The Huawei P9 is one of the best smartphones I have had the pleasure of using this year. It’s stylish (you can’t beat those looks), light, super-fast thanks to upgraded internals and feels right at home in the hand. Don’t get me started on that really good camera at the back (actually, they are two, made with Leica’s blessings).
While the P9’s value proposition is undeniably great and there’s no comparable smartphone at its price range in the Kenyan market, it may still be out of the reach of many ordinary Kenyans including myself (if I do not stretch by forgoing lunch and trips out of town for a month or two). So where do we turn to?
The Huawei P9 Lite.
Huawei does have a couple of budget smartphones targeted at the same market that the P9 Lite goes after. There’s last year’s P8Lite, one of the best-selling smartphones in the local market after the fast-movers from Chinese brands Infinix and Tecno. As such, the P9 Lite is joining a crowded segment of the market where it also has to compete with its own band of brothers from the same home like the Huawei GR5 and others.
Unlike its competitors, the P9 Lite, just like the P8Lite last year, has something that they don’t have: a big name.
With the P9 Lite, Huawei is continuing its tradition of releasing a budget smartphone that shares the name and brand recognition of its flagship smartphone of the year, in this case, the ever-glowing P9.
|5.2-inch full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) IPS
|Octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 650
|2GB RAM; 16GB internal storage (expandable via microSD up to 256GB)
|13MP camera with f/2.0 aperture; 8MP front camera with f/2.0 aperture as well
|Android 6.0 Marshmallow with EMUI 4.1 overlay
|3G, 4G LTE
|microUSB 2.0, Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct
|Dual SIM (micro)
In the box
The P9 Lite’s packaging, just like we saw with the GR5, is meant to remind you every step of the way about the device’s profile and status in the Huawei device family.
Here’s what you get inside:
As expected, the P9 Lite eschews the novelties of its pricier sibling for a more toned down approach that makes it cost-effective to produce and market at half the price of the P9. For instance, there’s no Leica collaboration for the device’s back camera and as such that dual-camera system found on the Huawei P9 is missing on the P9 Lite and the storage space and memory has been halved.
The P9’s all-metal body has been abandoned in favour of an all-plastic build while still remaining just as light.
The black P9 Lite model I have had with me has this soft matte back with glossy plastic only rearing its ugly head at the very top of the back in the strip that plays host to the camera and its flash light.
A metal frame maintains the peace between the glass front and the plastic rear.
The 3.5mm headphone jack remains up top next to a microphone while another microphone is the bottom of the device disguised as a speaker, next to the real speaker. Like the P9, the front of the P9 Lite lacks a LED flash for selfie-taking. Instead, like in the P9, the whole screen lights up in dark settings to illuminate your selfie before you hit “the gram”.
Not all has been shunned in favour of a device that many will be in a position to afford.
The display size remains intact at 5.2-inches, the screen resolution is the same at full HD even though Huawei goes for a plain old IPS unit instead of its tuned up IPS Neo which features on all Huawei high-end devices (and is usually stunning).
From my observation over the last one month that I have been using the P9 Lite, there isn’t much that one will be missing. The display’s vibrancy is still high and visibility in outdoor settings is just as good and compared with the P8lite’s HD display with a lower pixel count, a huge upgrade and one that is deserving of any 2016 budget device worth its name in the wake of similar offerings from rivals such as Xiaomi.
While the P9 Lite’s processor is downgraded to the Kirin 650 from the Kirin 955 on the device it draws its inspiration from, it is still an upgrade to the Kirin 620 in last year’s model and it still manages to handle all tasks one may throw at it in the case of day to day usage so well.
The only let down in performance can be attributed to the device’s very limited onboard storage. There is only 16 gigs over there and out of those, the firmware and other software additions already use over a third of it. If you are going to take full advantage of the device’s good cameras then you’ll need to slot in a memory card and make sure it is the default write storage for the camera app and most of your multimedia needs or else you’ll be in trouble when the storage starts filling up and the device becomes sluggish as a result. I took the P9 Lite with me during a week-long visit to Dubai last month and since it was my preferred means of visually documenting my stay in the City of Gold, I had to buy a microSD card to keep going.
Talking about the P9 Lite’s camera, while it will never be able to hold a candle to the P9 itself, it makes mincemeat of “flagships” from most of the other Chinese brands in the Kenyan market.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the evidence:
See more photos captured using the Huawei P9 Lite on our Flickr page.
But it’s not all rosy for the P9 Lite. There’s still Emotion UI 4.1 hiding the Android 6.0 Marshmallow underneath and just like with the P9, I have no choice words for it. It’s somehow fast and doesn’t stand in the way of user interactions with the device but for the OCD-diagnosed amongst us, you just can’t fail to notice the out-of-place “sandboxing” of app icons on the home screen.
The upside? You gain access to some of the apps that you will be unlikely to find on other similarly-priced Huawei smartphones. One such app is Huawei Health, an app I couldn’t find on the GR5 when I used it extensively in April. Huawei Health, as the name suggests, is a health-focused app that integrates some features targeted at the fitness-conscious amongst us (shouldn’t that be everyone anyway?) like a pedometer.
Like the P9, the P9 Lite has a fingerprint sensor embedded at the back of the device, just below the visor-like band where the camera and the dual-tone LED flash are located. Its functionality is unchanged from that of the P9. You can set it to make it easy to access the notification drop down, for instance, or take selfies or the usual stuff: unlocking the device when it is in a sleep state and logging into apps like Telegram, LastPass and others that have incorporated fingerprint authentication.
One of the things that remain unchanged in the P9 Lite from the P9 is the battery capacity. It stays put at 3,000mAh and while I wasn’t such a big fan of the P9’s battery efficiency, the P9 Lite managed to cool me down a bit though not entirely as it can’t beat the stamina of the GR5 or the longevity of other similarly-priced devices I have interacted with this year. Since it does not have a lot of the demands of its high-end sibling, it manages to push through an entire day without constantly nagging you to plug it in, something I cannot honestly say about the P8Lite which, as its users will attest, made anyone using it a literal classic wall-hugger.
Call quality on the P9 Lite is good, 4G internet is also just as fast as one would expect and I did not have any issues at any given time even when I ditched Safaricom’s LTE network for Airtel’s 3G one just to give Unliminet another spin.
However, I did experience a problem that most users of the P9 Lite are unlikely to have any time soon: the device, like most budget devices in the market, does not have support for 5GHz Wi-Fi networks. Its range is limited to just 2.4GHz and this meant that I needed to switch to another device if I was to use the wireless network at the Dubai World Trade Centre which, in keeping up with the city’s modern efforts, is already ahead of time. The P9, and even last year’s P8 don’t have such issues. I remember using the P8 at the same venue last year without any issues but again, those are flagship devices so that’s to be expected.
Sound from the device’s single speaker is “just fine”. Also, “just fine” still doesn’t meet the threshold for it to be regarded as an out and out compliment, even with the device’s advertised dedicated amp.
For some reason, Huawei’s band of engineers and designers saw it fit to drop the USB Type-C port and instead go with the good old microUSB port. Why? Is USB Type-C implementation that expensive that it has to be done away with if one is to keep costs low? Huawei is busy including the feature on its high-end smartphones and including it on some of its most pronounced and standout budget smartphones like the P9 Lite would’ve gone a long way in shifting customers to the new charging and data transfer standard that everyone is now adopting.
By sticking with the microUSB, for whatever reason, it means that the company still has to consider adding a USB Type-C-to-microUSB adaptor in the box for future devices as the P9 Lite will likely just be as big a hit as the P8Lite and those are many users out there to ignore.
- Good design.
- Very good cameras. Since I took the Huawei GR5 with me to take images of the famous Hong Kong lights and got blown away, I’ve not used a sub-Kshs 30,000 device whose camera has entered my good books as the P9 Lite’s has. Huawei has a good thing going in its camera department and the longer the competition takes to figure it out and reciprocate (all the so-called “budget” smartphones I have used from them have cameras that I struggle to find good words to describe), the better for them.
- Huawei manages to include the same earphones in the box as those that the P9 arrives with and boy, are they good!
- The 16GB onboard storage fills up very fast which is not Huawei’s fault really but such a good device deserves more internal storage since with the kind of photos you can capture there’s no doubt you will be egged on to take more and before you know it, less than 2GB space is remaining. You can always get a microSD card to help things out but competitors are offering similarly-priced devices (or lower!) with 32GB internal storage so there’s still some work to be done when the next affordable version of Huawei’s flagship smartphone comes out next year.
- The quirks of EMUI, Huawei’s custom software, live on and there’s no way to “unsee” them.
Huawei has mastered the art of making budget phones and matching those that we are getting from little-known brands coming from China to others that have made a name for themselves in various regions in the world. The P9 Lite continues that tradition while adding a touch of what inspires the Huawei P9 to be one of the best smartphones one can buy right now in the Kenyan market and elsewhere in the world, something you won’t get if you went with another Huawei budget smartphone. All at half the P9’s price, Kshs 25,000 or thereabout.