Over the last few years, smartphone manufacturers have been battling it out to have the smartphone with the best camera on the market.
The latest contender in this battle is the Huawei P9, which boasts a Leica branded camera that Huawei and Leica say will result in “the ultimate camera-phone”.
But is it actually the best camera phone? Or is it even a decent smartphone? Well, we are here to answer those questions for you.
Although the Leica camera is probably the biggest feature on the P9, it certainly does have some other exciting features.
The most noticeable of those features is, of course, the design of the smartphone, which is undoubtedly the best-looking design that we have ever seen from Huawei on a smartphone, featuring a unibody metal chassis, with a flat edging around it.
On the front of the device, you will also find that the display is wrapped in a way that provides an almost bezel-free look.
Around the sides, you will also find a selection of ports and connections.
At the bottom, there’s the USB Type-C port for charging and syncing and on the right-hand edge of the device you will find the slot for both a Nano SIM and a microSD card.
This slot opens similarly to an iPhone and will allow you to add up to a further 128GB storage on top of the inbuilt storage of the phone, which is either 32GB or 64GB depending on your preference, unfortunately the P9 does not support Android Marshmallow’s Adaptable Storage feature, which would normally allow the phone to treat the SD card as native storage, not having that is a huge disadvantage.
However, there is a reason for this, as Adaptable Storage does mean you are unable to swap an SD card out, and it can hinder your performance if you buy a cheap card.
Around the back, you will also find a fingerprint scanner just under the dual Lecia cameras, and on the left-hand side of the phone is finished off by a volume rocker and a power button.
The power button is particularly nice as it has a ridged design to make it easier to find and press.
In use, the P9 is a solid phone, it feels very durable in the hand and the controls surrounding it are very easy to get to one-handed, despite the larger screen size. That said, due to its flat sides and tiny 7mm thickness, it can be quite slippery in the hand, so I would definitely advise getting a case for this one.
Personally I don’t like fingerprint scanners on the back of phones, and so I did find that particular element of the phone somewhat annoying, however, in use it is pretty fast and it includes some other features that set it out from the rest, allowing you to pull down the notification panel by swiping down on the scanner, or swipe through photos by swiping left or right.
That makes the placement a little more useful than other phones that I have previously used, and because of it I did find myself getting used to it faster.
It’s sized at a nice 5.2-inches and features a 1080p Full HD resolution that provides you with a great looking display that is capable of providing great colour representation.
It could definitely be a bit higher resolution, with a number of phones out there that now feature 2K and even 4K displays, however, it’s unlikely that you would really notice the difference between those phones and the P9 unless you are a real display connoisseur(well, maybe 4K, but content for that resolution is lacking, especially on mobile).
The P9’s screen also offers up 423 pixels-per-inch, so that’s a real factor in the quality of the image that you receive, making it great for watching videos on YouTube or Netflix as well as checking your snaps from the Lecia cameras.
However, as you can see from the picture on the right, it is quite reflective outside.
If you are going to buy the Huawei P9 then you are probably going to do so for its camera, designed alongside the German camera company Leica, it features a dual-sensor setup that Huawei think will make it the best camera on a smartphone.
And as you would expect from a partnership with a company like Leica, this results in a great end project, allowing you to create higher detailed images on the go with its two rear-facing 12-megapixel sensors.
In fact, in use, the camera on the Huawei P9 is extremely awesome to use and you will often find yourself surprised by the amount the detail that you can get out of the camera, which it does by using one 12MP RGB sensor to pick up the colour of an image, and the second 12MP sensor to capture the monochrome data, resulting in a better quality image.
On the P9 you will also find a number of pro-level features, with the ability to take monochrome photos (and better quality ones than a filter at that). Huawei also claims that because of the larger pixels the P9 will have better quality low-light shots, however, in practice, it actually isn’t that impressive, with a lot of quality loss in low light.
There is one extra cool feature, which is the ability to use both camera sensors to add depth to your images, allowing you to focus on either the foreground or background of the image.
Like many of their other phones, Huawei’s P9 comes with Huawei’s own processor.
Called the HiSilicon Kirin 955, this processor is definitely one of the best processors that you will find in a smartphone within the same league, it’s extremely quick and manages to hold up well against the other processors on the market in benchmarking.
In fact, in Geekbench, we managed to get a multi-core score of around 6450 during our tests, which is just a little slower than the Galaxy S7, but is still a very good score and places the P9 towards the top of the fastest smartphones list.
This processor is also backed up by 3GB of RAM, which allows it to easily swap between apps without any kind of jag or lag and multi-task without problems. In some markets, this can go slightly higher, with 4Gb of RAM versions available.
Sadly, in order to enjoy all of that, you also have to be able to accept Huawei’s overdone UI.
For me, that’s a huge problem as I think the UI on the P9 is way too busy and often it simply looks like one of those kid friendly interfaces that you install on your child’s tablet.
In fact, the new UI (Emotion UI 4.1) is so cluttered, that you wouldn’t even know that the phone was running on the latest Android Marshmallow software, with Huawei’s own UI taking over pretty much every element of the phone.
And this goes as far as the icons, which Huawei have forced to be square, with no kind of transparency or even purposed icons for the most popular apps, this means that icons on your screen will just look weird, it’s incredibly off-putting.
That said, Huawei have improved Emotion since previous devices, but it’s still severely lacking, not just in the design but also in the way it works.
To top that off, Huawei has also installed a number of bloatware applications on the P9, it’s filled with unnecessary additions that are already done by a number of pre-installed Google services, and these are done so much better.
This time, Huawei are allowing you to customise the phone’s interface via their Themes app, where you can download free and paid themes for the phone.
However, in practice, these themes don’t really change much aside from the background.
This last major feature of the Huawei P9 is the battery, and thankfully it’s better than the P8, with a 3,000mAh battery inbuilt, however, you won’t find that revolutionary in practice.
I often found that the phone would easily last a day when used with extremely less than normal conditions, however, if I used the phone to my own normal use case, it would be a struggle to get it through more than half of the day.
Sadly, the Huawei P9 doesn’t have fast charging or wireless charging so getting juice back in the phone is the same as usual.
In terms of specifications, the Huawei P9 has some awesome traits, with a processor and RAM size that can definitely rival some of the other high-end smartphones out there. As standard, there’s also a lot of inbuilt storage and it comes with a microSD card slot for even more storage if you so wish.
To top that off, the camera on the smartphone is definitely a great reason to pick up the P9 over anything else, there’s no doubt that it is one of the best cameras on a smartphone, however, we are unsure if it is the best.
Given its low-light performance, we wouldn’t be able to say that as a fact, but if you don’t take a lot of photos in the dark, or if you don’t really care about the look of your low-light photos then the P9 might be the best possible option for you right now.
That is if you can put up with Huawei’s Emotion UI 4.1 installed on the system, which we found to be extremely childish, and frankly we would have preferred something a lot simpler, or even stockAndroid.
On top of that, the battery life isn’t amazing, and there are no thrills in terms of charging it.
But if the Huawei P9 is the smartphone for you, then you will be happy to know that you can pick it up from a number of retailers and carriers in the UK.
Disclosure: Vodafone sent us a review sample of the Huawei P9 for the purposes of this review.