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Huawei P9 review - hands on with the monochrome camera phone

Katharine Byrne
6 Apr 2016
Huawei P9 port
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Huawei's P9 is official and its dual cameras promise to take smartphone photography to the next level

Huawei has just announced the P9, its latest flagship smartphone for 2016, and it's got two cameras on the back. Each of the pair has its own Leica-certified lens sitting in front of a 12-megapixel sensor, and Huawei is promising that together they will revolutionise your smartphone photography, so what's the deal?

While one of the cameras is a straightforward smartphone camera, the second one only capture in monochrome for Black & White images. Huawei says it's included a dedicated monochrome sensor to help users create the best black and white images ever seen on a smartphone. According to Huawei, shooting in monochrome allegedly allows up to 200% more light information into the picture and up to 50% better contrast.

It does all make sense, a typical digital camera uses an RGB filter to ensure that different coloured light hits specific parts of the sensor, so that colour information can be collected to make up each pixel. Freed of this burden, a monochrome camera can instead use the whole sensor purely to collect light levels for the black and white photo, resulting in greater accuracy and far less picture noise. It's certainly a little niche in 2016 but we'll have to wait and see how it performs once we get one in for review. Partner Leica, does make a monochrome only camera of its own, the Monochrom, but that costs around £5,000.

Bizarrely, given the concentration on photography here, there's no optical image stabilisation built-in, but it does have laser autofocus and a 16fps burst mode. Likewise, each pixel measures 1.25um, should help produce better pictures in low light. That's not as large as the 1.4um pixels on the S7, mind you, but Huawei insists the P9's camera will take smartphone photography to a new level.

Huawei P9

In addition to the dual lenses, there's also a new film mode that lets you adjust how bright the colours appear in each photo, and an enhanced Pro mode. By tapping the small button next to the shutter button, you can adjust the ISO value up to 3,200, white balance and focal points. You can also change the shutter speed from 1/4000 to 30 seconds. This is in addition to the usual Standard, Vivid, Food and selfie modes, which you can easily switch between by simply swiping right and left on the screen. Speaking of selfies, the P9 also has an 8-megapixel camera on the front.

Like the Huawei P8 before it, the P9 has a full aluminium chassis, but this time Huawei's slimmed it down to just 6.95mm thick, making it slimmer than both the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S. As well as the dual cameras, there's a rear fingerprint sensor (which is the same one Huawei used on the Mate 8). 

With a 5.2in Full HD display, the P9 has a pixel density of 423ppi. Huawei was keen to point out that this is higher than the iPhone 6S, which is almost the same size as the P9 but only has a 4.7in screen. The bezels are also just 1.7mm thick, creating an almost seamless edge to edge display much like Sony's Xperia XA, which was announced at MWC.

Huawei P9 cameras

Underneath all that, the P9 is powered by Huawei's latest octa-core 2.5GHz Kirin 955 chipset and 3GB of RAM. It also has 32GB of internal storage and charges by USB-C. Huawei's predicting its 3,000mAh battery will be able to deliver at least one and a half day's battery life, but I'll have to wait and see whether that figure holds up in our battery tests when review samples arrive.

Huawei also announced the P9 Plus. This 5.5in behemoth has a Super AMOLED display, 64GB of storage and is powered by the same Kirin 955 chipset and 4GB of RAM, plus it comes with a microSD card slot too, supporting cards up to 128GB. It has a bigger 3,400mAh battery and again a USB-C port for charging. It also supports Press Touch, Huawei's version of Apple's Force Touch, allowing for additional interactions if you press harder on the screen, of course that's highly dependent on how well integrated it is with Huawei's Android launcher, traditionally our main bugbear with the company's handsets.

Huawei P9 and P9 Plus

The P9 will launch in Europe this month with an RRP of £449, while the P9 Plus will cost £549. It will also be available on contract from all the usual retailers and networks. Stay tuned for our final verdict on the P9 in the next few weeks. 

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