Your buying guide for the best Chinese phones in 2020

You’ve probably heard of Chinese phone brands such as Huawei and Honor. Xiaomi, too, is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, and officially launched in the UK in November 2018. In January 2019, Oppo also made its way to British soil. (Also see our round-up of the best budget Chinese phones.)

Then there’s Meizu, Letv, Homtom, Vernee, UMIDIGI, Ulefone, Elephone, Doogee, Leagoo, Maze, Bluboo, Oukitel and others that won’t sound familiar to a UK audience but offer fantastic value and are well worth your attention.

The problem with many Chinese phones is that they can be difficult to get hold of in the UK, and should something go wrong it is more difficult to get it sorted. To buy a Chinese phone in the UK you’ll either need to look on a site such as eBay or Amazon, or go through a grey-market importer such as Geekbuying, GearBest or Coolicool. Be sure to read up on our grey-market tech buying advice before you do so.

Should you buy a Chinese phone in the UK?

Pros:

• Excellent value for money

• Good design

• Competitive specification

• Dual-SIM

• None of your friends will have the same phone

Cons:

• Faulty devices may be difficult to return

• You may incur import duty (charged at 20 percent of the value on the shipping paperwork plus an admin fee)

• The phone may not work with your network (be sure to check before you buy)

• Google Play may not be preinstalled (as is the case with some Xiaomi phones, but it can be rectified)

Features and specifications

The majority of Chinese phones we’ve reviewed have been dual-SIM dual-standby. Sometimes, though, this second SIM comes at the expense of the microSD slot – it’s often one or the other.

An increasing number of phones will support 4G on both SIM slots, but dual-standby phones will ask you to select one or the other for data. 

The fact that a Chinese phone supports 4G doesn’t necessarily mean it will work on your UK network, mind. Always check a phone’s frequency bands before purchase, because Chinese phones are often missing the 800MHz band (band 20).

Whereas Qualcomm-made processors are popular in UK phones, many Chinese phones come with cheaper MediaTek chips. Typically speaking they’re not quite as fast as their Qualcomm cousins, though they are more than capable of your daily tasks. A key difference is their support for HotKnot rather than NFC.

Six gigs of RAM is not uncommon, with some even specifying 8GB, while storage is usually 64GB as standard, with 128GB or 256GB available as an option.

You will almost certainly find a fingerprint scanner, plus an often dual-lens camera at the rear and single-lens at the front. The camera functionality is very similar to that of any other Android phone, but you may find the Face Beauty mode whitens your skin tone.

A full-HD screen is common, with Quad-HD very rare but HD screens are still found in the cheapest models. Most have large screens 5.5in in diameter or more.

The screen is usually a good-quality IPS panel, and may often be marketed as having 2.5D Arc glass or 3D glass. This does not mean the screen is curved, but rather that the edges of the screen are slightly curved.

Gorilla Glass is another common feature, which is fortunate because getting hold of a case for a Chinese phone can be as involved as buying the phone itself.

Customisable gestures are not built into Android, but they are very common in Chinese phones. This means you are likely to be able to double-tap to wake the screen, and by drawing a letter onscreen in standby mode you will be able to launch an app of your choice. Many Chinese phones will also allow you to use gestures to trigger the camera shutter.

We won’t recommend any Chinese phone we haven’t physically tested. Thus we offer this chart not as a definitive guide to buying Chinese phones, but as a guide to what you can expect for your money when you buy from China.

Best Chinese phones 2020

1. OnePlus 8 Pro

2. Xiaomi Mi 9

Xiaomi Mi 9

3. OnePlus 7 Pro

OnePlus 7 Pro

4. Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro

Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro

5. Vivo Nex 3

Vivo Nex 3

6. OnePlus 7

OnePlus 7

7. Huawei P30 Pro

Huawei P30 Pro

8. Oppo A9 2020

Oppo A9 2020

9. Oppo Reno 10x Zoom

Oppo Reno 10x Zoom

10. Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

11. Oppo Reno Z

Oppo Reno Z

12. Xiaomi Mi 8

Xiaomi Mi 8

13. Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

14. Huawei P30

Huawei P30

15. Nubia Z20

Nubia Z20

16. Xiaomi Pocophone F1

Xiaomi Pocophone F1

17. Huawei P20 Pro

Huawei P20 Pro

18. Honor 9X

Honor 9X

19. Meizu 16s

Meizu 16s

20. Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S

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