The Huawei P9, with its fantastic build and unique dual lens camera has been with us for well over a month. Let’s see whether this much talked about smartphone is worth all the attention it has grabbed. If you don’t wish to go through the entire text, you can watch the review in the video embedded below

Design and build

A unibody construction, champhered edges and great attention to detail mean that the phone looks and feels extremely premium in the flesh, more premium than it looks in the images. It’s pretty slim, and that 5.2 inch screen size means it feels just right to the hand, without compromising on screen size. This one doesn’t have capacitive keys though and you have to make do with on-screen keys for navigation.

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The layout is pretty conventional all around, with power and volume buttons on the right and the SIM tray, also comprising a microSD slot on the left.

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The 3.5mm socket, speaker grille, and USB Type-C port are all at the bottom. The fingerprint sensor, meant to scan the index finger is at the back, and it’s pretty fast, too.

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The back panel also gets a duo of lenses, giving this one its unique, and should we say, premium appearance. The sensor slots are accompanied by a dual-tone LED flash, laser autofocus window and Leica branding. More on that later, though.

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The screen here is a full-HD IPS LCD display. While the glass protection brand and version is not officially specified, it’s pretty tough and very scratch resistant, as our prolonged usage has proven. The screen is bright and vivid with a pixel density of 423ppi. We love the way the screen feels, smooth and responsive. There is a certain sense of fluidity to using this screen which is difficult to explain, and something we absolutely love!

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Sharp, bright and pretty contrasty for an IPS – that screen is one of the highlights of this phone. While default colour reproduction is great, you can also customize the tint with setting the colour temperature individually.

Overall, the screen is pretty bright, vivid, and natural and doesn’t leave anything to complain about. Actually, it’s a joy to use, unless you are a sucker for those quad-HD, heavy on battery displays.

Hardware and OS

Huawei is one of the rare electronics makers to boast the capability of making its own processors. The P9 is powered by its top of the line octa-core Kirin 955 SoC. It’s clocked at 2.5GHz for four cores and 1.8GHz for the other four. There’s 3 GB of RAM, which is more than sufficient. Now, while some new phones are offering more than double that number, it’s notable that they aren’t actually using even half of it. The phone also gets a sizeable 3000 mAH battery and 32GB of on-board memory, expandable to 256 gigs. There’s no dual SIM capability for the global version we have here on test though.

The P9 we had on test gets NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 and 4G connectivity with Volte.

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Inside the box you get the phone, along with a pair of earphones, a USB type C cable, a charging brick, some documentation and a SIM tray ejector tool. The P9 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Huawei’s Emotion UI 4.1 on top. It’s a pretty simple and intuitive interface, if a little different from most other such UIs with its own single layer. If you are used to those conventional Android UIs, this one will take a wee bit before you know all its ins and outs. The Emotion UI is packed to the gills with numerous features and is a delight to use.

Camera

The camera is the absolute highlight here, what with the Leica branding and all. If you don’t know already, however, Leica has only consulted Huawei for the camera, and not actually built it, and thus the ‘co-engineered by Leica’ branding.

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The P9 gets two 12-megapixel sensors – one monochrome and one RGB. So while the RGB sensor captures the colour detail, the monochrome sensor captures light and detail, the two are then merged by the software for what’s expected to be a superior image.

The images are actually pretty crisp and definitely above average with tons of detail. Are they the best in business? Well, comparable, but not the very best for sure. Another issue is how this system bumps up the images  – they look more saturated and high on contrast than natural.

That little gripe apart the camera works fantastically well. The p9 employs a hybrid laser and phase-detection autofocus for snappy latch-ons. A standout feature is the camera’s performance while taking macro shots. Low light performance is pretty solid too.

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Huawei P9 Macro Shot Sample

Another great feature is the ability of the camera to take images and retroactively increase or reduce depth of field, something that the iPhone 7Plus camera also features now. The only issue is, if your primary subject’s outlines are not very well defined, for example a cobweb, ruffled hair or leaves of the tree than a part of the subject can appear as smudged sometimes.

The camera app gets a fully manual mode, a true monochrome mode, HDR, long-exposure night shot, time lapse, slow-motion and a whole array of modes.

The detail in the pictures, especially in well lit environs is absolutely fantastic. The dynamic range is pretty good too and the camera balances the exposure in scenarios with strong light and shadow within the same frame rather well.

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Low-light images are pretty impressive as well. With a steady hand and some technical understanding of capturing light you can get some crazy results with this one, even in dimly lit environs.

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Huawei P9 Camera sample low light image shot in HDR

Video can be shot only in full HD 1080 p mode though, as there is no 4K shooting here, which is a bit of a shame for a such a fantastic camera. Also, we miss an optical image stabilizer while shooting videos, though the software does its job well to reduce shake. Videos turn out pretty good, and you also get a high end slo-mo feature along with time lapse.

Front camera is capable 8 megapixel unit with full HD recording capability and plays the perfect foil to  its accomplished rear counterpart.

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Even if not the absolute best, the Huawei P9 camera lays claim on being one of the very best smartphone cameras out there.

Performance

Huawei’s flagship Kirin 955 SoC along with 3GB of RAM offers commendable performance. Graphics are handled by the capable Mali-T880 GPU. This setup is ranked a shade lower in terms of outright performance as compared to the current crop of flagship SoCs like the Snapdragon 821. That said, the performance is pretty close to the very best and the P9 can handle almost everything you throw at it with gay abandon.

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Multiple windows and multi tasking is handled without any issues whatsoever. For everyday use and gaming, this phone offers a user experience comparable to the best in business.

Sound output is through a single speaker, and it’s decently crisp and loud. Gaming is handled appreciably well too, and we never faced any frozen frames or lags in all the games we tested the phone for. Here are a few screeners of the system in action, handling some resource heavy games.

Battery performance is average with the phone lasting a day’s work with moderate usage. Press it harder and the P9 would run out of juice before your day ends, and it would be a bit of a problem as the charging here isn’t quite as quick as on some of the rivals.

Verdict

Huawei is a very sound technology company, and it reflects amply in the P9. It’s an impeccably well built and well styled phone with a distinctive personality and a great camera, which is the standout highlight here. It’s premium, well rounded and does almost everything pretty well. We have been using this phone for an extended time now, and we love it a bit more every day.

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On the downside, the battery could have been a bit better, but that’s not our gripe here. At nearly USD 520 or INR 40,000 it is quite pricey for a wide majority amongst us. Then again, it’s is a unique phone featuring a rather distinct and expensive tech. if a dual sensor camera actually catches your fancy, the P9 can save you a lot of money, as they other option would cost you almost twice as much. For the P9, that should be a great concluding note, we think.

Check out a jumbo image gallery of the Huawei P9 at the bottom of the post. Click on the images to expand