Huawei P9 review
- Gorgeous design
- Powerful processor
- Good camera setup
- Questionable interface
- Average battery life
- Lacks fast charging
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.
After two hours of constantly cycling websites at full screen brightness the P9 had dropped to 43% battery. That’s slightly worse than the Samsung Galaxy S7, which dropped to 48% and a lot worse than the HTC 10, which still had 56% left over, but a better score than the Sony Xperia Z5, LG G5 or iPhone 6S, the latter of which had just 22% of its juice remaining.
When playing video or browsing websites then the Huawei P9 came out with a fairly impressive score, but it’s still not great for everyday use.
While the cell itself is larger and offers more charge that way, Huawei hasn’t taken steps to include any extra features to improve battery life.
Close competitor Oppo is making a big step by using VOOC fast charging technology within its phones but there’s no sign of that here on the P9.
Fast charging means you can plug in your handset and get up to a suitable amount of juice much quicker. For phones with average battery life this can be a savior to power users.
There’s also no wireless charging on the Huawei P9, a feature which is becoming a much bigger focus and is sure to grow in the coming years.
I feel Huawei should have included either wireless or fast charging to future proof its device. As wireless technology becomes more readily available in pubs, coffee shops and even household furniture it does feel like Huawei hasn’t future proofed this phone by not including it.
If you’re buying this on a two-year contract, you’re likely to be disappointed when people in 2018 are buying new phones and placing them down on wireless charging spots while you’re out for dinner.
But the real problem with the Huawei P9 battery is just that it’s not stunning.
It’s just kind of OK, and in a world where the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge are offering great all day life it’s a bit frustrating to get to the end of an average day and still have your phone drop out before you get into bed.
How does the Huawei P9 stand up when you’re consuming media? The answer is pretty well, but we’re going to break it down here to music, movies and gaming and see if this is the phone for you to get your entertainment on.
The Huawei P9 isn’t selling itself on its audio capabilities. The speakers at the bottom of the phone are fine, but they’re not going to impress most people. I would have preferred front-facing speakers on this handset as I found myself blocking the sound sometimes when holding my hand over the phone.
The speakers are not particularly bad as such, just in an awkward position. They hit a high level when you need them to and it’s only going to cause a problem when you’re holding the phone tightly in your hand.
At the bottom of the phone is the 3.5mm headphone jack, toward the left hand side with the USB-C connector and speaker sat next to it.
Bluetooth 4.1 is here to help use wireless headsets and I found myself being able to easily connect to speaker set ups in my home.
In terms of music playing apps I found myself instantly downloading Spotify to get the best streaming experience on my phone, but there are already a few apps installed to help you play music.
Google Play Music is here ready and waiting as you’d expect from an Android phone and that allows you to sign up to 3 months free streaming if you’ve never used it before. I do sometimes feel the catalogue can be a little limited though, so it’s not for everyone.
Then there’s the Huawei Music app, which allows you to play files that are waiting on your actual device. If you’ve got a large MP3 collection this is likely the app you’ll be using and it’s intuitive in the way it works.
The playlists are easy to set up and play, while the pause and skip buttons on the lock screen work well too. The screenshot above shows the way the buttons work on a lock screen and that’s the same no matter what app you’re using.
In terms of headphones, Huawei will consistently notify you that you have a headset attached to the phone. I personally find this irritating as there’s nothing you can do with the notification apart from swipe it away.
That’s just one of those little traits that make the Huawei Emotion UI really frustrating to use though.
The large yet compact screen on the Huawei P9 makes it the perfect phone to watch TV and movies on. I really enjoyed watching video on the Huawei P9 and found the screen to be one of the best looking 1080p options I’ve used recently.
Watching video is simple on the P9 with a Videos app designed specifically for those videos you shoot on the phone. It’s a simple app without many options to fiddle with but makes sense when you’ve got a quick clip to watch over.
Google has also installed its Play Movies application so you can stream content here. This is where you can buy films and TV to watch, it’s simple but can get quite expensive.
And then you can download a number of other applications to watch video too.
I spent quite a bit of time watching BBC iPlayer on the phone and it managed to buffer quickly and gots me right into the content as soon as possible.
The processor in the Huawei P9 is impressive. It’s just as good as our favorite phone in the world right now – the Galaxy S7 – and for a cheaper device I really didn’t expect this kind of power in this phone.
I’ve been playing a number of different games on the Huawei P9 during my time with it, but I’ve yet to come across any troubles in terms of performance.
Miitomo, the latest craze to hit techradar HQ, took no time at all to load and that was an issue I found when using a Nexus 6P sometimes.
Asphalt 8: Airborne was another strong choice on here with the rendering taking no-time at all. This is one of the best phones I’ve found for playing such graphically intensive-games.
The Huawei P9 also comes with a number of games pre-installed, which can be irritating but for some is a pleasure to find when they take the phone out of the box.
All of these have been done in partnership with Gameloft, so the titles are things like Puzzle Pets, Dragon Mania, Spider-Man: Ultimate Power and Ice Age Scrat-Ventures.
Most of these are useless to the average phone user. You can just download the games you want to install, but that said it’s easy enough to delete these if you’re in need of the space.
Don’t feel like the Huawei P9 is the phone for you? Here are a few alternative handsets that I think you may want to look at.
Huawei Mate 8
After a bigger version of a Huawei phone? The Huawei Mate 8 is the way to go. It features a 6-inch screen, making the phone much bigger than the P9 and it includes some equally impressive high-end specs, including the Kirin 950 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 16MP rear-facing camera.
The camera is good for the phone, but it doesn’t give you the benefits of the double camera the Huawei P9 does. There’s a fingerprint scanner on the back and all in all it looks like a larger version of the Huawei P9.
It’ll cost you £429 (about $611, AU$876), so it’ll set you back a little less than a Huawei P9. It mostly comes down to whether you want that brand new camera technology and if you need a larger screen though.
Throughout the launch of the Huawei P9, the company continued to highlight how the phone fared against the iPhone 6S. It’s certainly a key competitor if you’re considering a Huawei P9.
You should know an iPhone 6S is going to cost you quite a bit more than the Huawei. But if money isn’t an object it may be worth handling both phones to see which you prefer. The iPhone 6S is the same size as the Huawei P9 but only features a 4.7-inch display, so you lose some screen real estate.
But iOS software is certainly better looking and more intuitive than the Huawei’s Emotion 4.1 UI. It all comes down to the price and whether you prefer iOS or Huawei’s very specific version of Android.
Samsung Galaxy S7
Another phone that Huawei highlighted as a main member of the competition, the Galaxy S7, is a gorgeous piece of kit. The design has been refined for the latest version and if you’re after a truly unique looking phone there’s always the Galaxy S7 Edge.
The camera on the Galaxy S7 is nothing short of incredible and makes for some of the best smartphone photography we have ever been able to take.
It’s also worth noting we gave the Galaxy S7 a five-star review and named it our second best phone in the world, with the Galaxy S7 Edge taking the top spot. That’s hard to beat, so if you have a bit more money to spend maybe it’s worth looking at Samsung’s alternative.
LG has headed back to the drawing board for this one. We gave it 4.5 stars out of 5 with a big focus on its new super great screen and useful wide angle camera. It finally embraces a full metal design, like the Huawei P9, but also comes with another big selling point.
The LG G5 comes with a modular design, which means you can pull out the bottom of the phone and attach in other modules to make the handset even better than before. At the moment you can only include a camera or a sound module though so there aren’t many choices on the market, and they can be expensive.
You’ll have to pay a similar amount for an LG G5, and it largely comes down to whether you like the design of this phone rather than the Huawei P9.
The Huawei P9 is one of the best phones the Chinese company has ever made. It does feel like everything is coming together in terms of Huawei products.
The hardware employed here is fantastic and there are a few really key selling points that stand out as highlights of the Huawei P9.
But there are also a few drawbacks that do make me think twice before recommending this phone to some people.
What we like
The Huawei P9 has an impressive spec set up. The processor and RAM combination is rivaling the big guns of Samsung and Apple now and means you can do any task you’d ever want to on a smartphone without any problems.
With a solid amount of storage as standard and all the spec you’d hope for you won’t be disappointed by what the Huawei P9 can do on a daily basis.
I particularly enjoy the display on the Huawei P9. This is the kind of screen that proves it’s not always worth manufacturers wasting time plugging in extras pixels.
It isn’t as clear as the Nexus 6P display, but this is the perfect size for those who like smaller phones and Full HD is suitable for most things. It only really becomes an issue when you’re looking to do VR tasks, as stick this in a Google Cardboard and the res is suddenly a little too low.
The camera on the Huawei P9 is also another highlight of the phone. The partnership with Leica has improved the technology for Huawei and even though the pro features are largely useless for most smartphone users, the auto mode more than makes up for it.
The two camera idea isn’t as exciting as some may have expected at first and big name flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S7 have it beat, but you’d be hard pressed to find another phone with a camera this good for less money.
What we dislike
The Emotion UI 4.1 is still a big problem for me when using Huawei phones. As soon as I booted up the Huawei P9 I was a little disappointed by the look of the screen.
The interface just looks a little bit childish and has too much going on for my tastes.
There are a few useful extra features that if you fully embrace the look will prove their worth, but in general I don’t enjoy the interface.
Especially after coming from the Huawei made Nexus 6P, which is beautiful hardware paired with the good Google stock Marshmallow experience.
The battery life on the Huawei P9 isn’t up to scratch either. It’s not the worst I’ve ever experienced but it also didn’t impress me and I’m always upset for my phone to die off before the end of a day. Plus the lack of wireless and fast charging features is disappointing as well.
The Huawei P9 is one of the best looking and performing phones the company has ever produced. There’s a lot to love here in terms of the design, the spec and how everything comes together to work.
Paired with a strong camera that works perfectly on auto-mode and a fingerprint scanner that boots up the phone in a matter of milliseconds, it’s hard not to recommend the Huawei P9.
But on the other hand, it’s also hard to recommend when the software is still such an issue. I do feel if Huawei offered this with a cut-down or even stock version of Android I’d love it even more than I do now.
With battery life that doesn’t stun anybody, the Huawei P9 is a good, solid phone but it’s just not hit the right level of greatness yet.
If you’re looking for a smaller Android phone experience that needs high-end spec without a high-end price tag or a cumbersome design, try the Huawei P9.