Huawei P9 Review : EMUI be damned

Huawei was and perhaps still is a name that many people have either never heard of at all, or are slowly learning about. Whilst brand recognition isn’t great in western countries, Huawei really is a force to be reckoned with. They are an entity that makes processors (under the HiSilicon brand) and mobile radios. They also do a lot of enterprise solutions like network infrastructure, but lay-people will learn to know Huawei through their phones, or through their sub-brand, Honor. Let’s take a look at their latest smartphone, the Huawei P9.

Disclaimer: This P9 (Model EVA-L09) was loaned to us on a 2 week review basis by Huawei PR. There has been no financial compensation for our opinions of this device.

The P9 is Huawei’s flagship phone for 2016, and they’ve made a point of telling us why we should listen. Whilst the resolution may not be all that, the 5.2” 1080p IPS-Neo display is fantastic, the Kirin 955 home-grown SoC is just stellar, and so is battery life out of the 3000mAh powerpack. As an aside charging that battery up using USB-C is a breeze.

Speeds and Feeds (specs)

  • Dimensions: 145 x 71 x 7mm
  • Weight: 144g
  • 5.2” 1920x1080p IPS-Neo Display 423ppi
  • HiSilicon Kirin 955 SoC (4xA72 @2.5Ghz, 4xA53 @1.8Ghz)
  • Mali T880 MP4 GPU
  • 3GB RAM (4gb option with 64gb ROM)
  • 32GB ROM
  • MicroSD card slot for external cards up to 128gb (this uses the Second SIM slot)
  • Dual 12mp F2.2, 1.25µp cameras with Leica tuned optics, One colour, One Monochrome
  • 1080p60 Video capture (no 4K)
  • 720p120 Slo-mo
  • 8mp FFC, F2.4, 1080p video capture
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5Ghz
  • NFC (Only on EVA-L09 model)

For a more detailed look at the specs, head on over to GSMArena

Hardware

For years, the one thing Huawei has not had a problem with is hardware. The devices they have put out have been solid both inside and out, and the P9 is no different in that regard.

Milled out of a single block of aluminium (I cannot find out whether It is 6000 or 7000 series aluminium, but either way it is solid) with micro-injection moulded antenna bands, the P9 is a solid device. It’s still impressively thin at just 7mm, and although it doesn’t sound too light at 144g, the weight has been spread so perfectly that it almost feels effortless to hold. Both front and back have a larger chamfer than I’d like though, and they are glossy, not matte. The chamfers are somewhere in between the iPhone SE and the HTC 10. Again, not too large, but I wouldn’t moan if they were smaller.Huawei P9 Review

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] The P9 doesn’t just feel engineered, It feels designed. [/perfectpullquote]The downside of this beautiful, almost jewellery like device, is that I am constantly, and I mean constantly, worried that I’m going to scratch it. I don’t know if this is made worse by the fact it is a review device, but whether or not the metal does scratch easily, I am fearful almost everyday since I’ve received it. Everything about the P9 feels designed. It doesn’t just feel engineered. The buttons have no wobble, the texture on the power button is just enough to make itself known, but without being distracting. The SIM/MicroSD tray slots into the device and if you weren’t looking at the seams, you wouldn’t know they were there; the fit is that good. All the ports on the bottom line up and just look right. As I said earlier, it doesn’t just feel engineered, it feels designed.

Huawei P9 ReviewStarting with the right hand edge, from top to bottom, we have an antenna line and a smooth volume rocker with just enough travel and the right amount of actuation force. Below that is the power/lock button, which as I mentioned is lightly textured to give it a differentiation to that of the volume rocker. Visually, the power button also resides in a slot that has an inverse chamfer, again this is glossy and just leaves a nice visual for the end user to look at every once in a while. Below that, right at the bottom is the other antenna band. A soft, smooth matte metal band runs around the P9 and it just feels great to hold.

Huawei P9 ReviewMoving on the left hand edge we have the antenna band at the top, and just below that is the MicroSD/NanoSIM tray. On My EVA-L09 model, this serves only this purpose. It is not a dual-SIM device, though there are other models wherein I believe the tray acts as both SIM slots, or where the MicroSD slot can also accommodate a second NanoSIM. As I said before, the way this fits into the device is utterly seamless. If you weren’t looking at where the seams are, you’d be hard pressed to know where they are. This is not a feature exclusive to the P9, far from it, but It just goes to show the amount of effort Huawei put into the physical design of the P9. They want to be known as a design force, and the P9 puts them there in my opinion. Finally, right at the bottom we have the other antenna line. The same goes for all the antenna lines as it does with the expansion tray, they are seamlessly integrated. Antenna lines are something that other more high profile manufacturers still struggle with.

Huawei P9 Review

Huawei P9 ReviewUp top we have nothing but the noise cancelling microphone and the beautifully smooth and polished aluminium the P9 is made of. Flipping 180 degrees to the bottom is where things start to get interesting. Going from left to right, we have the 3.5mm audio jack and next to that is the main microphone the P9 uses for audio. Next is probably one of my favourite parts of the P9, the USB-C port flanked by two Torx screws. Although the USB-C port is only USB2.0, the fact that the device is starting to bring the new standard is one I’m happy with. I am happy to be called out as wrong when I’m wrong. Just having this reversible connector is something I’m very happy with. I really just want to “USB-C all the things” at this point. Next to the second Torx screw is the Mono speaker. It’s mono which is less impressive than we’ve become accustomed to, and it is not front facing but at least it is not rear facing, which is something we can be glad of. It gets relatively loud without much distortion, but it could be a fuller sound, sometimes sounding a bit hollow.[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I am happy to be called out as wrong when I’m wrong[/perfectpullquote]

Huawei P9 ReviewOn the front is where a lot of the magic happens. We have the 8MP front facing camera which, side note, is actually an incredibly impressive camera. If anyone has actually used flagship Huawei phones before, bar the Honor 6+, none of them had impressive cameras, let alone impressive front facing cameras. Next is the ambient light and proximity sensors. For those that don’t know, the proximity sensor is for detecting when your face is close to the screen in a call so it disables the screen so your cheek doesn’t make any unwanted interactions on the screen. The Ambient light sensor simply detects the ambient light in the room and is what enables the automatic screen brightness/screen dimming feature to work. Moving along, we have the Earpiece.

Huawei P9As earpieces go, it’s decent, it could certainly be louder, but as it stands, if they were to just make this unit louder, it would likely distort and become uncomfortable to have phone calls on for an extended period so I think that Huawei made the correct choice here. Something you wouldn’t notice at first, is the hidden LED notification light at the right hand edge of the speaker grille. I love this; it’s an RGB LED so it’s able to render multiple colours, and it’s hidden. I dislike obvious LED notification lights, because even if you don’t want to use them there is always that reminder. With the P9, if you want to forget it’s there, you likely will until you either get a notification or if you watch it charge.

Huawei P9 Review

We can’t speak about the front of the device, without talking about the display. A lot of people were dismayed to find out for a third generation in a row, Huawei had decided to stick with a 1080p display at around the 5” range (5.2” this time round), but honestly Huawei have done the correct thing. Instead of pursuing the ever growing resolution trend as many OEMs have, Huawei have done what I like to call “doing an Apple”, which is instead of going after the obvious thing, such as increasing resolution, they are instead focusing on improving the other parts of the screen; peak brightness, peak dimness, reflectivity, contrast and saturation. In all of these metrics, the P9 is an improvement on it’s predecessor.

The IPS-Neo display is provided by JDI (Japan Display Inc.). To get to the meat of the matter without going too in depth, IPS-Neo displays are an evolution of IPS (In-Plane Switching) in the same way that PLS (Plane-to-Line Switching) are an evolution of IPS. IPS Neo’s main strive was to produce better black levels with the incredible wide viewing angles of IPS. Think of it as a merger of IPS and VA (Vertical alignment) screen technologies. Bottom line, Huawei did really good with the display here, and whilst I would have personally preferred an AMOLED panel (which the P9 Plus get, by the way) this is without a shadow of a doubt the best IPS display I have seen bar none.

Huawei P9 Review

If I did have to nitpick something about the front of the screen, it is not actually anything to do with the screen itself, but rather the faux-bezeless appearance. With the screen off, you’d be easily fooled (as I was) into thinking that there was no bezel on the side of the screen and the screen went straight to the white bits on the top and bottom. Nope, there is a black border a few fractions of a millimeter all the way around the screen, I personally would have preferred that they just had a white bezel to the edge of the screen rather than this faux-bezelless deception, but that’s just me. Lastly, it’s just a tad bigger than I’d like. Whilst Huawei has done a good job at making smaller bezels than most, 5.2” is still a bigger screen size than I personally am comfortable with. My preference is between 4.7” and 5”, so unless this actually was a bezel less screen, there was no way to make this smaller. My Ideal size is the 2013 Moto X, a 4.7” screen in a device closer to a 4” one. Engineering is hard, but Huawei have done a great job at it here with the P9.

Huawei P9 ReviewLastly we move onto the back, On the top we have the dual 12MP camera sensors with lenses co-engineered by Leica. One of these is a standard RGB (Red, Green, Blue) and the other is Monochrome (Black and White). Both of these sensors have 27mm effective lenses and have an aperture of f2.2. The pixel pitch size is a respectable 1.25µp which, whilst not being the largest out there, is bigger than what the iPhone offers, and slightly behind the 1.4µp that the Galaxy S7 offers. Moving along we have the dual tone LED flashes. One is amber and the other is more of a yellow. The reason for these dual tone flashes is that when they fire, software algorithms are able to define which amount of which flash is going to get the best skin tones, rather than just blowing the subject out as flashes have before. Under those flashes we have the IR laser assisted autofocus module, the purpose of this (which was first introduced on the LG G3 I believe) is to allow faster focus times on things that are closer to the lenses. In my testing either this works incredibly well, or Huawei/Leica have sprinkled another type of special sauce on this that they aren’t telling us about.

Next on the back is the Leica branding, and this is actually a rather heated topic of discussion at the moment as to whether or not Leica had any major involvement, or if they are just slapping their name on a phone so they can get the licensing revenue. I personally think that there is some serious substance here, just because I have tested flagship Huawei phones before, all of which have had pretty bad bordering on “might as well not be there” bad cameras. The fact that in a single generation, they were able to improve this much means to me that Leica did more than just slap their name on the back.

Huawei P9 ReviewUnder the camera section we have one of, if not the best fingerprint scanners I have ever used and that Includes TouchID 2 (in the 6s series) and the Nexus Imprint on the 6P and 5X. Going all the way back to the Mate 7, Huawei has had class leading fingerprint scanners, and the P9 is no different. In the 2 weeks I was testing I didn’t have a single failure in reading. I never had to re-register my finger (something I have to do on TouchID on a relatively often basis) and the setup was painless. A single register meant that I could try to unlock the phone at any of 360 degrees and it would just work. The way the P9 works is that once you tap the sensor, it takes you straight to the home screen, it doesn’t even flash the lockscreen, it’s just that fast. Another benefit, and something that not all fingerprint enabled devices do, is that if you restart, it forces you to put your pin in instead of just allowing you to fingerprint it straight away. This might seem trivial or even annoying to some, but as a security measure, this is fantastic. Huawei have also decided to use the native Marshmallow Fingerprint API with the P9, meaning no home grown API to finagle apps into working with. Any app that was written to work with the Marshmallow fingerprint API, works with the P9, and that my friends, is one of the many benefits of Android.

That’s enough of the external hardware, let’s speak about some of the internals, specifically, the SoC. Those of you who know me know that CPUs, GPUs, Radios and Process technologies are some of the things that interest me most. It’s one of the reasons I started the “Tell Me More” series of podcasts, and why I interviewed Josh Walrath from PC Perspective. What Huawei has done with the Kirin 955 inside of the P9 is really quite fascinating. One of the interesting things is that it is one of the first devices to use Cortex A72 cores from ARM in a mobile device (the new FireTV box had 2 of them, but it has different thermal envelopes). It also uses the new Mali T880 GPU (albeit in a quad-core configuration). It does all of this on TSMCs new 16nm FF+ (FinFET+) process node. This is a high level explanation of the Kirin 955. I could go deeper into ISP (image signal processors) DSP (Digital signal processors) and more, but for this review, all you need to know is that Huawei tuned the Kirin 955 well, and if there was anything I’d change, it would be the GPU. Whilst the T880 is nothing to scoff at, the Quad-Core configuration is lower than I’d like especially when Samsung implements the 12 core variant in the Exynos 8890. It’s a potent GPU, don’t get me wrong, but I would have preferred at least a 6, possibly 8 core variant to go along with those beastly A72 cores.

Radios and Connectivity

Something that a lot of people take for granted nowadays is that things will just work. You’ll always have a signal, wherever you are in your house. WiFi will work and no one really thinks about it until you have a device with bad radios. Luckily for everyone here, the P9 has phenomenal radios, and in my testing, better than the legendary Motorola radios. The P9 has held signal in places I didn’t even think it was possible to still hold a connection. My mobile carrier often has issues penetrating the walls in my house due to it being 140-ish years old, so I can walk from my office at the front with full bars, and on other phones, walking to the kitchen, a whole 20 feet away I can completely lose mobile service. The P9 held signal all the way up until I reached the other side of the kitchen, and whilst that might be as anecdotal as it comes, it really goes to show that Huawei Radios are no joke.

The WiFi is a similar story. The Dual band WiFi antennas are finally here on a Huawei flagship (previous ones were limited to single band 2.4Ghz 802.11n) and they serve their purpose valiantly. Dead spots in the house where no longer dead spots, and it wasn’t even with a single bar, there were multiple. Finally the dream of streaming podcasts in the bath is no longer a dream and finally a reality (and yes, I realise this is as “first world problem” as they come). The EVA-L09 model I received which is the European single SIM variant is also the only variant of the Huawei P9 that supports NFC, so if it had launched already, I would have been able to use Android Pay alongside the fingerprint scanner for authentication to make payments on my device. Sadly that was not possible, but that doesn’t mean NFC is not useful, as it was with my NFC tags triggering certain events (e.g. getting in my car or putting my phone into night mode before I sleep).

Huawei P9 ReviewOn the 3 Network in the southeast of England, the Huawei P9 performed flawlessly. It in many ways provided similar results to my Motorola devices (my current benchmark setters) and in some cases even outperformed them. The Single NanoSIM slot in my EVA-L09 device was appreciated, as at this point, Mini and MicroSIMs should all but be eliminated. On 4G I was consistently able to pull in upwards of 40mbps on the downlink and upwards of 20mbps on the uplink. The MicroSD slot does not appear to support Marshmallow’s “Adoptable storage” feature in my testing, whether this is because the SIM card and MicroSD card share a tray, or because the device has more than 16gb of storage (which we have heard is a Google limit).

Bluetooth was on a similar level to other devices, which is not to say it’s bad, far from it, but range could be improved, as could they all. It was connected to my Pebble Time Steel and Brainwavz BLU-200 Bluetooth earphones, and was flawless for both of them with minimal impact to the battery of the P9 itself. Like I said, range could greatly be improved, but I don’t know if that’s just the walls in my house being too much for Bluetooth to handle, or if it’s too much for Bluetooth on every device I’ve tested to handle, but I just know I’d have liked it to reach a bit longer. Long gone are the days when you turn Bluetooth off the second you no longer need it because it’s a battery hog though. Radios and modems have gotten so efficient the last few years that honestly you’d be hard pressed to notice much of a difference with it on and off.

Battery

Huawei P9 reviewWith a Battery capacity of 3000mAh you’d think the P9 would have good to great battery life, and you’d be wrong. The P9’s battery life is firmly in the “awesome” category. Despite the first few days where It was dying by 6pm, the rest of my time with the P9 I was able to go to bed with about 40% of my battery left, and at the very least 25%. Whilst I’m no longer the screen on time warrior I used to be, the P9 was solidly able to get me between 3.5 and 4 hours of screen on time when I was able to check. Since my adoption of a smartwatch, my phone interaction and screen on time has drastically reduced.

The USB-C charger meant that charging was a breeze as well, whilst I had to buy a spare cable (This one from Anker is one I’d recommend) I could charge in my office and in my bedroom. USB-C being bidirectional is easily one of its best traits. The other? Fast charging. The USB-C Power Delivery Spec 2.0 allows for charging at much higher rates, voltages of 5,12 and 20v are available at up to 5amps, meaning that USB-C can handle up to 100w of power, which is why there are now laptops that are charged solely off of USB-C, the true benefit of a universal connector.

Huawei P9 Review
Huawei P9 Battery Test dimming allowed

The In box charger of the Huawei P9 is a 5v2.4a unit. In my case it came in the European 2 prong format, so I had to use an adapter, but once I did, my P9 was charging faster than I could tweet! Seriously, using the proper charger, or my 2.4a charging bricks, the P9 was able to suck up power and replenish itself impressively fast, easily able to get 70% of its charge back from dead within an hour and full on its way to 100% in under 90 minutes. The only contradiction to this would be if you were using a MicroUSB to USB-C adapter as I did the first few days. Using that adapter I was led to believe that the P9 took an absolute age to charge. And it does, if you either A) use a MicroUSB to USB-C adapter, or B) use a Charger rated at under 1amp, which I also did.

The P9 really doesn’t like to be charged at under 1 amp, even when the device is powered off, So if you can, use the bundled charger at all costs, or just buy a few more USB-C cables, and at £6, that Anker one is most certainly one I’d recommend, it’s a quality cable, one that has the correct wiring so it won’t damage your device, and it’s from a brand that not only I trust, but hundreds of thousands do too. Whilst we are on about cables, It is very obvious to see where Huawei got the inspiration from their cables from, whether it be the “really i’m not earpods” earbuds, or the “I swear i’m not a lightning cable” USB-C cable, they were both very clearly designed to look similar to those Apple counterparts. They aren’t bad cables, far from it, the USB-C cable is made from much thicker gauge wire which means it’ll likely last longer, but the visual similarities are hard to deny.

Camera

Now we come on to the main event of the Huawei P9, it’s camera setup, and before I go any further, let me get this out of the way.

I LOVE what Huawei and Leica have managed to do here.

It is a fantastic camera on so many levels, Whether you’re speaking about focus times, exposure gauging, shutter speed or just the algorithm that decides how much of each flash to use, the Huawei P9 has a really a truly phenomenal camera. Whilst it is great, it is not the best. The Galaxy S7 is still better in low light (due to the f1.7 aperture and larger 1.4µp pixels) and still has the most insane focus speeds on a mobile device. But the Huawei P9 is in my opinion, up there with the LG G5 and the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

The rear camera setup is something that has been done before, and by Huawei no less, but it hasn’t been done in this way before. There are 2 12MP camera sensors on the back, one of them is able to capture RGB data, whilst the other is “limited” to Monochromatic data or Black and White. There are multiple reasons to this. Whilst the colour sensor can be occupied gauging the colours and the intensity of each part of the shot, the Monochrome sensor is just looking at the brightness and the contrast of everything in the shot, because that’s what grayscale is good at; the incredible levels of contrast that our eyes can detect. Then the clever processing puts the two images together in Auto mode so that you get the best of a colour image with the increased contrast of the monochrome image.

“Can I take Black And White photos with that Black and White sensor though?” The answer is yes my dear, you can! The best part of this is that because the sensor is natively monochrome, it’s not applying a Black and White filter to the colour image, so much more detail is retained and there are some shots that whilst they look good in colour, can look fantastic in Black and White, and the option to do this without much difficulty is something that Huawei and Leica have done properly. There are some tricks that they have pulled back from their last dual camera phone, the Honor 6+, such as the faux variable aperture macro mode, able to go from effectively f0.95 to f16.0. It’s cool and it definitely works, but it’s not something that I would use often, just because I don’t know enough about camera’s to make the most of it.

The front facing camera on the P9 is also something that has been stepped up. Whilst the front camera hasn’t improved in the way that the rear camera has from the P8, it is still a welcome adjustment and the P9’s front facing 8mp camera really can take some cracking shots, as well as some cracking video, Of course it helps if you are an attractive looking individual who has some sense of what “photogenic” means (I clearly do not) and of course, being an Asian device it comes with a “beautification” filter slider on the front facing camera, It’s able to take the haggard mess of a person that is myself, and smooth over the day old stubble, the blemishes and just make me look like I’m wearing makeup effectively. If you like it, you’ll like it, If you’re like me, it’ll likely terrify you.

Video Is something that whilst not bad by any means, is definitely something I’d say is the letdown feature of the P9’s camera. Still were definitely a focus and It shows. Whilst the 1080p video capture isn’t bad by any means, it just doesn’t pop or have anything that makes me say “wow”. Other things like the obvious lack of any 4K (or 2160p, or UHD) video recording mode is another sign that Video was really a secondary feature here, and that Stills were the focus. Something That is strange to me is that whilst you’re able to take native Monochrome photos, the P9 doesn’t let you take native monochrome video, instead relying on desaturation and filters, it’s still a really nice black and white video, but not the same as going for the gold and just using the monochrome sensor.

What I’m going to start doing with review devices is to have them as my daily device (duh) but that I’m going to do one Vlog (video blog for those uninformed) per review device. So i’ve had the P9 for 2 weeks, and here is my 2 weeks with the Huawei P9, Enjoy.

Huawei P9 ReviewHuawei P9 Review

If I had a criticism of the P9’s camera setup that is fixable, it’s that whilst the App is incredibly comprehensive, it is also incredibly overwhelming for an inexperienced photographer, and even for me, someone who tests a fair amount of phones. For examples of the plethora of features, if you open up the camera (in portrait) and swipe in from the left, you get 14 options, 12 of which are immediately obvious to you, but if you scroll you get to see the others. There is no indication for you to scroll or anything, you could own this device for the rest of your contract and never know. Those 14 options are :

  • Photo
  • Monochrome
  • Beauty
  • Video
  • HDR
  • Beauty Video
  • Panorama
  • Night Shot
  • Light Painting
  • Time-Lapse
  • Slow-mo
  • Watermark
  • Audio note
  • Document Readjustment

If that were all, that’d be confusing, but if you swipe from right to left to go back to the viewfinder, then swipe right to left again, you open up a whole other set of settings. There are just 2 settings here, General, and Capture settings. General settings has a resolution toggle, for changing between 12mp (4:3), 9mp (16:9), 9mp (1:1), 8mp (4:3) and 6mp (16:9). Then in General we get to toggle whether or not we want to capture in RAW mode where a JPG will also be saved, Then GPS tagging the photos is an option, and lastly (in general) is Film mode, and the options are : Standard, Vivid and Smooth Colours. This is just the General settings, the Capture settings get far more granular and even If i told you those, that still isn’t everything available to you as far as settings is concerned. Whilst this means that you can take great shots in auto, and if you want you can take even better shots with more fine grain control. For the layperson, and even myself, the sheer amount of options is perplexing and sometimes overwhelming.

Still though? This is a dope ass camera.

Software

Software has long been somewhere where Huawei have struggled, their custom EMUI (Emotion UI) interface draws very heavily from east Asian culture and has a lot of iOS stylised components, a lot of these things are less appreciated in the west, but some are. One of the first things you’ll notice about EMUI is actually the easiest to change, the launcher. The standard EMUI launcher has no app drawer, this is where that iOS influence I told you about comes from. All your apps are strewn onto the homescreen for you to organise how you wish, in folders, in crazy ass pages, as long as they’re all out on the homescreens, no app drawers. As I said, this is easily fixable, downloading any of the plenty of alternative Launchers available, I personally download and switch between Google’s own Google Now Launcher, and Chris Lacy’s Action Launcher 3.

Huawei P9 Review
The iOS7 inspired multi-tasking menu

There are other parts of EMUI that I am far less fond of, I wholeheartedly dislike the notification shade with the way the notifications are grouped, the Gaussian blur that changes its mind on whether or not it wants to work, the split trays of notifications and quick toggles, the fact that you have to scroll on the quick toggles when there is clearly enough room for more. EMUI’s multitasking interface is also a throwback to iOS 7, with one nice functional change, where a swipe up dismisses the app, the swipe down gesture locks the application into memory. But I am still much more of a fan of the Rolodex (Kids, ask your parents) style that stock Android offers to this, It just feels inefficient space wise, and also, the swipe up doesn’t always work, making it rather annoying to do multiple times just to close the damn twitter app.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, in multiple ways. First off, the build of EMUI (4.1) on the Huawei P9 is built on top of Android 6.0 (With the March security Patch) so it is at least as current as we can hope. Whilst 6.0.1 would have been a nice bonus, if we are really honest with ourselves, all 6.0.1 really adds is new Emoji, which I don’t need all that much. I am more upset about the fact it’s on the March security Patch and Huawei hasn’t given us any indication they’re bringing more to the device.

Huawei P9 Review
Squircles, Squircles everywhere!

So they gave their flagship phone Marshmallow, that’s awesome, but what else? It’s no longer the incessant performance and resource hog it used to be, whereas we can all remember a time not too long ago where EMUI, just like Sense, TouchWiz or whatever LG calls its UI, used to be tremendous resource hogs and often make performance miserable. That’s all gone on the P9, I made it trip up once, and that was when I was installing all my apps for the first time on day one whilst trying to listen to music streaming from Microsoft Groove music. The P9 is a performance champ, and EMUI has slimmed down and it shows, I’m not one to stick up for Huawei, because I would still much rather EMUI not exist, but well done Huawei on fixing it thus far.

It still isn’t perfect though. EMUI still changes all your icons to Squircles (not quite squares, not quite Circles, Squircles!) and just mutilates them creating strange mishmashes of icons with weird colours, this is something that has been changed for changes sake, and not for the better, Thankfully there is a fix, Alex Dobie from android Central points out an Icon pack to work within the EMUI theme engine to give you stock Icons and get rid of Squircles, find it here. Once I added the PureIcons icon pack to my arsenal, EMUI already looked more palatable, but just a few short days before I was meant to send the P9 back, a theme popped up on XDA purporting to give EMUI 3 and EMUI 4 toting devices a more “Android N” style theme, so I downloaded it, and I installed it and then I set up PureIcons again.

Once I’d done All that, I’d fixed the Icons, I’d fixed the launcher, I’d fixed the dialler (you can download the stock android Dialler from APKMirror) and I’d applied this theme that got me a more Material Design colour scheme, it made the notification shade more bearable, but I’d still rather stock, the only real caveat I had was that i still really hated the multitasking menu. But the fact that I was able to make it work to a point where I didn’t mind using it everyday was nothing short of marvellous. Should the end user have to do all that? No, of course they shouldn’t, but if even I, the most Anti-EMUI person I know, am able to think “i’d live with this” because of the tweaks I was able to do, that’s quite a feat.

EMUI still has a few quirks, if you don’t change the theme a few notifications will just break, they’ll show up with black text of a dark background so you can’t see them, or they’ll do a white text notification on a light background so you can’t see them. Some notifications can’t be removed until you reboot for some strange reason (I think this is a bug that’ll get squashed quite quickly) Or things like the camera being so unique has issues with Snapchat. For you snapaholics, as it currently stands, the Huawei P9 was almost unusable, it’d crash, freeze, refuse to admit the camera existed and was as slow as a first gen Moto G on Snapchat sometimes. This is an obvious bug, I don’t know if it is a Snapchat bug or a Huawei one, but either way, snap addicts, beware.

Thermals

This next one Is going to be an easy one. Since the Priv (my last review, go check it out here) I’ve decided that Thermals needs to be something that Is added to my review quota. Some devices get hotter than is comfortable, and the P9 is not at all one of them, well unless you did what I did the first day which is :

  1. Plugged it in to charge
  2. Be in a room with an open, lit fireplace
  3. Proceed to download all 75 apps I use on a device
  4. Try to stream music on a mobile data connection.

Under those circumstances, the P9 got hot, but that is mostly me being an Idiot. Under normal circumstances, and for the rest of my time with the P9, it never got above ambient temperature, and actually, a lot of the time it was nice to pick up because the metal gave it a “cool to the touch” feeling and was very nice. The time It did get hot, it was localized to the upper rails mostly to the right side, whether that is where the SoC is located or just where the thermal dissipation holds the most heat I don’t know.

But I can tell you, If you’re worried about the P9 getting hot because it’s a metal phone with a high powered chip? Don’t be worried, you have nothing to fear.

Conclusion

Now we come to the easy but also hard part, the conclusion. It’s easy because I can tell you to buy this without a shadow of a doubt. It’s fast, has a great screen, has great cameras, has stellar battery life, uses the new type of USB and it built in such a way that if I threw it at someone I’m worried it’ll cause them more damage than the phone. But it is also hard because it means that I have to let this phone go back to Huawei.

You should buy the Huawei P9 if you value photography, or a fast phone, or a well built phone, or a phone that lasts all day, or that if you manage to kill it in less than a day it’ll charge up rapidly enough that it won’t matter. The P9 is something that I would certainly buy, which is not something that I have said about Huawei or Honor Device in the past, but the P9 at it’s £450 price tag is something that cannot and should not be ignored, but we have also seen it pop up in the last couple of days as low as £300 on Vodafone PAYG or for about £360 on a GiffGaff installment plan.

Whilst £450 is not inexpensive, for a lot of people that’s more than they would ever think of spending on a phone, when you start to tally up how much a 32gb Galaxy S7 costs, or how much a 32gb HTC 10 costs, or a 32gb LG G5, or a 64gb (no 32gb available) iPhone 6s, you see that it’s actually very good value for money for a cracking handset. Let us not forget, it’s a SIM Free unlocked handset, meaning its yours to do whatever you wish with.

The P9 is on it’s way back to Huawei as this goes live, but for the first time I can say that I’m sad one it’s gone back. Whilst there have been devices that are cool and wow worthy, there are very few devices that I genuinely miss and wish I don’t have to send back. The P9 joins that list, and if I come into a spare £450 any time soon, it’ll be hard not to buy one.

Huawei P9

£449.99
Huawei P9
9.3

Build Quality

9.5/10

Display

9.5/10

Performance

10.0/10

Camera

9.0/10

Value

8.5/10

Pros

  • Cameras are great
  • Screen is phenomenal
  • Blazing fast
  • Long Endurance
  • USB-C and Fast Charge

Cons

  • Relatively inexpensive, but still expensive
  • Constantly scared i'll scratch it
  • i'd still rather EMUI didn't exist
  • Big too big for me
  • Snapchat hated this phone

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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