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Huawei P9 review

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Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Dual lens tech is great
  • Solid performance
  • Decent battery life
  • Super fast fingerprint scanner

Cons

  • EMUI skin is heavy
  • Camera software can be fidlly

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Key Features

  • Dual lens camera setup
  • Kirin CPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 5.2-inch FHD display
  • 3000mAh battery
  • Android Marshmallow with EMUI
  • Manufacturer: Huawei
  • Review Price: £449.00

Huawei P9 long-term review: The camera’s still great but the phone has begun to slow down

Three months on since the Huawei P9 launched, I’ve been using the handset as my main phone day in and day out. It’s meant I’ve gotten a real feel for the good and bad parts of Huawei’s current flagship smartphone.

The camera is still the best part of the package, even if Huawei has been caught being rather misleading in just how good it is. I’ve taken photos that have rivalled the best handsets out there. I haven’t used the monochrome-only mode as often once the novelty wore off, but the added contrast and punch is certainly still welcome. I’ve also rarely ever had the patience to use the Pro shooting modes, but the regular Auto setting has served me well enough.

While the P9 survived Alastair’s initial drop test, it didn’t fare quite so favourably for me when dropped onto the hard tile surface of a swimming pool changing room. A chip across the chamfered bottom corner now acts as a reminder of my clumsiness. Aside from the cosmetic damage, the P9 was otherwise fine.

I’ve noticed some performance degradation over the past few months. Apps can be noticeably slower to load than when the P9 was fresh out of its box, which can be frustrating. Worse is when it happens with the Camera app as it’s resulted in some missed opportunities.

Huawei’s slightly intrusive power firewall also hasn’t seemed to help with performance issues nor with battery performance, either. I’m a heavy WhatsApp user throughout the day, as well as checking in on what’s happening with Twitter and Instagram probably more often than I should. I also stream music on Spotify during my commute. Under that usage scenario the P9 still does get me to the evening but it can cut it very fine.

Huawei’s EMUI Android customisation is still one of the phone’s biggest weaknesses, as such I’ve been using the Google Now launcher in its place. Even with an alternative launcher, you still can’t escape some of the more niggling aspects of Huawei’s UI, such as the notification pane and lockscreen. You get used to many of the P9’s oddities over time, but it’s still not ideal.

Three months on, the P9 remains Huawei’s best phone to date. It’s still a generally lovely smartphone and a good candidate for those not wanting to stretch to the higher flagship prices, but it is unfortunately still hampered by shoddy software.

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You can read our original Huawei P9 review below.

What is the Huawei P9?

Since the arrival of the Nokia 808 PureView manufacturers have been battling ever harder to create the very finest phone camera. We've seen everything from mainstream adoption of optical image stabilisation to custom technologies like LG’s laser autofocus and HTC’s Ultrapixels – which reappeared on the new HTC 10.

The P9 is Huawei’s stab at the title and sees the firm team up with photography legend Leica to create what it’s calling “the ultimate camera-phone”.

It features a nifty dual-lens rear camera setup similar to the one Apple’s rumoured to be working on for its fabled iPhone 7, and there’s definitely some truth to Huawei's claim. But be warned, its custom imaging software shares some of proper Leica cameras' “eccentricities”. This, combined with ongoing issues with Huawei's EMUI Android skin, make the P9 a good, but not great, smartphone.

Video: Check out our hands-on impressions of the Huawei P9

Huawei P9 – Design

2016 has been a great year for Android fans, and seen the release of some of the prettiest smartphones ever. Highlights have included the super-swish Samsung Galaxy S7, the awesomely metal HTC 10 and the modular LG G5.

The P9 stands alongside these stellar handsets on the design front and is the best-looking smartphone Huawei’s ever made. It has an undeniable iPhone 6S-ish feel, featuring a unibody metal chassis with flat sides. The metal, combined with the P9’s almost bezel-free display gives the phone a feel that's on par with any 2016 flagship I’ve tested.

Huawei’s also loaded the P9 with a decent portfolio of connectivity. At its bottom you’ll find a USB Type-C port, and along its long right-hand side you’ll find a Nano SIM and microSD card slot. The microSD will let you add a further 128GB of space to the phone’s inbuilt 32GB/64GB. But be warned, if you’re planning on taking advantage of the microSD, the P9 doesn’t support Android Marshmallow's Adoptable Storage feature.

Adoptable Storage lets you instruct your phone to treat SD card storage like native storage – meaning you can do things like install apps directly to the SD card. On past handsets, such as the HTC One A9, I’ve found the feature massively helpful, as it let me walk around with my entire music and games library downloaded with space to spare.

There's a good reason why Huawei, and other phone makers including Samsung and LG, are turning Adoptable Storage off. Running Adoptable Storage means you can’t swap the SD card out without damaging/impacting the smartphone’s performance. Using a cheap SD card will also hamper the phone’s overall performance, so Huawei’s decision is understandable, albeit a little disappointing in my mind.

Huawei P9

Outside of this, Huawei’s loaded the P9 with a Level 4 fingerprint scanner on its back. Huawei claims the scanner is a marked step up from the Level 3 scanners seen on competing phones and will be noticeably faster and more accurate than competitors.

I didn’t notice much of a difference between it and competing fingerprint scanners like the ones seen on the Galaxy S7 or Nexus 5X. But this isn’t an issue and the scanner is still more than good enough. It's super-fast and the only times it failed to recognise my fingerprint was when I was using the phone in rain, or had dirty hands.

Huawei’s also made it so you can use the scanner to enact some basic commands. The controls are activated in the phone’s settings menu and let you do things like pull down the notification panel and scroll through photos by swiping on the scanner. The feature sounds minor, but I found myself using the scanner to check incoming alerts on a regular basis after only a couple of days with the P9.

Build quality is solid. Drop testing it on my wooden kitchen floor, the Huawei P9 survived crack- and chip-free. Though the body's metal does feel slightly more flimsy than the alloy used on the HTC 10, and can be prone to picking up dirt marks.

The phone’s also not as comfortable to hold as the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10. Its miniscule 7mm thickness, combined with its flat sides, can make it feel slightly slippery – which will be an issue for clumsy users who regularly drop their phones.

Huawei P9 – Display

To spec-heads the Huawei P9’s 5.2-inch display isn’t anything to write home about. The FHD 1080 x 1920 resolution puts it well behind competing smartphones such as the Galaxy S7, which generally have cornea-slicingly sharp QHD 2560 x 1440 resolutions. But being honest, with everyday use I didn’t have any serious complaints about the screen.

There’s been a lot of debate about when the human eye stops being able to tell the difference between resolutions. Some people say it’s when we break the 300ppi (pixels per inch) density milestone, while others think we can spot the difference past 500 ppi. Whatever the truth of the matter, I found the P9’s 423ppi display more than sharp enough. Icons and text are universally sharp and pleasingly free of any signs of pixelation.

Related: Best smartphone 2016

Huawei P9

The use of LCD screen technology ensures blacks are nicely deep and colours have a good amount of pop, without looking over-saturated. The phone’s colour temperature setting also makes it quick and easy to adjust it to meet your personal preference.

White levels are slightly muddy compared to competing handsets, but are far from terrible, and viewing angles, while not the best I’ve seen, are suitably wide. All in all, the P9’s screen isn’t the best around – that title goes jointly to those on the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 – but it’s more than fit for purpose. 99% of people will have no issue with it.

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toboev

April 7, 2016, 7:45 pm

"both these lenses are crafted by Leica"
What exactly does that mean, "crafted"? "Branded by Leica" would be more honest. They certainly are not making them.

Alex Walsh

April 21, 2016, 3:40 pm

The battery is actually 3,000mAh, the 3,400mAh is reserved for the P9+ isn't it?

There was a big firmware update today that apparently improves stability but for me everything improved immeasurably when I switched to Google Now as my launcher.

cheese king

April 21, 2016, 4:55 pm

"The use of LCD screen technology ensures blacks are nicely deep" - well that's a contradiction in terms isn't it...

Sam

May 16, 2016, 9:30 am

If this phone gets CyanogenMod compatible, I am buying it straight away. Only drawback right now seems to be the Huawei UI. (I got addicted to my Oneplus One interface)

zohaib

May 17, 2016, 6:12 pm

Huawei P9 Available in cbuystore

Huawei and Leica combine to create a

stunning dual-lens camera in a

smartphone. More light and better

clarity, for amazing photos and videos

Craig Arnold

June 20, 2016, 6:37 am

Phone is quite fast. However the review doesn't mention the fact that if you have the slightest interest in music this is not the phone for you. Having "upgraded" from the Xperia Z2 I can only say that if you take the sound from the Sony, stick it in a tin can and put that 3 feet underwater you have an approximation of what the P9 sound quality is like. The sound separation is so poor I thought I'd not plugged in the headphones properly. Now I just need to see whether I can return it.

arshad

June 26, 2016, 9:52 am

Can any one suggest that should i buy this Huawei p9 or xperia z5 ? And why?

Febri Asmara

July 26, 2016, 2:06 am

p9 and ip6s can capture better still image quality than z5..

video ? z5 have best FHD video, wider lens & better than ip6s :D

grape

August 10, 2016, 8:21 am

EMUI is major drawback, but with Google Now Launcher and ZUI locker it is vastly improved. just the annoying notifications pane to deal with.

justinx zxy

September 9, 2016, 10:22 am

the jack doesn't have any probs, just the earphones suck, go get a new pair of earphones instead ?

Craig Arnold

September 9, 2016, 11:14 am

Nope, it's the DAC that's rubbish. Changing the headphones makes very little difference. In fact I don't think I've even tried the ones that came in the box. The good news is that you can use an external DAC like a Dragonfly (though you need a USB-C to USB cable) and that works very well to get superb sound quality. It's an extra £90 just to get decent sound though, which is obviously rather disappointing.

christopherjacques

September 23, 2016, 7:59 am

Z5 has hires audio too. You can stream LDAC hires audio to LDAC Bluetooth headphones. That's what I do.

Roy Bullock

October 24, 2016, 9:32 am

Get JetAudio App and get the Audio Plugin(Bongiovi) cost about a fiver my the time you've finished. With this software you can sort the audio problems that are present with the default player which is rubbish.

Umbra

November 1, 2016, 7:33 am

I think the phone is generally suitable for who care more about black and white just like me. When I try to compare with a dull looking phone (Snapdragon 800 series with bad modem, 13MP sensor), After I take both photos to see differences, I agree P9 has done a real job so I pick that one for further plans, Of course, in color mode, The real resolution may be lowered, because of 1:1 mapping, You shall see a significant improvements with vivid tone.

Fiona Ham

November 7, 2016, 8:21 pm

Hey Guys,

I just wanted to inform you that there is no warranty on the P9 because it is an international phone. I bought mine in The Netherlands 3 weeks ago and when the screen cracked over the weekend for putting it in my bag and hitting the corner of my computer. The screen is sold has a more resistant one. I had a Blackberry for 3 years and never any damages. I live in Canada so can't really go back to the store.

I am so disappointed.

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