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

Rapidly, due to the recent advancements in technology, smartphones are becoming the top choice for mobile photographers globally. Why? They're compact, easy to use, come with a lot of features, and decent in quality. It's also the reason why the sales of digicams are down and many aren't using them for shoots anymore.
Huawei P9 Review - More Than Just The Best Phone For Photography
Huawei P9 Review - the best in smartphone photography yet

However, while there's a lot of mobile companies who claims that their handsets are curated for photography, only a handful live up to the actual expectation. With the exemption of few high-end phones, most of them falls short in terms of actual photography greatness.

Enter Huawei's surprise collaboration Leica, a high-end German camera brand that's well known for taking the finest photos on compact cameras. The two giants in their respective industries crafted the Huawei P9, a handset with real dual 12 MP Leica certified cameras, one for capturing RGB and one for capturing black and whites. It also has a well crafted metal uni-body design, modern high-end specs, and GREAT price to match.

Speaking of the price, many were surprised on how affordable the P9 series is for a device that's co-branded with Leica. At first, we were expecting this handset to be priced double than what a normal flagship phone because of the prestigious "Leica" brand. However, when it was first launched in Europe, Huawei's love for affordability prevailed as the regular P9 retails at just 599 Euros (31K Pesos) and the P9 Plus at 699 Euros (36.5K Pesos).

To make things sweeter, Huawei Philippines even priced it lower here in our country. The regular P9 with 3 GB RAM and 32 GB ROM is priced at 23,990 Pesos and the P9 Plus at 29,990 Pesos.


For this review, we'll examine the base model of the P9 with 3 GB RAM and 32 GB ROM. We took it for a spin for more than 3 weeks and here's our experience with it. Check it out.

Note 1: There are several types of P9, for this review, we have the sandblasted aircraft grade aluminum edition in titanium grey color.
Note 2: The main differences compared with pricier P9 Plus are the lack of 4 GB RAM, AMOLED screen, IR Blaster, Force Touch technology, and the use of a better 8 MP f/1.9 selfie cam w/ AF.

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

Huawei P9 Specs

Display: 5.2 Inch FHD IPS 1920 x 1080 resolution w/ 2.5D curved glass and Gorilla Glass 4 protection at 423 ppi
CPU: 2.5 GHz 64 Bit Kirin 955 octa core processor
GPU: Mali T880
RAM: 3 GB
ROM: 32 GB ROM expandable via micro SD card slot up to 128 GB
Back Camera: 12 MP Dual Leica Summarit H 1:2.2/27 lenses w/ f/2.2 aperture, Hybrid AF and dual tone LED flash
Selfie Camera: 8 MP f/2.4
Battery: 3,000 mAh
OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow w/ EMUI 4.1
Connectivity: WiFi, 3G, LTE Cat 6, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, GPS, A GPS, GLONASS, dual SIM (hybrid)
Others: Fingerprint sensor, USB Type C
Dimensions: 145 x 70.9 x 6.95 mm
Weight: 144 g
Price: 23,990 Pesos

Unboxing / Accessories

The box that's co-branded with Leica
The box that's co-branded with Leica

Huawei made it a package for keeps. By the looks of its box, it reminds me of what I saw with the Mate 8 except that it is in all white color and has that Leica branding.


Upon opening the package, there's a 2A fast charger, white and long regular USB to USB Type C cables, earpods like earbuds w/ mic, and paper documentations.
Inclusions found inside the package
Inclusions found inside the package

As a whole, the package of P9 is understandably not as impressive as the pricier Mate 8. However, we would want to see them place a proper PH outlet ready wall charger and a FREE case here.

Update: The official package of Huawei will include a proper charger for PH outlets and a FREE stylish clear case.

Build Quality / Design

Back of the sandblasted metal version
Back of the sandblasted metal version

Coming from the already excellently crafted P9 Lite, the regular edition of the P9 is on a whole new more mature ballgame.

Even from afar, no one can deny that this phone is a stunner. It's made out of high-grade materials that's truly premium overall. For our unit, it's using a sandblasted type of metal unibody all over and there's 2.5D curved glass with Gorilla Glass 4 protection (scratch resistance) in front.
This phone doesn't feel like it will break even after few hard drops.
Personally, I witnessed its toughness when I dropped the phone by accident table high on the top left corner of the phone. While I got a small dent, what's surprising here is the screen didn't even have a scratch. It's a big thing as most handsets that'll experience that type of drop will cracks. That only means that the materials used by Huawei here are genuine and they did a lot of hard-work to ensure that the phone would be durable enough against minor accidents.
Single mic on top of the phone
Single mic on top of the phone
3.5 mm female port, microphone, USB Type C port, and speaker grills below
3.5 mm female port, microphone, USB Type C port, and speaker grills below
Visible on the left side are the eject-able hybrid SIM tray and how slim the phone looks
Visible on the left side are the eject-able hybrid SIM tray and how slim the phone looks
Textured power button and volume rocker at right
Textured power button and volume rocker at right

Undeniably, the P9 looks beautiful. I find it even more stylish than both their Mate 8 and Nexus 6P. It has top-notch design, no camera protrusion, gorgeous curves, chamfered edges, beautiful 2.5D curved glass on top, amazing slimness at just 6.95 mm, and great color accents. For me it's a phone that looks awesome enough to make the heads of even iPhone and Samsung users turn.
The P9 is Huawei's  most beautiful creation yet.
At just 5.2 inches, Huawei's P9 is a masterpiece ergonomically. It's feels so good to hold, doesn't have any sharp edges, and simply feels right in the hands as long as you have proper grip. For me, it's great for both two handed and one handed use. 

The ports placement below were properly made too. On top there's a single microphone, and crammed below are the 3.5 mm jack microphone, USB Type C port, and single speakers. On the left side, there's the eject-table hybrid slots for SIM / micro SD card and at the right you'll locate the small textured power button and volume rocker.

If you can remember correctly, I once said that the P9 Lite has the best fit for my hands yet. However, I'm wrong, P9's aesthetics and comfort to hold is undeniably better.

Display Quality

The 5.2 inch FHD screen with super slim bezels
The 5.2 inch FHD screen with super slim bezels

This device is using a 5.2 inch screen with JDI IPS-NEO on full HD is very good. By default, the color reproduction with deep blacks for a non-AMOLED screen did a nice job. It has above average sharpness at 424 ppi for its screen sizegood viewing angles thanks to its 2.5D curved glass, and has above average brightness to give you legibility even under direct sunlight.

However, to nitpick, we noticed that the color of the screen is slightly blue-ish which resulted into not that accurate color. Fortunately, there's a color tone adjustment in the display settings that anyone can use to let you choose the best blend of colors for your eyes.
10 points of multitouch is present here
10 points of multitouch is present here

Going back to our observations, we find that its light sensor adapts very well to the amount of lighting you are using, one of the reasons why we turn the auto brightness on all the time. It also has 10 points of multitouch for better typing and screen controls to complete the experience.

It may not be as sharp as most QHD screens on other flagship phones, but at least it has better color accuracy and tends to be on the above average side of viewing things.

Audio Quality

Below, the P9 uses a single speaker setup to let you hear you calls and enjoy music. In terms of sound quality, its on the average side of things and let you listen to music with nice details and decent loudness w/ less distortion. However, the dual speaker setup of the the lower-end G8 is better than this. Fortunately, Huawei did not market this as a music centric phone, it could be better, but I can live with it.

If you'll identify the speakers as a weakness, I'm glad to say that Huawei made up for it in the headphone audio-out department. It's on the HiFi level that sounds a tad better than P9 Lite.

It provides very clean and properly tuned sound all over the spectrum. The balance is very well emphasized, there's no over powering of mids in the bass and treble region, has tight and fast lows, good bass response, above average clarity, hall-like wide soundstage, and great micro detail reproduction.

On my favorite IEMs and low-powered headphones, it has enough driving power (loudness). Most of the time I only use around 60% of volume to run my Focal Sphear and RHA S500i properly. It's far from being the loudest, but it can make your your low impedance gears shine most of the time. Plus it plays even high bit rate lossless AIFF and FLAC files easilyIt's also good enough to give you that immersive experience as long as you're using a good type of head-gear. 
Huawei did a nice job in making this a great music player that suits most earphones well.
Note 1: P9's FREE earpods like earphones sound decent, but what they included with Honor 6 Plus before sounds better.
Note 2: DTS mode is only great for movies as makes the tunes and soundstage artificial for music listening.

On the microphone part, there's a dual microphone setup that can be found on top and below the phone. Performance-wise, its average on a flagship for calls and voice recordings. However, unlike the Nexus 6P and Mate 8, it won't be that nice in recording noisy rock concerts properly. When I tested it by recording an Eraserheads gig, there's too much noise that makes the song sound muddy and bad overall.

Battery

Almost 10 hours of straight usage via PC Mark battery benchmark
Almost 10 hours of straight usage via PC Mark battery benchmark

Battery performance on this handset is great as 3,000 mAh of juice is pretty big on a 5.2 Inch FHD phone. Just like the P9 Lite, it delivered a better score than the GR5 at almost 10 hours via PC Mark's battery test.

On actual usage, it is even better. The battery manager of EMUI 4.1 on Android 6.0 Marshmallow is simply superb. It will always remind you to close un-used power hungry apps, lets you plan battery usage depending on your needs, and enable ultra power saving mode (calls and text only) when needed.
ROG power saving mode
ROG power saving mode

What I like here the best is you can enable "ROG power saving" mode that lowers the screen resolution to 1280 x 720 pixels to save more power. That's perfect when you'll be out of the whole day and you'll use your phone intensively in taking photos and etc.

This handset is said to be equipped with fast charging technology. In reality, we recorded a 2 hours and 10 mins from 0 to 100% using both the stock 2A charger and our Quick Charge 3.0 charger w/ 3A fast charging. That could mean that this handset only supports up to 2A quick charging via USB Type C. That's okay, however, this would have been better if the charging time is one par with the Nexus 6P that has speedy 90 mins of charging time.

Camera

The dual 13 MP Summarit Leica lens of P9 at the back
The dual 12  MP Summarit Leica lens of P9 at the back

After all the hype that the Leica partnership that resulted to the co-engineering of this phone, I have very high expectations to the imaging capabilities of the P9.

Unlike most dual camera setups, this is the first one to use a two different sensors with same megapixel count at the back of the phone. It has a dedicated monochrome lens on the left that captures black, whites, and details of the photo and a dedicated RGB lens at the right for accurate and punchy colors. Both Leica tuned lens packs 12 MP w/ f/2.2 aperture and has Hybrid AF (contrast and phase detection), and dual tone LED flash.

Huawei also claims that P9 can take 270% more light than the iPhone 6S and 90% more than the Galaxy S7 by Samsung.

Now how did it perform in real life? In broad daylight, it takes the nicest photos around for a phone that produces life like images with crazy good details, top-end sharpness (for a phone), excellent dynamic range, and good type of saturation.

Unlike most flagship phones, the P9 focuses on details instead of just brightening them. As a result, the images are slightly darker, but well resolved and very sharp looking which could be great for editors. (Even if most of the time it doesn't require editing)

It also has very nice HDR results, that brings more details and correct badly exposed photos instead of just adding brightness. Focusing, adjusting to light, shutter speed, and saving time is also extremely fast for a phone. Even when taking RAW and HDR, it's still a speedy camera with less than second shutter time. 

In challenging conditions like harsh and lowlight, the cameras of P9 can also adapt well to take respectable photos. Of course, it won't be that sharp and there will be grains, but at least its still better than 90% of the phones in the market today. It also comes with its own spot metering function that enables you to correct the exposure and add more brightness in lowlight. Occasionally, there are even times that the using the "wide aperture" mode can rescue your images to make it look sharp and detailed in dim light conditions.

Software wise, it's one of the most loaded I've seen from a phone aside from P9 Lite and Oppo F1. It's patterned with what Leica cameras can do combined with the well known features of Huawei camera phone. As a matter of fact, everything from the fonts, watermark, film modes, and even sound is very Leica.
Features of the camera
Features of the camera

In terms of features, it can shoot in HDR, full manual up to ISO 3200 in RAW format, unfiltered monochrome mode, wide aperture mode, night shot (adjustable long exposure), 4 types of light painting (tail lights, light graffiti, silky water, star track).

You can also use, beautify mode, 9 type of filters, 3 types of Leica film modes (standard, vivid, and smooth colors), watermark, audio note, and document scanner.
Night shots mode (up to 32 seconds and ISO 1600) and light painting modes

Going to the settings part, you'll be treated with assistive grid that even has fibonacci spiral modes. On manual setup, there's also a horizontal leveling mode to help you measure your shots accurately.
Wide aperture mode
Wide aperture mode

To further explain the wide aperture mode, its a familiar feature that can also be found with the Honor 6 Plus where in you can adjust the "aperture size" of the lens from f/0.95 to f/16 artificially. It creates background blurs, bokeh, and impressive shallow depth of field that's uncommon for a phone. There's also an option in the photo gallery where you can refocus your subject even after taking the photo.

What's different here from the Honor 6 Plus is you can now view the blur in the background even before taking the shot for less editing. This unit also has better post processing to keep the edges of your subject sharp and have more natural looking blurs.

However, it could still be a hit or miss. There are times that if you push the aperture size all the way down to 0.95 where you'll blur even some of the important parts of the subject. When used correctly, the results could be jaw dropping.
Monochrome mode
Monochrome mode

My favorite mode of this phone is the monochrome mode which only takes black and white images. Why, it takes sharper images and mode detailed images that fares better in the dark. It can also give you that instant nostalgic effect with good drama or mystery to your shots.

In front, there's a good type of 8 MP camera w/ f/2.4w/ wide angle lens, beautify, and screen flash. It takes great selfies in daylight, has good amount of sharpness / details / saturated colors and can let more people in the frame.

It's beautify mode is also good, just don't crank the setting all the way up to 10 or you'll look way too filtered. In the dark, its screen flash is one of the strongest out there that beats even other dedicated selfie flash.

Overall, for photography, the Huawei P9 is the most enjoyable phone that I've ever used. Arguably, for me, it also takes the best photos on a phone yet.

However, videos even if it can take up 1080p in 60 frames per second, it's not as good compared with its other flagship counterparts as it doesn't have OIS. That makes it shakier than what we wanted in hand-held mode. Fortunately, when used with a tripod in adequate lighting you can still take good videos. Plus you'll notice that the focusing speed is quite fast.

In front that can take 1080p in 30 frames per second, its quite okay for your video calls and Instagram selfie videos.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight sample
Daylight sample
Normal vs HDR comparison
Normal vs HDR comparison
It has a great type of digital zoom
It has a great type of digital zoom
Wide aperture mode sample
Another wide aperture mode sample
Another wide aperture mode sample
Nice type of panorama stitching
Nice type of panorama stitching
Dim light test using the smooth film mode
Dim light test using the smooth film mode
Light painting mode
Silky water light painting mode
Silky water light painting mode
Night mode test on auto
Flash test
Flash test, little yellowish and not that strong

Monochrome Samples

Tried mono at Satchmi store with dim light
Tried mono at Satchmi store with dim light
Darth Vader and Stormtroopers
Darth Vader and Stormtroopers
Night time at Ortigas
Night time at Ortigas
In the middle of the road after the rain
Eraserheads complete
Eraserheads complete (cropped)


Quick Comparisons

Galaxy S7 Edge photo
Galaxy S7 Edge photo - notice its good bokeh and bright yellowish image
Huawei P9 photo - darker, but sharper and has better details (edges)
Huawei Mate 8 photo
Huawei Mate 8 photo - looks very good and pretty sharp
Huawei P9 photo
Huawei P9 photo - vibrant looking and great detail emphasis


Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie, normal vs beautify level 3 mode
Daylight selfie, normal vs beautify level 3 mode
Groufie test
Groufie test featuring Irwin of swirlingovercoffee and Ava of Huawei
Beautify in dim light w/ Angel
Beautify in dim light w/ Angel
Selfie flash test in a dark room
Selfie flash test in a dark room

Video Samples



Performance

Huawei P9 benchmarks
Huawei P9 benchmarks

If you think the P9 is all about photography, it's not. This handset competes well even with 2016 flagships. While it doesn't have the i5 co-processor or the Mate 8, it uses the newer Kirin 955 octa core processor with a higher clock speed at 2.5 GHz. It's also paired with Mali T880 GPU which is currently the best of what Mali can offer in graphics. There's also 3 GB of RAM for casual multitasking / let you ran apps smoothly, and big enough 32 GB of internal storage for apps, games, and etc. that's expandable up to 128 GB using a micro SD card slot. For this unit, it's advisable to put a micro SD card to save photos and videos as they come in large file size.


What I like here is those specs translates to good snappy performance. Side by side with the pricier Mate 8 and Nexus 6P, I can't hardly feel the difference in speed. There are even times that the P9 loads apps faster. (Could be the result of the newer EMUI 4.1 skin) Then while you can load more apps coming from phones with 4 GB RAM, the P9 only lags in a small margin.

Tip: You can use the ROG power saving mode that converts your resolution from FHD to HD for better gaming experience.

In gaming, it's arguably as fast and good as the Mate 8 with minimal frame drops. On Asphalt 8, the gaming experience is great. On NBA 2K16, you'll need to mix high and medium settings for a decent playable setup. However, this tends to get warm faster than Mate 8 as well. Gladly, it's far from the alarming type of heat compared with some high end Snapdragon powered phones.
The good EMUI 4.1 skin
The good EMUI 4.1 skin

In terms of skin, even if we normally like phones with stock UI, Huawei's EMUI 4.1 grew on me. It's good looking, snappy, has a lot of features / gestures, can track your health, and customize with themes easily. Just like what I said with the P9 Lite, multitasking is easier now and everything loads much faster now.
Fingerprint controls
Fingerprint controls

Plus this phone loads with one of the speediest fingerprint scanners around and the most feature packed yet. It can be used as a shutter in taking photos when pressed, browse photos via left and right swiping, show notification panel on swipe down, and hide it on swipe up. That's aside from the normal security features of the the fingerprint sensor.

Connectivity-wise, you won't have a problem here just like most Huawei devices. GSM signals are strong, it can detect WiFi from afar, good type of LTE (Cat 6), has Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, and NFC.

Pros - Best in class smartphone photography experience, the monochrome mode rocks, stylish and premium aesthetics, amazing ergonomics (perfectly sized in the hands), nice display, speedy and lag free performance, good battery life, ROG power saving mode is cool and useful, improved headphone audio out
Cons - No OIS and 4K video (can take 1080p in 60 frames, but shaky for videos), mic is not good for recording live concerts (decent in calls), screen not on 2K, not that loud speakers, occasional mild heating, no FM radio

Verdict

For 23,990 Pesos only, the Huawei P9 is a steal! As a phone, its a very capable one. It is several thousands cheaper than both its Nexus 6P and Mate 8 siblings, but the gap in performance isn't that noticeable. It's also amazing aesthetics, comes with good headphone audio out, and long battery life.

As a camera, Huawei delivered its promise of making the best photography phone in the world. It delivered well resolved photos, great color accuracy, sharpness, and  has tons of features. For now, it'll be very hard to anyone for find a better shooter than this.

However and as usual, nobody is perfect as there's still some understandable weaknesses, but that won't change our mind in recommending this to anyone who wants to best in class photography experience in a great phone package.

GIZ Rating: 4.85/5 Stars
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