Huawei came out swinging earlier this year with their P9 flagship model, and now they’ve upped the stakes with a bigger, beefier version: the P9 Plus. For the most part, it shares the same specs as the older model, but that’s all housed in a bigger handset with a better screen, more storage capacity, and longer battery life.
The P9 Plus looks almost identical to the P9, with the same sleek bezel finish. That said, it measures 152.3mm tall and 75.3mm wide – slightly bigger than the P9 on each dimension – while keeping the thickness to 7mm. The practicality of this size will depend on the individual; for many, I imagine it’d just be too big to be comfortable. Even with my fairly large hands, I often had trouble using it one-handed unless I held it in just the right way.
The trade-off for this unwieldiness is more real estate for hardware. The P9 Plus sports a bigger battery, with a capacity of 3,400 milliamps per hour, compared to the P9’s 3,000. I tend to go through charge like my cats go through food – which is to say, I go through a lot.
Ever the millennial, I rarely go more than 10 minutes without checking my phone, and I spend an inordinate amount of time doing battery-intensive things like playing games, reading comics, and obsessively refreshing Twitter. Even with such behaviour, I don’t think I ever had the P9 Plus battery drop below 30 percent or so in a day’s use. With more conservative use, you could easily get two days (at least!) off a full battery, and it only takes a couple of hours at most to charge.
The bigger form factor also means a bigger screen. On the one hand, bigger is better – most apps easier on the eyes and more user-friendly, and there’s more space to customise the look and feel of the home screen. On the other hand, the P9 Plus has the same 1080p resolution as the P9, but on a screen that’s physically larger, meaning lower pixel density and a less crisp image. It’s not really noticeable unless you put the two phones side by side, and it’s far from a deal-breaker, but it’s something to keep in mind if that’s something you’re particularly concerned about.
However, the P9 Plus also sports an OLED screen, allowing for much richer colours than the P9’s LCD. Without getting into too much technical jargon, OLED screens are capable of displaying much darker blacks, allowing for a broader range of contrast. If you’ve ever used an original-model PlayStation Vita, you’ll be familiar with what OLED can achieve, and it makes the P9 Plus a great phone for games, movies, comics, or any other sort of visual entertainment.
The P9 Plus sports the same Leica dual-lens camera as the P9, and the OLED screen makes it easier to appreciate just what the camera can do. One lens captures colour while the other captures black and white, and the two images are then combined to create a shot with a lot more detail and contrast than you’d typically see in a smartphone photo. I’m about as far from a photography expert as possible, so I can’t really talk about the specifics of the camera, but Ben’s review of the P9 has a great rundown of what this camera can do.
In terms of hardware, the P9 Plus is an excellent phone in almost every regard. The software side of things, however, leaves a lot to be desired. It runs on Android 6.0 with Huawei’s EMUI 4.1 overlay, which I found very unintuitive to use. My biggest concern was a lack of any sort of app drawer; instead, all your apps are dumped on the home screens, Apple-style. Options for customisation are limited, so there’s not much you can do out of the box to get the disorganisation under control. Fortunately, alternative home screen apps are readily available on the Play Store and don’t require root access, so it’s an easy fix to replace the default home screen with something better.
That said, the P9 Plus is pleasantly light when it comes to bloatware – those pre-installed apps that can’t be removed without going all-out with a custom operating system. In my experience, other manufacturers are particularly bad with this, but the P9 Plus came with apps that, for the most part, were standard and useful, and those that weren’t could be uninstalled.
EMUI troubles aside, the Huawei P9 Plus is an excellent phone. It’s got everything that the P9 has, but it’s bigger, has a better screen, and a longer-lasting battery. At a standard price of $1099, it’s a fair bit cheaper than other high-end phones, but that’s only because it lacks bells and whistles like waterproofing. Don’t be fooled into thinking a few hundred dollars difference means the P9 Plus is substandard – it’s a premium phone, and one that I’d strongly recommend.