Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, is finally stepping up its game in India’s ever growing smartphone market. Huawei is ready to take on the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S series and Apple’s iPhone in India with its flagship smartphones. Huawei’s online-only Honor brand has been doing well in India but the brand caters only to budget and mid-budget range. With P9, Huawei is bringing its first flagship product to India. At HAS 2016, company executives made it clear their global ambitions in the smartphone business starts with the P9, and it was a matter of time before Huawei brought the phone to India.
This isn’t my first interaction with P9. I first experienced the device back in April during HAS 2016 in China, and a little time spent testing the camera made me believe there is more to it than just the dual rear camera setup. Huawei is betting on bringing some extraordinary camera capabilities to the P Series and the question is whether they succeeded in pulling it off?
Specs: 5.2-inch (1080x1920p, ~424 ppi) IPS LCD display | Octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 955 processor | 3GB RAM | 32GB storage | 12MP dual rear camera + 8MP front | Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery | Android Marshmallow OS | Huawei P9 full specs
Huawei P9 Price: Rs 39,999
Huawei P9 follows on the successful design language of Nexus 6P, which was appreciated by both critics as well as users. The design puts emphasis on use of metal and plastic in an elegant way. If Huawei had to make a Nexus this year, it would look very much like this.
Huawei P9 features a rectangular chassis with corners slightly curved for a gentle appearance. There are plastic antenna bands running through the back, which looks very much like Apple’s iPhone. Instead of that huge camera hump on the Nexus 6P, we are looking at a glass window that is home to a dual rear camera setup (more on that later), dual LED flash and Leica branding. Overall, the Huawei has built an exciting smartphone, that is comfortable to hold and easy to use.
Unlike the design, we are looking at midrange specifications here. An octa-core HiSilicon SoC with 3GB RAM and Mali T880 GPU. There is a 5.2-inch 1080p IPS LCD coupled with a front facing stereo speaker, an 8MP front facing camera and a notification light embedded into the earpiece.
The rear of the device is not only home to the Leica dual rear camera, but also a square shaped fingerprint scanner. This is one of the fastest fingerprint scanners ever packed into a smartphone. It recognises your print immediately, and works well even with a wet finger. The fingerprint also supports 360-degree recognition like most Honor phones.
Rounding up the device is a volume rocker and power button at the right, and Hybrid SIM slot on the left. The bottom houses USB-C port, a headphone jack and speaker.
The 5.7-inch Quad HD display found on the Nexus 6P is not making its way down to the P9. The smartphone rather has to do with a smaller 5.2-inch and less pixel dense Full HD panel. Don’t get me wrong, less pixels here definitely don’t mean compromise.
The Huawei P9’s display produces a pixel density of 424 ppi which in real world translates to crisper text and colourful visuals. If you are someone spoilt by those deep blacks of AMOLED panels then you might be disappointed.
For Huawei, P9 is not just a smartphone but a showcase of its technology prowess and I would have liked to see a QHD panel. Even then Huawei P9’s panel is crisp, sharp and vibrant. The viewing angles are on point, but I doubt if anybody is interested in watching movies on this smaller panel.
While the display is good, it doesn’t seem to be scratch resistant. In my two weeks with the device, the screen has already caught a few scratch (part of the blame has to be with my habit of dropping keys with the device).
Huawei P9 runs the company’s very own Emotion UI based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Huawei has been kind enough to not let some of the core functionalities of Android get compromised. Instead of physical navigation buttons, Huawei has used onscreen ones which is kind of nice. Swiping or long pressing the home button reveals Google Now on Tap. The implementation here is as stock as it can get.
Huawei has also done away with the trick of adding duplicate apps for the same action. With P9, you don’t have to deal with a native browser and Chrome. There is just Chrome. There is a Calendar (not Google Calendar), Email (not Gmail), Music (not Play Music), but I am sure the days of these apps are numbered.
Huawei’s UI is not as distinctive as Samsung’s and the only redesign comes with the icons and the notification tray. I must admit that I like the drop down notification tray design. It gives quick access to notification (which is the primary purpose of notification window after all) and there is a delete icon to dismiss them all at once.
A swipe gesture moves you between notifications and quick shortcuts and it even gives quick access to apps that support headphones when one is connected. Chinese OEMs are playing their cards heavily when it comes to software and in that regard, Huawei’s UI here is the minimal of the lot.
If you have read through the starting paragraphs then I’m sure, you are here to know about the camera. Huawei P9 is not the first smartphone to feature a dual rear camera setup but it’s the first to carry the Leica brand. Every year at World Photography Awards, there is at least one winning picture out of the Leica lens and Huawei needs to be credited for bringing them onboard.
Huawei P9 rocks a dual image sensors at the back based on Leica’s Summarit H 1:2.2/27 aspherical lens. The implementation here is unlike anything else we’ve seen before. The dual rear image sensors on P9 work with two different purpose. One of the sensors capture colour while the other concentrates on black and white (referred to as monochrome). The idea is quite simple: If you are at a zoo watching Zebra and wish to click a picture of its black and white stripes, the normal image sensor still considers it as RGB while the monochrome sensor on P9 distinguishes white and black very distinctively.
Leica is always known for its black and white images and Leica BW is still recognised to be the best. With P9, the smartphone world has got the best monochrome shooter yet. Trust me, the results are far better than the ones shot with Noir filter on iPhone.
When not in use, the monochrome sensor also doubles as a depth sensor. The implementation here is same as the one we are accustomed to seeing on HTC’s One series. You click a picture and then selectively refocus on any focus point. While Huawei is promising professional Bokeh, the results are quite good. It is a cool party trick but not a feature compelling to have in your smartphone.
Talking in pure camera capabilities, the image sensors used here are top notch. They don’t have a small aperture number like competition, but often produce pictures with sufficient details. The Reds, pinks, grays, browns all turn out to be legitimate. The greens do come out well but sometimes end up looking blown out.
Considering the 12MP rear camera comes with f/2.2 aperture, the night shots are not as breathtaking as the one clicked with Galaxy S7/S7 edge. After sometime, I ended up clicking every night shot in monochrome, which actually adds an all new dimension to pictures.
Apart from photography, the 12MP Leica branded image sensor also supports timelapse, slow-mo options. The results left me with mixed feelings. There is also a dedicated HDR option which offers excellent dynamic range. The video is another area where the competition leaps ahead of P9.
If Galaxy S7 edge’s camera is the best-ever packed into a smartphone then P9’s camera is the most capable one ever packed into a smartphone.
Performance and Battery Life
Under the hood of P9 is an in-house HiSilicon Kirin 955 SoC, an octa-core chipset with four Cortex A73 cores clocked at up to 2.5GHz and four Cortex A53 cores clocked at up to 1.5GHz. The processor is definitely a mid-range one in terms of raw power but manages to keep things running smoothly.
The octa-core chipset coupled with 3GB RAM and 32GB storage manage to keep everything tightly under control. It’s not flagship level specs, but things like multitasking, switching between apps and general things aren’t a problem here. As far as gaming is concerned, Huawei P9 easily held up its ground while playing Asphalt 8. I could easily race for longer time without any issue but readers must note that the device got warm after some point in time.
I occasionally found apps crashing and ecosystem stuttering on Huawei P9. I hope Huawei fixes that with a software update soon. I would rate Huawei P9’s battery life as something close to average. It lasted me one full day during the review period but drained rather quickly on 4G. With P9, it becomes mandatory to carry the charge all the time.
Huawei P9 is an epitome to the fact that Chinese smartphone makers can innovate. Huawei P9 offers great design, decent performance and battery life and an extremely capable camera. Huawei P9 is definitely not in the league of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 range or Apple’s latest iPhone lineup, but it definitely works like advertised.
If you are out in the market for an innovative Chinese smartphone then look no further, Huawei P9 is the best bet yet.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines