Chinese manufacturer Huawei has unveiled its latest attempt to take on smartphone giants Samsung and Apple, betting on dual cameras and premium design with its new flagship Android phones.
The two phones, the 5.2in P9 and 5.5in P9 Plus, are thin, made of aluminium and have narrow bezels around their Corning Gorilla Glass 4-protected screens. They are a step up in design and quality for Huawei.
The P9 and P9 Plus look every bit high-end devices with similar build quality, solid feel, vibrant screens and fingerprint sensors common to top devices from Samsung and Apple. They also have large batteries, microSD card slots, Huawei’s top-of-the-line custom processors and the new USB-C connectors for charging.
Huawei, however, is banking on camera prowess to set it apart in the crowded premium market. The P9 phones have dual cameras – one a 12-megapixel colour and one a 12-megapixel black and white – which the company claims captures 200% more light.
Michael Sykes, senior European product manager for Huawei, said: “If you let in more light you have better low-light capability, but you also get higher contrast ratios in black and white photography, so you can have really sharp and crisp black and white photos, and you can add depth information.”
Huawei has added several features such as dynamic aperture adjustment, both at the time of taking the photo and after the fact, using both cameras and the ability to pull off tricks such as isolating an object in colour on a black and white background. The smartphone manufacturer developed the sensors and software used in the P9 phones in partnership with German camera manufacturer Leica, known for its high-end lenses and cameras.
Running up hill
Huawei hopes that the P9 and P9 Plus, the smaller of which will be available on 16 April for €599 (£485) and the larger shortly after for €749, will surpass the 5m sales of last year’s P8 and 3m of Huawei’s large-screen phablet the Mate 8.
The company ranks as the third-biggest smartphone manufacturer globally, with just over 104m smartphones shipped in 2015 and a 7.3% marketshare, according to data from Gartner.
Samsung continued its lead in 2015 with more than 320m smartphones sold and 22.5% of the market, with Apple second with just under 226m sales and 15.9% – more than double Huawei’s sales.
But regardless of hardware quality, Huawei faces an uphill battle because of its relatively unknown brand outside of China. Although it has been growing, with Gartner ranking it up 1.8% in market share year-on-year, it is still a distant third with China’s Lenovo and Xiaomi snapping at its heels.
Colin Giles, executive vice president of Huawei’s Consumer Business group said: “We’ve been working our way up the price points, and our aspiration is to create high-end devices that compete with Apple and Samsung.
“But we also need brand, which means we’re going to start really engaging with consumers outside of China.”
Part of the problem for the brand is the rather alien-to-Europeans name – two Chinese characters pronounced Hwa-way – which its marketing must address. Giles said the company was committed to reinvesting its initial successes into above the live advertising and retail, giving the P9 a push in smartphone shops.
Samsung faced a similar problem of brand recognition in the early 2000s, known mostly for budget televisions and cut-price electronics, but the Korean company managed to elevate itself though the mid-to-late 2000s with improved products and extensive marketing campaigns.
Huawei will have to do the same should it hope to sell in volume at the top end, where smartphones command the highest prices and the biggest margins. Given the decline of rivals such as Sony and HTC in the premium market in the UK, the P9 could be a good step in the right direction for the Huawei.