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Huawei P9 bets two cameras are better than one (hands-on) Huawei's new P9 -- and its big brother, the P9 Plus -- have two 12-megapixel cameras on the back, as part of a Leica tie-up that the company hopes will give it an edge in the smartphone photo race.

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Selfies, photos of pets and sweeping panoramic shots whenever you find yourself more than four floors above sea level -- it seems every day there's a new use for the cameras stuck to our smartphones. Chinese tech firm Huawei hopes it can sell you a phone based on the imaging prowess of its newest toy, the P9, which sports two cameras and the prestigious Leica brand.

Huawei has only announced European pricing, with the P9 starting at 599 euros, which converts to around £485, $680 or AU$900, and its big brother the P9 Plus costs 749 euros, which is about £605, $850 or AU$1,125. The UK appears in the first wave of countries where the P9 will go on sale on 16 April -- networks EE, O2, Three and Vodafone have all said they will sell it. It will likely only be sold online in the US and Australia.

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Two cameras will make for better photos, Huawei asserts.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Aperture prowess

The P9's headline feature is its dual-camera system, which stares out from the back of the phone's aluminium frame like two beady eyes. Both cameras have 12-megapixel sensors, but bring different abilities to the photography party -- one is an red, green and blue (RGB) sensor, while the other is black and white. Huawei claims that these two cameras working in tandem will bring more light to your photos, and offer better contrast.

That's not all those two snappers are good for. Having two cameras lets the phone do a better job of gauging how far you are from your subject. That lets you whack on a wide aperture mode that will give your photos extra depth of field -- blurring out the background to put more emphasis on your subject. Better still, you can tweak the focal point of images after they've been shot, and add some interesting filters, such as one that keeps your subject in colour but turns your background to black and white.

Huawei's camera tricks are certainly intriguing, but plenty of smartphones make bold claims about their camera powers, and not all of them walk the walk. Leica is a respected photography brand, but it hasn't actually built these cameras. Huawei says they were designed in collaboration, but that it handled manufacturing itself. I certainly enjoyed my brief time with the P9's camera and its many aperture-related tricks, but stay tuned for the full review, when we'll put really put these twin cameras through their paces.

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Watch this: Huawei P9: CNET Editors react

Playing it safe

Huawei hasn't risked much with the design of the P9, opting for the same aluminium look that we saw on last year's P8, with a pleasing, rounded finish. The look still puts us very much in mind of a certain fruit-flavoured smartphone, but apart from a lack of daring, we didn't find much to dislike about the design during our very brief hands-on.

Also reminiscent of Cupertino's finest is Huawei's software, EMUI, a version of Android Marshmallow that removes the app tray, so all your apps appear on home screens.

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There are no surprises with this aluminium design, which looks similar to last year's P8.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The P9 charges using USB Type-C, which is the latest USB standard. It's lovely to be up to date, but if you've got existing Micro-USB chargers hanging around, expect to consign them to a dusty drawer -- they won't fit the P9. The upside is USB-C is reversible, so you'll never have to fiddle about getting the plug in the right way up.

On the back of the P9 there's a fingerprint sensor. Not all phone fingerprint sensors are created equal, so here's hoping this one is able to identify our prints quickly and accurately.

Plus size P9

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The P9 Plus has a bigger battery, bigger display and will likely come with a bigger price tag too.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The P9 has a 5.2-inch display, but if you crave something larger, Huawei's also going to be selling the P9 Plus. This bigger mobile is largely the same, but has a 5.5-inch screen, a little more RAM, twice as much storage, and the front-facing camera is able to autofocus. It also has more battery power, in acknowledgement of the fact that the bigger display is likely to suck down more juice (there's also more space behind that screen to cram in cells). There's also a premium version of the P9, called the P9 Deluxe, that goes for 50 euros more (about £40, $55 or AU$75), packs extra RAM and storage, and comes in gold or white.

Huawei P9: Other key specs

  • 5.2-inch, 1080p display (5.5-inch, 1080p on the P9 Plus)
  • Supports microSD cards up to 128GB
  • 32GB of on-board storage (64GB on the P9 Plus)
  • 3,000 mAh battery (3,400 mAh on the P9 Plus)
  • 3GB of RAM (4GB on the P9 Plus)
  • P9 colours: gold, rose gold, grey, silver
  • P9 Plus colours: gold, grey, white