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Huawei P9 smartphone teardown by IHS reveals strengths and some misses

25 May 2016 Andrew Rassweiler

The Huawei P9 smartphone leverages the Chinese telecom giant's in-house system-on-chip (SoC) design with a Kirin 955 integrated apps processor and modem from HiSilicon-a Chinese fabless chip company fully owned by Huawei. Built on a 16-nanometer FinFET process for superior levels of scalability, the Kirin 955 is an octa-core processor with integrated CAT-6 LTE modem. The octa-core processor is especially useful for advanced tasks, which is when the faster set of four cores kicks in after the lower-power set of cores has been deployed.

Overall, the P9's capabilities broadcast Huawei's new strengths in unmistakable fashion. Huawei is the only other handset original equipment manufacturer aside from Samsung to possess apps processor and modem capabilities in-house. But Huawei does Samsung one better in having built an integrated apps processor and LTE modem-only the third entity to do so after San Diego-based Qualcomm and Taiwan's MediaTek.

The P9 also features a Via Telecom CDMA baseband processor and radio front end-a somewhat curious feature because the Kirin 955 does not, in fact, support the CDMA wireless technology. Nonetheless, the feature is included in the P9 as a concession to the customers of China Telecom-the third largest telecommunications provider in China-which operates CDMA 3G networks. The Via Telecom baseband is not included in the European version of the P9.

A controversial feature of the P9 is the dual-imaging primary camera, said to be "co-designed" with famed German optics manufacturer Leica. However, news reports have suggested that Leica has only lent certification for the camera module, and that it played no real involvement or had no inputs in the actual making of the camera. The P9 camera module is, in fact, supplied by Sunny Optical-a Chinese smartphone camera manufacturer that is also the world's largest supplier of mobile phone camera modules-and features a monochromatic 12-megapixel (MP) sensor along with a color 12MP camera. The monochromatic sensor provides high-resolution black-and-white images while also serving to capture low-light photography in conjunction with the main color imager.

A disappointment in the P9 is the radio frequency (RF)/front-end section-a jumbled pile of discrete components, and not as elegant as recent competing designs from other manufacturers that are far more integrated.

The Huawei P9 retails between $600 and $700 (based on the euro-to-dollar exchange rate), depending on the model. The phone is sold only in China and Europe, and will not be available in the United States.

Huawei is throwing considerable marketing dollars behind the P9, enlisting the help of Superman-or at least, the actor that plays him, Henry Cavill-and American actress Scarlett Johansson. The marketing push, using iconic figures such as the comics superhero as well as the popular Johansson, demonstrates the benefits of scale for the Chinese maker, as it now has the wherewithal to compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple for global markets-even if the United States itself is not part of the growing Huawei hegemony at this point.

Wayne Lam, Principal Analyst, Mobile Devices and Networks, also contributed to this analysis.

Andrew Rassweiler is Senior Director of Cost Benchmarking Services at IHS
Posted on 25 May 2016



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