Forgive me for sounding like a broken record but Huawei have been on a roll over the past 12-18 months. It started with their premium flagship phone the P8 and has continued with the Nexus 6P and the Mate 8. Just prior to the launch of the P9 in New Zealand, I got to spend a couple of weeks with the new flagship smartphone and it’s safe to say that the roll that Huawei have been on resoundingly continues.
In terms of design, the P9 retains most of the same aesthetic as its predecessor, the P8 with a slightly more refined bezel this time around. Last year it was one of the most attractive designs on the market and this year the P9 continues to retain the title as one of the best looking phones on the market. The P9 comes in three colours; Mystic Silver, Titanium Grey and Prestige Gold. My unit was the Titanium Grey which looked fantastic but it’s fair to say that the Prestige Gold is the standout colour variety. Take the phone in hand and you’ll immediately notice how thin it is. With a depth of just 6.95mm this is one of the sleekest Android handset currently available. Sometimes thin phones feel flimsy in the hand but not so with the P9, the in hand feel is that of a solid, well built premium handset. Overall the phone has a height of 145mm and width of 70.9mm which houses an 5.2 inch FHD Screen (more on the screen later). Turn the phone over and you’ll find the fingerprint scanner and what Huawei is touting as the killer feature, the Leica dual lens camera (again more on that later). Also unlike competitors, that camera housing sits flush with the back of the phone, no camera bump going here!
Hiding inside the P9 is Huawei’s custom chipset the Kirin 955, 64 bit, Octa-core processor. Those eight cores are made up of 4 x 2.5Ghz and 4 x 1.8Ghz cores to create a phone that is fast, responsive and extremely power efficient. Accompanying the Kirin 955 is 3GB RAM and 32GB of on board storage. If 32GB isn’t enough Huawei has support for expandable storage via MicroSD. Finally inside is a 3,000 mAh battery that will get you through the day without much trouble, thanks in part to the efficiency that Kirin 955 produces. I’m a pretty heavy user of my smartphone but I was able to get to the end of the day with juice still in the tank. If you are a super user then you will struggle towards the end of the day but this battery will suffice for the vast majority of users. Charging the P9 is via USB C which delivers very fast charging but does lead to a slightly confusing disjoint for Huawei. The P8 and the Mate 8 charge via MicroUSB whereas the Nexus 6P and the P9 charge via USB C, it would be great to see Huawei just use one standard rather than going between the two.
Allow me a moment now to go back to the screen. Huawei have again steered clear of a QHD screen and have stuck with FHD for their 5.2 inch screen. In light of what competitors are doing some may scowl at this but the reality is on a screen this size QHD’s benefits are outweighed by the battery drain that comes from the higher resolution screen. The P9’s screen is still rich with colour and faithfully produces crisp, clean images and text. It may not be the best screen on the market but it still holds up well for a flagship device and is not going to disappoint.
The P9 is running on Android 6.0 with their custom EMUI 4.1 overlay. EMUI is an OS that constantly gets questioned when I talk about Huawei but the reality is that it is a very clean and intuitive OS. It is substantially different from any other Android OS so will have it’s detractors but let’s face it, even Samsung, HTC and all other manufacturers get some flack when they choose to overlay Android. EMUI is the perfect OS for users making the switch from iOS to Android simply because it looks and feels very much like iOS with the benefit of the customisation and openness that comes with Android. You wont find any hard buttons on the phone, instead EMUI uses soft keys that appear on the screen for the home key and back button. Personally I like the simplicity and ease of navigation that comes from EMUI.
Now let’s move on to THE biggest feature of the P9, the dual lens 12MP Leica camera. I’ve heard it said that the Leica brand and dual lens camera is nothing more than a gimmick on the P9. That sentiment couldn’t be farther from the truth. The dual lens camera will produce some of the best images that you’ll see on a smartphone. One camera captures colour and the other solely captures black and white. When you take a photo both cameras take the image then combine them into one image that has excellent contrast. Colours pop off the screen and the level of detail that comes from blacks is nothing short of amazing. By not filtering colour, the black and white lens is able to gather twice as much light as a normal lens then contrast that into the colour image. The real magic happens when you take a close-up photo, all of a sudden you’ll see an incredibly detailed image that is very sharp and noise free.
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Whether you’re using the camera, browsing the web, navigating with Google maps or just casually using some apps the P9 is very responsive. Apps will open up in the blink of an eye and rarely will you see an app crash. In fact in the two weeks that I had the phone I think I only suffered one app crash. The way the battery and processor interact also means that the phone takes longer than most to heat up. You’ll get more time in hand without the phone starting to inadvertently warm you up. It may be winter in New Zealand now but no matter how cold it is outside it’s never a good sign when your phone starts outputting serious heat.
The Huawei P9 is available in major retailers now and available on the 2Degrees, Vodafone and Spark networks at a cost of $1,099. If the competition was taking Huawei lightly last year then they will certainly be taking notice this year. The P8 was an insight into the potential that Huawei had for making premium handsets and over the past year they have proven more than capable. All of that hard work culminates in the P9 which is their best flagship to date. Packing in excellent performance with a killer camera at a reasonable price the Huawei P9 is the Android phone you’ve been looking for.