Pressure sensitive display
Fast fingerprint reader
Emotion UI might not be for everyone
Lack of OIS
No 4K video
Following the release of the 5.2 inch Huawei P9, Huawei has followed up with a larger 5.5 inch version, the Huawei P9 Plus. Along with a bigger display, the P9 Plus comes with an auto-focus front facing camera and an IR blaster.
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Like the standard P9, the P9 Plus comes with a dual-sensor camera from Leica, a fingerprint reader and more. But how does it fair overall? Does it have enough to challenge today’s flagships like the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, HTC 10 and LG G5? Let’s find out, in this in-depth review of the Huawei P9 Plus.
The design language of the P9 Plus is identical to the P9, which is in itself very similar to that of the P8. The Huawei P9 Plus has a full metal unibody along with chamfered edges and is basically a larger version of the P9. The P9 Plus has a slightly smoother brushed metal than that found on the Huawei P8 or the Nexus 6P and at just 6.98 mm it’s quite thin for a 5.5 inch device, yet while still managing to avoid any camera bump at all.
On the front you get a 5.5-inch display along with a discrete Huawei logo. There is no physical home button as all the navigation keys are on-screen. Going around the rest of the phone, the volume rocker and textured power button are on the right, while the SIM tray is on the left. At the bottom you will find the speaker grill, the headphone jack and the USB Type-C charging port for the fast-charging 3,400 mAh battery.
On the back is the dual-sensor rear facing Leica camera along with the flash and the fingerprint reader. The camera setup is contained within a black band including the extra sensor and the Leica logo.
Based on its looks alone, the Huawei P9 Plus is clearly targeted at the upper end of the market and it’s hard to deny that it’s quite a good looking handset. The P9 Plus comes in three colors: ceramic white, quartz grey, and haze gold. In the hand, the Huawei P9 Plus is definitely one of the nicest on the market and Huawei has done well to pack a flagship specs list in a profile so ergonomic and svelte.
The Huawei P9 Plus comes with a Full HD 5.5-inch display and 2.5D glass. Although the screen size has been bumped up from the 5.2 inches found on the standard P9, the resolution remains the same at 1920×1080, this means the P9 Plus has a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch. However the P9 Plus does have one ace up its sleeve, it uses an AMOLED display and not an LCD display. The result is a display with the vibrant colors and deep blacks that we associate with AMOLED technology.
The display also includes “Press Touch”, which is built on Huawei’s screen pressure recognition tech. Using it you can preview images, magnify image details and access shortcut menus for some of the standard apps. For example, in the gallery you can press harder on the screen to activate a magnifying glass. On the home screen if you force press on the camera icon you will get access to a shortcut menu. These menus also appear for the dialer, contacts and messaging apps, among others. The pressure sensitivity is configurable in the settings, which also provides a test area so you can gauge how much pressure is needed at the different levels.
The display is bright, and works well indoors and outdoors. The screen is vivid and saturated with some great contrast, it also has good viewing angles. You can change the color temperature of the display in the Settings menu to a little warmer or colder to better suit your tastes, but for me the default settings were good enough. Overall, the P9 Plus comes with a great display that will provide a good experience regardless of what you’re doing on the screen.
Hardware and performance
The Huawei P9 Plus features an in-house Kirin 955 SoC build on 16nm FinFET. It is a slightly beefed up version of the Kirin 950 that featured in the Mate 8. The chip boasts an octa-core CPU configuration built from four Cortex-A72 cores, clocked at 2.5GHz, and four Cortex-A53 cores, clocked at 1.8GHz. The chip also features a Mali-T880 MP4 GPU, one of the most powerful graphics processors in Huawei’s armory. The P9 Plus comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, along with possible expansion via the microSD slot.
In terms of every day use the P9 Plus is fast, fluid and great to use. The UI animations are smooth, apps open and close quickly, and multi-tasking being a breeze. Games also work well on this device and while there are handsets out there with more powerful GPU configurations, the Mali T880 is a fantastic GPU, even in this 4 core variant. Although the benchmarks show that the GPU has a lower performance than say the GPU in the Exynos 8890, for most users the 3D gaming experience on this device will be excellent.
The Cortex-A72 core is the latest, and highest performing, 64-bit core design from ARM. The use of a Cortex-A72 & Cortex-A53 octa-core SoC is reflected in the benchmarks. The Huawei P9 Plus scored 1829 on Geekbench’s single-core test and 6573 for the multi-core test. These are approximately the same scores achieved by the smaller Huawei P9. For some context, those scores are better than the Snapdragon 810 and the Exynos 7420. Compared to the Snapdragon 820 and Exynos 8890, the Kirin 955’s single core results are lower, however the multi-core score is higher. In other words, according to Geekbench at least, this is a leading flagship processor.
For AnTuTu the P9 Plus scored 97910, which ranks the device higher than the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, faster than the Huawei Mate 8 (as expected) and faster than the Galaxy S6. However it is slower than the latest flagships with Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8890 processors. As for Epic Citadel the device manages a nice 59.3 frames per second in Ultra High Quality mode, you can’t really ask for more.
The fingerprint reader on the P9 Plus is very good and really I have come to expect nothing less from Huawei. The fingerprint reader on the P9 was excellent and the P9 Plus has followed suit. Since the fingerprint reader is on the back, you can wake and unlock your phone just by putting your finger on the reader. You can also use the fingerprint reader to trigger the shutter while taking photos, to swipe left and right when viewing photos in the gallery, or to answer a call.
The Huawei P9 Plus features a single speaker on the bottom edge, next to the Type-C USB port. The speaker is quite loud and the sound is reasonable considering it isn’t a front facing speaker. However, as with many smartphones, music can lack bass and sound a bit thin. I found that at full volume some tracks tended to distort and that the sound quality improved when the volume was actually turned down a notch or two.
As an added bonus the earpeice acts as a tweeter (with no bass, treble only). While this does enhance the audio, the earpiece output is very low in terms of volume and the whole setup doesn’t really deserve to be called stereo. Basically if you place your finger over the bottom speaker then you can’t hear anything (except a few high pitched squeals from the tweeter/earpiece). Having said that the overall sound is better with this tweeter than without it.
The P9 Plus has a 3400 mAh battery, which is impressive when you consider how sleek Huawei have made the device. I ran Epic Citadel to test the battery life while playing 3D games. According to my calculations you will be able to play 3D games for over 4 hours from a single charge. As for simpler tasks like browsing the web, you will get around 11 hours from a full charge, or alternatively you can watch locally stored videos for at least 10 hours.
Overall you will easily be able to get through a full day without needing to reach for the charger. My tests show that you should be able to get around 6 to 7 hours of screen-on time during a 24 hour period, depending on your usage.
When it comes to battery charging, the P9 Plus supports fast charging and a fast charger is included in the box. Using the supplied charger, it takes 40 minutes to go from empty to 50% and 2 hours and 27 minutes to charge the phone from zero to 100%. The P9 Plus has a USB Type-C port for charging, however Huawei has been practical in that the charging cable has a USB Type-C plug at one end and a Type-A USB port at the other for connecting to the charger or your PC.
As you would expect the P9 Plus also includes the usual assortment of WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and NFC connectivity options. The Huawei P9 Plus also comes with a plethora of LTE bands – just like previous Huawei devices – with support for most the major GSM bands in a single variant of the handset.
One of the extra features on the P9 Plus is the IR blaster. The bundled Smart Controller app allows you to control TVs, air conditioning units, set-top-boxes, DVD players, projectors and more. Device setup is easy enough, you just need to pick the type and make of device and follow the on-screen instructions. Overall the IR blasted worked as expect and in my opinion is a good addition.
The Huawei P9 Plus runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box, complete with Huawei’s Emotion UI 4.1. For some people the lack of a stock Android experience will be a stumbling block, especially since EMUI doesn’t include an app drawer. If you haven’t heard of EMUI, the general look-and-feel is different to stock Android with colorful square icons, desktop folders and a re-designed settings page.
However besides the UI changes there are lots of additional features that you don’t get with stock Android including a floating dock, motion gestures, voice wake-up, a one-handed mode and Huawei’s own take on a “do not disturb” mode.
Under motion gestures you can enable motions like flip to mute, raise to ear to answer calls, and a tilt motion to move icons and widgets. The tilt motion feature works from the home screen editing mode. If you touch and hold an icon or widget you can move it to another screen by tilting the phone to the left or right. There is also the Knuckle gestures which allow you to take a screenshot by double tapping the screen with your knuckle, or drawing a letter to open an app. Both types of knuckle gesture can be disabled if you find they misfire.
With the built-in voice wakeup you can talk to your phone when it is nearby. Its usage is limited to placing a call or locating your device, but it works quite well. The default phrase is “Okay Emy,” but can be changed to anything you like. A similar feature is “Quick calling” which allows you to initiate calls when the screen is turned off. However you need to press and hold the volume down button until you hear an alert tone, then you can speak the name of the contact you want to call.
Since the P9 Plus uses on-screen keys, Huawei as added the ability to customize the order of the navigation buttons. By default the recent apps is on the right and the back button is on the left. However this can be reversed. It is also possible to add a fourth button for opening the notification panel. Tapping the icon is the equivalent to dragging the notification shade down from the top.
There is also a theme engine that lets you easily change the look and feel of the UI to something that better suits your tastes. The theme store has dozens of free themes arrange in several different categories including Creative, Cool, Lovely, Cartoon and Sophisticated. Switching to a new theme is easy, you just need to download it and apply it, however you will need to register for a free Huawei ID.
Huawei has included a battery manager which gives you a high level of control over battery related features. For example you can set a power plan which will tweak the CPU according to your usage (and so save battery when possible). One interesting feature which I haven’t seen before is the ability to change the screen resolution from Full HD to 720p. According to the battery manager app this can help save power! Other battery related options include a whitelist function to ensure that certain apps keep running after the screen is turned off and a power usage firewall which warns you about power hungry apps.
There is also an ultra power saving mode which will disable everything except calls and messages plus activate a simply monochrome UI. When running low on battery power this mode can add several more hours of usage.
One of the key features on the Huawei P9 Plus is the camera. As with the smaller P9, Huawei has partnered with legendary German camera-maker Leica and included the same dual-sensor camera from the P9.
The P9 Plus has a 12 MP dual-lens setup on the back, one with an RGB sensor specifically for color reproduction and the other purely for capturing black and white detail. The camera setup was co-engineered with Leica as part of a long-term partnership that was announced back in February. As a result the f/2.2 dual lenses carry the Leica seal of approval.
The idea behind the dual-lenses is the ability to deliver greater verisimilitude and better light sensitivity. The built-in monochrome sensor promises a 200% sensitivity increase compared to regular sensors and a 50% bump in contrast. There are three different focus modes on board too: laser focus, depth focus and contrast focus as well as a dedicated depth measurement chip. This means that both lenses can focus individually and the P9 Plus’ image processor will automatically choose the best result.
Apart from the more standard modes like HDR and Panorama there are lots of camera modes available including a full manual mode (which offers greater control over ISO, exposure and shutter speed) and a special shallow depth-of-field mode. When using the shallow depth-of-field mode you get the added ability of being able to refocus pictures post capture. From the gallery you can enter the refocusing mode and change which object is in focus and the depth-of-field, i.e. how far away (in terms of depth) another object needs to be before it goes out of focus.
Other modes include night shot, time-lapse, slow-motion, and watermark. There is also a series of live filters available if you want to get a little fancy with your picture taking. Huawei also added a light painting mode, that lets you capture light trails created by things like moving cars, or the stars in the sky. The effect can be really interesting, but you will need a pair of steady hands, or a tripod mount, to get the perfect shots.
When in PRO mode you also get some extra options on the settings page, namely the ability to save images in both RAW and JPEG formats, plus an option to enable/disable the AF auxiliary light feature (which basically shines the flash LED like a torch while focusing in low-light conditions).
There are two things that detract from the overall camera experience. One is the lack of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and the other is the lack of 4K video recording. The good news is that there is a software based image stabilization option when recording video.
The 8 MP front-facing camera adds auto-focus, something missing from many smartphones including the standard P9. The auto-focus is a nice feature and should make selfie junkies happy. You will find the standard beautification mode available, plus the Perfect Selfie mode. This mode allows you to dial in a number of beauty presets that automatically get applied each and every time you take a selfie, making for a consistent look across all your self portraits, thus creating the perfect selfie!
My biggest complaint with the P9 Plus’ camera app is that it doesn’t rotate all the UI elements when you move from portrait to landscape. Although some elements do move, the settings page remains in portrait as do the “PRO” settings.
Here are some sample photos to help you judge the camera for yourself:
Plus a few low-light shots:
I also took some monochrome images (one of the modes in the camera app) which I guess/hope uses the monochrome sensor:
|Huawei P9 Plus|
|Display||5.5-inch AMOLED panel
Press touch tech
|SoC||HiSilicon Kirin 955|
|CPU||4x 2.5GHz Cortex-A72
4x 1.8GHz Cortex-A53
|Storage||64GB + microSD|
|Cameras||Dual-sensor 12 megapixel rear camera co-engineered with Leica.
8 megapixel front facing camera with auto-focus.
|Features||Fingerprint scanner, USB Type C, NFC, IR Blaster|
|OS||Android 6.0 Marshmallow with EMUI 4.1|
|Dimensions||152.3 x 75.3 x 6.98mm|
The Huawei P9 Plus certainly offers a lot. It’s thin, has a great battery, there is good performance, the dual-sensor camera and the nice 5.5 inch display. The only wrinkle I can foresee that could slow its wide spread adoption is EMUI.
Our reviews of previous Huawei devices, like the Huawei P8 and the Mate 8, have highlighted flaws with EMUI. One concern has always been that with so many flagship devices on the market, EMUI may prove to be a stumbling block to some users, particularly in the west. However, I am not sure that I feel the same way about the software on the Huawei P9 Plus. I certainly liked the software on the P9 and the software on the P9 Plus is almost identical.
Like the P9 and the Mate 8, the Huawei P9 Plus has excellent hardware, but I also like the software. It isn’t stock Android and if you want stock Android then you aren’t going to be happy with EMUI. True the UI is different, but it is still Android and you still get access to Google’s services, you can install the myriad of apps from the Play Store, and so on. What isn’t there to like?
Having said that, it is also possible to replace the launcher with an alternative like the Google Now Launcher. The trick is to make the Google Now Launcher the default under Settings -> Apps -> Advanced -> Default app settings -> Launcher.
Huawei’s partnership with Leica means this is a great phone for photography enthusiasts, but also a great device for tech lovers, with a range of features that are befitting of any flagship device.
What do you think of the Huawei P9 Plus and do you plan to buy one? Let us know your views in the comments below!