Huawei has come from nowhere over the past few years, from its humble beginnings producing uninspired budget devices to having a full complement of Android handsets, including impressive flagships that are not limited to Google's well-regarded Nexus 6P.
Now one of the biggest smartphone manufacturers in the world, Huawei is especially popular in Asia. The Shenzhen giant has come to the table in 2016 with their most compelling device ever: the Huawei P9. This is, without a doubt, a high-end flagship constructed with the same precision and quality as any of its competitors, including Samsung, HTC, and even Apple. This mid-sized phone is packed with modern hardware in every corner, and gives long time incumbents a serious run for their money.
The P9 isn’t just your typical collection of high-end specs, though. Huawei has attempted to think outside the box in some respects, packing in features like two 12-megapixel cameras on the rear, and a home-grown HiSilicon Kirin 955 SoC on the inside. And while the P9 does run Android 6.0, Huawei’s customized version deviates quite a bit from the design of stock Android.
I love the design of the Huawei P9: it’s simple, compact, and elegant. Having used the Nexus 6P for significant periods of time, I know that Huawei is a company with a great team of designers, and the P9 is evidence of this once again. This phone both looks and feels spectacular, and although its design doesn’t do anything hugely original, Huawei has ensured the finished product is polished and ergonomic.
The P9’s design is so successful because the majority of the chassis is a single piece of metal, which spans most of the rear panel and curves around all four sides. While this isn’t the first unibody handset I’ve reviewed, I appreciate the consistency in design, with subtle highlights adding some interest in key areas. The seamless build feels great too, and I’m glad that Huawei resisted the urge to incorporate any plastic.
The flat slab design keeps the P9 looking and feeling slim, at just 7.0mm thick. In general the build is very rectangular, but there are subtle curves to each edge that make the P9 fit surprisingly well in your hands. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S7, there is no glass back, so it’s easy to grip the P9 and you don’t have to worry about fingerprints. On top of that, the smooth corners don’t dig into your hands, which helps with one-handed use.
There are some breaks to the metal body which are necessary for good antenna performance. A polycarbonate strip runs along the bottom of the back panel, while at the top there is a black glass section that houses the dual camera setup and LED flash. This glass section will be familiar to those who used a Nexus 6P, although in the P9 this area sits flush with the body, and the whole area is more nicely integrated into the rest of the phone’s design.
Below the camera array is a rear fingerprint sensor, indented slightly into the body. The positioning here is great for general use, and is easily accessed as soon as you pick the device up. I’m not a fan of fingerprint sensors below the display as this requires you to stretch to activate it, but with the P9 this isn’t an issue. The P9’s sensor is extraordinarily quick and particularly accurate; I had absolutely no trouble using this feature to keep the device secure.
On the front is the 5.2-inch display with slim side bezels, which helps with one-handed usage and device usability. Huawei has used Gorilla Glass 4 to protect this display, with a “2.5D” design that curves away at the edges brilliantly. I love a swooshable display, and the Huawei P9 certainly has one of them. There’s not a lot else to the front panel: you’ll also find a notification LED hidden in the front speaker, along with the front-facing camera and sensors.
Speaking of the speakers, the P9 doesn’t include stereo front-facing speakers, to my disappointment. Instead there is a single main speaker along the bottom edge, so users might need to cup their hands to get a good audio experience while watching videos. Quality from this speaker is typical for a smartphone: fine for the odd video or ringtone, but poor for music and not overly loud.
The bottom edge also has two other key features: the USB-C port for charging and data transfers – a great inclusion by Huawei – and the 3.5mm audio jack. As such, the top edge is clear aside from a microphone, while the left edge only has the tray for the nano-SIM and microSD card. The right edge has a volume rocker with a small power button below, which is in the perfect position for this size of handset.
I appreciate how portable and easy to use the Huawei P9 is, especially coming from larger devices like the Nexus 6P or Galaxy S7 Edge. The vast majority of the screen is easily accessible in one hand, and the handset is lighter than average for a metal body, at 144 grams. This is exactly what I want to see from mid-sized devices like this.