With the Mate S, the Mate 8, and their collaboration with Google on the Nexus 6P, Huawei has spent the last couple of years rebranding themselves as a premium smartphone maker to rival Apple and Samsung — something they’re poised to do now that they’re third in global smartphone market share. While the Mate series is nominally more business-focused, those most recent phones still compared favorably with mainstream flagship phones. But, it’s the P9 the company announced today that they’re billing as a Galaxy and iPhone competitor, and they’re trying to sell that notion with camera quality.
Internally, the P9 is a flagship phone like any other — a Kirin 955 SoC with an octa-core processor (4 x 2.5 GHz cores, 4 x 1.8 GHz cores), 3 GB or 4 GB of RAM, 32 GB or 64 GB of internal storage, a 1080p display, and a 3,000 mAh battery. The P9 is smaller than the Mate series phones, with a 5.2″ display, but there is a larger P9 Plus model with a 5.5″ display, a 3,400 mAh battery, and 4 GB RAM/64 GB internal storage. Like just about everyone else, the phone also has 2.5D curved glass on the display and a fingerprint scanner for security. On the outside, Huawei is saying the P9 is thinner than the iPhone and the Galaxy S7. As with the Mate 8 and Mate S, it’ll have an all-metal build, and judging from those previous phones, we expect the P9’s to be of premium quality.
Spec-wise, this is hit or miss. As usual, direct comparisons to the iPhone are pretty useless, but up against other Android flagships, Huawei might struggle a little. The 1080p display should be plenty good for everyday use, but those looking for a phone that can also power mobile VR headsets will probably still look to either Sony or Samsung. The other big question mark is Huawei’s Hilisicon Kirin 955 SoC — their in-house chipsets have consistently lagged behind those of Qualcomm, Intel, and MTK, and while the Kirin 950 in the Mate 8 was a huge step forward, the graphics processor was still a sticking point. The 955 is using the same Mali-T880 GPU as the 950, so we doubt we’ll see much improvement here. At the very least, the battery life, a focus of Huawei’s over the past year, should be impressive — nothing like the 4,000 mAh monster in the Mate 8, but it’ll almost certainly last longer than a full day. The P9 has quick charging, in case battery life ever does become a concern.
Eventually, we expect that Huawei’s chipset will catch up with everyone else. Mainstream flagship smartphones are probably a little bit overpowered right now, anyway — in terms of performance, the divergence isn’t all that big. The most visible way smartphone makers can differentiate themselves is with the smartphone’s rear camera, something that clearly can still be improved a lot. Huawei is taking their shot by partnering with Leica, the company known for their extremely expensive cameras. While the P9 won’t have the really good Leica stuff, it’s still getting the Leica seal of approval, along with “Leica camera modes” and lenses from the premium camera company.
Next page: A different kind of dual-camera system