Huawei P9 Lite Review - Superb Experience, Amazing Price!

In order to make a mark in the tough world of smartphones, one must either innovate or make a significant upgrade. However, most of the time, there are always compromises in doing such things. There are times that you may have the best specs on paper, but it isn't optimized or lack in features and innovation.
Huawei P9 Lite review - super experience, amazing price!
Huawei P9 Lite review - super experience, amazing price!

Related: Huawei P9 Review - More Than Just The Best Phone For Photography!

One of the brands who wanted to change that perception is Huawei by announcing the affordable P9 Lite.

It's the more affordable sibling of the highly touted P9 series that's priced at just 12,490 Pesos. Bearing that "Lite" moniker doesn't mean that this phone is lite in performance too. As a matter of fact, it boast a major upgrade over the dated P8 Lite by touting one of the nicest setup for the price.

Given those traits, will this Huawei P9 Lite be your near no compromise affordable midrange phone? Let's find out in this review. To starter, take a look at its beastly configurations for the price.

Disclaimer: This review unit was provided by Huawei Philippines for an honest review

Huawei P9 Lite Specs

Display: 5.2 Inch FHD IPS 1920 x 1080 resolution at 424 ppi
CPU: 1.7 GHz 64 Bit Kirin 650 octa core processor
GPU: Mali T830
RAM: 3 GB
ROM: 16 GB expandable via micro SD card slot up to 128 GB
Back Camera: 13 MP f/2.0 w/ AF and LED flash
Selfie Camera: 8 MP f/2.0
Battery: 3,000 mAh
OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow w/ EMUI 4.1 UI
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, 3G, LTE, Bluetooth 4.1, FM Radio, NFC, GPS, A GPS, GLONASS, dual SIM (hybrid)
Sensors: Accelerometer, proximity, compass, g, motion, pedometer
Others: Fingerprint sensor
Dimensions: 146.8 x 72.6 x 7.5 mm
Weight: 147 g
Price: 12,490 Pesos

Unboxing / Accessories

We got our pre-production unit bare-bones, so it didn't come with accessories. In its real packaging, the P9 Lite shall contain a 1A wall charger, micro USB cables and semi in ear monitors w/ mic that can be used for call.

That's pretty standard, but we'd like it better if there's a FREE case and screen protector just like what they already did with the lower end GR5.


Build Quality / Design

Look at its back
Look at its back

Upon looking the P9 Lite, it clearly borrowed a lot in terms of aesthetics from the higher end P9 and P9 Plus. While it's clear that they toned it down a little to make this more affordable, no one can deny that this handset is a stunner in person which still boast high quality materials all over.
On top there's a microphone and 3.5 mm headphone jack
On top there's a microphone and 3.5 mm headphone jack
Real dual speakers and micro USB port below
Real dual speakers and micro USB port below
SIM and micro SD slot on the left
SIM and micro SD slot on the left
Textured power button and volume rocker at right
Textured power button and volume rocker at right

It's constructed using different materials of plastic, metal and glass. The metal part in the middle has a iPhone like rounded feel with chamfered upper and lower edges. The good thing about this it feels denser than the frame of GR5 which is a solid sign of improvement. At the back there's solid slab of plastic with small curve, micro matte texture and glass like material on the upper camera part which is are all a little prone to scratches. In front the 5.2 inch screen is protected with an unspecified edition of Gorilla Glass to avoid hairlines and minimal damages.

By the looks of it, there's still some reminiscence of the older minimalist P8 Lite, but the P9 Lite is clearly an improvement. It looks more stylish, slimmer all over and simply better. There's no camera hump at the back, gone are the prominent black bezels with its slimmer profile that's sexier in the eyes.

Ergonomically, it's a 5.2 inch phone in a body of a 5 inch phone which makes it still decent for one handed use if you have bigger than average hands. Ports and button placements were wonderfully placed too especially on the very easy to reach fingerprint sensor behind.

While it has less metals than the GR5, we like this one better in terms of size, style and build. So far, this is the phone that fits my hands the best yet, the P9 Lite is that good.

Display Quality

Coming from just a 5 inch HD screen of the P8 Lite, Huawei dramatically upgraded the display of this phone. It's now using a much better 5.2 inch LCD panel at 1080p with pixels at 424 ppi with OGS which is a pleasure to use.
10 points of multitouch
10 points of multitouch

Personally, it reminds me of the more balanced tone from the display of Honor 6 Plus, but this sharper as a whole. Color reproduction has better accuracy, though I feel that there's slight under-saturation. Mostly, unless you're super picky type of person, you won't also have problems with its viewing angles.


Brightness levels are also great as it tends to go bright enough for outdoor and direct sunlight use. There's just some minimal glares, that's understandable considering that this is not an expensive phone.

Lastly, there's 10 points of multitouch that enables you to have better touchscreen experience. It would be great for navigation, touching multiple points at the same time and playing games with complicated controls.

In general, we can say that this would be a more than decent phone for watching movies, viewing photos and etc in terms of screen quality.

Audio Quality

Unlike Huawei's GR5, the P9 Lite which is in the same bracket is using a a great type of single speaker below. The result is we experienced slightly louder tunes, but fuller and more refined. It provides clean tunes that's surprisingly detailed for a phone. I can hear separation between the voices and instruments pretty well and it has nice mids and highs. Of course, like nearly all phones, bass response won't be that revealing with the use of small speakers. This phone also has better speaker placement at the bottom instead of the usual at the back location that makes it sound louder and better.

Going to the audio-out using your favorite earphones or low powered headphones, the P9 Lite packs the nicest tunes I've heard coming from a Huawei device. You'll experience well balanced tones that highlights most of the frequencies pretty well. The bass region is evident, not that loud, but fast and tight. Sub-bass could be more prominent, but hey at least its presented it with a much better accuracy and tightness.
It sounds great and pairs well with most portable headphones and earphones.
The mids sounds full, exciting and engaging where there are times that it's even surprisingly immersive. The same goes with the highs as it extends well and has that smooth lovely sparkle.

Then it's also articulate which means that this is a highly detailed sounding that has great separation from the instruments, vocals and etc. It also made me hear even some of the micro details of the song. The soundstage also has that wide concert like feel even if DTS audio isn't opened.

I don't know the exact audio chip they used here, but it's pretty loud for a phone and properly tuned that made my RHA S500i and VSD5 shine. In case I left my heavy and thick HiFi DAP (dedicated audio player) at home, this phone is something I can live with for a while.

Going to the microphone part, like most Huawei phones, this performed very well and clear in calls. However, some of our recordings have some left and right audio imbalance when we accidentally covered the mic on top while holding the phone.

Battery Life

Battery life benchmark test results
Battery life benchmark test results

If you're impressed with the battery life of Huawei GR5, the P9 Lite performed so much better. Why? This phone uses that large 3,000 mAh battery on a smaller 5.2 inch FHD screen. Plus, Huawei's EMUI 4.1 on Android 6.0 Marshmallow has great power management that makes the battery life of this handset better.
This phone has excellent battery life!
In its battery benchmark, it scored almost 10 hours and 30 mins. That is longer than the excellent GR5 by more than 2 hours. It's also the longest result we've seen from a phone with 5.2 inch screen with just 3,000 mAh of juice.

Under normal usage as a main phone, I always have at least 20% left in its tank after a full day of use. That includes occasional gaming, taking photos, listening to music and etc. As a secondary phone, I only charge the P9 Lite once every two days.

Charging time is around 2 hours using a 2A charger.

Camera

Camera at the back
Camera at the back

The Huawei P9 Lite is equipped with a 13 MP f/2.0 w/ AF and LED flash and an 8 MP f/2.0 in front. On paper, it may look just like a regular midrange phone, but on actual usage, they performed more than just the numbers.

Compared with similarly priced phones from its competition, what we saw with the Huawei P9 Lite is a notch ahead in terms of photo quality. It takes photos with good color accuracy even if it's a tad under-saturated. The details are well resolved, nice and not overly sharp. While we don't have the full specs of the camera, we suspect that it uses a 5P element lens as there's little glares in most of our outdoor shots. 

Even without PDAF or Laser AF listed, we are surprised that it can keep up with the ZenFone 2 Laser 6.0 in terms of focus speed. What we like here is its shutter speed is even faster and saves photos much quickerThis phone also presents one of the fastest HDR mode today in this price point.

In challenging conditions like dark places, there are understandable grains but it's still acceptable and looks more natural than most of the competition. Aside from that it also has its own spot metering option that lets you correct the exposure properly.
If you can use the night mode, please do so as it will make your photos shine in the dark.
Overall, it's rear camera are great for macros, product shoots, outdoor shots and even night shots using its super night mode feature.

Moving to its selfie camera, the 8 MP does it job nicely. It has decent sharpness, good color accuracy and takes photos pretty fast. What I like there is its has flash using the screen and not overly done beautify feature.
Camera features of Huawei P9 Lite
Camera features of Huawei P9 Lite

To excite you guys further, the most interesting part of the cameras of this phone is in its software. It is the most fully loaded camera software with nice post processing I've seen under 15K Pesos.
More camera features here
More camera features here

First you'll notice the dramatic change in its UI where you can now easily swipe left and right for options and features. I looks cleaner and easier to use and finally now has assitive grid feature where you can choose a regular grid, phi grid, fibonacci spiral left and right.

It also has a built in full professional mode (manual) on both photos and videos, beautify for photos and videos, spot metering, HDR, great long exposure night shot, panorama, good food, light painting (tail lights, graffiti, silky water, star track), all focus (refocus), water mark and document scanner. It also has a timer, audio controls, touch to capture and object tracking features. 
Nearly everything is superb for me, though I miss the shortcut of HDR that you can locate easily before.
Going to the video capabilities, it can record both 1080p videos at the back and front which even has software stabilization. It also has time-lapse and slow-motion feature which is not that common for an affordable phone.

Overall, both takes decent videos that performs nicely in time-lapse mode. However, even with software stabilization, it's a little shaky when used handheld. Then the slow-mo feature is nice to have, but don't expect it to be superb as this is just a mobile phone.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight normal
Daylight normal
Normal vs HDR
Normal vs HDR
Normal and Zoom
Normal and Zoom
Food mode
Food mode
Light painting mode - Silky water
Light painting mode - Silky water
Indoor low light
Indoor low light
Macro in good light
Macro in good light
Indoor macro selfie
Indoor macro in lowlight
Sunset, against the light
Sunset, against the light
ISO 100 and 22.64 seconds exposure
ISO 100 and 22.64 seconds exposure
Light painting mode - Tail lights
Light painting mode - Tail lights
Super night mode sample 1
Super night mode sample 1
Super night mode sample 2
Super night mode sample 2
Super night mode in place with almost no electricity (7 pm shot)
Super night mode in place with almost no electricity (7 pm shot)
Flash test
Flash test

Selfie Camera Samples

Selfie outdoors
Selfie outdoors
Selfie indoors
Selfie indoors
Selfie night outdoors using screen flash
Selfie night outdoors using screen flash

Video Samples


Performance

High antutu score and geekbench results
High antutu score and geekbench results

In terms of hardware capabilities, this phone is a BEAST on paper. The P9 Lite uses one of the best configuration we saw on paper for the price today. It's powered by the new and fast 1.7 GHz 64 Bit Kirin 650 octa core processor paired with the new Mali T830 GPU to handle your graphics. This phone also has an ample 3 GB RAM for your smooth sailing multitasking. Then it has 16 GB of ROM that's fortunately expandable with the use of micro SD card slot. The result is a blazing fast performance where we hardly felt hiccups and stutters even if there's a lot of opened apps.


Given that this phone uses the new Mali T830 GPU, we expected that it can run most of the modern games fairly well. Fortunately, we were correct. All the games we tested works wonderfully from light games to the heavy ones such Modern Combat 5 with little to no frame drops. With NBA 2K 16, it's playable even if you crank all its settings in high mode, but it's buttery smooth if you mix high and medium configurations.
Even if we run several heavy games with either WiFi or data on, it doesn't heat up that much.
Android 6.0 w/ EMUI 4.1 skin
Android 6.0 w/ EMUI 4.1 skin

Even if you're not a fan of heavily skinned user interface, I suggest that you give this latest iteration of EMUI based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow a try. Why? It's a good type of skin. Being familiar with this UI from quite a while, I felt the difference in speed and performance coming from its old version.
This one hardly stutters, blazing fast in everything, loads with a lot of modern features and feels very easy to use.
Some smart assistance features present with the P9 Lite
Some smart assistance features present with the P9 Lite

It's phone and battery management is highly useful and intelligent, there's a lot of gestures you can play around with, health tracker that sets your fitness goals and loads with beautiful themes to fit your personality. Without any exaggerations, its speed in opening and switching from one app to another is just a tick slower than the Nexus 6P, the best Android phone today.

Having said that, Huawei did a very good job in optimizing this certain type of UI. For me, this is the best full custom skin I tested on Android yet.
Fingerprint scanner options
Fingerprint scanner options

Another highlight of this phone is its highly advanced fingerprint scanner. Aside from being one of the fastest around and the regular security features of unlocking your device, apps and files, the scanner of embedded here can also be used for a lot of shortcuts like taking photos, answering calls, stopping your alarm, open the notification panels and even browsing your photos quicker by just swiping left and right on the sensor behind.

In terms of connectivity, Huawei's mastery in that department is also evident as nearly everything feels fine. Bluetooth always works, SIM signals are always strong, LTE feels stable and this even has an NFC feature.

Pros - Stylish and solid build, powerful SoC, long battery life, advanced and accurate fingerprint sensor, good audio playback on both headphones and speakers, feature packed and much improved UI, highly capable cameras
Cons - No OTG support, No OIS, plastic back is prone to hairline scratches 

Verdict

As of this writing, the Huawei P9 Lite is a strong contender for the midrange phone of the year award. It managed to exceed my expectations for its purpose, a phone that's excellent in ergonomics, powerful in specs and great in cameras. Despite its few shortcomings, it's hard to find a locally available phone from a premium brand as refined as this today.

GIZ Rating: 4.75/5 Stars
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