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

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Huawei P9: Camera testing

I’ve spent the last week or so with the P9 in my pocket, and it’s safe to say that the Huawei P9 is capable of serving up some pretty impressive snaps – even if it’s some way from smartphone camera perfection.

The good points are obvious from the very first snaps. Where even competent cameras such as the iPhone 6s tend to blow out highlights in awkward low-light conditions, the P9’s dual sensors manage to dig out just as much shadow detail while keeping bright highlights impressively under control. Autofocus is much more reliable, too, and where the iPhone SE in my back pocket struggled in some conditions, the P9’s ability to call on a trio of autofocus options paid dividends.

You can compare the two in the images below, where I’ve mirrored the output from the Huawei P9 (left) with the iPhone SE (right).


Black and white shots are beautifully dense and solid, thanks to the oodles of contrast served up from the dedicated sensor, and everyday photography duties are handled well, with the P9 serving up shots that are rich and detailed in, mostly, all the right ways. 

I say mostly, though, as there are some tell-tale traits which aren’t so impressive. One bugbear is the P9’s insistence on pushing up the ISO settings and cranking down the shutter speeds to the point that the slightest hand-shake robs images of crisp focus and leaves colours looking rather washed out compared to its rivals. Granted, it is possible to manually tweak these settings using Huawei’s Pro controls, but while that can help in certain situations that can’t change the physical limitations of the P9’s hardware: where the Samsung Galaxy S7’s sensor has larger 1.4um pixels, the P9’s twin sensors have to make do with 1.25um pixels. In low light conditions, this seems to give the S7 a noticeable edge over the P9’s ingenious twin-sensor arrangement.


The biggest downside I’ve noticed so far is the occasionally heavy-handed image processing in the Huawei P9’s shots. Indeed, where the iPhone tends towards softness rather than risk sharpening or noise artefacts, the Huawei’s over-zealous processing can leave textures such as fabric and brickwork looking smeared and unnatural – and that’s something I’ve noticed more than a few times. 

All told, is it a good camera? Yes, it most definitely is. Is it the best? It certainly has its moments, but it’s got some hugely capable competition on its hands. The HTC 10 serves up some delicious RAW images with pleasingly little in the way of image-enhancing artefacts, and the Samsung Galaxy S7 is a veritable tour de force in the smartphone camera camp. It’s a pretty close run thing, though, and I suspect that most people will – like any good photographer – learn to work with and adapt to the P9’s limitations. 

Continues on page 3: Hardware and performance

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