While I sat to write this review, new report from International Data Corporation (IDC) states Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd is now the top player in the Chinese market and have increased their share to 17.2 percent up from 15.6 percent in the same quarter of 2015. Then there is another news from Europe, where the Huawei P9 has been adjudged the best European Consumer Smartphone in 2016-2017 season by the European Imaging and Sound Association (EISA). Both the news were interesting from the Indian context. While Huawei has taken the number one position in China, it is making a comeback into Indian market after almost two years of hiatus during which it focused on their sub-brand Honor in India. The return to India is facilitated with P9 which just bagged the company the consecutive European crown.
Can Huawei climb the charts in India and more importantly can P9 give the Chinese company the jump board it would like to corner the market share here? Well, I can’t gaze into the crystal ball of the future but what I can do is share my thoughts on the double-eyed enchantress who have arrived here, so go ahead read my review of Huawei P9.
Design, Build and Display
- Aluminum body
- 144 grams
It’s no-brainer to guess where the inspiration for the P9 came from, the black bar on the top is a clear tell tale sign, after all the Nexus 6P rolled out from Huawei. But the design is more refined, sophisticated and elegant in P9. A smaller, slender body enhances the beauty. Clearly, the P9 is a looker. It not just looks great but the compact body with a 6.95mm waistline and weighing just 144 grams make is a ‘thing of beauty a joy for ever’ material.
It’s an all metal-affair and the finish is top notch. The black bar is the headturner and it houses the dual lens, the dual LED flash and flaunts the Leica association. We will talk more about it when we dive into the camera in a while. A square fingerprint sensor occupies the middle of the top and a subtle Huawei branding is at the bottom part.
The bottom is a busy place with the speaker grille, type-C USB port, audio jack and microphone. The top is plain and smooth with just a mircophone hole in it.
The arresting dual-eyes on the black shade and the overall finish of the phone elevates the device to one of the best looking phones out there. Though the phone could be slippery, it feels so good that any kind of protective cover or bumpers would be a shame on it. But there is a little bit of uneasiness that I would talk now.
- 5.2 inches IPS-NEO LCD display
- 1080 x 1920 pixels
- 423 pixels per inch
- 2.4D screen
- 72.9% screen-to-body ratio
The uneasiness I mentioned above, well the display is naked, there is no protective glass and that is the reason Huawei has squeezed in a screen guard out of the box. Nor does the camera lens has a sapphire glass or Gorilla to protect it. Also, like most metal phones, a drop can dent the sides and so even if the heart says no, listen to your head and invest in a good looking case.
Coming to the display, while many flagships these days go over the top with a 2K resolution, the P9 settles down with a fullHD and I have no qualms about it. The display is brilliant. Period. What impressed me further was the buttery smoothness of the touch and one of the best silky feel I have come across on screens of late. The blacks are very rich, the contrasts very good and the screen is vivid and rightly saturated . It offers good viewing angle and sunlight readability too. The bezels are thin and at 1.7mm it looks almost bleeding to the edge.
- Android 6.0
- EMUI 4.1
Running on Marshmallow out of the box, the interface is complete with the Huawei’s twist over it with their EMUI 4.1. There is no app drawer and the icons are colorful. The notification panel and the settings page are redesigned too. The EMUI offers few more features that you don’t see in stock Android. There are on-screen buttons and you can go to the navigation bar settings and change their alignment positions, there is a floating dock feature which can be moved around the sides of the screen and offers quick shortcut access to back, home, recent tasks, screen lock and one-touch optimization , though unlike the recent implementation in Xiaomi’s MIUI 8, we cannot customize the dock. Few motion control features are included like flip to mute, pick up to reduce volume ring, raise the device to ear to make or answer calls, a fancy smart screenshot with knuckles and gesture options to quick launch apps. And there is also a one-hand mode, tilt mode that allows to move the apps to another homescreen by simply holding the app and tilting the phone and few other implementations.
There is a theme store offering hundreds of free themes across various categories like Cool, Lovely, Creative, Cartoon and Sophisticated to give a new look to your phone. A health app is pre-installed that tracks your steps and displays it on the lockscreen, it can be disabled though from the app setting if you are not into fitness. The phone manager app is one-stop for optimizing the phone and it also includes a harassment filter to block annoying numbers. A Hi-care app gives the service centres list in your region, service hotline number and other information like manuals to explore the phone for new adopters to their phone.
Hardware and Performance
- HiSilicon Kirin 955 SoC
- octa-core CPU
- four Cortex-A72, clocked at 2.5GHz, and four Cortex-A53 cores, clocked at 1.8GHz
- 16nm FinFET
- Mali T-880 GPU
- 3GB RAM (4GB available in some regions)
- 32GB Storage (64GB available in some regions)
- 3000mAh battery
- USB Type-C port
The Huawai P9 accommodates an in-house Kirin 955 SoC build on 16nm FinFET. The chip lists an octa-core CPU configuration built from four Cortex-A72, clocked at 2.5GHz, and four Cortex-A53 cores, clocked at 1.8GHz. The GPU is a Mali-T880 MP4 GPU and there are quiet a few variants when it comes to RAM and storage but in India what we get is one single variant with a 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage. In some regions, you can get a 4GB / 64GB model. Though, there is a microSD card slot. It’s also surprising that they choose to bring the single SIM version to India, considering that many of us use two SIMs in regular use.
Now coming to performance, it lives up to the flagship tag. The P9 is agile and a smooth operator in daily use. Multi-tasking is great and apps open and close at ease. The Mali-T880 GPU handles animations extremely well and the gaming is a breeze, irrespective of what you throw at it. The fingerprint sensor works like a charm and you can do a little more than just unlocking the phone and securing the apps with it. There are gesture actions associated with the fingerprint sensor much like the implementations we have seen on recent Honor phones. You can attend calls , take pictures, browse gallery , show notification panel by certain touch/ slide gesture options on the sensor. Although, there is no quick launch apps using fingerprint sensor which was implemented in Honor 5X and 5C phones. The fingerprint sensor is reliable and quiet fast.
The call quality is pretty good and the single speaker at the bottom edge is loud and has decent quality, though let me admit I rarely used it. Most speakers of Smartphones in my opinion are just functional and not for listening music.
The P9 has a 3000mAh battery. Considering the slim profile, its a good amount of pack included within. In my fortnight of use and am a heavy user with WiFi / 4G always on and various accounts synced I could get 18 hours of battery life. If I charge in the morning, I could sail through till night. While the hardware supports quick charge, the adapter is the regular 5V/2A. The battery manager can help you get better of the battery with three power plans – performance, smart and ultra power saving. The ultra power saving mode can come handy when you are clinching through the last few drops of battery juice. There is an ROG power saving mode that lowers the screen resolution to 720 pixels to save power. The battery manager also offers various other data like protected apps, power intensive apps and few more.
While the device supports plethora of connectivity including 4G, Bluetooth, WiFi and NFC, Huawei talks about virtual triple antenna setup for better signal reception.
P9 Camera and the Leica association
- Dual 12 MP rear camera
- f/2.2, 27 mm
- 1.25 µm pixel size Sony IMX286 sensors
- phase detection autofocus
- 8MP front camera
Down the order in our review but the real highlight of the P9 is its camera. It’s the star feature and the key selling point for this flagship device. Huawei have partnered with the legendary German camera maker, Leica and promises to revolutionize the Smartphone photography with its dual-camera setup. While there have been few devices with dual-camera on the rear, the P9 uses dual-sensors with one camera sporting a RGB sensor and the other monochrome sensor.
You should really be watching the video below to see what some of my really talented photographers have to say about the Huawei P9’s camera and also some camera samples.
I am not a technical guy on optics but what I understood is while the monochrome sensor helps in capturing better black and white details and combined with the other RGB sensor and inputs from Leica on algorithms , it produces stunning results. The monochrome shots are in particular super impressive. Every time, I take the phone to shoot, I would be tempted to use the monochrome mode.
Huawei has also implemented a dedicated depth measurement chip and the resulting depth of field in the pictures are amazing. The dual lens also allows you to play with the shallow depth of field and also refocus the subjects after shooting the pictures. The focus is impressively fast and one of the super fast focus I have seen in any Smartphones. The shutter speed is too fast that you could frame the exact moment you want to.
What I really like apart from the optics is the camera mode. Most of us using the Smartphones are amateur photographers or even very casual shooters and the camera mode offers wide range of presets to bring the best of the camera including a Light painting mode where you can do light graffiti or mount the Smartphone on a tripod and take breathtaking city scape pictures at night or silky water effect without having to bother about manual settings.
For those who prefers manual settings, the Pro mode is always there including the ability to save images in both RAW and JPEG formats. While everything is too good as of now, it’s not without any disappointments -the P9 lack of OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) and 4K video recording. The 8MP selfie camera works like a charm too with beauty filters and a perfect selfie mode.
In camera there are three color modes – standard, vivid and smooth. The smooth mode gives a Leica feel to the pictures and my favorite.
A phone is not just a phone anymore. The Smartphones have almost replaced the point and shoot cameras. The Huawei P9 takes the camera a little too serious than the’ point and shoot’ Smarphones. The association with Leica has worked well and the P9 takes breathtaking pictures. Even if I don’t want to click, the camera is too good that my hand invariably picks the phone to capture a frame and many times scout for a perfect monochrome shot, that are almost irresistible. This and with a beautiful design and overall great performance, the Huawei P9 is one damn good phone to own.