Huawei P9 and P9 Plus review: Once great, but in 2018 you can do better

£450
Price when reviewed

Since Huawei launched the P9 and P9 Plus in 2016, the handsets have been replaced not once, but twice. The P10 was a decent follow up last year, and the P20 – despite some caveats – has done the trick again. You could even argue that Huawei has superseded it with the Mate 9 and Mate 10 as well. 

All of which is to say that while it was a good phone in its day, it’s not a great investment right now. On contract it’s hard to come by, and SIM-free, you’re looking at around £270-£300 – that feels a bit much for such ageing hardware, especially as this generation of Kirin chip wasn’t too hot on the 3D graphics. If this is your budget, the Sony Xperia XA2 and the Honor 7X fit nicely in that bracket, and both are that bit more modern and likely to have longer-term manufacturer support. 

If you can go for its original RRP, the OnePlus 5T remains the phone to beat at £450.

Sasha’s original review continues below

Huawei is gunning for the big flagships with this duo of high-end handsets – the 5.2in Huawei P9 and its bigger brother, the 5.5in Huawei P9 Plus. Combining top-of-the-range smartphone design with novel dual rear-facing Leica cameras, Huawei’s P9 pair are running straight into the fray of the smartphone war.

What exactly have Huawei delivered? Fantastically put together all-rounders that take no prisoners and should give the likes of Samsung and Apple sign to worry. Yes, they’re not without their flaws, but these are nevertheless high-quality phones with competitive price tags. Read on to see what we made of the P9 and P9 Plus’ design, camera, hardware and performance, along with our final verdict on Huawei’s P9 handsets. Buy the 32GB Huawei P9 from Amazon for £400 or get the 64GB Huawei P9 from Amazon for £549 (or from Amazon US for $421).

Huawei P9 and P9 Plus: Design & key features

It’s fair to say that Huawei has done a sterling job with the design. You’d expect nothing less than gorgeously-crafted metal and glass on a flagship phone in 2016, and the P9 and P9 Plus don’t disappoint.

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Both share a full aluminium body, fronted with a layer of glass that curves gently towards the edges, and measure a dainty 6.95mm thick. There is perhaps something of the iPhone 6s to the design – which is no bad thing – and the handsets feel rock-solid and sturdy in all the right ways, with nicely clicky buttons falling easily under the finger and a balanced yet none-too-weighty feel in the hand. The rear-facing fingerprint reader is superb, too, and although it seems awkwardly placed at first, it soon becomes second nature – and in my time with the P9, it proved lightning quick and super reliable, even with greasy fingers. 

“Both phones have USB-C ports for charging and data transfer.”

Up front, you get a 5.2in Full HD display on the P9, while the P9 Plus ups the screen size to 5.5in but swaps the P9’s IPS panel for a Super AMOLED one and adds Huawei’s take on Apple’s pressure-sensitive 3D Touch technology, dubbed Press Touch. 

Battery life promises to be pretty special, too. The P9 has a 3,000mAh battery while the P9 Plus has a larger 3,400mAh power pack, and Huawei are claiming up to a day and half of battery life for the P9. Meanwhile, the P9 Plus gets a rapid charge mode which provides six hours of talk time after 10 minutes of charging. Whichever you choose, both phones have USB-C ports for charging and data transfer and support up to 128GB of expansion via micro SD.

Turn the P9 around, however, and this is where things get interesting. The aluminium rear comes in mystic silver or a darker titanium grey finish – sadly, the gold and rose gold versions are limited to the Asian markets – but the big news is that there are two cameras out back, both of which are “endorsed” by Leica.

Huawei P9 and P9 Plus: Cameras

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The P9 lashes together a pair of 12-megapixel cameras, one of which uses a colour sensor, and one which uses a dedicated black and white sensor.

Unlike other handsets which have used twin cameras for 3D snaps and depth of field trickery, these work in tandem to produce colour photographs, with a dedicated Image Signal Processor and Digital Signal Processor each handling the steps of combining the output from the two sensors and then refining the final image. And of course, if you just want a great quality black and white photo, then the dedicated sensor handles that side of things.

If you’re wondering why you need two cameras, then the answer’s simple: two cameras are better than one. Three times better, in fact. As the black and white sensor doesn’t need an RGB filter in front of the sensor, Huawei claims that the twin camera arrangement is capable of gathering three times more light information and bumping up image contrast by 50%.

Meanwhile, Huawei’s Hybrid Focus combines three camera focusing techniques – contrast, laser and depth calculation – and claims to choose the best method depending on the shooting conditions.

As you’d expect given the involvement of the legendary camera marque, Huawei has worked with Leica to refine the P9’s camera app. A dedicated pro mode allows you to tweak the focal points, adjust the ISO range from 100 to 3200, adjust the shutter speed from 1/4000sec to 30 seconds, or manually tweak the white balance from 2800K to 7000K. Whether you’re an inveterate fiddler or a camera buff, you’ll have plenty to get stuck into with the Huawei P9.

Continues on page 2: The camera tests

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