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OPINION 419 Shares 28 comments

This is why Chinese phones are so cheap

Chinese smartphones are invading the world with their high specs and low prices. When you use a Chinese phone, you'll be surprised at how well they work and fast they can be when they cost so little money. But are Chinese manufacturers a charity service, giving away cut-price smartphones – or is there something behind it all? Read on to find out why Chinese smartphones are so incredibly cheap.

Cheap labor

One of the most commonly known reasons for the low prices of the Chinese smartphones is the low cost of the labor force. China has some of the lowest labor costs in the world, and that's the main reason why many manufacturers build products there. 

Chinese manufacturers, such as Xiaomi, Huawei and Meizu, also have the advantage of building phones locally, which means they have fewer transportation costs – unlike the likes of Apple, Samsung, HTC or Sony. These savings are passed on to the customers.

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The Oppo N3 is cheaper to produce than its rivals. / © ANDROIDPIT

High-tech but not revolutionary

Another factor is that Chinese manufacturers aren't packing their phones with the very latest and greatest hardware. They're more interested in balancing price with performance. If you've ever browsed a website that sells Chinese smartphones, you've probably seen devices that have reasonably high-end specs, but cost a lot less than a Samsung Galaxy S6. The Galaxy device uses higher quality parts, which are also more expensive.

In many cases, Chinese manufacturers choose a Mediatek processor, which might not be up there with Samsung's Exynos units, but is a lot cheaper. Plus Mediatek is also a Chinese company, so it can offer cheap local distribution.

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The Meizu MX5 packs a Mediatek processor. / © Meizu

As for RAM, Chinese manufacturers won't go for DDR4 memory, which is found in many of the current top smartphones. Instead they'll go for cheaper, Chinese-made high-end DDR3 modules. Many choose Sony camera sensors mostly because, like Mediatek, the Japanese company offers good value.

Chinese smartphones also tend to be built with Korean- or Japanese-made displays, which are slightly lower quality than the IPS or AMOLED panels that some devices show off about, but again, much cheaper. As we said above, it's about balancing price and quality.

Focus on online sales

E-commerce is the preferred selling method among Chinese manufacturers. Companies such as Apple or Samsung have spent a fortune on building their own stores, but that money doesn't come out of thin air. When someone buys a Galaxy S6 Edge, for example, they are paying not only for the phone itself, but also for its distribution and the cost of opening and running the stores, among other things. Chinese smartphones are often cheaper because they don't have the same overheads as brands that have physical stores.

Cheap marketing

Did you see the announcement of the Galaxy S6? Have you heard of the contract Robert Downey Jr signed last year with HTC? Or that Sony wants to promote the Xperia Z5 in a new James Bond film? These things cost a fortune. A fortune that you, the customers, end up paying.

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Does James Bond using an Xperia Z5 encourage you to buy one? / © ANDROIDPIT

Social networks can be much cheaper and equally effective marketing tools. It is possible for such advertising to reach someone who needs a good low-priced smartphone. You want a smartphone without having to pay for advertising? Buy a Chinese one.

Limited quantities

A sales method that works very well, especially in China, is creating a demand for products. If people think a certain phone will run out, they're more likely to rush to buy one. Chinese manufacturers have this in mind, so they only produce a limited number of each device. Stocks of the Xiaomi Mi4 were exhausted in just 37 seconds.

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The Xiaomi Mi 4 sold out in just 37 seconds. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sell accessories

Chinese manufacturers generally have a very low profit margin for smartphone sales, so they often resort to selling accessories to increase this margin. The most common accessories are phone covers, but some manufacturers, such as Xiaomi, even sell shoes and slippers.

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Perhaps you want slippers with that Xiaomi phone. / © ANDROIDPIT

Could you imagine the Galaxy S7 costing US$350 and Samsung making up its profits by selling shoes? Or clothes? Even underwear? We jest, of course, but it's because of these additional products and services that Chinese manufacturers can afford to sell their handsets at very low prices.

All this is fine, but does product quality suffer?

Until relatively recently, Chinese smartphones were associated with low quality, but that perception is dying out. True, they're not made from the highest quality materials, but they're not made from poor quality materials anymore either. It's not rare to see a Chinese smartphone with aluminum body that offers high performance for less than US$250 these days.

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The OnePlus 2 is high quality, low price and Chinese-made. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sure, there are better phones out there. But these devices are perfectly adequate for internet browsing, messaging and various media consumption. They have their downsides too. Their Android skins are sometimes horrible and some devices will never see an Android update. But if you're an Android user who doesn't want to spend much money and isn't bother about fast updates, maybe you should give Chinese smartphones another look.

Do you own a Chinese smartphone? Would you buy one? Tell us what you think in the comments. 

28 comments

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  • AJW 3 months ago Link to comment

    The person that wrote this has never ever been to China or worked in a factory anywhere they do not have a clue how it works or why Chinese stuff is cheaper ... this is just out and out wrong ..sad that so many do not have a clue

  • I got a DooGee dg310 for US $50 ($80 - $30 coupon). I've used it for 2 years now and haven't had any problems. My main use is messaging and actually making phone calls. The camera works great, as do the wi-fi, bluetooth, etc.

    I don't know why anyone would pay over $200 for a phone.

  • Except for xiomi and its kind I would not buy china phone in malaysia, it's flooded the market in kiosk on the mall walkway and this kiosk owner are mostly loan sharks or pimps, china knock off are everywhere and we should pay premium for premium products, yes we pay for advertising but we should not pay for thief and underworld activities

  • c Gibson 4 months ago Link to comment

    My wife has a Meizu phone with 'Flyme' - that is Android, customized for the Chinese market. There is plenty of bloatware and it seems impossible to root the phone? It is a great phone, but the bloatware and all the Chinese spam suggests that the phone has built-in apps contacting people we don't know and who we don't want to know..... I am looking for a Chinese phone myself, but preferably one with a top camera and pure Android without a spammy Chinese UI

  • Actually i am using i Chinese phone coolpad note 3 which cost me around 135 USD...
    It have fingerprint scanner jz as good as one in iPhone...
    3gb ram..
    1.3ghz octa core processor...
    Hd display...etc
    Everytime i use this device it makes me wonder how do they manage to sell such a awesome device at this price.... I mean if i calculate all the stuff they put in this phone it easily gonna exceed 135usd amount... +_+

    • I bought a chinese copy phone Samsung Galaxy S7 for USD230 - it works superbly - even some of my friends of genuine S7 are being jealous of them spending a fortune and I got similar thing cheap - it depends on whom you buying from, check out reviews and understand the specs - no regrets on my nine gadget purchases from a chinese dealer - 3 tablets, 1 phablet, 3 smartwatches and 2 smartphones - both samsung copies.

  • I haven't seen a way to use the Meizu M2 Note, for example, on any CSM network in the US, even though it is a CSM phone. Does anyone else have the same problem? Thanks.

  • Salomon 10 months ago Link to comment

    I have bought one galaxy s6 chinese copy. After 1 week it have been virus infected and I can't use it.
    It says that there is an system update. But when I hit the update button it install another apps that I not need. Even after an reset the problem is not solved. Have anyone any Idea please help . Otherwise it will land to the rubbish

  • Using one plus one from day one it was launched in india.so far no problem. Excellant value for money.

  • have a Xiaomi redmi 1s , has no Bloatware

  • I got a Mstar M700 a month ago and no real complaints, octa core 2gb ram, 16 gb, Mediatek board. 2 issues tho, battery life only fair,Bluetooth streaming is good sometimes and very bad and crackly other days.Stock android 5.0 unskinned.
    This phone cost me €135 and antutu puts it just below the Galaxy note 4.

  • this is good news for those of us who use iPhones. i doubt i'll ever switch because i am OLD and i have been exclusively on the mac platform since the early 90's. but the ripple affect should help bring down the prices of premium handsets. hopefully. if i wasn't so entrenched with apple, these phones would definitely entice.

  • Media Tek is a Taiwanese company

  • I'm using the not so new but quite most people buying it. Its the Xiaomi Mi4i 16GB Chinese phone! Like it very much especially the camera is way too better than iPhone or other expensive phone.

  • I own an android phone called injoo note. It runs on kitkat 4.4.2 and has 1 gb ram,16 gb internal space, 13 megapixel back, 5 mega pixel front.The processor is mediatek and its a quad core processor of 1.3 ghz each i bought it here in Nigeria for 23,000 Naira which is $116 by exchange rate.
    The cool part of it is that i enjoy big games like fifa 14 (my fav),the updated asphalt 8 , n.o.v.a freedom version, Godfire, etc. but some game did not perform well like shadow guns, nfs hot porsuit....

    My next phone would be a samsung or an HTC phone, coz i really like to tryout any new android versions, aside from this...i think i would stick to chinese phone...and besides, there support here in Nigeria is great too.

  • very useful article
    For light users, this is a good way

  • I agree. I have the grand X max+ and have never been happier. Great battery life, 6 inch screen, can even handle most games quite smoothly. There really isn't much that flagship phones can do that I can't with this one. Wireless charging I was able to add for under $10, NFC and fingerprint sensor aren't a big enough deal for me to worry about it. For $170, this phone is a beast.

  • adr Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    My OnePlus One is a very good phone, much better value for money than "the big ones"

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