Huawei has officially been selling its smartphones in India for over two years now, under the brand name Honor. The Honor phones are meant for budget conscious buyers and barring the Rs 20,000 plus Honor 7, most of the other Honor devices have traditionally seen very competitive price points. The last Honor phone we reviewed was the budget Honor 5c.
This time around, Huawei has finally decided to take the plunge and launch its premium P-series handsets in India as well. Barring the Google Nexus 6P, the Huawei P9 is the first true flagship from Huawei for the Indian market. At a time when a lot of players are fighting a fierce battle in the budget segment, Huawei has decided to additionally compete at the higher end of the price segment as well.
So, will this Huawei bet pay off? Let's find out.
Build and Design: 8/10
The Huawei P9 looks quite stunning at first glance. The all-metal body, the dual cameras flush with the rear side and chamfered edges give it an elegant look. Thanks to its 5.2 inch display, one-handed use is not much of an issue. The phone measures just 6.95mm thick and weighs a mere 144 grams. The finish on the metal ensures that the grip isn’t too slippery. It comes in three colours: Prestige Gold, Mystic Silver and Titanium Gray. We got the Titanium Gray model for testing and it looks like a refreshing change from the gold coloured phones.
The right side makes place for the volume rocker button and a textured power/standby button, whereas the left side gets the SIM card and microSD card slot. There are no physical buttons on the front and the side bezels are extremely slim. Only the Huawei branding is seen on the front, which other wise looks like a black slab thanks to the dark bezels. To the left of earpiece we have the proximity sensor and the 8MP front-facing camera. The fine chamfering around the edges ensures that there are no sharp edges on the phone. Also it helps with gripping the phone well. The build quality of the phone is quite good.
On the rear side the dual-camera setup occupies the top portion and just below it you have the rounded square shaped fingerprint scanner. The fingerprint scanner is ergonomically placed at the spot where your index finger would normally rest while holding a smartphone. On the base you have the antennal cut line which is prominently visible, just below the Huawei branding.
The bottom edge has the 3.5mm audio jack, a USB type C port and the speaker grille. The top edge is clean.
The Huawei P9 houses the HiSilicon Kirin 955 chipset which houses an octa-core processor with a quad core Cortex A72 clocked at 2.5GHz and another quad-core Cortex A53 clocked at 1.8GHz and the Mali T880 GPU. Huawei has been sticking to its own chipsets for its flagship phones, over the years. Kirin also breaks the duopoly held by Qualcomm and MediaTek, and considering Huawei is the top seller in China, it is a chipset that has to be taken seriously. The Kirin 955 is paired with 3GB of RAM. In terms of storage you get 32GB of onboard storage along with the option to increase it to 128GB using a microSD card. In international markets though, there is a 4GB RAM + 64GB storage variant of the Huawei P9 as well.
The phone sports a respectable 5.2-inch Full HD display and has an IPS LCD panel which offers good viewing angles. The Huawei P9 runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow which comes with Huawei’s proprietary Emotion UI 4.1 skin atop it. It comes with a single nano SIM configuration and supports Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, DLNA, GPS with GLONASS but no FM radio.
The camera is the main aspect of the Huawei P9, coming as it does in a dual 12MP sensor located on the rear side complemented with an 8MP front-facing unit. The camera lacks optical image stabilisation support. This unit is powered by a 3000mAh battery.
We have been seeing a lot of flagship smartphones with 5.5-inch display sizes and above. The Huawei P9 sticks to a more conservative 5.2-inch Full HD configuration. The P9 employs an IPS NEO LCD panel which offers great viewing angles and things do appear sharp. The black levels look quite good for smartphone display with an IPS panel. In fact when the phone is in the sleep mode, it is difficult to tell the bezel apart from the display if you have the Titanium gray model.
The display can get a bit reflective though we did not find it to be that much of an issue. The sunlight legibility was quite good. While using the camera in the bright outdoors though we had to boost up the brightness levels to maximum on many occasions. Watching videos on this display is a pleasure. Overall I liked the fact that it wasn’t trying to overcompensate for the colours.
Huawei P9 comes loaded with Android 6.0 Marshmallow along with its custom Emotion UI interface atop it. The interface isn’t much different from the one seen on the Honor smartphones, but you get some more system apps on the P9. The Emotion UI 4.1, just like most interfaces seen on Chinese smartphones, eschews the app drawer. The notification shade is divided into Notifications and Shortcuts, much like what we have seen on the MIUI. I like the way the notifications are arranged on a sort of vertical timeline.
The interface does come pre-loaded with a lot of apps, many useless and some relevant. Thankfully, you can uninstall the unwanted apps, but not the system apps. Health is an interesting app which is basically like Google Fit, giving you the option to set fitness goals, record your daily steps as well as calories burnt and so on. Themes lets you select the look of your interface. It has a gesture whereby pulling from top down, you can bring up a search bar to search for apps.
The interface does not feel that heavy and we did not notice any lag while using the device. Unlike a lot of custom interfaces we have seen, this one does not suppress the Android 6.0 Marshmallow features such as doze mode and Now on Tap.
Huawei P9 houses the flagship Kirin 955 chipset along with 3GB RAM. In terms of numbers, the Kirin 955 chipset is second only to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset. But in the real world usage scenario, one can barely find any faults with the Huawei P9. The call quality is excellent with sufficiently loud earpiece speaker.
The Huawei P9 can run any app you throw at it including high end games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne, Dead Trigger 2 and so on. Warming of the P9 is noticeable when playing these high end games or if you are doing some photo or video editing on the device. The onboard speaker isn’t loud at all and seems like the only chink in the overall armour.
In terms of responsiveness, I was quite pleased with the P9 as there wasn’t any unnecessary lag with the device. It will ask you to enter in the pin code after every restart, and subsequently you can use the fingerprint scanner which is quite fast.
This is the USP of the Huawei P9. Now the presence of dual cameras on the rear side of a smartphone isn’t something new. The first time we had seen this implementation was in the QiKU Q Terra. Huawei P9 also uses two 12MP camera sensors on the rear side, of which one sensor only captures the RGB colour data whereas the other sensor only captures the monochromatic data including edge sharpness and depth. Working together these two sensors deliver images that take care of both aspects.
The cameras support phase detect AF (PDAF), have an f/2.2 maximum aperture, and come with a dual tone flash. The pixel size on the sensors is 1.25 micron. Due to the dual sensors, optical image stabilisation (OIS) is missing on the P9. There is an 8MP front-facing camera which has an f/2.4 aperture.
The camera interface is also been improved in the P9. The Pro mode for instance lets you select ISO, shutter speed, exposure, auto focus and White Balance. Swiping to the left brings up general settings where you can select resolution, film mode, object tracking and so on. The video camera is capable of shooting Full HD at 60fps. Swiping to the right brings up different modes such as monochrome, HDR, Beauty video, panorama and more. There is lots to explore in the camera department which can only be done with some thorough testing.
Coming to the Leica branding that will see many enthusiasts flocking to check out the smartphone. Huawei made it clear that it has been deeply involved in the development of the device. This would include “technological collaboration between Huawei and Leica around many aspects of the camera, including optical design, imaging quality, image data processing, optimization, and the mechanical construction of the camera module to the graphic user interface.” So yes, Leica was involved in the process but the extent of its involvement is unclear.
In terms of image quality, the Huawei P9 delivers on most fronts. Daylight images are packed with details and it dosen’t take long to lock on to the focus. The HDR mode tends to balance out the highlight and shadow regions well. Even in low light situations, we noticed that the noise control was quite good. The images shot in the monochrome mode were some of the best we have seen on a smartphone camera. The presence of the dual lens system is truly justified in terms of the image quality that you get at the end of the day. Video quality is also good so long as the smartphone is held steady and it can shoot up to Full HD resolution. Also thanks to the dual lens, you can also choose selective focus mode if you want to play around with the depth of field, which results in some cool photographs. All in all, the Huawei P9 definitely delivers on the camera front.
While the camera is still not as good as the one we had seen on the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge and Apple iPhone 6s Plus, the Huawei P9 does offer better image quality than the OnePlus 3, Xiaomi Mi 5 and even the more expensive LG G5.
Huawei P9 houses a 3000mAh non-removable Li ion battery. This may seem like a moderate battery capacity, but you will be pleasantly surprised at how long it lasts. On a regular day, I didn’t feel the need to charge the phone, before I was going to bed. The charger provided does not support quick charging feature which can be a bit of a let down. It took the Huawei P9 60 minutes to get from 10 to 40 percent. But that is not much of an issue as long as you are getting day long battery life. Starting with full charge at 8AM with heavy 4G usage, you will need to plug the phone back in the charger by say around 6PM which still takes care of your work day. The standby time of the Huawei P9 is impressive. PC Mark for Android gave 10 hours 15 mins, which is impressive.
Verdict and Price in India
Huawei had us impressed with the Nexus 6P last year and now with its official flagship - the Huawei P9 - it has done it again. The Huawei P9 offers a complete package in terms of excellent looks, slim form factor, great camera, good battery life, fast finger print scanner, fast performance and more. Lack of quick charging and below average on board speakers are the only shortcomings that stand out.
At Rs 39,999, the Huawei P9 price point may seem on the higher side considering the lack of QHD resolution display, 4K recording, optical image stabilisation and quick charging. In terms of pure value for money, I would say the OnePlus 3 still offers a better package. But having said that, Huawei P9 definitely deserves a consideration if you are looking for a good looking smartphone with great camera performance.
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