Huawei P9 review: Ascension

Ascension

GSMArena team, 15 April, 2016.

Final words

The Huawei P9 isn't an all-rounder, and this should have become clear by now. Instead of being a collective of all the latest technology, the P9 focuses on a few key features and excels in them.

Huawei P9 review

First - it's the exceptional design. Regardless whether you go for the ceramic P9, the brushed aluminum version, or the sandblasted aluminum version - the Huawei P9 feels like a piece of jewelry in hand. You can see and feel its premium chassis, which also shines with sleek profile and compact form factor.

Then there is the Leica camera setup. The monochrome camera was a risky move, but it looks like it will pay out. The B&W samples turned out great while the regular ones are nothing short of flagship-worthy. Finally, the low-light photography skills are so rich that we are still researching all the available modes and options. Huawei has a unique way to handle the so-called Light Paintings, and you can do some jaw-dropping shots as long as you have a tripod.

Finally, the P9 continues the improvement of its Emotion UI, on top of the latest Android Marshmallow. The launcher is very intuitive and easy to use, but it has lots of tweaks and customizations settings that will please everyone.

The company likes to focus on the user experience, and that's why the P9 has one of the fastest and most accurate fingerprint readers, one of the best IPS displays out there, and a very good battery life. Even the loudspeaker and audio quality performance are doing very well.

And we are back to the beginning - the Huawei P9 isn't the perfect flagship, it isn't an all-rounder. It fails to deliver a punch in the graphics performance test, and it can't even record good 1080p videos, let alone 4K ones. But that's about it.

Huawei P9 key test findings

  • Excellent build quality and handling; the sleek design is among the best on the market. Sandblasted, brushed, or ceramic - they are all premium. The compact and lightweight chassis seals the deal.
  • The display is very good with a maximum brightness of 500 nits and 1094:1 contrast. The sunlight legibility is great for an IPS unit and way above the average. The color accuracy rendition could have been better, though, but opting for the warm mode improves it a bit.
  • Battery life is very good at 75 hours and the P9 did well across all test, but managed to impress us with its standby endurance.
  • Marshmallow with Emotion UI UX is a powerful combo. Huawei has done well to keep the bloatware in check, but left enough in terms of customization options and proprietary services to enhance your Android experience.
  • The Kirin 955 chipset offers stellar CPU performance but mediocre graphics power. It runs cool for most of the time. While the GPU raw performance is uninspiring, it will still run all class-leading games.
  • It's got decent audio quality through the audio jack, but low volume levels.
  • One of the best camera setups on the market - the monochrome images are great, as are the regular color ones, no matter if you use some of the special Leica film modes or not. The dynamic range is high, the colors are spot on, the resolved detail is more than enough. The AF is fast and always right while the low-light photography skills can't be matched by any competitor. The panoramic images are very pleasant, too.
  • The 8MP selfies are very good with enough detail and accurate colors. The screen flash helps, too.
  • There is no 4K video capturing, and the 1080p videos are uninspiring - there is not enough detail, and the samples look like they have been upscaled from 720p resolution. If it's any consolation, the digital stabilization works quite well, and the color rendition and the audio recording are very good. You can even use the Leica film modes.

As we've already established, the Huawei P9 is far from being perfect. But it has an edge over the competition with the Leica camera setup, and that should count for something.

The Galaxy S7 has the looks, offers better performance, and water-proofing. The camera is excellent, too, but the low-light skills aren't as good, and you can't have those dramatic B&W pictures. It's the best-selling flagship this season and is worth checking out.

The same goes for the LG G5 - innovative modular design, top-notch performance, but can't match the P9 looks. What it can do is offer another take on the dual camera setup with a super-wide secondary camera sensor for some panorama-grade pictures. Note, however, that the G5 is about 150 more expensive than the P9.

The Xiaomi Mi 5 is yet another great performer to match the P9 flagship status and offers equally beautiful looks on the cheap. Its camera is mainstream, but is OIS-enabled, and the MIUI is a fan-favorite launcher. The Mi 5 also outed one of the best battery scores we've seen to date, so there is that. It's limited availability, and the even more limited ceramic version is a deal-breaker though.

Samsung Galaxy S7 LG G5 Xiaomi Mi 5
Samsung Galaxy S7 LG G5 Xiaomi Mi 5

The 16GB iPhone 6s costs as much as the Huawei P9. It has the looks and the performance skills, but can't match the camera performance, the bigger screen or the expandable storage. You can have the 64GB iPhone SE for the same cash too - it may be smaller than P9, but offers blazing-fast performance and 4K video capturing.

Apple iPhone 6s Apple iPhone SE
Apple iPhone 6s Apple iPhone SE

The 2015 flagships - the Galaxy S6 edge and the Xperia Z5 are still among the best performers on the market, they go for less and may turn out the better choice if video recording or water protection come before the camera quality for you.

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge Sony Xperia Z5
Samsung Galaxy S6 edge Sony Xperia Z5

Finally, for some extra 150 you can upgrade to the Huawei P9 Plus with a bigger AMOLED screen, 3D Force Touch display, double the storage, and a beefier battery. If you want to save 150 off the P9 price, and you are ready to give up on the Leica camera - there is the Huawei P9 Lite for you.

Huawei P9 Plus Huawei P9 Lite
Huawei P9 Plus Huawei P9 Lite

With Huawei P9 the photography geeks will rejoice while the rest may find a stunning looker they must have. The Huawei P9 may not be the fastest smartphone around, but it is so many other things. It's beautiful and snappy, it's a skilled photographer, it's got a great screen, rich software features and customizations, and it's also got expandable storage. The competition has a lot to offer, too, but so does the P9. A more palatable pricetag would certainly help its case as well.

Reader comments

  • Anonymous

The Huawei P9 has camera issues. When you use it below 50% it drains/misread the battery up to 0%.

  • Anonymous

are the P9 wifi enable

  • Solos

One of the best phone I had ever. Elegant shape, v good camera, 2 years experience. It has some little flaws in soft wear, but it isn't annoying. Also strong body, a it has fallen many times, but till now, did very good. I recommend strongly