The P9 is the latest phone in Huawei’s P-series. The P stands for “photography”, and to make it a great phone for photography Huawei worked with Leica to engineer the camera’s lens.

Well technically lenses, plural, because the P9 has two rear cameras. One has an RGB (colour) sensor, the other is a dedicated monochrome sensor; literally two cameras in one phone. If you open up the camera app and take a photo, the phone uses both cameras and to create an image. It uses the RGB sensor for the colour and the monochrome for detail and contrast.

The colours tend to be brighter making for a better picture, but not necessarily what you were looking at. So if you wanted to catch the exact colours of a sunset, for example, you might want to switch to “pro” mode.

The pro mode allows you to take control. There are three focussing modes including a manual focus mode, which makes macro (close-up) photography easier as you don’t have to hope the auto-focus picks the right part of the image.

You can also use the monochrome camera by itself. In pro mode, the monochrome camera allows you to achieve those wonderful, moody images that black and white is perfect for. This gives you better black and white photos than using a pre-set filter.

My only gripe about the cameras is they are only on the back on the phone. So taking a beautiful black and white selfie, means you need to guess the angle and use hand-gymnastics to take the shot. Thankfully, the fingerprint sensor being on the back of the P9 helps. A long press can be used to take a photo rather than tapping the screen.

But that’s not all the sensor does. The fingerprint sensor can unlock the phone from “sleep”, meaning you don’t need to turn the screen on first to unlock it. If you’re in the photo gallery, swiping left and right on the sensor moves between pictures, meaning fewer fingerprints on your screen. Also being on the back of the phone makes the phone easier to unlock with one hand than when it’s on the front.

Other than the cameras on its back, the Huawei P9 looks like a regular big phone with a 5-inch screen. The metal back is smooth and almost too slippery but the cameras don’t stick out, which means the phone doesn’t wobble when you put it down on a table.

The processor is fast and didn’t slow down even when I tried to tax it by running multiple heavy tasks at the same time. The P9’s battery life is great, which is maximised with constant, and only slightly annoying, notifications of what apps are running and using battery. I’m a pretty heavy user and I easily got to the end of a day and still had 40 to 50 percent battery left. With the P9, Huawei have moved away from micro-USB ports for charging to the new USB-C port, which makes charging much faster.

Huawei is also bringing back its Screen Promise it launched last year. After buying a new Huawei phone, you can register it at huaweiscreenpromise.co.nz — a list of eligible models is available at this site. Then if you break the screen in the first year, you can go online and organise a replacement for free, but you only get one replacement, so you still need to be careful.

Huawei have also launched the larger P9 Plus ($1300) and the smaller P9 Lite ($600).

The Huawei P8 was my favourite phone of 2015, it had flaws but was an excellent buy for the price (about $800). The P9’s launch price is steeper ($1100), which puts it in line with other flagship phones.

It’s too early to say if the P9 is my favourite phone of 2016, but overall it’s one of the best options on the market. If you love taking photographs on your phone then it might be your best option.

Huawei is the third largest phone manufacturer in the world, but it claims that instead of trying to claim the top spot it’d rather “make consumers happy”. That’s a sentiment we like to hear.

Essential specs

Huawei P9

  • $1100
  • Dimensions: 145 x 71 x 7mm
  • Weight: 144g
  • Processor: Kirin 955, 4 x 2.5GHz A72 + 4 x 1.8GHz A53
  • Rear cameras: 12MP, dual Leica lens. LED flash. Hybrid autofocus.
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • OS: Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)
  • Memory: 3GB
  • Storage: 32GB, with MicroSD slot

Our writer received this phone on loan from Huawei for this First Look. First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

by Hadyn Green