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December 22, 2016

Unboxing & Review: Huawei P9 Plus

By: John Diew


Huawei co-engineered with the world's renowned camera manufacturer, Leica, and released the P9 and P9 Plus as their flagship smartphone in April 2016 to replace their previous flagship, the Huawei P8. The new P9 and P9 Plus has almost similar body design as their predecessor with the exception of the new dual camera at the rear.

Today, we have the P9's bigger brother - the P9 Plus in our labs and I have been using this phone for the past 2 weeks. Let's find out if this is the right phone for you.

Retails for RM2599.

Specifications Overview

General

  • Dimension: 152.3  x  75.3  x  7.00 mm (6.00  x  2.96  x  0.28 in)
  • Weight: 162 g (5.71oz)
  • SIM: Dual SIM (Nano, hybrid)
  • Connectivity:
    • GSM / HSPA / LTE
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Dula Band
    • Bluetooth 4.2, A2DP, LE
    • GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS

Display

  • Size: 5.5 inches
  • Resolution: 1080  x  1920 pixels (~401 PPI) Super AMOLED

Under the hood

  • CPU: HiSilicon Kirin 955, Octa-core, 4x 2.5 GHz Cortex-A72 & 4x 1.8 GHz Cortex-A53
  • GPU: Mali-T880MP4
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • Storage: 64 GB, supporting MicroSD up to 256 GB (occupies SIM slot 2)
  • Battery: Non-removable 3400 mAh Li-Po

Camera

  • Rear:
    • Dual 12.0 MP
    • 27mm f/2.2
    • Dual-LED dual tone flash
    • 1080p@60fps video
    • Laser AF, PDAF
  • Front:
    • 8.0 MP
    • f/1.9
    • Auto-focus

Software

  • OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • UI: Emotion UI 4.1

Unboxing


Included in the box:

  • Proprietary Fast Charging adapter (5V2A ~ 9V2A)
  • USB-A to USB-C cable
  • Sim ejector tool
  • Documentation paperwork

Build Quality


The P9 Plus is quite a large phone, or should I say a TALL phone. For a 5.5-incher, it felt taller than it should because of the bigger bezels at the top and bottom. Huawei could've made a dual front facing speakers and that would be perfect.

Width, however, is comfortable for single handed operations, thanks to the reasonably thin bezels at the sides.


Close up of the top section which houses the front-facing camera, proximity, and ambient light sensor as well as the earpiece. There's LED notification light embedded in the earpiece itself.

The earpiece speaker has something up to its sleeves as it also works as a tweeter speaker while playing audio. I'll talk more about this in the latter part of this review.


The first time I pick up the phone, it gave me a solid first impression. It is a very well constructed device with all metal body from the back to the sides. The brushed metal finish at the back is extremely elegant with a nice layer of clear coating.


The edges at all sides are adequately chamfered for that premium finish and handling. Because of the rounded and curved edges, the phone is extremely comfortable to hold in the hands.


At the rear, we have the Leica dual camera and the fingerprint scanner. We shall leave the camera to the latter part of this review.

The fingerprint sensor on the P9 Plus is extremely fast and responsive. The setup process is simple and the sensor can recognize your fingerprint with just a slight tap. The same great experience when you use any other Huawei or Honor smartphones.


At the top of the device is where you can find the infrared blaster and a secondary microphone for noise canceling during phone calls.


Speaking of the IR blaster, the installed Huawei Smart Controller database definitely need an update here as I have never even once succeeded in controlling any of my TVs or air-conditioners. I would just get the no database compatible after trying out all the available presets.

Installing a third party universal controller actually solved my problem and I can control my devices with my phone. That proved the hardware has no issue while the software is the one at fault.


Moving on to the bottom of the phone, and there's the 3.5mm headphone jack and the USB-C port for charging and data transfer.

The main speaker is under the speaker grill. The speaker is loud and clear, I have to turn the volume way lower than how I would normally setup for my other phones. Even apps like Waze if I would be using it at 40% volume when other phones I'll use around 70% volume.

Just now I've mentioned the top earpiece would act like the tweeter for the P9 Plus' speaker combo. It indeed adds an extra layer of sound range especially for the higher ends, but the main speaker at best could only deliver good clarity to the mid-range sounds, leaving a void at the lower-range.

It's not like the speaker is bad, but using it at portrait mode definitely is a rather special experience when compared to any other smartphones with single speakers. However, if you were to use the P9 Plus in horizontal for media consumption such as watching videos or playing games, you definitely have a weird feeling of having your right ear listening to mid-ranged sound while having your left year listening to high-ranged sound.

I just wish Huawei put in a dual front facing speakers instead.


At the right side, you'll find the power button and volume rocker.


The power button is specially treated with red painted chamfer edges and cross pattern textured surface.


At the left side you'll find the SIM tray slot.

Popping out the SIM tray, you'll find the hybrid tray supports dual nano SIM with the secondary SIM slot supporting up to 256GB MicroSD card.

Display


The main attraction of the device other than the dual camera at the back would be the 5.5-inch 1080p Full HD front display. While the Huawei P9 comes with a IPS LCD, the P9 Plus, however, comes with Super AMOLED panel.

Unlike any other display technology, Super AMOLED uses emissive pixels, which means each of the pixels emits light instead of relying on a backlight, hence producing actual black is as easy as turning of the pixel. The outcome? Amazing contrast ratio, vivid colors and power saving.

The viewing angle is amazing on this device, but as expected from an OLED panel, the display suffers every slightly to over saturation which is very common.

One thing that bugs me a lot is the black bar between the display panel and the bezel. Huawei sort of cheated here with thin bezel designs. It looks great when the screen is off, but in reality, the actual display is slightly smaller than the expected display area.


Did you know that the P9 Plus actually has a pressure sensitive display? Dubbed as Press Touch by Huawei, they are basically the same as Apple's Force Touch. Applying extra force on the display will trigger the extra functions. Too bad that almost none of the apps that is supporting this feature at the moment as pressure sensitive display isn't a common thing in Android. Hence only a handful of Huawei's system app is supporting this feature.

Camera


The signature Leica co-engineered dual camera configuration at the back sports a combination of 12MP RGB sensor and 12MP monochrome sensor. The monochrome sensor lacks the usual Bayer layer for color capturing, but that allows the monochrome sensor to be up to 3-times more sensitive to lights.


Front camera comes with a modest 8MP shooter with the support of auto-focus (!).

Camera app


The camera app is easy to use and you have easy access to most of the functions right on the display.


A quick swipe at the side of the shutter release button will bring up the manual functionalities.


Changing the settings and shooting modes screen is accessible via left and right swipe. You can definitely see there's a lot going on here.


The highlight feature of the dal camera is the ability to configure the focus and aperture after the picture has been taken.


The camera utilizes the dual sensor to capture the light and depth information. The raw data is being used by the camera app to product sharp and low noise image. The depth information is stored for later adjustment of the focus point and depth of field.

f/16

f/4

f/0.95

Comparison of adjusted depth of field.

The auto focus is quick and accurate as the camera supports laser AF and phase detection AF. It usually nails the focus point within few milliseconds after you tap on the subject.


White balance control and color reproduction is amazing on this camera.


Point and shoot have never been so easy especially when I'm shooting subjects with complicated colors.


If you thought the dual camera is only for normal shooting, you're wrong. The second monochrome sensor at the back is the gem of this phone. Filters will never ever produce such contrasty and natural monochrome image.




ISO performance is astonishing for a smartphone. Unless I'm shooting in super low light condition, the photographs turned out to be very clean and noise free.

I am so impressed with the image quality that in fact, I'm using it for regular press conference shooting. Of course, my DSLR is still the go-to tool for product shots or if the event's lighting condition is unpredictable. Nevertheless, I absolutely appreciate the ability of just pulling the phone out of my pocket and start snapping great images.

Performance


At the time of writing, the Huawei P9 Plus runs the latest stable version of Huawei's Emotion UI 4 (EMUI), which is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Pretty sure it will be getting the upcoming EMUI 5 which sees the return of native Android controls.

In terms of hardware, the Huawei P9 Plus is equipped with HiSilicon Kirin 955 system on a chip that is paired with 4GB RAM.


As seen from the benchmarks, the CPU performance is spectacular and comparable with Snapdragon 820 as well as Exynos 8890. Real life performance is top notch as I barely feel any lag or slowdown while using the phone, even multitasking with games, social network apps, and Google Chrome browser.

GPU performance is great as well, it handles those graphics heavy games such as Asphalt Extreme and Real Racing 3 well. Best of all, even after few rounds of races, the phone's metal body only felt warm to touch instead of scorchingly hot.

Battery Life


Battery life is another strength of the Huawei P9 Plus and its 3400 mAh lithium polymer cells.

Scenario:
> Start time: 9:30am
> End time: Day 2 1:00am
> Total time on battery: 15 h 30 min
> Total screen on time: 4 h
> Remaining battery charge: 25%
> Usage: Heavy social media & browsing, medium YouTube & gaming

I am very impressed with the battery efficiency of Huawei P9 Plus. We couldn't stress enough the benefits of FinFET that has brought to the table.

For a phone with battery capacity larger than 3000 mAh, waiting for a regular 5V1A charger to juice up your phone can be torturing. Good thing that the P9 Plus supports Quick Charge that can refill 40% charge in 30 minutes. Take note that this is Huawei's proprietary quick charge technology that only works with Huawei's quick charge adapters.

Final Thoughts

The Huawei P9 Plus without a doubt is a great phone. The hardware and built quality are absolutely great. Every time I hand over my phone to a friend, their comment and first impression are positive and sparks more conversation on the phone features and functions.

Of course, the Android OS runs great with EMUI skin. However what falls short is exactly those additional software features provided by EMUI. While they are better than the bloat and gimmicky TouchWiz, what I find is that some additional functions are not really widely used and that's kind of waste, for instance, the Press Touch is only supported by Huawei's own applications.

Then it comes to the price of the phone. At RM2599, the price is quite steep consider that the general consumers are still having second thoughts on Chinese brands. We definitely can see how Huawei is trying to change this mindset with heavy advertising and marketing activities, which ultimately drives the prices up.

Putting that aside, if you were to put your cash for the P9 Plus, rest assured that this phone will serve you well.

Pros:
  • Excellent build quality
  • Excellent Super AMOLED display
  • Excellent performance
  • Excellent camera performance
  • Front camera with AF
  • Great battery life
  • Fast charging
  • Fast fingerprint scanner
  • Loud and clear dual speaker (mid range & tweeter combo)

Cons:
  • Slippery
  • Not stereo speakers
  • Proprietary fast charging
  • Limited support for proprietary features (gestures, Press Touch, etc)

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