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Huawei P9 review:

A great camera is the best thing about the Huawei P9

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The Good The dual-lens camera takes great photos, particularly in black and white, and the phone's slim design makes it easy to carry around.

The Bad Huawei's Android skin is awkward to use and loaded with bloatware. The screen resolution should be higher, given the price.

The Bottom Line It might take fancy photos, but the Huawei P9's high price means it's not a good choice over the similarly priced Samsung Galaxy S7.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.6 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Camera 9.0
  • Battery 7.0

Huawei's flagship P9 is perhaps best seen as a camera with a smartphone attached.

Sporting not just the Leica brand name -- one of the most well-respected names in the photography industry -- it also has not one but two cameras on its back. One lens shoots exclusively in black and white, while the two together provide a DSLR-style shallow depth of field.

It can take some great shots, and those of you who love taking those moody shots of your morning latte will relish playing around with the black-and-white mode.

But that's where the excitement ends.

Huawei has loaded the phone with the same clunky, bloatware-laden Emotion UI it's used on previous handsets. The display's resolution is lower than most other flagship handsets, too, which is disappointing, given that the P9 comes with a high-end price tag.

In the UK, you can pick the phone up, SIM free for £450 ($656), putting it only marginally below the superb Samsung Galaxy S7 (£485 on Amazon UK, $615 on Amazon US) and LG's modular G5 (£490, $650). In Australia you won't get the P9 until July 5 when it'll cost you AU$799.

Two cameras

  • Dual 12-megapixel rear cameras
  • 8-megapixel front camera
  • Dedicated black-and-white mode

I was immediately excited by the fact that Huawei has the Leica brand name on the camera. Leica is one of the most trusted names in photography, making as it does some of the best cameras money can buy. The partnership however doesn't go too far beyond the name though. Leica hasn't provided any hardware for the phone, but Huawei explained that Leica has confirmed that the materials and manufacturing methods used are of a good standard.

Both cameras have 12-megapixel resolutions, but only one of them shoots in colour -- the other is for black and white. While LG's G5 uses a two-lens camera, LG's phone uses the lenses to swap between wide-angle and close-up views. As well as being able to take more impressive black-and-white photos than simply converting a colour image, the P9 is able to combine shots from both sensors, resulting in a rich colour photo with plenty of contrast and detail.

While that does sound like a whole heap of marketing nonsense, it does actually work and quite well.

Shooting in the monochrome mode, I've been able to snag some gorgeous-looking black-and-white shots, with deep black levels and rich contrast across the whole scene, without needing to do any kind of editing. I've spent most of my time in this mode and have thoroughly enjoyed walking London's streets capturing everything in black and white.

Huawei P9 black-and-white camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Huawei P9 black-and-white camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Huawei P9 black-and-white camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It does do an impressive job with colour, too. Shots are vibrant and rich with a natural colour balance to them. Exposure is good, and the HDR mode works well when you stumble across a scene containing very bright and very dark areas.

Huawei P9 colour camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Huawei P9 colour camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Huawei P9 colour camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Another benefit of the two lenses is that you can artificially change the depth of field for your shots -- the effect is similar to what you'd achieve by changing the aperture on a DSLR. It mostly works well, though it can create an unrealistic blur with some subjects.

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