Huawei has been out of the game even though they have been trying from the last few years, but things are changing, and this trend is not slowing down. After the blockbuster Nexus 6P Smartphone that had one of the best cameras, display & battery last year, this year the brand has launched the P9. The device that needs no introduction because it has been in the news for the Leica branding where there was a partnership that promised a better Camera. This year we had already seen the LG G5 that failed even though it had the Semi-Modular Concept, followed by the Failed HTC 10 that also didn’t impress anyone and finally the Galaxy S7 series that won the hearts of millions. Huawei didn’t launch the P9 around the first quarter where all the majors compete, smartly launching it in the second & third quarter starting with London, perfectly aligning the timing where their flagship gets the attention it needs.
No one buys a Premium Flagship Smartphone from an unknown brand & Huawei knows that best, which is why they have moved the budget & the mid-range portfolio to the subsidiary brand i.e. Honor while launching premium devices under their P Series. The P9 Specs won’t impress everyone since these days in the market we have a surge of 6 GB RAM Smartphones that are launching with the latest chipsets that are an overkill at times. Even Samsung didn’t miss an opportunity to impress the Chinese where they announced the 6 GB RAM Galaxy Note 7, while all over the world they had launched the 4 GB RAM Model. The specs wars will keep going on till the date consumers start looking into the experience because that ultimately matters end of the day.
We have been testing this device from over a week where we found that it is at par with the Galaxy S7 that impressed us with the Camera & the Battery. To our surprise, the P9 did surprise us when we started capturing photos in different environments & this is the first DSLR replacement that we could think of. To know more, you should be watching the video below that makes you understand the point that we are trying to put in here. When we call this phone a DSLR replacement, we try to emphasise that the point is made towards the amateur DSLR users who use the AUTO mode on their DSLR instead of the manual settings to capture their moments. For them, the DSLR helps them achieve a few tasks like BOKEH Shots, Low-Light Captures, etc. and you cannot expect a phone to completely replace a professional’s requirements.
Design, Display & Features
Instead of a detailed point by point review, let us get into the things that matter to a user along with what’s primarily missing in this Smartphone.
Starting off with the Design, this is by far the Most Beautiful Smartphone I have used this year. Earlier the Galaxy S7 was leading but with the easy to break glass panel, S7 series loses here & the Huawei P9 wins in this area. The device comes with a slim form factor with just 6.95 mm thickness that’s all within an Aircraft-grade aluminium alloy body ensuring that with those regular drops you cannot expect the phone to break. Again something that was normal with the Samsung’s flagship this year. The Phone comes with an ergonomic design with a 5.2-inch full HD display, something that’s still favoured by a majority of consumers who are yet to upgrade to the 2k Displays. Apart from this, the device feels compact with the 72.9% of screen-to-body ratio that gives a good one hand holding feel. The phone comes with Signal+ 2.0 that’s a virtual Triple antenna helping you with better signal coverage when you are in a low coverage area.
Talking about the Hardware, the device comes packed with the Kirin 955 chipset along with the Mali-T880 GPU that offers an excellent gaming experience. The phone also features a security dedicated module within the silicon chip for user security handling keypad, voice & the fingerprints. This has been one of the fastest fingerprint sensors we have tested; that technically unlocks the phone in just 0.5 seconds as its powered with the 2nd generation Swedish-designed FPC fingerprint sensor. By the time the sensor keeps learning and prevents from failing when you are trying to unlock with partial fingerprints or with wet hands.
With 3GB of RAM along with a storage expansion slot that gives you additional storage apart from the internal 32GB, this device should do a decent job for storing all your personal files. This is considering that you are using the cloud to backup all your media files like the Photos, Music & Videos. The device is powered by a 3,000mAh battery that lasts the day easily, but the lack of fast charging or wireless charging makes the charging task harder. The Camera Placement along with the Dual-LED Lights on the top gives it a magnificent look that resembles a pair or eyes, and they make the device look unique unlike the other Smartphones these days that quite match each other regarding the looks. On the rear, there’s the fingerprint scanner along with the Huawei branding. Everything else is clear with the right side of the device holding the Power toggle switch & the Volume Rocker buttons. On the left, there’s the SIM Card slot where you can insert the SIM Card and the Micro SD Card to expand your storage. On the top, there’s a Microphone followed by the MicroUSB Type-C port, speaker grill and the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. Within a few hours of usage, you realise that all the connectivity ports are at the bottom that’s easy to remember and also manage.
The Rockstar Dual-Cameras
Let us talk about the Most important feature of this Smartphone which is the dual 12MP cameras that are truly a DSLR replacement for amateurs. The first sensor captures photos regularly, while the second captures only in black-and-white hence it absorbs twice the light and the final capture comes out with a noise-free shot. With the partnership with Leica, we see that the post-processing brings out some fantastic captures that quickly shames the iPhone 6s Camera along with few other premium Smartphones out there. The combined sensors at work do all the magic that mostly is missed in all the other cameras out there. Even though the Smartphone’s Camera is one of the best USP, it does not come with a dedicated camera button which is something you need to adjust with, though you can access the app directly from the home as well as the lock screen.
The Camera Application is pretty much straight forward with all the options on the left & the right displays. A swipe from the left towards the right gives you access to the main Camera options menu where you can find all the 14 different modes. Camera Modes include Light painting (Tail light trails, Light graffiti, Silky water, Star track (takes a good few minutes to capture one photo), Super night , Pro Camera, Beauty (offers upto 10 levels of selection), Beauty video, Panorama, HDR, Watermark (Collection of options to select from depending on the theme or the type of photo being captured), Audio note, Capture smiles, Audio control, Timer, Touch to capture, Monochrome, Document Recognition, Virtual aperture photo, Film mode. Swiping from the right towards the left brings up all the settings that start with the resolution, GPS tag, Assistive Grid, Mute (to silently capture photos), Timer, Capture smiles (take photos automatically when smiles are detected) & Image adjustment. On the top you find five options starting from the flash, shallow depth of field mode, photo colours (Standard, Vivid Colors & Smooth colours), filters (9 to select from) followed by the option to switch to the front camera.
On the front side, there’s an 8MP F2.2 camera that could be used for video calls or for the selfies you capture. Don’t judge based on the camera sensor’s numbers because the software optimisation, tuning, and the post-processing is where the magic happens. Here are a few selfies captured with this Smartphones camera during the night, in artificial light and you can see that there’s no complain. Apart from the Beauty Mode that removes your acne, pimples & beard on a scale of 10, you can also find nine different filters to select from. The front camera options also include Beauty Mode, Panorama, Video, Beauty Video (probably a first?), Time-Lapse, Watermark & Audio Note option.
Swiping up from the camera mode would fire up the Manual Mode where you find a range of dials to control over different parameters. The Raw image option is also available but only limited in the manual mode which makes sense because a typical consumer would not want to storage those massive Raw images when capturing photos. The Camera app is not just filled with different modes but also is feature rich and has abundant options that could make you shoot more and more photos in different conditions.
The dedicated sensor powered Monochrome Mode is unique since it is not something you find on most of the Smartphone Camera’s these days. Leica has partnered for the development of the image processing that finds in this mode, and the results do add a different perception to the captures itself. After you start capturing a few photos in this mode, you start liking the photos because of the processing and the way the pictures turn out to be.
DoF-simulation Mode: This is by far my favorite mode that earned this phone the “DSLR replacement tag”. Earlier many smartphones had promised this feature, that we saw in reality with decent captures on the Galaxy S6 that was later improved in the Galaxy S7, but boy the captures on this Camera turned out to be far better. Once you enable this mode you can select an aperture value and capture a photo, but in my experience just selecting this mode is enough and the camera does its job. The dual-lens & the software does its job, and you are also given the option to focus & de-focus after capturing a photo. Here are a few captures that were captured through this mode while my wife was in the middle of a competition with a very little time in hand. You realise that at these moments you cannot setup a tripod or even plan the shot by focusing because every moment is valuable and you just start capturing photos. The option to focus later helps in this kind of situations while by default, the DoF-simulation mode does its job perfectly.
The Camera App does not fire up that fast, taking upto 1.5 seconds to get ready but post that it never hangs and quickly switches between the mode. The laser-assisted AutoFocus does a good job but while you try to focus on the objects it does lag once in a while that could be fine tuned for software updates. We did end up with a few photos that were out of focus, but the retouch feature helped in refocusing on the specific objects ensuring that with this phone you cannot ever miss a shot. Just tap on the “Wide aperture effects” button after the shot and you can “touch to refocus or slide to adjust the blur” that also comes with a bunch of additional filters or options.
Night Mode: This is another very important mode you need to take a look at. Any photo captured in the Night Mode would still do injustice because the results are not that great, but with a little time spent regarding increasing the ISO and keeping the Exposure for a longer duration, you shall be shocked to see that the results would bring drastic changes. Followed are the results of the same, captured at 12:10 AM where the first Photo was captured in the Normal Mode, followed by the Night Mode followed by the ISO at 1600 along with 4 seconds of Exposure & 8 seconds of Exposure.
The Night Mode also is accompanied with the “Light Painting” mode that comes with four features like the Tail Lights, Light Graffiti, Silky Water & Star Track. Followed are two photos captured with the Light Graffiti & the Star Track mode that took a total of 23 minutes, though its recommended to use a tripod and at least keeps capturing the photo for an hours time for that perfect shot.
Moving on to the Video Recording. The Smartphone that’s launched as a Premium Product does not feature 4K video recording & offers you with 1080p videos that are decent enough though you need to enable the “Digital Stabilization” which is turned off by default. During the night there’s some noise visible but overall the output is crisp, and the white balance is perfect. The slow-motion mode is a little let down even though it promises a 720p slow-motion video; I think the audio is out of place and also the video footage is not a 720p like. The app also slows down only a portion of the video that cannot be individually selected and exported which is another con because you may end up with large video files that you didn’t want initially. Whenever you record a slow-motion video & upload it to Youtube, it plays in normal speed, unlike the slow-motion effect that only plays on the device or the Google Photos App, another area of improvement that Huawei should consider.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
The Huawei P9 is one of the Best Camera Smartphones out there & the above Camera Samples clearly proves what the brand had promised. But before you plan to purchase the same, do make a note that it is 2016 and the device still misses the Fast Charging Mode which is a must-to-go feature every premium flagship should be including. Apart from this the phone also misses the optional wireless charging option that they should have implemented. The design, form factor, battery & the display are all perfectly set for a premium device that keeps up to what you seek for, except the software UI that typically most users would switch to the Google launcher for easy navigation & this is something the brand Huawei should this take as a feedback & offer it is their next generation device.
Overall at a price of Rs 39,990 this phone seems to be priced a little on the higher side, since the Galaxy S7 is available at around Rs 45,000 and that’s the only competitor to this phone, while if the P9 was available at a price bracket between Rs 30,000 to Rs 35,000 it would have made it a sweet sell because of the brilliant camera and the beautiful design. If you are in for a Camera Smartphone then without blinking your eye you should be purchasing the P9, but from the performance & software point of view, you need to take a second thought while trying out or experiencing the phone first and then taking the decision.