Huawei P9 review: lifting photography to another level... sometimes.
The partnership with Leica has paid off well
- Stunning pictures of nearby subjects
- Great value
- Fun to use
- Fast fingerprint reader
- Australian price hike
The P9 is a decent mid-range phone with best-on-the-market fingerprint reader and potentially the best camera of any phone (including many compact cameras).
Price$ 799.00 (AUD)
Selling a new phone by focusing on the camera is not a new thing and we’ve been impressed when it's happened in the past: Nokia’s Lumias did some great things (which masked Windows Phone’s deficiencies) while Apple’s 6S Plus impressed with its Dynamic Range and low light performance. But it’s the P9 that has stopped people in their tracks. You don’t have to be a photography connoisseur to recognise that what the P9 achieves (almost effortlessly) is a new level of quality.
So we’ll whizz through the specs and handling and quickly move on to see what the fuss is about.
The key specs
5.2-inch, 1080x1920, 423ppi screen, Dual (colour and monochrome) 12-megapixel rear cameras with Leica optics, 8-megapixel front camera, Kirin 955 chipset, dual quad-core processors plus GPU, 32/3GB RAM, nanoSIM, microSD card (up to 256GB), Android 6.0 (Marshmallow). USB Type-C, Fingerprint reader, Fixed 3,000mAh battery, 145x71x7mm. 144g. Full specs, here.
Handling and general usage
At 5.2-inches this is a relatively small phone which will be a boon to some but a shame to others. The quad-core processors keep it zipping along smoothly although if you take multiple pictures quickly it can lag a little – but it's no deal breaker. The metal chassis and rounded corners make it look very good and Android effectively functions as we’d expect with version 6.0 aka Marshmallow. Camera, screen and battery aside, it’s basically a smaller version of the excellent Mate 8 that we reviewed recently. The battery-difference is significant though. The small chassis means that the 3,000mAh unit just about lasts a full day – if you’re not making use of the camera. If you are then you’re best off carrying an external battery pack around with you.
As for making calls, we were told that we sounded a bit tinny by some people on the other end. A dual-SIM variant is available but not in Australia – the second slot by the nanoSIM is used as a microSD reader instead.
One of the best features, however, is the fingerprint reader. This is now the fastest on the market and even more accurate and secure with the addition of pressure detection too – it knows about the shape of your finger rather than just the print. Its position at the rear (as with other Huawei models) is inspired and unlocking securely is essentially effortless.
The screen is the best we’ve seen from Huawei. It’s Full HD and colours look very vibrant, accurate and bright: noticeably more so than the functional Mate 8. It would be nice to have had more of it with so many photos to play with but that’s a personal opinion.
Below are a bunch of images that the camera took on full automatic mode and no tinkering. They’re reduced quality because of our publishing process but that doesn’t really matter. Full resolution versions can be downloaded below.Read more: Huawei female watch review: Bringing out your inner fashionista
If you weren’t aware, Leica is to cameras and lenses what Rolex is to Watches. Huawei spent a great deal of time partnering with Leica in making the P9 and it’s not just the Summarit H 1:2.2/27 lenses that were contributed. The dual cameras mean that focusing speed and accuracy are enhanced. It also means that extra image information can be captured at the same time: one camera deals with colour while the other deals with monochrome. As a result images can become incredibly vibrant although, in practice, we found regular landscape snapshots could still feel flat. However, the monochrome sensor can be used on its own to take superior pictures – native capture rather than post processing means that black and white photographs look particularly good.
By far the best feature is the “Shallow Depth of Field” mode. This allows you to change the focus point and the aperture size (open for blurred background or closed for sharpness) both when taking a photograph and, amazingly, after you’ve taken it. Middling shots can become exceptional once you’ve, say, refocused onto the subject’s face and blurred a distracting background away.
It's not infallible though. The blurring can look look like Photoshop has gone wrong and it can't always be fixed later on. You can get some messy vignetting sometimes. The ability to change the colours of the foreground and background in post can mesmerise when you’re trying for the first time, but the process often failed and looked gimmicky in actual use.
Pro-mode lets you 'simply' fix focus, exposure and aperture and even capture in RAW. But we found it fiddly to use on such a small screen and the differences compared to the highly-forgiving automatic modes meant we didn’t really see much benefit. But on the whole, if you take enough shots, you should end up with excellent results.
We found low-light performance to be hit and miss – we rarely needed the dual-LED flash up close but from a distance images quickly looked noisy and lacked sharpness. The eight-megapixel front camera was generally good for selfies and had some interesting “Beauty” features which could do things like change face width, smoothness and whiteness of skin plus size of eyes - all by default - so that every subsequent image would look either “enhanced” or “freakish” depending on the level of the settings.
Video is Full HD and decent quality for a phone, but it’s nothing special. We felt it lacked image stabilisation as things can get a bit shaky too easily but audio is acceptable.
We’ve seen Samsung launch cameras that are essentially Android phones (or is it the other way round?). You’ll always get better results with a large lens and proper aperture but the combination of optics, sensor and handling afforded by the P9 makes it the most fun way of capturing incredibly-good shots.
When it all works, it can work brilliantly (for nearby subjects) and you’re left with studio quality photos. However, you need to take a lot of pictures to be sure what you end up with is truly sharp (it’s hard to be sure that you've succeeded on the small screen) and landscape quality is far more modest. Taking many pictures drains the small battery quickly too.
Nonetheless, if you’re hot on Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook and picture-driven social media in general – or if you’re an expert photographer who likes using their phone as a backup, the P9 gives you the tools to almost-effortlessly take superb photos while carrying a generally-decent phone around.
At $799 it’s quite an investment but still noticeably cheaper than most other flagship phones which offer inferior camera and fingerprint scanner. Once again, however, because it’s been out globally for more than a month you can pick it up for near $500 (Dual-SIM version too!) on grey import and that makes it an absolute bargain.
- Review: Incipio OtterBox and 3Sixt cases for the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge
- Review: Wireless charging and waterproof cases for iPhone plus Ollclip (Movie) Studio case
- Sony Xperia X Performance review: Sony’s most disappointing product in years
- Review: HTC One X9 and OPPO R9 - mid-range Android phones
- Keyboard group test: Logitech versus Corsair versus Roccat
- Is this the best value phone on the market? Moto G4 Plus review
- A Phone Power Pack for Pokemon Players
- Review: The new Moto G/G Plus phones add size, features and cost
- Moto Z review: Motorola proves modular smartphones are the future of mobility
- LiquidText for iPad review: All you need for deep research projects
- Moto Z: Is this the Droid you’ve been looking for?
- Moto Z Force review: Motorola's beefier Z smartphone is better without its mods
- Blackberry announces DETK50, a secure US$299 Android phone
- How to take control of your Android notifications
- Apple has sold 1 billion iPhones
- Apple could stick a Digital Crown on the iPhone
- Meet OPPO, the fastest-growing smartphone brand in the world
- Review: Hisense’s amazing ULED TV beats Samsung’s entire range
- LG's V20 is coming this September and will be the first Android Nougat phone
- Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7
- Samsung officially announces the Galaxy Note 7 and a refreshed GearVR
- NBN: ACCC needs to start with itself when addressing dodgy broadband performance claims. Then move on to the nbn company
- 7 things you need to know about Samsung's Galaxy Note7
- Galaxy Note 7 hands-on: Samsung's productivity phone takes baby steps forward
- Future Nexus launcher leaks, showing revamped app drawer and slide-out search bar
- Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 will come bundled with free Vulkan-ready games
- Apple TV Remote app puts a Siri Remote on your iPhone
- Moto 360 2nd gen. smart watch review
- Report: Nexus home button animation and 'night light' option appear amid a batch of leaks
- Wiwander international portable hotspot review
- Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review
- One reason why you should wait before buying the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7
- Oppo F1s review: 2016 has another King of the Best Value phones
- Moto X Force review: Leading features from a mid-range phone
- Best iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus plans: Optus vs Telstra vs Vodafone vs Virgin
- Apple iPhone 7 review: Good-but-expensive
Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 Evapolar USB air conditioner review
- 2 LED Lenser P7R Professional Torch review
- 3 Aftershokz Wireless Trekz Titanium Bone Conduction Bluetooth Headphones review
- 4 Review: Periscope users rejoice with Feiyu’s G4 Plus 3-Axis Gimbal for Smartphone video
- 5 2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost review
Latest News Articles
- iOS 10 slower off the uptake mark
- Hands-on: Google Assistant's Allo chatbot outdoes Cortana, Siri as your digital pal
- HTC announces the Desire 10 Pro and Desire 10 Lifestyle smartphones
- Report: Samsung's overzealous efforts to beat Apple lead to battery woes
- The iPhone 7's sleeper hit feature is its display
GGG Evaluation Team
First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.
The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.
The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.
My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.
- CCPMO AnalystNSW
- CCVideo Conference Support Officer- VoIP, LAN, WAN, RemedyNSW
- CCTechnical Architect/DesignerACT
- CCBusiness ArchitectNSW
- FTSenior PHP DeveloperNSW
- CCBusiness Analyst - Telecom ProjectNSW
- CCData Analyst | Data Management Framework | Experience in RNSW
- FTTest SpecialistSA
- FTPositive Vetted ICT positions - Defence intelligence and information securityACT
- FTOutbound TelesalesVIC
- CCWAN Architect and ConsultantWA
- CCContract Junior Programmer (J2EE/SQL) 160927/JP/551Asia
- CCDesktop Infrastructure SpecialistACT
- CCE-Commerce - Senior Web DeveloperNSW
- CCSenior Project ManagerACT
- FTInfrastructure Solutions ArchitectACT
- FTAndroid DeveloperNSW
- CCSolutions ArchitectACT
- CCProgram Manager - Data InsightVIC
- FTEMC Storage ConsultantWA
- CCIT Security ArchitectACT
- CCService Desk analystSA
- FTCustomer Solutions Engineer | Voice | Data | TelcoNSW
- CCInfrastructure Project Manager - DCR ProjectNSW
- FTIT Pre-Sales EngineerSA