Chinese smartphones tend to be cheaper and just as well equipped as the established brands. Here are the best Chinese phones around today
Given everyone tends to stare at their phones on public transport, you’ve probably noticed the same brands appearing time and time again: Apple, Samsung, Nokia and maybe the odd Sony.
But Chinese smartphones are growing in popularity in the UK. Brands like Huawei and OnePlus have almost become household names, but there are plenty of others to choose from: Xiaomi, Realme, ZTE, Vivo, Oppo, Meizu and more.
These brands shouldn’t be overlooked. Chinese smartphones tend to be cheaper, and you can certainly buy them without compromising on quality. Below you’ll find the case for and against buying a Chinese handset, as well as the best Chinese smartphones you can buy today.
How to choose the best Chinese phone for you
Why buy a Chinese smartphone?
The main selling point of Chinese phones remains the incredible value for money you can get by ditching the Apples, Samsungs and Sonys of this world. There are a whole host of reasons for this: low labour costs, local manufacturing and no brick-and-mortar stores mean that costs naturally come down. There’s also the total lack of marketing: when was the last time you saw an advert for a Xiaomi handset on TV?
Crucially, the reduction in cost doesn’t necessarily mean an inferior product. Chinese phones often use the latest and greatest tech, and sometimes debut new features too. The first under-screen fingerprint scanner was on a Vivo handset, and ZTE was the first company to include an in-screen selfie camera.
Finally, while you can’t move for Samsung and Apple handsets, getting a Chinese brand certainly makes you stand out in the UK.
Why avoid Chinese smartphones?
To be honest, the arguments against Chinese smartphones have become weaker each year, but here’s the case against buying anyway.
First up, while early Chinese smartphones could present a language barrier with poor translations at first, that’s really no longer an issue. You can select “English” when setting the phone up, and everything tends to go smoothly. You may find there are some unusual apps you have no interest in, but these can mostly be deleted or ignored, so it’s really a non issue.
A more pressing concern is insurance and repairability. Given many Chinese manufacturers have no physical presence in Europe, you’ll likely have a long wait for repairs should the worst happen, if they’ll repair them at all. Note also that if you can’t buy the phone you want in the UK, you may be looking at 20% import duty, wiping out any savings you made by buying a Chinese phone in the first place.
Another potential issue is long-term support. When you buy an Apple iPhone or a marquee Samsung handset, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good 3+ years of Android updates and security patches. That isn’t always the case with Chinese phones, although flagship models should enjoy the standard two-year lifespan you’d expect at the least.
Finally, the generally cheaper price does raise questions about the unethical sourcing of components and potentially iffy working conditions on the factory line. But, bluntly, unless you’re willing to pay over the odds for a Fairphone 3, then good luck dodging that particular ethical minefield.
Why are there no Huawei handsets on the list?
Huawei phones used to get high marks here at Expert Reviews, but external events have meant that we no longer recommend the company’s handsets.
In 2018, the Trump administration filed an executive order banning US companies from working with Huawei. As that includes Google, Huawei phones are now reduced to using the open-source version of Android which not only means weaker security, but no first-party Google apps including Maps, Gmail or YouTube.
Crucially, the Google Play store also won’t work, and while some apps can be sideloaded, it’s still a hobbled Android experience that we simply can’t recommend, despite the consistent quality of the hardware.
If the situation changes, it’s a safe bet that a few Huawei handsets will reappear in the list below. But at the time of writing, the company’s handsets are best avoided no matter how tempting they appear on paper.
The best Chinese phones to buy in 2023
1. OnePlus Nord 2T 5G: The best Chinese phone
Price when reviewed: £369 | Check price at AmazonWhile not the biggest advancement over its predecessor, the OnePlus Nord 2T 5G is still an exceptional handset with an unbeatable balance between price and features. Powered by one of the latest Mediatek chipsets, the Dimensity 1300 and backed by either 8GB or 12GB of RAM, the Nord 2T outstripped the majority of its rivals in our benchmarks, only falling short of the iPhone SE 3 (2022).
The AMOLED display with its smooth 90Hz refresh rate makes scrolling and jumping between apps a breeze and while there’s still no official IP rating, Gorilla Glass 5 covers both the front and back, reinforcing the sturdiness of the phone and lending the overall feel a sense of luxury.
Add in a solid camera array and impressive battery life, and you’re left with an outstanding all-rounder of a phone. Rather than a huge leap forward, the OnePlus Nord 2T 5G is more of a fine-tuning, but it’s a successful one – this is the best Chinese phone you can buy for the price.
Read our full OnePlus Nord 2T 5G review for more details
Key specs – Processor: 3GHz Mediatek Dimensity 1300; Screen: 6.43in, AMOLED, 90Hz; Camera: 50MP, 8MP (ultrawide), 2MP (monochrome); Storage: 128GB, 256GB; Operating system: Android 12; 5G? Yes
2. Realme C31: The best budget Chinese phone
Price when reviewed: £129 | Check price at Amazon
It’s pretty astounding the calibre of phone you can get for around £100 these days, and none of the Chinese offerings epitomise this quite as much as the Realme C31. In line with other Realme handsets, the C31 is a stunning handset, with gentle curves and an elegantly raised camera module. Corners have been cut with the use of micro-USB for charging, but overall, the design feels more substantial than its price would suggest.
Performance comes courtesy of a Unisoc Tiger processor, backed by 4GB of RAM, and the results are impressive. While it obviously won’t stand up to flagship models, the C31 holds its own, and even comes close to matching some more expensive handsets like the £200 Nokia G50.
Battery life is substantial, lasting roughly 15 hours, and the camera array produces surprisingly decent images in well-lit conditions. If you’re working with a budget and don’t want to compromise on key areas, the Realme C31 should be your next port of call.
Read our full Realme C31 review for more details
Key specs – Processor: 1.8GHz Unisoc Tiger T612; Screen: 6.5in, IPS, 60Hz; Camera: 13MP, 2MP (macro); Storage: 64GB; Operating system: Android 11; 5G? No
3. Oppo Find X5: The best flagship-beating Chinese phone
Price when reviewed: £745 | Check price at AmazonWhen the flagship market starts to feel like the consumer is a pendulum, swinging dutifully between Apple’s latest iPhone and Samsung’s newest Galaxy model, Chinese brands like Oppo can be relied on to bring impressive and affordable alternatives to the table. The Find X5 is one such device, with its muscular Snapdragon 888 processor delivering powerful performance that stands up to other flagship devices.
The gorgeous AMOLED screen offers exceptional colour accuracy and refreshes at a buttery smooth rate of 120Hz. For face unlocking, the selfie camera lights up, making it easier to use in low-light conditions.
With a battery life of over 23 hours, the Find X5 is easily an all-day phone, and will likely push you into a second day with moderate use. When you hit empty, the provided 80W fast charger will juice it back to 100% in just 40 minutes. All told, the Find X5 is an astounding bargain at this price, establishing a real challenge to the big-name brands.
Read our full Oppo Find X5 review for more details
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.84GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G; Screen: 6.55in, AMOLED, 120Hz; Camera: 50MP, 50MP (ultra-wide), 13MP (zoom); Storage: 256GB; Operating system: Android 12; 5G? Yes
4. Honor 70: The best mid-range Chinese phone
Price when reviewed: From £430 | Check price at HonorWhile plenty of the more affordable handsets are starting to dress up in slick, flagship-style designs, none of the mid-range Chinese phones on offer quite match the level of class offered by the Honor 70. Tiny side bezels give plenty of prominence to the vibrant OLED display, while the glass back panel feels silky smooth to the touch and glints pleasingly when it catches the light.
Looks aren’t everything, of course, so the Honor 70 backs up its elegant build with competitive performance and strong battery life that lasted over 21 hours in our tests. Even better is the 66W fast charger included in the box, which will take the battery to 80% in around 30 minutes, and on to full within 45 minutes. Throw in a camera array that captures sharp, well-exposed shots in decent lighting, and the Honor 70 is the best all-round Chinese phone in the mid-range market.
Read our full Honor 70 review for more details
Key specs – Processor: 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G Plus; Screen: 6.67in, OLED, 120Hz; Camera: 54MP, 50MP (ultrawide), 2MP (depth); Storage: 128GB, 256GB; Operating system: Android 12; 5G? Yes
5. Xiaomi 12T: An affordable flagship with few compromises
Price when reviewed: £499 l Check price at Amazon
As you might have spotted, there’s a bit of a pattern in this list, with Xiaomi quite rightly making an appearance throughout. Its entry-level flagship, the Xiaomi 12T, joins the other Xiaomi handsets in this article, showing up as a miraculously affordable handset with (almost) all of the bells and whistles of a modern flagship. For not much money (comparatively speaking), the Xiaomi 12T provides a sharp, colour-accurate AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, solid performance courtesy of the MediaTek Dimensity 8100-Ultra chip and a great suite of cameras – led by a gigantic 108MP snapper.
Considering you’re paying less than pretty much every other flagship smartphone, there are a few compromises to be found, however. The phone isn’t IP rated against dust and water, so it isn’t ideal for clumsy hands, and the phone’s MIUI software is still a bit awkward to use. Still, if you can look past these issues, there is a lot of phone to be found here for really not much money.
Read our full Xiaomi 12T review for more details
Key specs – Processor: 2.85GHz MediaTek Dimensity 8100-Ultra; Screen: 6.67in, AMOLED, 120Hz; Camera: 108MP, 8MP (ultrawide), 2MP (macro); Storage: 128GB; Operating system: Android 12; 5G? Yes
6. Xiaomi Poco X4 Pro 5G: The best Chinese phone under £300
Price when reviewed: £299 | Check price at Amazon
If you’ve got a hard budget of £300, there’s no better Chinese phone for your money than the Xiaomi Poco X4 Pro 5G. The 120Hz AMOLED screen is one of the best we’ve seen in this price bracket, with Gorilla Glass 5 protection and an IP53 waterproof rating.
The Snapdragon 695 5G processor delivers decent performance, sitting shoulder to shoulder with comparable models. At roughly 18 hours, the battery life falls behind the Olympian efforts of the OnePlus Nord CE 2, but it should still see you through a day of moderate usage.
On the camera front, you’ve got a decent 108MP main shooter that produces detailed and balanced images, paired with the backup lenses – in this case, an 8MP ultra-wide and a 2MP macro. The Xiaomi Poco X4 Pro 5G a terrific phone for the price, and easily the best Chinese option under £300.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco X4 Pro 5G review for more details
Key specs – Processor: 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G; Screen: 6.67in, AMOLED, 120Hz; Camera: 108MP, 8MP (ultrawide), 2MP (macro); Storage: 256GB; Operating system: Android 11; 5G? Yes
7. Xiaomi Poco F4: The best-value Chinese phone
Price when reviewed: From £379 | Check price at Amazon
Its cousin above, the Poco X4 Pro 5G, still holds on to the title of the best option under £300, but if you can stretch your budget a little further, the newer Poco F4 offers the most bang for your buck of any Chinese phone right now. Building on the success of the Poco F3, the F4 brings Dolby Vision to the table, for better quality streaming, as well as a bumped-up 64MP main camera and speedy 67W fast charging that is capable of filling the battery from empty in around 38 minutes.
Performance doesn’t see quite as much of an advancement as the features list, but it remains in line with similarly priced models, and even gives a couple of more expensive phones a run for their money. The smooth 120Hz AMOLED display is also as gorgeous as ever, and the improved main camera delivers vibrant, detailed images – though the secondary lenses are nothing to brag about.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco F4 review for more details
Key specs – Processor: 3.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 870; Screen: 6.67in, AMOLED, 120Hz; Camera: 64MP, 8MP (ultrawide), 2MP (macro); Storage: 128GB, 256GB; Operating system: Android 12; 5G? Yes