Hands-on with Huawei's all-metal P9 and P9 Plus, with dual Leica cameras

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Huawei's new flagship, the P9, has been unveiled in London(Credit: David Nield/Gizmag)

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Outside of China, Huawei isn't one of the first names that springs to mind when it comes to smartphones, but the company wants to change that — and the new P9 and P9 Plus, co-engineered with photography expert Leica, are leading the charge. The two flagship phones were shown off at a media event in London today and we were there to take a look.

Based on the first impressions we got after the show, Huawei could have itself a hit with the P9. The all-metal, sandblasted unibody feels comfortable and premium to hold, and the manufacturer has done a particularly fine job of fusing the glass front with the rest of the device – the side bezels are just 1.7 mm thick and seem to be barely there at all. The P9 rocks a 5.2-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display, and though it doesn't have the AMOLED display tech of the 5.5-inch P9 Plus nor cutting-edge resolution, the screen still looks bright and, on the whole, fantastic.

As the rumors and leaks predicted, the main focus is on the 12 MP dual-lens camera: a specially designed pair of lenses developed by Leica and fitted with two 1.25um Sony sensors in each (one RGB, one monochrome). There's a lot of high-level camera tech here, including laser, depth and contrast focus capabilities, hybrid auto-focus and three dedicated modes that affect the balance of colors in the image.

Huawei says its lenses let in 90 percent more light than the Galaxy S7 and 270 percent more light than the iPhone 6S – in fact there were a lot of side-by-side comparisons with the well-known flagships from Samsung and Apple – though of course we won't be able to verify all of these stats until we do a full review. We'll be keeping an especially close eye on Huawei's claims about how the P9's camera relates to the GS7, as it has by far the best low-light photography of any phone we've reviewed.

We fired off a few shots in Huawei's demo area and found the camera fast and responsive, though not perceptibly more so than something like the aforementioned S7. Low light slowed down the handset a little, though there was still a decent shot at the end of it, and we like the way Huawei has made it easy to get snapping straight away while still providing intuitive access to a host of options and settings if you need them.

The Leica camera UI and font have been added to the software of the P9 and P9 Plus, and more advanced photographers will like the new professional mode. It gives you full control over ISO, shutter speed, white balance, focus and exposure. RAW image output is supported too. You even get the authentic Leica shutter sound when you take a picture.

Obviously a brand new phone is going to feel fast (for starters, there are hardly any apps on it) but nevertheless the P9 flipped between apps and screens very quickly indeed. A Kirin 955 2.5GHz 64-bit CPU is powering everything under the hood in both phones. We fired up a quick Asphalt racing demo and the phone had no problems at all dealing with it.

The P9 is up against some stiff competition this year but from our short time with the device it looks like it will at least be able to hold its own. The camera tech was particularly impressive – if it lives up to the hype out in the field then it could make a choice between Samsung, Apple and Huawei very tricky indeed.

Both phones also include a fingerprint scanner on the backside (like Huawei's Nexus 6P) and USB Type-C.

Opt for the slightly larger P9 Plus and you get a whole bunch of extras: stereo sound, a bigger 3,400 mAh battery (vs 3,000 mAh in the P9), infrared remote control capabilities, and Press Touch (Huawei's version of Apple's 3D Touch). According to Huawei you can get 1.15 days of "heavy use" out of the P9 and 1.35 days from the P9 Plus. Again, we're going to have to wait until we get to try one to see if these claims stand up in the real world, but those are nice battery sizes.

The company also had time today to show off the TalkBand B3, an accessory designed specifically for the P9 and P9 Plus. The wearable wristband shows notifications from a linked smartphone and tracks your activity, and is a substantial upgrade over the existing TalkBand B2.

The P9 series phones are going to be available worldwide from April 16, with prices starting at €599 for the P9 (which works out as US$680 or £485) and €749 (US$850 or £605) for the P9 Plus. Storage sizes and colors are going to vary according to region, but there are up to six different colors to pick from with the P9 and four for the P9 Plus.

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