Huawei has a new champion and it's the P9 Plus. Launched alongside a "regular" P9, it's the bigger of the two devices that might turn more heads.
The Huawei P9 Plus takes the advancements of the P9 and combines them with a premium feature from the Mate S deluxe model. Where there's two versions of the P9 - a regular and an enhanced model - the P9 Plus comes with all those enhancements as standard. It’s unashamedly the powerhouse of P9 party.
It's perhaps surprising then that Huawei didn't spend long talking about the P9 Plus at its launch event, a fleeting slide telling us it was better in a few areas was about all we were treated to. This is the handset that's packed with all the features, but most of the launch day focus was on the regular model.
Fear not, because we spent some time getting to know the Huawei P9 Plus on launch day.
Huawei P9 Plus design
The Huawei P9 Plus shares the same design as the P9. Both feature a premium aluminium unibody, for a slick and solid design that very much fits with the family look established over previous devices such as the Mate S and the Mate 8. There's a quality chamfering to the front, sitting next to the 2.5D display for a slick curve around the edges. It's flat across the back (with no camera bump), but comfortable to hold.
Huawei is talking about a jewellery grade finish in the same way that HTC did with M9, with reference to micron-level polishing and hairline brushing. These handsets look great, coming in a range of colours spanning the usual silver and gold options. There's a ceramic white option for the P9 Plus, which Huawei says is smoother than the paint finish on premium cars. It's also a fingerprint magnet and the sample we saw at the launch event was showing the signs of lots of handling, something the regular metal finish models survive better.
The Huawei P9 Plus is the larger model, with a body that measures 152.3 x 75.3 x 6.98mm and weighing 162g. Much of the talk around these new models has been about the minimal bezel, meaning the display runs pretty much to the edge of the handset.
We like the design, it's a good looking phone, although it perhaps lacks the design flourish you get elsewhere, such as on Samsung's recent phones. Like HTC with the One M9, Huawei seems to be pushing superlatives, but it's still a fairly safe unibody smartphone design overall.
Naturally, those twin cameras on the back do make it a little unique, but Huawei's emphasis still seems to be on creating the slimmest handset for the ultimate spec sheet bragging rights. Importantly, however, it feels solid and offers the sort of quality that you expect at a premium handset level.
Huawei P9 Plus display
The big differentiator in the P9 Plus is that the display increases to 5.5-inches, over the 5.2-inches of the regular handset. The display resolution stays the same, however, at 1920 x 1080 pixels, for 401ppi. Huawei is sticking to full HD, rather than making the jump to Quad HD that you'll now find on the likes of the LG G5 or Samsung Galaxy S7 edge.
Full HD is a perfectly good resolution on a device of this size, although there are more impactful displays out there. In many cases, in day-to-day use things will look nice and sharp, but if you're going to be using your phone for something like Google Cardboard VR, at this size you could really do with a higher pixel density for a better visual experience.
We've not had enough time to fully assess the display of the Huawei P9 Plus in the real world, but first impressions are of a display that's pretty good.
But that's not all the treats this smartphone offers. The P9 Plus also carries the pressure-sensitive display that made its debut on the Huawei Mate S in 2015. If you remember, Huawei beat Apple to the punch in introducing this technology a month before it appeared on the iPhone 6S, but the Huawei device it was on was very much a special edition. Now it's much more in the mainstream for Huawei, although, admittedly Huawei isn't likely to shift anywhere near the numbers that Apple has with the 6S.
The pressure sensitive display, called Press Touch, offers a similar range of additional UI element as it did on the Mate S. You can use it to zoom in on photos, for example, or for navigation and shortcuts. There's also compatibility with 18 native apps. These work in a similar way to iOS, popping up shortcut details or giving you instant access to the selfie camera for example.
Adoption by third-party apps is perhaps unlikely and that's not likely to change with this being the only Android device to offer the feature. Still, it's a novelty that stands this phone apart.
Huawei P9 Plus hardware and specs
The Huawei P9 Plus features a HiSilicon Kirin 855 octo-core chipset with 4GB of RAM. This is an in-house solution, one of the aspects that helps Huawei keep the price down. In the past we've found such hardware to be powerful enough.
It perhaps won't keep pace with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 found in many rival flagship devices, but our experience of the power of the Mate 8 and Mate S (with previous generation Kirin chipsets) suggests that in daily use it will make no difference. In the short time we spent with the Huawei P9 Plus, we didn't get to fully assess its performance, but the Huawei P9 review model we have is fast enough, offering the similar hardware.
There's 64GB of internal storage, which is a healthy offering, and there's support for microSD card expansion. This doesn't benefit from the seamless integration using Android Marshmallow's adoptable storage feature.
There's a boost for the battery, and for charging, however, on this larger model. The battery capacity increases to 3400mAh, with Huawei boasting some impressive fast charging times via the USB Type-C on the bottom. We're expecting good performance from this battery, but will need to test the phone in the real world to fully assess it.
Additionally, Huawei has enhanced the speakers, claiming that the regular ear speaker can act as a loud external speaker, and when combined with the bass speaker in the base, makes for richer audio. We didn't have the chance to test this during our time at the launch event.
Huawei P9 Plus cameras
By now you've probably heard that Huawei has teamed up with Leica, partnering in an attempt to enhance the smartphone camera experience even further. The result is a quirky and slightly unique proposition with two cameras on the rear of the P9 Plus.
That's not so unusual (the Honor 6 Plus, HTC One M8, LG G5 all have offered similar), but here the arrangement gives you two 12-megapixel sensors, which hasn't been done before. These are Sony sensors, with one offering RGB (colour) capture, the other monochrome. The information is combined in normal shooting in an effort to give you more of the scene, enhance the low light shooting and so on.
There's the added bonus of offering more depth information for post-focusing and other effects, as well as aiding focus in differing conditions. There's laser autofocus and contrast AF too.
Finally, having that monochrome camera means there's the dedicated monochrome shooting mode. This might not be a surprise considering that Leica offers dedicated monochrome cameras, so it's a novelty feature that might find favour with Leica fans, or those who wish they could afford a Leica camera.
First impressions of the camera are good. There's a comprehensive manual mode, focusing is fast and there are plenty of options, although we've not had the chance to fully assess its performance in a wide variety of situations.
One of the additional "plus" features of the P9 Plus is that there's an enhanced 8-megapixel front facing camera that offers autofocus. This is a rare feature in phones, but it should mean the front camera is better able to take sharp selfies. In some cases we question the need for that feature, as most focus front cameras are biased toward the types of distances that selfies are taken at, namely arm's length. However, if you're planning on using a selfie stick, this may be the smartphone for you.
Huawei P9 Plus software
The Huawei P9 Plus launches on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with EMUI 4.1 layered over the top. EMUI is Huawei's Emotion User Interface, its skin it layers on all its devices. The aim is to give some distinction from other Android devices in a way similar to HTC or Samsung. Just about every aspect of Android gets tinkered with and much of it is unnecessary.
There are some things we don't like - and we always say this about Huawei devices so we apologise for the repetition - but the reworking of app icons is intrusive and ugly, and you can't easily get rid of it. The themes let you customise much of the UI, but the icons remain through-out that experience.
Elsewhere, Marshmallow's new features have been incorporated, so Now on Tap is accessed through a long press on the home button, and the control of notifications and how apps behave is pretty much the same as stock Android, but reskinned in EMUI's visuals.
The software experience can be bettered. If you don't like the lack of an apps tray then a different launcher will fix that, and returning to some of Android's stock apps for messages or calendar makes for a cleaner experience.
However, we've not had the chance to fully explore the software offering of the P9 Plus. It's going to be pretty much identical to the P9, except for those minor additions around the Press Touch display.
The Huawei P9 Plus offers elements above and beyond the regular model and that should give it some additional appeal. This is a fully-packed handset, carrying the novelty of that dual Leica camera on the rear.
The larger 5.5-inch display is likely to be popular, but the phone's higher price could be a barrier. With an asking price of €749 (although rumour has it at £549 in the UK) this model sits a little too close in price to some of the established flagships out there.
There's still a lot we don't know about the Huawei P9 Plus, like exactly how well that new camera performs, but it has certainly got a lot of attention. Ultimately, the P9 Plus is a powerful and well-specced smartphone, offering a solid design and build.
We look forward to spending more time with it. The Huawei P9 Plus will be available from 20 May.