Huawei P9 review: Another solid Android choice for some

Android / Hardware Reviews / Mobile / Mobile Reviews / Reviews
Huawei P9

I’d be lying in this review if I didn’t say that smartphone design just seems to be in a stagnant sense of being.

It used to be we’d have clear winners and losers in the smartphone battles of old. For the most part, the big time players dominated the landscape and up-and-comers were barely noticed. That’s all changed over the past year or two, and more smartphone makers are making quality devices. The Huawei P9 is certainly a quality device, and, in a sea of devices of similar quality, it doesn’t exactly stand out. Read on for our full Huawei P9 review.

Specifications

  • Networks – GSM / HSPA / LTE
  • Dimensions – 145 x 70.9 x 7 mm (5.71 x 2.79 x 0.28 in) Weight 144 g (5.08 oz)
  • Display – IPS-NEO LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors, 5.2 inches, resolution 1080 x 1920/423 ppi
  • Glass – Corning Gorilla Glass
  • Android OS, v6.0 (Marshmallow) with Emotion UI 4.1
  • Chipset HiSilicon Kirin 955
  • CPU Octa-core (4×2.5 GHz Cortex-A72 & 4×1.8 GHz Cortex-A53)
  • GPU Mali-T880
  • MicroSD, up to 256 GB
  • Internal ROM/RAM – 32 GB, 3 GB RAM – 64 GB, 4 GB RAM
  • Camera Back – Primary Dual 12 MP, f/2.2, 27 mm, Leica optics, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash, check quality
    Features 1.25 µm pixel size, geo-tagging, touch focus, face/smile detection, panorama, HDR
    Video [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], check quality
  • Camera Front – 8 MP, f/2.4, 1080p
  • Sound – 24-bit/192kHz audio and active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, DLNA, WiFi Direct, hotspot
  • Bluetooth v4.2
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • USB Type-C 1.0 reversible connector
  • Fingerprint sensor, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
  • Fast battery charging
  • Battery – Non-removable Li-Ion 3,000 mAh battery

Design

I’d be lying in this review if I didn’t say that smartphone design just seems to be in a stagnant sense of being. Everything just seems to resemble everything else and the same can be said of the Huwaei P9. Yes, it’s super thin and has a decently impressive screen to body ratio. Yes, it has a very nice premium build quality with great high-end materials used in construction, but at the end of the day, it’s still a slab of aluminum and glass.

Sorry if the introduction to this design portion sounds like I’m less than thrilled with the Huwaei P9 design. It’s not so much the P9 as it is smartphones in general.  The Huwaei P9 design is actually very nice. It’s slim and has a good feel in the hand, and you can tell the materials used aren’t cheap in any way. Along the right side you’ll find the power button and volume rocker. The power button has a slight texture to it. Along the left side is the sim/SD card tray, which takes up to 256GB of extra storage (a nice bonus for you SD card users).

Along the top is the noise canceling microphone, and along the bottom is the microphone, single speaker, headphone jack and USB Type-C charging port. On the front is, of course, your front facing 8MP/f2.4 selfie camera and speaker grill with LED notification light embedded inside. Around the back is the fingerprint scanner, dual-LED flash and the Leica branded dual 12MP camera setup. There are also antenna bands along the top and bottom much like the iPhone 6/6s design had.

The P9 is certainly not an ugly phone by any means. It’s actually very attractive, but in a familiar way. There’s really nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd but as I have already mentioned before, there aren’t many phones that really, truly stand out in terms of design anyway. So, overall, the design of the Huwaei P9 is pleasing, familiar, and premium which is probably good enough for almost anyone looking at a smartphone today.

Huawei P9

Display

The P9 is a midrange device and, as with most midrange devices (save the iPhone), it is packing a full 1080p display. Once again, 1080p displays aren’t bad at all, as a matter of fact, they’re actually more than adequate for most users. The Huawei P9 IPS-NEO LCD 5.2″ display is very vibrant, rich and brilliant. Blacks are deep and creamy when consuming media and the whites are bright and vibrant when reading text. Color reproduction is pretty natural with a slight oversaturation but nothing like a Samsung AMOLED display. This falls more along in line with what Apple does in their displays.

While I am much more comfortable with a 5.5″ display or larger, I didn’t find the smaller 5.2″ too uncomfortable to look at. The phone is noticeably smaller than the iPhone or Nexus 6P but the bezels are also much smaller. Huawei very well might have been able to fit a 5.5″ inside this chassis (the bezels would be almost non-existent). So while I prefer a 5.5″+ phone, the smaller P9 was actually very nice to use.

Yes, it is only a 1080p display but, as I have been testing smartphones over the past year, I am noticing that 1080p is probably more than sufficient for the average user. Resolutions higher than 1080p are probably just not going to be noticeably different to the average user. Gestures are smooth, clean, fast and fluid from scrolling to pinch to zoom. Text is crisp and clear and consuming media is great with color reproduction, blacks, and whites all on par with the competition.

Overall this is a great little display. No, it’s not going to set the smartphone world on fire, but it does its job and stays right alongside the competition without a problem.

Software/Ecosystem

Shipping with Android 6.0 and sporting Huawei’s Emotion UI over the top, this experience was really great. I read someone comment on social media that reviewers are doing a disservice to readers when they don’t tell you how bad OEM skins are on Android phones. My answer to that is, just because it’s not running “pure Android” without a skin doesn’t make it bad. If you’re looking for a pure Android experience with timely software updates, then I can safely say that the P9 (or any other non-Google Pixel phone) is not for you.

Yes, there are many people out there who absolutely hate OEM skins such as Emotion UI or TouchWiz, but there are many others who actually like it. Huawei, like many other Chinese smartphone makers, base their skin after iOS and it shows clearly here. That’s not a bad thing at all. I, for one, happen to like the aesthetic look of Emotion UI and it’s snappy and easy to use. If you’re missing your app drawer and want a more traditional Android launcher experience you can download Action Launcher or Apex Launcher from the Google Play Store.

Android 6.0 runs nice and smooth here as does Emotion UI. I never felt the need to use Action Launcher as Huawei provides several themes and icons you can use if you want to customize. If you’re into the customization thing then you will need to get that third-party launcher and icons to make that happen.

The biggest downside to the software and ecosystem on the P9 is the uncertainty of updates and frequency of updates. When you buy a phone like the iPhone or the Google Pixel, you are going to find that updates will come for around 3-4 years with the iPhone and Google has pledged 2 years of updates. The P9 may never see an update to Android 7.0 or beyond, and you must know that before you buy any non-Google smartphone.

Overall the software experience and ecosystem was fluid, smooth and fun to use. The P9 is going to be a solid performer and most anyone should enjoy using the device as it sits right now.

huawei-p9-14

Performance

The HiSilicon Kirin 955 CPU and Mali-T880 GPU do an excellent job of pushing performance on this phone, but that’s to be expected. Most phones in this range are all running good performing CPU/GPU combos and some that are even cheaper run just as well. The P9 ran graphics intensive games fairly well with the occasional hiccup here and there, and the phone did get warm during gameplay, again, all normal. Daily activities such as, browsing, streaming video, text, calls and social media are all right at home here. This is a solid daily routine performer. The P9 performed as well as any of the competition for this price point.

Speakers/Sound

The one down firing speaker is a bit disappointing, but it is a smartphone after all. It works fine for light media consuming like YouTube and such, but if you’re looking to watch a movie for any extended amount of time, headphones are recommended. Speakers on smartphones aren’t generally the best but they do work okay. Where the speakers do really well is the loudspeaker for phone calls. The speaker is loud and clear when it comes to voice calls, so it does have that going for it.

Camera

Huawei’s P9 camera is Leica branded, and when the phone came out the company was pushing it as their marquee feature. The camera app is chock full of settings, modes, and offers full manual control as well. Swiping to the right reveals the various modes you can choose to shoot in such as Monochrome, Beauty, Video, HDR, Light Painting and Time-Lapse. These modes are meant for you not to need a separate camera app of filter type app, Huawei wants to be your one stop shop in the camera department.

Swiping to the left reveals the settings section which is massive. Here you can choose the resolution of your shots, GPS tagging, add watermarks, turn on assistive grid, capture smiles, object tracking and a whole lot more. Huawei really put a lot of effort into trying to make your camera experience as full and robust as possible with the included Leica branded dual camera setup.

The pictures coming from the P9 are really great pictures. They are clear and crisp and low light shooting isn’t bad. It’s not the best but certainly not the worst. The Huawei P9 also has a shallow depth of field mode, yes the iPhone wasn’t the first to experiment with dual cameras and shallow depth of field. Using this mode produced interesting results which I didn’t find impressive. I’ve used Apple’s beta software for shallow depth of field (Portrait Mode) on the iPhone and it seems to do a much better job than the P9. The shallow depth of field effect on the P9 looks unnatural and almost too soft and mushy with too much color saturation.

Other than the bad shallow depth of field performance on the P9, the rest of the camera experience is great. The photos produced are on par with most smartphones in this price range and may even compete with more expensive phones. Overall, these phones are going to be purchased by users who aren’t tech or photography savvy, and I think this camera would satisfy just about any person who just wants to take a decent photo with their phone.

 

Reception/Call Quality

I used the Huawei P9 on the T-Mobile network and I had no problems with my normal LTE coverage. Reception was on par with my iPhone 7 Plus and I didn’t drop calls or lose signal in any areas I normally don’t. Call quality is also great, the loudspeaker works the best for my uses but the ear piece is just as good and callers had no issue hearing or understanding me.

Battery Life

Battery life will vary and we don’t run specific battery tests in our reviews. Rather we use the device as we would our daily driver and calculate how long it lasts through our day. I had no issues having some battery life left at the end of the day. Generally, I had 20% or more of battery left after a day that starts at 5am and ends at 9pm. This is with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, 100% brightness and mobile networks all on. This is also with some light gaming, email, browsing, social media, streaming music, picture taking, texting and talk all being used throughout the day. I’d say most of my day is moderate use and I don’t game heavily or watch a lot of videos so that does save some battery. Battery life will depend on your use so you’ll have to understand how you use your device to gauge how well the 3,000 mAh battery will perform.

Price/Value

Depending on where you pick one up, the Huawei P9 will set you back around $500USD which is priced slightly on the higher end of the mid-range devices out today. One of the key selling points of the P9 is the Leica branded dual camera setup, which does a good job but is certainly not the best on the market. The Huawei P9 does have value and it should be considered if you’re shopping for a phone in this price range.

Wrap Up

The Huawei P9 doesn’t stand out amongst the crowd, even with its Leica cameras. Rather, it stands with the crowd of mid-range devices asking for you to maybe pick it as your next device. Yes, the Huawei P9 is worth a look at. No, it doesn’t offer something more the competition isn’t offering too.

Huawei P9
4.4 Out of 5
Nailed it
Really nice design keeps up with mid-tier standards, great cameras.
Needs Work
Huawei skin isn't for everyone, will need custom launcher, design isn't ground breaking and weak speaker.
Bottom Line
The P9 is a really nice phone, the UI is not for everyone and those who don't know how to use custom launchers will be stuck here. But if you can get used to the iOS like skin, then this is a great phone choice.
Design4.50
Display4.50
Software/Ecosystem4.25
Performance4.25
Speakers/Sound4.00
Camera(s)4.25
Reception/Call Quality4.50
Battery Life4.50
Price/Value4.50
*We were sent a review unit of the Huawei P9 for the purposes of this review.
Comments
To Top