Chinese firm’s super-sized flagship is great, with fun camera, excellent selfies, snappy performance and solid battery life – it’s just a shame about the customised Android
The Huawei P9 Plus is a bigger version of the Chinese smartphone manufacturer’s first excellent offering. It claims to be “plus in every way” – and it doesn’t disappoint.
As with the “plus” versions of other manufacturers’ smartphones, the P9 Plus looks like a P9 blown up by 5% in a photocopier. It’s smaller sibling is an attractive, well-made smartphone, the P9 Plus is equally so, despite the magnification.
Metal body with nice touches
It has a larger 5.5in screen, is slightly taller, wider and heavier. It comes in one colour – quartz grey – an attractive gunmetal grey colour with an interesting red accent around the power button.
The back is smoother than the P9 and with the slightly rounded sides, feels really nice in the hand. It looks and feels every bit a premium top-end smartphone.
Compared to Samsung’s 5.5in Galaxy S7 Edge, the P9 Plus is 1.4mm taller, 2.7mm wider and 5g heavier, but 0.7mm thinner, while the Apple iPhone 6S Plus is 5.9mm taller, 2.6mm wider, 0.3mm thicker and 30g heavier, which is very noticeable in the hand, making it harder to handle.
The screen is a 5.5in full HD AMOLED, which is good-looking, colourful and has deep inky blacks. At 401ppi it isn’t quite as pin-sharp as rivals from Samsung and Google, including Huawei’s own Nexus 6P, but has great viewing angles and will please most.
- Screen: 5.5in full HD AMOLED (401ppi)
- Processor: Octa-core Huawei Kirin 955
- RAM: 4GB of RAM
- Storage: 64GB + microSD card
- Operating system: Android 6.0 with Emotion UI 4.1
- Camera: 12MP dual rear camera, 8MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fiac, NFC, IR, Bluetooth 4.2, USB-C and GPS
- Dimensions: 152.3 x 75.3 x 6.98mm
- Weight: 162g
Snappy with solid battery life
The P9 Plus shares the P9’s processor, Huawei’s octa-core Kirin 955 chip, but adds an extra 1GB of RAM bringing it to 4GB and has double the storage with 64GB built in, while still having the microSD card slot for adding more.
The P9 Plus was snappy, powered through everything I threw at it and ran cooler than its smaller sibling. Battery life was also good, lasting 38 hours between charges using Huawei’s smart power plan, with hundreds of notifications, 10 hours of music listening, five hours’ browsing and app usage and the odd spot of photography and gaming. Most people will likely get two days between charges. Other, more aggressive power-saving modes are available, as well as app usage monitors, which helps weed out power-hungry apps.
Unlike the P9, the P9 Plus includes fast charging in line with most other top-end smartphones, so topping up doesn’t require hours connected to a power supply.
Emotion UI 4.1
The P9 Plus has Huawei’s modified Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system called Emotion UI (EMUI 4.1). It’s exactly the same as the P9 and resembles Apple’s iOS, including forcing all the apps installed on the phone to be on the homescreen, not tucked away in the standard Android app drawer.
Some will like the look, others won’t. It has tighter control of apps, which is good, and isn’t as bloat-filled as other customised versions of Android but isn’t as good as the standard Android experience.
The fingerprint scanner on the back is very fast, accurate and well placed for the size of phone. Not once in my testing did it fail to recognise my finger. You can’t unlock the phone using the fingerprint scanner without picking the phone up, however.
Pressure sensitive screen
The P9 Plus is one of the first Android devices to have a pressure sensitive screen, which Huawei calls Press touch.
Its implementation basically mirrors Apple’s approach on the iPhone 6S Plus. Pressing hard on a Huawei app icon pops up some quick actions and shortcuts. Pressing harder still takes you immediately to one action of your choice, such as straight to the selfie mode within the camera app.
Users can also choose to hide the navigation home, back and recently used apps buttons at the bottom of the screen and to activate them with increased pressure, or set the top left or right corners as shortcuts to launch apps.
In the gallery app, pressing hard on a photo brings up a magnifying loupe with zoom directly proportional to how hard you press. It’s very responsive, and a decent little tool for inspecting detail, but most people don’t look that hard at their photos.
Press touch faces the same problems as Apple’s 3D Touch – it’s difficult to know what supports it, third-party app support is highly unlikely and I’m not sure whether anyone will end up using it. It actively gets in the way of moving icons around on the homescreen, but can be deactivated.
Android might add native support for pressure sensitive screens in the future, but I remain unconvinced by any implementation thus far.
The rear dual camera “co-engineered with Leica” is the same camera system as fitted to the P9, and as such produces good looking images and is quite a lot of fun to use.
The monochrome camera is particularly sharp, and makes the right sort of subjects really sparkle.
The front-facing selfie camera has a faster lens, which lets in more light with an f-stop of 1.9, compared to the P9’s f2.4. The difference is noticeable. Selfies look sharper, brighter and more detailed. In the relatively poor lighting it produced some of the best, most detailed selfies I’ve seen. There are various beauty modes too, but they all just end up losing detail.
- The back is a lot smoother and polished than the P9, but isn’t as slippery as some other metal smartphones
- Double press the volume button when locked to quickly take a photo in less than one second
- Huawei’s app-control tools are excellent for monitoring power drain etc
- A few third-party apps come pre-installed, but can be removed
- There’s a third-party theme that removes the ugly bubbles around app icons on the homescreen I’d still install a third-party launcher such as Nova or Google Now Launcher
- There’s an IR blaster in the top to control your TV
The Huawei P9 Plus is exclusive to Vodafone in the UK at the moment, starting at £500 on a pre-paid tariff. Prices from third-party retailers vary.
The P9 Plus is the best smartphone Huawei has made to date … if you don’t count the Nexus 6P. It takes the winning formula of the P9 and just adds a little bit to it.
The selfie camera is great, the rear dual camera is fun and the look and feel of the phone is top notch. The screen isn’t as crisp as rivals, but is still good looking, while the fingerprint scanner on the back is arguably the best in the business.
It’s just Huawei’s EMUI that holds the phone back – it isn’t as attractive or usable as most other Android versions. Some will like it, I do not.
Pros: Good-looking, feels great, excellent selfie camera, great dual rear camera, brilliant fingerprint scanner, decent battery life, USB-C, IR blaster, microSD card support
Cons: EMUI isn’t quite up to scratch, screen not good for VR (low resolution), Press touch a bit of a gimmick, exclusive to Vodafone in the UK, battery not removable
- Huawei P9 review: aiming for the big boys but just missing on software
- Honor 5X review – a lot of phone for the money, let down by poor software
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge review: this is the smartphone to beat
- Google Nexus 6P review: one of the best phablets available
- iPhone 6S Plus review: barely better than the iPhone 6 Plus
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