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Huawei P9 announced: a dual-camera flagship with Leica certification

Huawei's new flagship smartphone for 2016 is here, and its big claim to fame is a pair of Leica-certified cameras. The 5.2-inch Huawei P9 has a traditional 12-megapixel camera, but right next to it is another, monochrome 12-megapixel module. Working together, the two sensors can improve contrast in photos by 50 percent and triple the light information taken in by the phone. This is because the monochrome sensor doesn't have the RGB light filtering that its color sibling requires, and so is able to soak up more photons. I spent some time with the P9 ahead of its announcement in London today, and what I saw leaves me encouraged. This phone is slim, well built, performs well, and the dual-camera system isn't trying to push any unnecessary gimmicks.

The P9 falls right in line with this year's high standard for flagship Android phones. It has an aluminum unibody case, a 3,000mAh battery, a USB-C port, and an octa-core Kirin 955 processor of Huawei's own making. The fit and finish on this device are immediately impressive, and the phone's design feels cohesive, elegant, and yes, even premium. In spite of the two camera modules and sizable battery, the Huawei P9 is only 6.95mm thick (without any extra camera bumps). In Europe, the P9 will have space for a microSD card, which in China and other Asian markets will be swapped for a second SIM slot. There are a couple of other specification splits between Europe and China: the rose gold P9 won't be available in Europe and neither will the 64GB version of the handset. All P9s come with 3GB of RAM, but European models will have to limit themselves to 32GB of built-in storage.

A 5.5-inch Huawei P9 Plus is also being announced today, coming with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage by standard, with China also getting a bumped-up 128GB variant. The Plus model expands the battery to 3,400mAh and switches the display technology to Super AMOLED from the regular P9's IPS, although both share a 1080p resolution. The Plus also adds an IR blaster and a pressure-sensitive screen, which the company is calling Press Touch technology (Huawei used similar tech in limited edition versions of last year's Mate S). The P9 Plus will be available in May, in both Europe and Asia, while the smaller P9 will be on sale on both continents by the end of this month. Huawei refuses to either confirm or deny any launch plans for the P9 in the United States, though the company is already on the record as having said that it plans to launch a flagship smartphone in the US this year.

I tried my best to understand the exact details of Leica and Huawei's partnership on the camera system of the P9. Huawei's announcement says only that the two cameras have "Leica certification." When asked what that actually meant, the Chinese company said that it was developed through "a co-engineering process." When asked what that meant, the company said that they worked together. Given Leica's willingness to cynically rebrand (and then overprice) Panasonic cameras, I have to be dubious about the value of this partnership until either company discloses some substantive benefits from it. Either that, or the camera will have to just prove itself better than all the rest. It does promise to deliver the best black and white photos with its dedicated monochrome sensor, and it has laser autofocus, though neither camera module comes with optical image stabilization. I'll withhold judgment until I can put it through its paces properly, but for now, check out the photos of the P9 below. It really is quite lovely, dubious branding or not.

The Huawei P9 is priced at £449 in the UK with 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM, while the Huawei P9 Plus will cost £549 with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM from mid-May.

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