Huawei wants to play with the big boys. The Chinese company wants to be taken seriously as a competitor to Apple and Samsung, but right now it’s rooted firmly among the second tier of Android manufacturers, competing with the likes of Sony, LG, HTC and Motorola in western markets.
A reputation for pairing high-end specs with lower prices than some of its competitors, backed up with some solid marketing, has enabled Huawei to start standing out a little from the crowd. And now the company hopes the P9, plugged with an ad campaign starring none other than Superman (Henry Cavill) can take it to the next level.
But Huawei still needs to impress people. No one buys a phone from a manufacturer they barely know without doing a little research first. Huawei knows it, and the P9 has the specs on paper, and a focus on camera technology, that will catch the eye of even the most discerning prospective purchaser.
The promotional campaign and launch event for the Huawei P9 focus mostly on the camera, but the real question on most lips is whether it holds up as a smartphone in 2016.
The price is certainly a highlight of the Huawei P9. While it’s not as cheap as flagships from competitors like OnePlus or Oppo, then handset is still cheaper than the iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7, HTC 10 or anything from Sony.
It comes in at £439 (US$530, AU$799) SIM-free, which is roughly what a Huawei P8 would have cost you when it launched in May 2015. Since its launch the SIM-free price tag has dropped to £400 ($500, around AU$655), making it an even more attractive proposition. Huawei’s committed to the price bracket just under the main flagships then, and it helps it stand out from the more established names.
The Huawei P9 has taken the design of the P8 and refined it into a much better-looking device that feels comfortable to hold. It’s compact compared to other Huawei devices (like the Mate 8), and that works in its favor.
The P9 is a similar size to the iPhone 6S, but Huawei makes better use of the real estate by packing in a larger screen. The Huawei P9 has dimensions of 145 x 71 x 7mm while the iPhone 6S is 138 x 67 x 7.1mm. So there’s just a few millimeters in it, yet Huawei manages to include a 5.2-inch screen while the iPhone 6S only has a 4.7-inch display.
The P9 is a little taller than the iPhone, but that’s not a problem. The bezels along the top and bottom of the display are still slim, but allow Huawei to pack a lot of tech inside without compromising the look of the handset.
Before starting this review I was using a Nexus 6P, which is a larger phone made by Huawei, and the P9 is noticeably smaller. Personally I prefer larger phones, but if you’re one for a smaller handset with a large screen this is one of the best-designed phones you’ll find today.
The back of the handset is made with an aluminium unibody and the metal does feel premium, although sometimes I would tap the back of the phone and it echoed a little, which didn’t make it feel as high-end as, say, the Nexus 6P.
The overall look of the phone is great though, and I particularly like the rounded corners and edges, with the latter making the P9 look even slimmer than its 6.95mm.
On the right hand edge of the phone is the volume rocker with the power button just below it.
I found myself rarely using the power button as the fingerprint scanner turns the phone’s screen on anyway. The slight grated effect on the button made it easy to identify when in the pocket though. I regularly find myself reaching into my pocket to adjust volume controls and on some phones you can hit the wrong button, but there’s no excuse for that here.
On the back of the phone at the top sits the dual-camera sensor, which I found made some onlookers perk up when they spot it, as right next to it is the Leica logo.
I personally wasn’t a fan of this at first, but I’ve come to terms with it, and it does highlight the fact that Huawei has tapped into Leica’s 100 years of photography expertise to develop the camera setup on the P9. Huawei has been pushing this feature at every turn – and with some justification, as we’ll see later in this review.
It’s also worth noting that Leica and Huawei have managed to make the back of the camera sit flush with the rest of the phone. Camera bumps have been a trend on a lot of flagship phones in recent years and it’s good to see a company fighting against it without sacrificing camera technology.
Color choices for the Huawei P9 are aplenty with three types of gold available as well as silver and grey. Sadly, in the UK you can only buy the silver and grey versions and it isn’t quite clear which will be on sale in Australia or the US yet.
There’s also a ceramic white version of the phone knocking around somewhere, but no-where seems to be stocking that model yet.
We haven’t managed to see it in the flesh either, but Huawei assures us it has a metal body with a ceramic coating on the back to give it a different feel.