of battery life, and does not really look any better for most use.

With a 3000 mAh battery, Huawei rate the P9 for a couple of days use, but in our testing it’s about the same as the competition. Heavy users will make it through a day just fine, whereas light use will see it last through about 48 hours max.

The P9 includes a microSD card slot, and can handle storage capacities up to 256GB.

The phone sports a USB-C port on the bottom, which is a great improvement over the slowly being replaced microUSB. Handily, the P9 comes with a USB-C to USB-A (the normal USb plug) cable, so you can still connect it to all your non USB-C chargers and devices.

Like most flagships these days, the P9 has a fingerprint scanner. It’s located on the back, which makes for super easy unlocking when picking up the phone, but not as good if it’s sitting on a surface. The sensor is very fast, and never failed to unlock right away when used correctly.

Rather than just using it for security, Huawei have added some extra features to the fingerprint sensor software. For example, touching and holding the sensor can be used to activate functions such as taking a photo, answering a call or stopping an alarm. It can also recognise swipes, for browsing photos, or opening the notification panel.

The Huawei isn’t officially waterproof, but can take a little moisture. The unofficial demo at the launch involved a cup of water being poured over the phone with no ill effects.

In use, the P9 is extremely fast and smooth, and has plenty of grunt to play games. In our testing (and compared to other results online), the P9 hardware offers performance on par with other flagships, such as the iPhone.

Call quality is excellent, though for hands free use, the single bottom mounted speaker could be louder.

What’s It Not Good At?

The Huawei P9 has a lot to love, but it’s also got a few frustrating quibbles.

Our biggest complaint is with the EMUI skin, that despite being a big improvement over previous versions, is still pretty frustrating. While perfectly fast and smooth, it’s filled with bloat and makes some questionable layout designs. For a start, Huawei replace a range of core Google apps (such as the calendar) with their own, less functional versions. The phone also ditches the app tray, in favour of just having all your icons on the home screens.

It seems like Huawei is trying to create a simplified, iOS type experience. Supposedly that is what the Asian market wants, but in our experience in Australia, Android users tend to want enjoy straight up Android, rather than a skin.

Of course, you can just ditch the Huawei skin for another launcher (and we did), but it would be amazing to see a completely stock versions of the OS for a Nexus like experience.

Despite loving the camera on the P9, it feels like the Leica branding is oversold. And while the results are pretty good in practice, the camera is misses out on options such as optical stabilisation.

The P9’s camera also took a little getting used to, when trying to always grab the best shot. For example, despite the extra low light gathering, the lack of stabilisation meant to was easy to snap a blurry night shot. Importantly though, with a bit more effort to hold the camera still, and it could capture a pretty sharp image.

Another minor quibble if there ever was one, but the P9’s cameras position is imperfect for real world use. It’s all too easy to grab the phone by the edges and accidentally obscure the lens or just get fingerprints on it. As an owner, it's a quick and obvious adjustment, but for an easy mistake when someone else snaps a pic for you.

Should You Buy It?

Huawei P9
85

Price: $799

Like
  • Excellent dual camera
  • Small bezels and slim form
  • Great fingerprint scanner
Don't Like
  • Bloated Huawei Android skin
  • No optical stabilisation
  • Underpowered hands free speaker

In a word, yes.

The phone takes great pics, while catering to both those who want to grab happy snaps without too much thought, or prefer to dig into manual settings.

The build quality is top notch, as is the hardware and performance. The Huawei Android skin is frustrating, but easily removed if not to your tastes.

Of course, we don’t yet know the official launch price in Australia, but the P9 is aimed at the market who want more than the cheaper Android flagships, but don’t want to shell out for the most expensive phones.

Huawei has not yet given us the official Australian pricing (*update, RRP $799), but models available online already (from overseas) range from about $650 and up. While a decent price for the hardware on offer, it still faces stiff competition from other premium, albeit more expensive, phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S7. The real test will be how much it's selling for a few weeks or months after launch.

Still, it’s an excellent phone, and won’t disappoint those seeking a flagship model with a difference.

Check out more info over at Huawei and take a look at the promo video below.

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