Chinese smartphone maker Huawei is now offering a third variant of the P9 and P9 Plus. The Huawei P9 lite is priced more competitively with an aim to build on the success of the P8 lite of last year. We tested this ‘upper-middle class’ smartphone to decide if it lives up to its name. We’ll dive into all the details in this Huawei P9 lite review.
- Good workmanship and capacitive screen
- Full HD display has good brightness and color reproduction
- Good camera and camera app
- Very good battery life
- Image quality can be poor in low light conditions
- No quick-charge battery included
- Software takes getting used to
Huawei P9 lite release date and price
Last year, Huawei launched the P8 lite alongside its flagship P8 smartphone. This year Huawei is proceeding in the same way - the only difference now that it also offers a P9 Plus next to the P9 and P9 Lite. Priced results this year following graduation: Huawei P9 lite for about $300. This is considerably cheaper than the P9, for example, which comes in at more than double the price.
The Huawei P9 lite is available in gold, white and black and was released mid-May. The P9 lite’s strong selling point is certainly its competitive price, rather than the design, feel or dual Leica cameras that the more expensive models have. If you can do without these features, then the Huawei P9 lite could be a compelling smartphone choice.
The Huawei P9 lite is currently not available in the US but if you're in the UK you can order it through one of the links below. We will have more information on US availability as soon as we find out more.
Huawei P9 lite design and build quality
The Huawei P9 lite design largely corresponds to the rest of P9 line. However, there are subtle differences between the lite and premium models. To ensure its competitive pricing, Huawei dropped an aluminum unibody to instead use an aluminum frame with polycarbonate back. The fact that the rear cover is made of plastic isn’t so obvious at first glance, though, as the coating gives it a metallic appearance.
But what has trickled down from the premium models is the narrow band on the upper edge of the back. Again, to keep it cheap, the band does not house dual Leica cameras, but only a 13 MP camera with an LED flash. How good this camera is you can read below in the camera section. The fingerprint sensor is also borrowed from the other P9 variants.
On the front there are small differences between the P9 lite and the two dual-camera variants of P9. While the Full HD display of the P9 lite is identical to the P9, Huawei has cut a corner on the display glass. Instead of using Gorilla Glass 4, the P9 lite has a simple glass cover.
On the bottom edge is a microUSB port and speaker grilles. Although they give the appearance of a stereo configuration, there is only monaural sound coming from one port. The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top of the frame, while the SIM and microSD card slot is located on the left-side edge. Unlike the Huawei P9, the owner of the P9 lite can decide whether the internal memory runs off a microSD card of up to 128 GB capacity, or whether a second SIM card fills this slot.
Huawei P9 lite display
Last year, it was still uncommon for mid-range smartphones to be equipped with an HD display. In 2016, this is fortunately no longer the case. Huawei built a Full HD IPS panel into the P9 lite. Thanks to ‘InCell technology’, there is practically no gap between the display and glass cover. This has the advantage that little dust can accumulate, plus it also looks good.
With a screen size of 5.2 inches and a full HD resolution, the Huawei P9 lite has a pixel density of 424 ppi. Most owners will hardly see individual pixels at this pixel density. Only if you use a magnifying glass, or other magnifying devices, will the pixels be visible.
The Huawei P9 lite performs well with its non-OLED display. Colors are strong and the blacks and whites are good. In the display settings, you can manually adjust the color temperature to your own taste. The viewing angle stability is also good; only when it is seen from an extremely flat viewing angle is a color shift visible. Such a case, however, is extremely rare because no one ever really views their smartphone display from this angle.
Color representation is the main criterion for a good smartphone display. The second is brightness. Huawei has boosted these areas with the P9 lite and, regarding brightness, it now achieves 450 candelas, versus the 353 candelas of the P8 lite. Although the IPS-Neo display of the P9 is even brighter, in direct sunlight the display of the P9 lite is still easy to read.
For a mid-range smartphone, the display of Huawei P9 lite beats leaves little reason for criticism.
Huawei P9 lite software
Stock Android fans might lose interest at this point because Huawei has used its EMUI UI for the P9 lite. Just as with the P9 and P9 Plus, EMUI 4.1, which is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, also comes with the P9 lite. While Google Now on Tap is usable system-wide with this version of EMUI, Google Now cards are not
As is typical of Huawei and most smartphone manufacturers from China, there is a lack of an App drawer. All apps are stored after installation on the home screen, and it is left to the owner to group these into folders. But Huawei’s adjustments to Android have created numerous features that Android 6.0 Marshmallow does not have by default. This allows the fingerprint sensor to be used for not only unlocking your smartphone, but also for other actions. A swipe from top to bottom over the fingerprint sensor opens the notification shade over the display. Calls can be accepted or ended with a finger, as can selfies be shot. It is even possible to swipe through images in the gallery.
Unfortunately there are also unpleasantries to report in the software. Once again, several preloaded games from Gameloft and other advertising partners chew up memory of the P9 lite. This can indeed be easily uninstall, but it would be desirable, especially with an internal memory capacity of only 16 GB, that Huawei bloatware could be deleted.
Apart from the bloatware and Huawei's own user interface, the software of the P9 lite behaves very fluidly in combination with the hardware. What's inside the Huawei P9 lite’s hardware and how it performs in benchmarks, you’ll learn in the following section.
Huawei P9 lite performance
The HiSilicon Kirin 650 found in the Huawei P9 lite is a brand new processor. It consists of an octa-core ARM Cortex A53 CPU. These eight cores are split into two groups of four cores running at different clock speeds: one set runs between 480 MHz and 1.7 GHz, the other cluster between 1.4 and 2.0 GHz.
The processor is supported by the Mali T830 graphics chip, 3 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal memory. The latter is expandable, via MicroSD cards, up to 128 GB. This setup makes smartphones with an octa-core Qualcomm processor, such as the Snapdragon 617, look outdated by comparison – including, for example, the HTC One A9.
And in everyday life the Huawei P9 lite is quick. Very rarely does it feels like the hardware is overwhelmed; videos play without any lag, while opening up apps and switching between them is smooth.
Most games also perform well, unless you’re really pressing the P9 lite with the likes of Dead Trigger 2 and Need For Speed No Limits on the highest graphics settings. But even then, the reason for slowdown will not be the CPU but rather the Mali T830 graphics chip with its two cores and a maximum clock speed of 680 MHz.
Overheating does not appear to be a problem on the Huawei P9 lite, either. Even under heavy load, after numerous benchmarks or long gaming sessions, that Huawei P9 lite is only pleasantly warm, and this heat is distributed equally over almost the entire rear panel of the smartphone.
With the P9 lite, Huawei has built a very well balanced package of performance, power consumption and heat output. For most smartphone users, the power the Huawei P9 lite has to offer is quite sufficient. Only gamers should think twice before picking one up, because the graphics unit is prone to tantrums when pressed to perform too much.
Huawei P9 lite audio
The sound of the Huawei P9 lite is like so many other smartphones. The two groups of five holes left and right of the microUSB port suggest two speakers, but in truth there is only sound in the right group, a mono speaker. If this is blocked during playback of music or other entertainment media, then no sound comes from the P9 lite.
Even if the speaker is not blocked or locked, this doesn’t give you anything. There is no design-related sound depth and at higher volumes, the speakers are simply overworked and there is distortion in the treble.
The call quality of the Huawei P9 lite is very good. The built-in upper rack microphone for noise reduction filters out ambient noise well so that you will be understood by the person on the other end of the line – even in noisy environments.
Huawei P9 lite camera
The camera design was the biggest savings Huawei made in the device and is part of what gives it its low price. Developed in collaboration with Leica, the dual camera system, for reasons of cost, was not used in the P9 lite. Instead, it used a 13 MP main camera. At first glance, one could almost believe that Huawei has reused the camera of the Huawei P8 for the P9 lite. However, this is not the case. The image sensor of Huawei P9 lite is a third of an inch in diameter, the pixels are 1:12 microns in size and has an aperture of f / 2.0. This sounds like the Sony IMX217 image sensor and not the built-in Huawei P8 IMX278. Also, the optical image stabilizer is missing from Huawei P9 lite.
The sensor can provide good image quality, but only the software in the form of the camera app can achieve maximum quality. With the Huawei P9 lite, one can say that the software, which is very reminiscent of the the Huawei P9, gets the maximum quality from the image sensor.
The P9 lite’s pictures seem – at first glance – sharp. But this is only true under the right lighting conditions. The quality of the photos decreases with less light and distortions start to happen. Although you cannot see the problems on your smartphone screen you can when you see them on a PC.
To minimize distortions, Huawei has provided a night mode in the P9 lite camera app. Here, a video sequence of three seconds is recorded and takes an image with enhanced brightness and minimized distortion. This function works quite well, but it requires a steady hand or a tripod since the smartphone needs to be kept still for three seconds.
You can get even more out of the Huawei P9 lite camera when you use the Pro mode. Here you can manually adjust the ISO settings, exposure time, white balance and focus.
Although the Sony IMX214 is also designed for 4K video, the Huawei P9 lite records video in full HD. Also for video recording, an ambitious videographer can select a manual mode and alter the white balance, the focus area and the exposure.
Selfie fans get a better front camera than the one that is used in the two more expensive models. Although all P9 versions shoot selfies with 8 MP, the P9 and P9 Plus has an aperture of f / 2.4 while the front camera of the Huawei P9 lite has an aperture of f / 2.0.
Overall, the camera system of the Huawei P9 lite is solid given its price of $340. Most importantly, Huawei has redesigned the camera app and given the slimmed down P9 version the Pro features.
Huawei P9 lite battery
Despite the price drop, Huawei refrained from adjusting the P9 lite’s battery capacity. As with the standard P9, the P9 lite comes with a 3,000 mAh cell. Raw battery numbers don’t tell us everything about duration and performance however: the efficiency of a smartphone’s hardware components will determine much of this.
Here is where Huawei’s 16-nanometer process Kirin 650 into play.
In AnTuTu’s battery benchmark test, the Huawei P9 lite achieved 8526 points, putting it almost at the level of a Galaxy S7 Edge in terms of statistics. The Galaxy S7 Edge has a larger battery (3,600 mAh), which might be why it edges ahead of the P9 lite, but this is still a respectable score from Huawei.
In my personal use, after a 10-hour long working day, the device still housed a whopping 35 percent capacity in the battery (beginning at 100 percent). My day consisted of about an hour of talk time, an hour of combined games and videos, and frequent message exchanges via email, WhatsApp and SMS.
Despite the strong standby times, charging the device is another matter. Although the Huawei P9 lite can receive two amps and 10 watts of power from a charger, Huawei includes only a one amp and five watt power supply with the P9 lite, which results in rather slow loading times.
Disappointing, but there is hope: our review unit was not presented in the final sales package: Huawei could well have settled on another power supply for its commercial release.
Huawei P9 lite technical specifications
The Huawei P9 lite is a well-conceived package without serious weaknesses. The 5.2-inch smartphone is sufficiently compact and comfortable, with its 147 gram weight delivering the feel of a solidly crafted phone.
Thanks to the Full HD display, it’s a consistently good looking and enjoyable device. Power is plentiful, there are hardly any wait times, it’s a pleasure to use.
The battery life is great thanks to efficient hardware and a large battery. The camera features, including a quality app, are of the $300 class more than sufficient for recording those important life events in pictures.
The Huawei P9 lite must be looked at with a magnifying glass to identify serious criticisms. Like many Huawei smartphones, perhaps the worst that can be said about it is that it lacks some really stand-out features.
Overall, the Huawei P9 lite is a completely solid middle-tier smartphone without much in the way of fancy extras.