in Hardware, Reviews

Huawei P9 Review – Pain and Gain

Its a weird thing to get an iOS user to review an Android device, and to be honest I am not usually interested. The Galaxy S7 and LG G5 are simply not my cup of tea, but when the Huawei P9 was announced I was immediately impressed. Bringing together excellent build quality into an all metal construction, combined with a great camera and excellent specs the P9 looked to become a top handset. So I have spent the last few weeks living outside the box, but as we will find out, pushed right up against the side.

Specs

Display: 5.2inch IPS-LCD 1080 x 1920 pixels (423 ppi pixel density), Corning Gorilla Glass 4
Chipset: HiSilicon Kirin 955, Octa core 2.5 GHz, Mali-T880 MP4
Memory: 32 GB, 3 GB RAM (tested)
Camera: Dual 12 MP, f/2.2, 27 mm, Leica optics, dual-LED flash 8 MP, f/2.4, 1080p
Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery

Design

Smartphone design is believed by many to have become stale and unimaginative. Although one persons boring and bland is another’s understated and sleek. With the P9 Huawei seems to take lots of design pointers from the iPhone 5(s), with all metal body construction and a simple design. It also carries on the great construction, we saw on the Nexus 6p and feels a solid device in the hand. The panel gaps are of equal quality to Apple devices and it also shows the same beard pulling ability.



In fact the design of the Huawei P9 is so much reminiscent of an iPhone when using the device in public, many seem to think it is one. More than once I have been asked which iPhone it is — some would argue thats a good thing, and obviously something that Huawei where aiming for. Once you pick a P9 up you soon realise it truly is a great device to hold and use, if only more phones where produced with this much care and attention to detail.

The Huawei P9 is available in either 32gb or 64gb, although only the 32gb seems to be available at most outlets. Thankfully the handset shadows almost all others on the market and sports a micro SD card shot in the sim card tray. Allowing for up to another 128gb to be added — although because of the placement doesn’t use Android adoptable storage feature.

Huawei also chose the newer USB type C connector for the P9 which will make many Android enthusiasts very happy. Equally as many Android users will groan at having to buy new connector cables. Thankfully there is a more traditional USB to type C included in the box and the regular shape of the charging port is more aesthetically pleasing than the micro USB ports of old.



With very little breaking up the flowing device lines, and a 2.5d screen which appears to float on top of the body. The small indent in the middle of the back houses the fingerprint scanner. One that is fast and accurate to wake the device without having to worry about pressing any buttons — something Huawei have become very good at. Unfortunately it lacks the software shortcut options of its Honor branded siblings, so no quick launch of apps or scrolling webpages.

The Huawei P9 packs a 5.2 inch screen into a form factor that is easy to hold, easy to use and is a real pleasure to use. This is how a handset should be — well built, reassuring in weight and easy to hold. With many brands reverting back to a c.5.2inch device it really might be the size sweet spot.


Display

The 5.2inches of IPS display that dominates the front of the Huawei P9 is not going to please everyone. That is more down to the current push to include more and more pixels per smartphone at an alarming rate — that debate can be made for ever and a day, however the 1080×1920 423ppi display is more than adequate. Icons and even small text is crisp and clear and pleasing to the eye.
A simple selection of screen temperature will allow for some tuning, but the LCD display tech really does show deep blacks and nice rich colours. However the display will always lack the over saturation or ‘punch’ that some would be used to coming from AMOLED displays, but that is down to your personal preference.


Huawei P9 Software

Given that the purpose of a review is actually to use a phone as you would do your own I popped my sim into the Huawei P9 and set it up to do so. However the review almost ground to a halt less than an hour after starting, and this draws most of the ‘issues’ with the Huawei P9 to a head. The Huawei provided software includes Emotion UI or EMUI and it is often a sticking point for reviews. This time not for usability and general weirdness to us in the western markets — but for notifications, or lack thereof.

Issues that seem to lie in software the EMUI uses to attempt to maximise battery life, limit notifications to spotty from some apps to nothing at all from others. Couple this with the fact Huawei bury options that don’t really wont you to change so deep in the menus you have issues that could be a deal breaker for anyone from an average users to someone reasonably au fait with Android. Even on changing the setting to allow apps to run in the background, notifications seem to be absolutely fine for some, but not for others.



Using EMUI on the Huawei P9 is much the same as using any other phone sporting the same software, a particular acquired taste. Android is all about be together, not the same — but this particular brand of not the same is closer to iOS than it is Android. even incorporating a quick search from a swipe down on the home screen that is so similar to iOS you would be forgiven for trying to speak to Siri.

When Google expends so much effort improving the design and UI of Android it’s not only annoying but a real shame to see something that changes almost every pixel. Sure Samsung’s Touchwiz and HTC Sense does a similar thing but not to imitate another OS entirely. Sure there are cultural and historical economic reason for this, but it’s a criticism that comes up time and time again. Many have said this is the ‘least broken’ version of EMUI and that’s quite scary.

Bundled on the phone is a plethora of mobile apps from productivity apps like 2do to a selection of children’s games. Bloatware is one of the major issues in the Android world, luckily all but a few are completely removable from the device including almost all the Google apps. Leaving you free to download your choice of apps. Although EMUI uses a combination of burying the option deep in the settings and a certain amount of scare tactics to attempt to stop you changing the default apps.

Performance And Battery

Instead of bowing to the expectations of the wester market, the P9 shuns the almost expected Snapdragon chip and sports a HiSilicon Kirin 955. This quad-core chip provides superb performance, and is smooth and fluid almost all of the time. Bar a few weird glitches and stutters which is likely cased by software, barley a frame is dropped during normal use.

Even the most intensive gaming sessions are free from stutter, although the unit does get hot. Which is to be expected when you use an all metal design, throttling is no doubt happening in the background but performance doesn’t seem to slow. If benchmarks are your thing, they have been done and rank the P9 above many Snapdragon 810 devices so no need to worry.

EMUI devices have always been able to maximise battery life to their benefit due to using exceptional software optimisation. This MAY come at the exchange of some notifications, but that remains to be seen. However battery life will last through a day of use for even heavy users — with lighter users being able to achieve much longer.



With my usage I was able to achieve a day and a half from its substantial 3400mAh battery. Thats with taking phone calls, talking on slack intermittently throughout the day, listening to podcasts for a couple of hours and checking emails. Your milage will vary, but with the inclusion of quick charging you can charge the phone up to 100% in a little over an hour using the correct quick charge plug.

Camera

When launching the phone in London, one of the stand out features was its camera. Huawei spent a long time discussing the great camera and the benefits of choosing to use two cameras on the back of the handset. The involvement of Leica when creating the camera’s optics still remains a bit of a grey area. However the dual camera set up is something that may become a staple of the smart phone. LG adopted a slightly different set up, and Apple are rumoured to be adopting two sensors in the upcoming iPhone.

Huawei used two 12-megapixel Sony IMX286 sensors, with one shooting purely chromatic images. Detailing that the black-and-white sensor is capable of capturing 3 times more light than more traditional smartphone cameras. Combining this with 1.24μm-size pixels and a relatively middle of the road f/2.2 aperture means low light performance is good when compared to some others on the market, but is not going to blow you away.

Many that see the two sensors maybe forgive for thinking a gimmick on the proportions of the HTC M8. However the work Huawei have done with camera software mean you can get some great software compensation with more light and brilliant effects. You can achieve an almost professional level “Bokeh effect” with minimal effort. Although other effects in the software such as light writing and “silky water” will need a tripod.

The camera interface is something Huawei have got spot on and is a real delight to use. Simple controls are right at your finger tips, and advanced controls for those wanting more are simply a swipe up away. Swipe right for switching to one of the 14 camera modes and left for camera options, becomes natural straight away.


TL;DR

The Huawei P9 is a great Android device, well built with construction that is amongst the best on the market. The camera is an extremely capable setup that gives a great user software experience. The dual camera implementation is far from a gimmick and adds to the user experience with great effects and software processing.
Unfortunately it is let down by poor software that is needless complicated and uses questionable tactics to stop the users choice of default app. The design of the software is subjective but feels like resistance against all the handwork Google is trying to bring to the design of Android. At £449 the simfree price should make you think twice when there are so many midrange priced options — although the p9 is a bargain compared to some flagships on the market.