Are two cameras better than one? Yes
Remember when we all thought it was silly to put a camera in a phone? Now our phones all have two cameras, and apparently that’s still not enough: this year’s trend is three. Tire LG G5 includes a separate wide-angle lens to give you a choice of framing, which is useful. Huawei has done something different: the P9’s two cameras work together to take pictures with more dynamic range.
In our tests, this gave us vibrant colours and good detail outdoors, showing lots of contrast without highlights getting blown out or shadows disappearing into noise. There’s actually one colour camera and one monochrome. The latter focuses on capturing light, but you can also use this separately to take black-and-white photos. We got excellent results with that, too, as you’d expect from a component bearing the classic Leica camera brand – although we can’t imagine Leica had much do with the miniatiurised electronic gubbins that makes all this possible.
The P9’s software can also process thedual images to vary depth of field, so you can have objects at a certain distance in focus, while the rest of the scene is artfully blurred. That’s normally only achieveable using a full-size camera with a large-aperture lens. It’s fairly obvious that the effect relies on some fakery, and the software’s ‘Pro’ mode tactfully omits this feature, instead giving you a full range of manual controls and the option to save Raw images rather than lowerquality JPEGs.
None of this makes the P9 a DSLR, or even the best phone camera. Samsung’s Galaxy S7, for example, has a larger aperture and bigger pixels in its sensor, meaning it can capture more light more accurately, especially in dim conditions, where the P9 struggled a bit. The P9 also lacks optical stabilisation, which eliminates camera shake in phones that have it, such as the iPhone 6s Plus.
Before we forget: this is still a phone, not just a camera. And the P9 is a very nice phone indeed. Available in the UK in grey or silver, its aluminium case is undeniably iPhone-like but has a squaredoff style of its own and feels beautifully made. The fingerprint sensor on the back unlocks the device quickly and can also answer calls, turn off alarms and bring up notifications. This makes the fairly large P9 easy to use one-handed.
The 5.2in screen has 1920×1080 pixels (Full HD), which isn’t quite as sharp as some rivals but looked great to us, covering 99.2 per cent of the sRGB colour range with high brightness and good contrast. The battery lasted us a very respectable 11 hours 24 minutes of video playback in our tests, a huge improvement over Huawei’s P8. The USB Type-C charging port is less fiddly than the old MicroUSB, and Type-C cables are more common now if you happen to forget yours.
The P9 is also a computer, but in this role its results were more mixed. Huawei’s eight-core Kirin processor kept up with Samsung’s and Apple’s top models in our multi-core processing tests, which reflect what’s possible under ideal conditions. In reality, though, it didn’t do so well in everyday tasks that couldn’t make use of all the cores at once, and web pages didn’t load especially quickly. Huawei’s version of Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) is still odd, too. Graphics performance was way behind, although casual games shouldn’t be a problem.
The P9, then, is not an unqualified success, but you wouldn’t guess it cost less than other leading phones, and none of its flaws are fatal.
With two excellent cameras and a great screen, the P9 adds up to a good phone at a fair price.
5.2in 1920×1080-pixel screen • 2x 12-megapixel rear cameras • 5-megapixel front camera • 32GB flash storage • MicroSD card slot • 802.11ac Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 4.2 • 3G/4G • 145x70x6.95mm (HxWxD) • 144g • One-year warranty.