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Six weeks with the Huawei P9

Intro

So, I am an iPhone guy, but most of the time I use an Android secondary phone. I was downgrading from iPhone 6s Plus to iPhone SE as I came to terms with the fact that big phones aren’t my thing when the Huawei P9 arrived for a review.

A week later as I was wrapping up our Huawei P9 review, and I’ve decided to make the Huawei P9 my primary smartphone and see how things would go from there. Here are the reasons behind my decision.

Huawei P9

First – the dual-camera and Leica software. I really liked the color profiles, the B&W camera, and rich manual settings, and the mode that allows you to play with the depth of field.

Second – the design. There is no denying the P9 is one beautiful chap, with some premium looks and build.

And third – I liked the clean and yet powerful Emotion launcher, the solid battery life, and steady benchmarks results. Although the GPU scores were low, some studies showed the P9 is a very consistent performer.

Now fast-forward six weeks to this very day.

Camera

The camera turned out to be as cool as I hoped. I was able to take some excellent shots, which many of my friends envied. The color modes courtesy of Leica lost their coolness really fast, though. Once you forget you’ve selected the Vivid colors and ruin the colors of all of your pictures this day, you easily learn to use Normal mode and forget everything else.

Here are a few the cool pictures I snapped throughout these six weeks. First, the monochrome samples, shot handheld, in low-light conditions.

B&W samples in low-light (handheld) - Huawei P9
B&W samples in low-light (handheld) - Huawei P9
B&W samples in low-light (handheld) - Huawei P9
B&W samples in low-light (handheld) - Huawei P9

B&W samples in low-light (handheld)

These three shots were taken with a tripod with 2s exposure. The last one uses the Silky Water effect, also shot at 2s. The silky water takes a regular picture, captures the moving objects for 2s and then snaps them on the regular image it’s taken.

Long exposure sample - Huawei P9
Long exposure sample - Huawei P9
Long exposure sample - Huawei P9
Silky Water mode - Huawei P9

Long exposure sample Long exposure sample Long exposure sample Silky Water mode

Here I’ve played with the manual aperture.

F3.5 - Huawei P9
regular F2.2 - Huawei P9
F1.4 - Huawei P9

F3.5 regular F2.2 F1.4

And finally, some shots taken with the Leica color modes.

Vivid colors - Huawei P9
Monochrome - Huawei P9
Smooth colors - Huawei P9

Vivid colors Monochrome Smooth colors

Unfortunately, the panoramic images are far from spectacular and often came out of focus. The lack of Auto HDR on those made me use my iPhone for panorama shots. A Galaxy S7, S6 or similar would do better here, too, those are just not the P9’s thing.

A disappointing panoramic sample - Huawei P9

A disappointing panoramic sample

Build quality

I really like the Huawei P9 stylish design, and it’s a pleasure to handle. I don’t like to use any kind of covers and bumpers though – c’mon I’ve paid 600 for a device just to snap it in a 5 case?! No, I am not that kind of person, but I am beyond cautious when carrying a phone in my pockets and I always leave my phones on a soft pouch on my work desk, my home desk, or my nightstand. I’ve never had a scratched iPhone (and I had all of them), so this should speak for itself.

And yet, the screen glass of the P9 has two prominent scratches, each about 1cm, plus a whole bunch of smaller marks. Huawei didn’t put any branded protective glass on the screen; it decided to spare some bucks and put a regular glass instead. Well, I can’t imagine how the P9 would look like in the hands of an ordinary person, who doesn’t care for where he puts his phone. Or worse, I fear what would happen if a woman carries it in her purse for a week.

But wait, there is more. The same goes for the rear glass, which protects the camera. It got scratched as well because it’s not a sapphire piece, nor is a Gorilla Glass one. It’s just a simple piece of glass, which acquires numerous marks from whenever something touches it.

The Huawei P9, no matter how beautiful it is, can’t be enjoyed as most of the flagships – naked. You either slap on it a glass protector and a case, or risk turning it into something your cat has played with for a while.

I really can’t explain this omission. Was the Leica collaboration so expensive that Huawei just couldn’t afford to use some proper glass on their most expensive flagship to date?

Battery life

About that. It’s quite horrible actually. Install Facebook and Viber, connect it to LTE network, sync your email. And you get 30-33 hours tops on Balanced Power mode. I found out that switching the network priority to 3G networks helped a bit – apparently the LTE connectivity is not as power efficient as on other phones (Galaxy S7, iPhone SE), probably because of the modem.

Still, after you allow all your essential apps (yes, I had to do it manually!) to work in the background (Viber, Facebook, Outlook, and Gmaps), the battery life turned out really disappointing. I am charging my phone every day. And…

Charging takes ages to complete. Since there is no fast charging support, it took about two and a half hours to fill a significant portion of the battery. And if you want 100%, then you better leave it for the night.

The Kirin 955 and its modem, plus the Marshmallow and Emotion combination turned out all but power-efficient. Pity as they looked promising at first.

Performance

This is where things didn’t go as peachy, and for once – the GPU benchmarks were right. The Huawei P9’s GPU is weak, and there is no going around that. Angry Birds 2 has bottlenecks, Angry Bird Pop as well, Monopoly freezes to render graphics, too. And those aren’t even among the demanding games some people prefer to play.

Playing Monopoly or Angry Birds for half an hour makes the P9 pretty warm. It is far from Snapdragon 810 hot, but it’s still rather warm probably due to the overwhelmed GPU.

There is no problem with anything that relies mostly on the processor, but multi-tasking between any game and the homescreen/email/messages is a tricky task for the Huawei P9. It may come with powerful processor and 3GB of RAM, but if you are multi-tasking with anything graphic related (yes, Power Point included), you can expect stutters and freezes across the UI.

Our review’s benchmarks demonstrated the GPU is subpar, and my real-life experience confirms it. And while we suspected the games may encounter problems, it seems the GPU is capable of lagging the whole UI after all even for the regular users. And I multi-task once or twice a day to check an email or message.

The good stuff

Hey, it’s not all bad. The Huawei P9 has the best fingerprint scanner I have encountered so far – works when the screen is off and is blazing fast.

Magazine Unlock - News 16 05 Six Weeks P9 review
Magazine Unlock - News 16 05 Six Weeks P9 review
Magazine Unlock - News 16 05 Six Weeks P9 review
Magazine Unlock - News 16 05 Six Weeks P9 review
Magazine Unlock - News 16 05 Six Weeks P9 review

Magazine Unlock

The UI is overall responsive, offers rich customization options, and I really like the Magazine unlock. Plus, the tools Huawei offers within the Security app for system management are priceless.

Themes - News 16 05 Six Weeks P9 review
Themes - News 16 05 Six Weeks P9 review

Custimizing the UI with themes

Watching videos is pure joy on the beautiful screen of the P9, as writing messages or browsing the web.

Watching a video - News 16 05 Six Weeks P9 review

Watching a video

Conclusion

The P9 is a powerful tool, no matter of its shortcomings, but depending on your preferences, it may not be everybody’s cup of tea. If it’s the camera you are after – then by all means – you can do wonders with this portable fella. I carry a small tripod and smartphone holder, and long-exposure shots are hassle-free.

Huawei P9

But gaming is troublesome, power users will find it hard to multi-task, and the battery life is rather unimpressive. If one of these is of importance to you, maybe you should look for another option. There are lots of similarly priced phones, with better chipsets and Gorilla Glass and sapphire protected lens. Maybe Huawei will do better with the P10.

And if Leica is to blame for the higher price tag, there is no point of continuing this collaboration if the result is two color filters, that can do more damage than good.