Dual cameras on smartphones are going to be the next big thing. We’ve seen them in the past on the HTC One (M8) and LG G5, and most recently on the Xiaomi Redmi Pro and Cool1 dual. A bunch of upcoming smartphones, including the anticipated iPhone 7 are also rumoured to sport the setup at the rear. How dual cameras work differ widely – on the LG G5, the second camera module is a wide-angle lens, while on the HTC One (M8) and Xiaomi Redmi Pro, the dual camera serves as a depth sensor. Among the dual camera devices released this year is the Huawei P9, which went official this April. The smartphone has the distinction of bearing Leica branding on its cameras, and we’ll talk about the significance of that later. Huawei has been pretty much absent in India over the past two years, barring the Google-branded Nexus 6P that landed last year. After letting its sub-brand Honor build its popularity in the affordable segment, the company is now ready to make a comeback in the Indian market, with the flagship P9 being its tool of choice. We’ve been testing the P9 over the last few weeks, and if you’re keen on finding out what Huawei’s latest smartphone has to offer, here’s everything you need to know.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)|
|CPU||Quad core, 2.5 GHz + Quad core, 1.8 GHz, HiSilicon Kirin|
|Internal memory||32 GB|
|External memory||Up to 128 GB|
|Capacity||3000 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable|
|Talktime||Up to 18 Hours (3G)|
|Standby Time||Up to 566 Hours (3G)|
|Primary camera||12 MP|
|Secondary camera||8 MP|
|Network support||Single SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
Design: symmetry in geometry
Dimensions: 145 x 70.9 x 6.9 mm
Weight: 144 grams
There’s no doubting the fact that the P9 is a sweet looking smartphone. It resembles a rectangular slab, with rounded edges and corners offsetting the geometry. It might not seem like it at first glance, but the P9 is a slim smartphone, measuring 6.95mm around the waist. It feels comfortable and nicely balanced, and at 144g, is lightweight without feeling flimsy. The P9 features a metal unibody design crafted out of aluminium, and our unit was a nice combination of a black façade and Titanium Grey rear. Unfortunately, as most metal phones are prone to do, the P9 is very slippery, and we highly recommend using a case for protection.
With a display measuring 5.2-inches, the P9 is a compact device that fits well in the hand. Huawei has used 2.5D curved glass on the screen, so you get a nice dip towards the edges of the frame. The port and button placement is standard. You’ll find the front camera, sensors, earpiece and notification LED on top. Below the screen, you’ll find Huawei branding, since the navigation keys move up to the display as software overlays. The right spine is where you’ll see the power button and volume rocker. The former features a textured finish that makes it easy to locate. The left spine is home to the ejectable SIM tray. The P9 is a hybrid dual-SIM device, with one SIM card slot doubling up as a microSD card slot for storage expansion. Both the SIM slots accept only nano SIMs. The Huawei P9 uses the latest USB Type-C interface, and you’ll find this at the bottom, flanked by the primary microphone, 3.5mm audio jack and loudspeaker grill. The top edge is home to the secondary microphone.
The back panel features a matte finish that doesn’t pick up smudges. However the metal used is quite soft, and is prone to picking up scratches quite easily. Right at the top, you’ll see a black glass strip that features the dual cameras, dual-LED flash and LEICA branding. Below this is the square-shaped fingerprint sensor.
Display: crisp and compact
Size: 5.2 Inch
Resolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Display Type: IPS LCD
Pixel Density: 424 ppi
At a time when large screens top the popularity charts among smartphone users, there are still a few flagships that stick to compact screen sizes. The P9 with its 5.2-inch display is one of them. The 2.5D glass gets Gorilla Glass 4 for protection, but curved glass is still fragile, adding weight to our recommendation of putting the P9 in a case.
The screen features full HD resolution, instead of the 2K resolution that many flagships have opted for. We’ve got no complaints about the screen though – at 423ppi the display is plenty sharp for our liking. The IPS LCD doesn’t have the saturated colours of AMOLED counterparts, but the screen outputs vivid, punchy colours with good viewing angles and brightness levels. Outdoor visibility on this smartphone is great – we had no problems viewing the screen even in bright sunlight.
The P9 doesn’t feature a reading mode for reducing eye strain, but there is an option to adjust colour temperature in settings, with a choice between Default, Warm or Cool modes. If you want, you can even adjust the colour temperature manually on the spectrum. The P9’s display also has a Glove mode, but this is tucked away under the ‘Smart Assistance’ option in settings. The screen is smooth and fluid, although there were times when swipes and taps didn’t respond as well as we’d like.
Cameras: seeing double
Primary camera: 12 MP
Flash: Dual-color LED Flash
Secondary camera: 8 MP
Huawei and Leica announced their long-term partnership for smartphone photography in January this year, and the P9 is the first device to emerge from that collaboration. The Huawei P9’s cameras might have Leica branding, but make no mistake – these aren’t Leica lenses. Instead, Huawei says the cameras have been ‘co-engineered’ with Leica. The twin lenses use Sony’s IMX286 sensors with f/2.2 aperture, while the module has been manufactured by Sunny Opticals, one of the world’s leading camera module suppliers. So where does Leica’s role come in exactly? There’s been a bit of controversy surrounding this fact, but the companies later issued a clarification, saying that the collaboration included work on the “optical design, imaging quality, image data processing, optimisation, and the mechanical construction of the camera module to the graphic user interface” – basically the cameras get the Leica stamp of approval.
Putting the controversy aside, you might be wondering what the function of the dual cameras are. In the P9’s case, it’s quite interesting. While one of the cameras features a full RGB sensor to capture colour, the other is monochrome. And while you can use the monochrome sensor to capture black and white photos, its main function is to capture more light – about 200 percent more than the RGB sensor is what Huawei says. When you snap a photo with the P9, both cameras fire simultaneously, and the resulting image is a composite of what both sensors capture. The resulting image, in theory, should offer more detail, better contrast and depth.
Moving over to the camera app for a bit, the one on the P9 is loaded to the gills with features and controls, but is uncomplicated and easy to navigate. Swiping from the left opens up the various shooting modes – you have the regular Photo mode, plus Monochrome, Beauty, Video, HDR, Panorama, Night Shot, Light Painting, Slow-mo, Watermark, Audio Note and Document Scan.
Most of these modes speak for themselves, but there are a few which merit more explanation. The Night Shot mode, as you may have guessed, is for taking low light shots. It’s recommended you use a tripod with this one, because it keeps the shutter open for a maximum of 32 seconds. What’s nice is that the app shows you a second-by-second countdown of the exposure, letting you stop it at any moment. You also have the option to manually set the exposure and ISO in this mode. The Light Painting mode lets you conduct experiments in shutter speed, with four sub-modes to capture different kinds of shots. There’s Tail lights, which lets you capture light trails from moving cars, Light graffiti which lets you make patterns with light in the dark, Silky Water to capture flowing water and Star Trails to capture trails of starlight. All the modes are really easy to use, but using a tripod is recommended. That said, we tested the Light Graffiti mode without a tripod, and if you have a steady hand, it works quite well. Swiping from the right of the viewfinder opens up the camera settings, and here’s where you can enable features like a grid (including a Fibonacci grid), object tracking, touch to capture, smile detection and even enable Leica watermarks.
On the viewfinder, you’ll find an option to access the wide aperture mode. This mode is great for macros, letting you focus on an object and adjust the depth of field using the onscreen slider. Images taken in this mode can be refocused later in edits.
There are also a bunch of filters you can apply in real time, as well as the option to choose one of Leica’s film presets – Standard, Vivid or Smooth Colours. Just remember though, that the film preset you choose will apply to all images taken with the camera, irrespective of which mode you’re using. Lastly, the camera also has a dedicated Pro mode, and this can be easily accessed by swiping up from the viewfinder, which will display all the manual controls you need.
The results from the Huawei P9’s cameras are among the best we’ve seen on a smartphone. The camera captures plenty of detail with good contrast levels, whether it’s a macro shot or landscape type image. The camera focuses really quickly, thanks to its laser-assisted autofocus, and is able to zero in on the subject even in a crowded close-up frame, any area where many smartphone cameras struggle. The low-light images from this camera are great – noise levels are some of the lowest we’ve seen, and colours are reproduced well too. The wide aperture mode lets you get the aperture down to as low as f/0.95, but this is done artificially through software, which means you’ll see some soft lines around your subject. If used intelligently thought, it can create some stunning bokeh shots. The monochrome lens though is the real star of the show. Because the camera has a dedicated lens and isn’t just converting images to black and white, the resulting shots have better tonality and dynamic range. We often found ourselves veering towards the monochrome sensor with the P9, and the results speak for themselves.
The front camera on the P9 is an 8MP unit with f/2.4 aperture. It doesn’t feature autofocus, but the results are incredibly detailed. You can take some great selfies, whether it’s in daylight or low light, and you have the option to enable a screen flash and beauty mode too. While the cameras on the P9 deliver exceptional stills, it’s disappointing that the P9 doesn’t feature OIS or 4K video recording, with the resulting videos turning out quite shaky.
You can check out our camera review for more details, or view the thumbnails below.
Software: feature packed
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 6.0, Marshmallow
You can’t have a Huawei phone without EMUI, and the Honor runs EMUI 4.1 built atop Android Marshmallow. We’ve had complaints about EMUI in the past, but over the last couple of years, Huawei has really polished its mobile OS, and we think it’s among the best skins you can find on Android phones these days. We’ve covered EMUI in detail in our reviews of both Huawei and Honor devices, so we’ll just skim through the basics.
You get the standard Magazine Unlock feature which displays a selection of high-resolution images as changing lockscreen wallpapers. The homescreen is devoid of an app drawer, with quite a few pre-loaded apps. Apart from the Huawei apps, you’ll find WPS Office, Facebook, Twitter, Todoist, Booking.com, EyeEm, News Republic and games like Dragon Mania, Puzzle Pets, Asphalt Nitro, Spider-Man: Ultimate Power and Ice Age: Scrat-Ventures.
EMUI comes with theme support, with a range of both local and online themes you can download, customise and apply. The Phone Manager app is a dashboard similar to Xiaomi’s Security app, letting you scan the system, manage storage, notifications, battery, data and more. The P9 features an inbuilt pedometer, and the collected data is displayed in the Health app, which also shows your distance covered, calorie burn and more.
In settings, you can enable a Simple homescreen layout, change the layout of the navigation bar, enable a floating dock and turn on various gestures. You can also enable a one-handed mode, as well as configure a few voice commands.
Performance: winning streak
CPU: Quad core, 2.5 GHz + Quad core, 1.8 GHz, HiSilicon Kirin
GPU: Mali-T880 MP4
RAM: 3 GB
Memory: 32 GB + Up to 128 GB
SIM Slots: Single SIM , GSM
The Huawei P9 is powered by the brand’s own octa-core Kirin 955 chipset (four 2.5GHz Cortex-A72 cores + four 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 cores), paired with 3GB of RAM. The processor is powerful enough to handle multi-tasking and intensive tasks with ease, although you won’t get the blazing fast speeds you’d find on the Samsung Galaxy S7 duo. Thanks to the Mali-T880 MP4 GPU, gaming on this device is a breeze – we had a few intense sessions of Dead Trigger 2 and Asphalt Nitro and the graphics rendered smoothly without any hiccups. The only issue we faced with the P9 was the occasional app crash or freeze – and this was particularly while using Snapchat. We know Snapchat has issues on Android, but we found it to be particularly problematic on the P9, with errors and crashes too frequent for our liking. The P9 gets warm after extended gaming and use of the camera, but apart from that we didn’t face any heating issues on the phone.
In terms of the onboard storage, you get 32GB of memory to work with, out of which just over 23GB is available out-of-the-box. That should be sufficient, when clubbed with microSD card support up to 128GB. In terms of the connectivity options, the P9 supports 4G LTE, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC and A-GPS.
The fingerprint sensor on the P9 is one of its most underrated features – it’s fast and snappy, and rarely misses a beat. You can configure up to five fingerprints, and use them for accessing the safe (protected photos, videos, files, etc.,) and locked apps. Apart from this, the fingerprint can also be used for other functions, similar to what we’ve seen on the Honor 7 and Honor 5X. For instance, you can swipe up and down on the sensor to open / close the notification panel, and swipe left / right to browse through images in the gallery. You can also use it to answer calls, turn off an alarm and take a photo or video. These functions can be performed with any finger, and not just the ones enrolled.
The Huawei P9 features a 3,000mAh sealed battery, and this is one of its weak points. The battery lasted for just over 8 hours in our video loop battery drain test, which is one of the poorer results we’ve seen from a flagship of late. In our daily use involving a few phone calls, plus usage of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and more (some extended Pokemon Go sessions as well), we never got more than three hours of screen on time. This should be fine for casual users, but power users will be disappointed. The other issue is that the P9 doesn’t support fast charging, with the included charger taking over 2.5 hours to charge the battery from 0 to 100 percent.
After two weeks of using the Huawei P9, the one thing we can say for certain is that this is a smartphone we really like using. We had a similar experience when we used the OnePlus 3 (review), which is incidentally one of the P9’s biggest competitors, along with the LeEco Le Max 2 (first impressions) and Xiaomi Mi 5 (review). We’ve already spoken about the P9’s cameras, but we’d just like to add – this is a smartphone for users who really enjoy photography. It works great as a point and shoot camera, but the real prowess of the P9 is in the creativity it allows – whether it’s in the black and white images, bokeh shots or the Light Painting modes. The cameras aside, the smartphone features a sleek build, vibrant display and decent performance, and these are all factors that work in its favour. However, for its asking price, the P9 might not have many takers, especially in a price conscious market like India. The Huawei P9 is very much a niche phone, but if you can afford it, it’s one of the best camera smartphones you can own right now.
Editor’s Rating: 4 / 5
- Outstanding cameras
- Decent performance
- Sleek build quality
- Average battery life
- No OIS or 4K video recording