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Huawei P9 Review: They Got It Right This Time

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It’s been two weeks, and I still have the Huawei P9 in my pocket and my iPhone in my bag. I rarely put my personal SIM in the phones that I review, but this one’s an exception. Why was I so willing to put my iPhone to rest while I use the P9 as my daily driver?

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Well, I’ve had my eyes on the Nexus 6P since it was launched, but I wasn’t able to purchase and review one. And then the Mate 8 came out. It looked stunning, and my longing for a Huawei phone grew even more. The craving I had was satisfied when I finally, finally got my hands on Huawei’s 2016 flagship. Its launch caused a lot of buzz and excitement in the tech community because of the Leica co-branding it boasted, and the promise of “revolutionizing smartphone photography” that came with it. As a photography enthusiast, this partnership made me even more and more excited.

This unit, we actually purchased so we can fully test its capabilities, especially its headline features. It retails for P23,990 for the 32GB + 3GB RAM model, but Huawei has a trade-in promo that’s on-going. You can check out details of that promo here.

Huawei P9:

  • 2.5Ghz octa core HiSilicon Kirin 955 processor
  • Mali T880 MP4 graphics
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB internal memory, expandable memory via MicroSD up to 128GB (uses SIM 2 slot)
  • 5.2-inch Full HD IPS LCD display (1920 x 1080 pixels)
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 4
  • Dual 12 megapixel rear facing camera with Leica optics, phase detection autofocus and dual LED flash
  • 8 megapixel front facing camera
  • Dual SIM, Dual Standby
  • 4G/LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, Fingerprint Scanner, USB Type C
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS
  • 3,000 mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with EmotionUI 4.1
  • Price: P23,990
  • Status: Available at Huawei Experience Stores and retailers

DESIGN

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There’s no denying that the P9 is a premium smartphone, and it definitely feels and looks the part. It’s a 6.9mm thin stunner with a glass front and an all metal unibody construction. It takes cues from Apple and HTC, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right?

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Huawei is able to fit its dual Leica-certified lenses without the need for a camera bump. There’s also a small dimple for the fingerprint sensor at the back that doesn’t feel invasive and actually gives the overall plain back design an added touch.

The phone fits perfectly in my small hands. It’s a straight block aside from its chamfered edges, but it feels comfortable. Although if you have sweaty hands (like me), you’d always fear that you’d drop the phone because it’s also so light. Thankfully, the free clear plastic case that comes with it easily solves that.

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It’s also important to note that Huawei decided to add a USB 3.1 Type C port instead of the conventional Micro-USB port found in most smartphones. It definitely is a sign that USB Type C is here to stay, and is now starting to replace its predecessor. It provides for faster data transfer, but we were a bit disappointed to not see fast charging on this unit.

DISPLAY

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One compromise the P9 makes is on its display. It’s a full-HD LCD panel. It’s not the usual expected quad-HD display you’d find on today’s flagships, but I really can’t complain. Even at just full-HD, it’s crisp, accurate and bright even under direct sunlight. Apple, HTC, Samsung and other smartphone players put brighter displays on their smartphones, but I’m fine with this. The only time I’d wish for a quad-HD display on the P9 is if I’d use it for VR, but I’m not really a big fan of that.

BATTERY AND PERFORMANCE

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On paper, the P9 also boasts of a 3000 mAh battery. It’s quite a wonder how they were able to fit a battery this ‘big’ on a body this small. But its ‘bigness’ doesn’t really translate in terms of real life use. It can last all day, yes, but I noticed a quick battery drain especially with 4G LTE and GPS constantly turned on. I can go a full day without plugging it, but as I am a power user, I tend to plug my phone to my office desk outlet whenever I get the chance to, just to make sure I don’t run out in the most inconvenient situation. Standby time isn’t as bad. I can go to bed with 100% and wake up with 92% to 95%.

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The prime suspect? Huawei’s own chip on board, the Kirin 955. Instead of the Snapdragon 820, which most flagships have on board, Huawei has made a point to use their proprietary chips on their phones to mixed effects. Yes, the chip makes the overall experience on the phone smooth and fast coupled with 3GB of RAM, but it stumbles in areas like battery efficiency and graphics. You’d experience lags here and there when playing games, but tasks like browsing and streaming videos are smooth. It would have been my favorite phone if they put a Snapdragon 820 chip on board.

The P9 primarily is a phone afterall, so all its basic connectivity features work the way they should. Call quality is great with a few to no dropped calls, while LTE connectivity is stable and more reliable that the one I get on my iPhone.

CAMERA…S

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Now, let’s talk about those cameras. I initially thought the dual Leica camera set-up was just another attempt to hype the product. Now that I actually experienced it, I’m nothing short of amazed. The camera works, and this is the closest point of me ditching my iPhone for the P9 to use daily for taking photos for my Instagram.

But, two cameras, some people might consider to be too excessive and unnecessary. Unlike other dual-camera setups from the past that only use the second camera for depth sensing, the 2 lenses on the P9 actually work together to bring a great image. One camera shoots in color, while the other one shoots only in black and white. When taking a photo, both cameras are activated, and the images each camera takes is merged into one final photo. Since the other camera only shoots monochrome, it receives more light and focuses on the details that the color lens can’t. The result is a sharper, crisper image.

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The P9 post-processes the photo after you take it, but it’s nothing that you’d get disappointed about. Colors are made a little brighter which only aims to liven up the images you take. It’s not perfect, though. The f/2.2 aperture on both rear lenses can only capture so much light in darker situations, resulting in grainer images. Also, image quality is a bit of a hit and miss. Sometimes, I’d get really amazing looking photos, other times I’d delete them because they just look so bad because of a missed focus, or too much grain, or colors that are too pale. It doesn’t ruin the overall camera experience, but it’s something to consider.

The camera software also offers a Pro Mode, which is a quick swipe up from the the tab found above the shutter button. It allows manual controls over Aperture, Shutter Speed, White Balance etc, which opens up possibilities for more creativity.

The interface of the camera itself is clean. In fact, a little too clean, in my opinion. I found a hard time figuring out how to access controls and settings on the camera app itself. It’s only a quick swipe from the left or the right, but there are no indications or buttons that guide you, whatsoever.

Here are some sample photos taken with the Huawei P9.

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SOFTWARE

I can’t say I don’t like the EMUI that’s on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow on the P9, but I can’t say it’s my favorite as well. First off, it tries too hard to be like iOS. Icons are forced into squares to horrible effects, but settings are well organized, fonts are clean, and apps like Clock and Messages offer really neat interfaces that minimalists like me would love in a heartbeat.

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Notifications are simple, clean and straightforward, as well. It might be an unimportant feature for some, but there’s a notification whenever the phone detects an app that uses much power. I appreciate it because I’d like to keep the P9’s battery life at an optimum level.

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One other nifty feature of EMUI is WiFi+. It automatically switches from WiFi to Cellular whenever you move away from a hotspot, or switches from one WiFi to another if it detects that signal is getting weaker. If your phone has access to multiple hotspots in one place, it can rank which one has the strongest signal and connects to that. Pretty smart for people who rely on connectivity a lot.

VERDICT

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So, with all these, did Huawei get it right finally? Yes, and they’ve come a long way, too. From launching last year’s P8 to no success, to launching Nexus 6P and the Mate 8 to positive public reviews, to this, a phone that’s promising and not at all just tacky features and fluff. The P9 is a great phone if you’re considering experiencing Android but can’t let go of the things you love either from Apple. It has a great build and design, something you wouldn’t be ashamed to show off. It has cameras that promise and deliver great images. It’s fast and efficient and all that.

I always just want a great smartphone experience, and I think I got that with the P9.

What do you think about this smartphone? Let us know in the comments!

Editor-In-Chief’s Disclaimer: We bought the Huawei P9 for an honest review.