​Huawei P9 review: lifting photography to another level... sometimes.

The partnership with Leica has paid off well

  • Review
  • Specs
  • Images
  • User Reviews
  • Buy Now
Huawei P9
  • Huawei P9
  • Huawei P9
  • Huawei P9
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Stunning pictures of nearby subjects
  • Great value
  • Fun to use
  • Fast fingerprint reader

Cons

  • Battery-life
  • Australian price hike

Bottom Line

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).

Would you buy this?

This phone has appeared in our Top Rated Android Phones in 2016 list and Which phones have the best cameras? list.

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.

That camera

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.

If you take pictures of food, then the P9 makes a great choice.
If you take pictures of food, then the P9 makes a great choice.
Read more: Huawei female watch review: Bringing out your inner fashionista
Keeping faces sharp while blurring the rest of the image can increase impact.
Keeping faces sharp while blurring the rest of the image can increase impact.
Keeping the eye sharp is imperative. This picture was taken from just a few centimetres away.
Keeping the eye sharp is imperative. This picture was taken from just a few centimetres away.
This "selfie" was taken 'blind' with the rear camera.
This "selfie" was taken 'blind' with the rear camera.
The dedicated monochrome camera makes black and white pictures more dramatic. Especially with RAW file tinkering.
The dedicated monochrome camera makes black and white pictures more dramatic. Especially with RAW file tinkering.
Regular shots can still appear ordinary and flat. The P9 is better at short-range.
Regular shots can still appear ordinary and flat. The P9 is better at short-range.
You can adjust "aperture blur" after the image is captured. But here's an example where vignetting and random blur can go wrong.
You can adjust "aperture blur" after the image is captured. But here's an example where vignetting and random blur can go wrong.
We've no idea how the camera automatically picked out the Koala surrounded by foliage.
We've no idea how the camera automatically picked out the Koala surrounded by foliage.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Read more on these topics: Huawei, camera, mobile phones, Phones, photography
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

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.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

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.

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?