Chinese smartphones have emerged from a murky past of iPhone clones and shady software to become a new force in the global market. These phones tend to be a lot cheaper than phones sold in the West, but often have equally good build quality and features. There are some great Chinese phones sold officially in the US, like the OnePlus 3T and the Huawei Honor 8. But, there are many more you may not have heard of which are not officially sold in the US, and we've put together a list of the very best for you.
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- Xiaomi Mi 5 and Mi 5 Pro
- Xiaomi Mi Mix
- Huawei P9
- Huawei Mate 9
- Meizu Pro 6
- Lenovo ZUK Z1
- Lenovo Vibe P1
Xiaomi made a big splash at MWC 2016 with its new flagship Mi 5 series. These long awaited devices are currently confirmed for the Indian and Chinese markets but Xiaomi's Global VP said in an interview that Xiaomi has "other markets on their radar screen."
The design and specs of these two devices are impressive. The normal Mi 5 version has a 3D glass rear panel, 32 GB or 64 GB of internal storage and 3 GB of RAM. The Pro version comes with a ceramic back, 128 GB of internal storage and 4 GB RAM. Both come with a Snapdragon 820 processor and a new 4-axis optical image stabilization system that wowed at MWC 2016.
The incredible prices of these devices is perhaps the most remarkable thing about them. The lowest cost (32 GB) version is set to be released at $407.99. The 64 GB Mi 5 version is going to come in at $459.99 and the Mi 5 Pro at $515.99.
Nowadays, Xiaomi even improves the innovation of what they copy. The Xiaomi Mi Mix recycles the idea of a mid-range phone released in 2015, manufactured by Sharp, the Aquos Crystal. This curious device came and went from store shelves without making any sort of splash. Yet, the same idea in the hands of Xiaomi has become innovative and futuristic. The bezel-less display is remarkable, taking up 91.3 % of the device's surface. The corners of the display are also rounded, which further improves the screen edge. Since there isn’t any space above the display, the front camera has been moved to the bottom, similar to the Aquos from Sharp. This is a truly amazing looking device.
This smartphone went on sale in China on November 4. It has two variants: 4 GB RAM and 128 GB of memory, and 6 GB RAM and 256 GB of memory with gold details.
The fourth model of the Huawei P series is dubbed the 'Pocket DSLR'. That's because the company partnered with German camera manufacturer Leica to make a device focused around photo capabilities. The smartphone has a dual camera system with two rear cameras.
Despite having a better camera and taking higher quality photos the device is still priced under its competitors. It's not a cheap Chinese phone, but in general is not expensive at $559. And unlike other Chinese manufacturers, Huawei has a strong presence in the US.
The Huawei P9 comes with Android Marshmallow right out of the box. The HiSilicon Kirin 955 chipset is backed up with 3 GB RAM. The device has an internal memory capacity of 32 GB and can be expanded with the microSD capabilities. The phone runs on a 3,000 mAh battery.
Lowest price: Huawei P9Best price
The Huawei Mate 9 is a strong device that can stand up to heavy use with its long-lasting battery. The most discerning and demanding customers will be drawn to its reliability and appealing design. The 5.9-inch full HD display is based on traditional IPS technology. Huawei got the curve-itch and moved away from the edgy look of its predecessors, but otherwise, the normal Huawei design is maintained and is dominated by metal and glossy cut edges. Its dual-lens camera, naturally, comes from Leica.
The Huawei Mate 9 first became available on 15 November 2016 in its first-wave launch markets (12 countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East). It is expected to be officially released in the US at a later date, but is unavailable in the US for now. The price was announced during the launch as €699, which is around $750, but no official US price has been announced. The Mate 9 comes in the following color variants: Black, Space Gray, Moonlight Silver, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown and Ceramic White. It has only one option for memory, the 64 GB version with 4 GB of RAM.
Lowest price: Huawei Mate 9Best price
When you want to import the best Chinese smartphone, features are an important thing to take into account. In principle, Chinese smartphones offer a good value for money, and this is indeed the case with the Meizu Pro 6. The smartphone is impressive on many fronts but it has two weak points to take into account: no 800MHz 4G and a unique UI.
The phone is well-designed, but that's only because it's an iPhone clone. Fans of stock Android might get scared away by the unique FlymeOS, which is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The 5.7-inch display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. Under the hood, there's a Mediatek MT6797T Helio X25 processor, 4 GB of RAM and 32 to 64 GB of internal storage. It also has a 21 MP rear camera and a 5 MP selfie camera.
You may not have heard of the ZUK Z1, but you'll wish you had. Backed by Lenovo, the ZUK Z1 has outstanding battery life, a rock-solid fingerprint scanner, good performance and a very decent camera, all for the low price of $220.
The ZUK Z1 also features a 5.5-inch Full HD display, Snapdragon 801, CyanogenMod OS 12 (based on Lollipop), 64 GB internal storage, 3 GB of RAM, a 4,100 mAh battery and 13 MP Sony sensor. Not bad at all.
Lenovo's Vibe P1 has one feature that will absolutely destroy what you thought was possible for a $160 phone: a 4,900 mAh battery. That's not a typo, the Vibe P1 has a battery that's double the size of many other smartphone batteries right now.
But that's not all – the Vibe P1 also delivers super fast-charging technology to get that monster battery charged pronto, as well as a fingerprint scanner, 5.5-inch Full HD display and Android Lollipop. Did we mention this thing only costs $160?
Lowest price: Lenovo Vibe P1Best price
How do I get one of these phones?
Where there's a will, there's a way. In our device reviews, we always provide info on the best price for a device and share links for where you can buy one (just make sure you check the phone's LTE frequencies to ensure they will work with your carrier before you buy).
There are also a bunch of excellent online retailers in China willing to ship a device globally, many of which can be found in our article on how to buy Xiaomi phones in the US.