The Huawei P9 Lite was a great looking budget phone – and time has been pretty kind to its prospects. It stands up well compared to the Samsung Galaxy J5 and Honor 6X, and certainly looks the part. What’s more, it’s pretty reasonable on a contract. You can get it for just £15 per month at the Carphone Warehouse with no upfront cost, which makes it a very tempting proposition indeed.
If you choose to go the SIM free route, £219 still makes it pretty competitive. The Honor 6X is a good alternative, as it has a better camera and battery life, and it’s worth looking at the Moto G5 Plus too – especially if you value photography above all else. But if you do pick the P9 Lite, you won’t be disappointed…
“Wait a minute,” you may be thinking. “Hasn’t the Huawei P9 Lite been out for ages?” No, you’re thinking of the Huawei P9, or maybe the P9 Plus. Those handsets first appeared back in April 2016, so maybe this should be the Huawei P9 LATE, amiright?
Puns that make you want to self-harm aside, the naming convention is a touch confusing, because while the existing P9 range costs between £449 and £549, the P9 Lite comes in at a wallet-friendly £229 via Amazon UK (or $218 on Amazon US) it’s – less than half the price of the P9, and it looks just as stylish at a glance.
What you have here is a phone that should give the budget king, the Moto G4, a real fright. And it does, but a couple of frustrating missteps leave it just short of must-buy budget greatness. Read on to find out what it gets wrong, and what it gets oh-so-right.
Huawei P9 Lite: Design
When I said it’s hard to tell the P9 Lite from the P9, I wasn’t kidding. Both have 5.2in screens, and at a glance they look remarkably similar. There are a couple of telltale giveaways if you happen to have both in your hand at the same time, the main one being that the P9 Lite eschews the aluminium back of its more expensive sibling for a smooth plastic finish. It’s clear that saves a few quid, but it doesn’t make it objectively worse for it. Not only is the P9 Lite less of an invitation for house keys to do their worst, but the smooth plastic feels very nice in the hand. It reminds me of the reassuring feel of Nokia’s Lumia phones, only without the bright primary colours.
Elsewhere, the changes are more subtle. Both have the same chamfered edges and clean lines, and both feel slim and sleek. The Huawei logo is bolder on this handset, and the Leica branding is dropped from the camera as they’re no longer in charge of photography duties. You’ll also find a micro-USB charging port rather than USB Type-C, but for me that’s a good thing, as someone who refuses to give up on the dozens of old-school charging cables that litter my desk.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual, right down to the square fingerprint reader on the back of the handset. People will debate the best position for this, from the home button to the power button, but this one works well enough for me.
Huawei P9 Lite: Screen
So a good start, but things get better with the screen. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if the Huawei P9 Lite uses the same panels as found in the P9, because the 1,920 x 1,080 screen (424 pixels per inch) is excellent.
First off, the contrast is very impressive, at 1,532:1, allowing for sharp images with plenty of impact. The brightness is good, too, at 482cd/m2, and in terms of sRGB coverage it’s right up there with far more expensive phones: 98% of the colour space is covered.
A couple of notes for those – the P9 Plus and J5 both use AMOLED screens, meaning their contrast is essentially perfect, and have great colour reproduction – but peak brightness typically doesn’t reach as high as IPS displays. Still, as you can see, the P9 Lite holds its own, with an excellent screen compared with its rivals, especially in terms of sRGB coverage when compared with its chief rival at this price point, the Moto G4.
Huawei P9 Lite: Performance
And things continue impressively into all-round performance, too. For the price, you can’t really argue with the specifications. Inside the P9, there’s a 2GHz octa-core Kirin 650 chip running the show, backed by 3GB of RAM. There’s only 16GB of internal storage, which feels a touch stingy, but it does have a microSD slot, which takes away the pain somewhat.
This translates to a phone that performs really nicely, with apps running smoothly and performance that’s generally more than adequate. It doesn’t feel as smooth to use as flagship phones, but for less than half the price you shouldn’t be expecting miracles.
Discounting the two other P9s – which, lest we forget, are £259 and £359 more expensive – the P9 Lite holds its own extremely well against its rivals. It’s faster than both the Moto G4 and the Samsung Galaxy J5 in processing power and graphical performance.
Unfortunately, this is the high water mark of the review, and it’s all downhill from here. Huawei makes two mistakes with the P9 Lite and how you use your phone will decide how big a deal this is for you.
The first point is that the battery life is bad. Really bad. We test every phone we review using a looped 720p video in airplane mode, with the brightness set to 170cd/m2, and then measure how many hours the handset lasts. The vast majority of phones we look at comfortably break into double figures, but the Huawei P9 Lite died shortly after crossing the nine-hour mark. To compare that with our other two recommended bargains, the Moto G4 has good stamina, lasting 13hrs 39mins in the same test, while the Samsung Galaxy J5 pushed on for a further 17hrs 50mins before giving up the ghost.
Huawei P9 Lite: Camera
The second problem with the P9 Lite is the camera. It isn’t very good, either. Something clearly has to suffer with the drop in price from the P9 to the P9 Lite, and it seems to have disproportionately fallen on the camera to make up the difference. Gone is the Leica-manufactured snapper; in its place is a disappointingly mediocre generic one.
It’s a 12-megapixel snapper, and unfortunately the pictures not only suffered from blurred detail, but also lacked any real vibrancy, with everything taking on a gloomy, underexposed tone. This seemed to be the case with or without the camera’s HDR mode.
In lower light indoors, things got even worse. Images proved grainy and lacking in detail, and while the flash helped a little, the camera clearly isn’t a selling point for the phone. This is a demonstrably worse camera than the Moto G4.
Huawei P9 Lite: Verdict
This has very much been a review of two halves: the first section could be fairly summed up as “glowing”, while the second could charitably be summarised as “needs improvement”. So what should you believe? Well, a lot depends on how you use your phone.
If you don’t take many photographs, than an iffy camera won’t really be a problem for you. Likewise, if you’re so serious a photographer that you have your own DSLR on you at all times, then this shouldn’t stop you considering the Huawei P9 Lite. The battery is a concern, but as Huawei has stuck with the venerable micro-USB port, you’re not likely to ever be too far away from somewhere where you can top up your phone.
And, if you’re happy with those sacrifices, then the Huawei P9 Lite is a great choice. It doesn’t feel like a £190 phone. Performance wise, it pushes elbows in front of both our other budget favourites – the Moto G4 and Samsung Galaxy J5 – with impressive ease. Both those handsets are getting on a bit, of course, and no doubt the next editions will open the race up once again, but for now, for performance seekers on a budget, the Huawei P9 Lite is the phone you need.