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Buying from China often gets a bad rap: we’ve all got stories of times we’ve bought something online and received something entirely different in its place or, worse, the item doesn’t arrive at all. But don’t tar Chinese tech with the same brush: Chinese phones now top all our major smartphone charts.
While Huawei without Google services is no longer the attractive proposition it once was, many other Chinese brands have stepped up to fill its place. From Xiaomi to OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Vivo and others, these phones typically offer incredible value for money, with the premium build quality and feature set you’d expect from the top Android phones, but at a price point much lower.
Below we’ve assembled some of the best Chinese phones you can buy in the UK today. If these prices are above your budget, also check out some of the best budget Chinese phones.
The Oppo Find X5 Pro is a beautiful, powerful phone that delivers just about everywhere it counts.
Compared to other recent flagships, this feels like an all-rounder: you get an excellent display, strong performance, decent battery and charging, and a powerful camera – all wrapped in a fairly unique design.
An outstanding follow-up to 2020’s best mid-range phone, with great performance, 5G, OnePlus’s signature Oxygen OS user experience, and a near-flagship main camera. What’s not to love?
What the OnePlus Nord 2 really demonstrates is the company’s ability to prioritise the features that users are looking for right now and wrapping them up in an attractive package with a compelling price point.
The Nord 2 misses out on flagship niceties like wireless charging and waterproofing, but those are really the only compromises made here.
The Xiaomi 12 is a compelling flagship smartphone. Its compact form factor will appeal to those who don’t want a huge handset and, overall, the design looks and feels great.
You also get some high-end specs, such as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, an AMOLED screen with 120Hz refresh rate, and speedy 67W charging. It’s also got a solid main camera, along with a good ultra-wide shooter, but few buyers will be excited by a telemacro lens.
While there’s lots to like about the Xiaomi 12, it still has no waterproofing, and battery life is nothing special.
The OnePlus 10 Pro offers up one of the best displays on the market right now, delivers great top-tier performance, exceptional battery life, a slick user experience and a standout – albeit somewhat divisive – design.
The phone’s biggest weakness is, as ever, its camera, which like so many OnePlus flagships before it, will likely require numerous post-launch patches to bring it in line with competitors.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is a stunning proposition and offers buckets of value. It’s a genuinely exciting flagship smartphone in practically every department: it’s lightweight, feels great in the hand, the 144Hz 6.67in AMOLED display is detailed and crisp, the Snapdragon 888 allows it to perform like a gaming phone and, well, that camera setup is incredible.
Comprised of three 64Mp snappers and a 5x telescope lens, the Axon 30 Ultra’s rear camera offering is versatile, and unlike some, images captured across all sensors are comparable in terms of quality, detail and colour balance.
There are plenty of creative shooting modes available to make the most of the system, and it caters to videographers with 8K@30fps video recording too.
The results are comparable to those taken on ultra-premium smartphones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro, but with one key difference – it’s hundreds of pounds/dollars cheaper.
The software could do with a visual tweak here and there and there’s no wireless charging, but those are minor complaints in what is an otherwise phenomenal flagship.
Nubia has reserved most of the exciting upgrades for the Red Magic 7 Pro, making its regular sibling feel a little boring by comparison.
However, we shouldn’t take stellar performance for granted, alongside features that many mobile gamers will love. Nubia’s work on software processing delivers noticeable camera improvements, while the imposing design still feels ahead of its time.
But the 165Hz refresh rate still isn’t adaptive – combined with a smaller battery capacity, battery life is noticeably worse than last year. While the software is great for gaming, it’s slightly lacking for everyday use.
The Red Magic 7 is still an excellent phone for mobile gaming, especially at its mid-range starting price. But the better selfie camera, larger battery and much faster charging on the 7 Pro could be worth waiting for.
The Poco X4 Pro 5G is a huge upgrade over its predecessor in terms of features and design, with a premium look and feel despite the plastic body. The 120Hz AMOLED display is bright, vibrant and buttery-smooth, with one of the smallest camera cutouts we’ve seen.
While the refresh rate isn’t adaptive like premium alternatives, the phone can still comfortably last more than a day with average use, and when it does need a top up there’s 67W fast wired charging (with the necessary charger supplied in the box).
The 108Mp camera is a real treat too, offering impressive detail and colour representation in well-lit environments, although the lack of OIS means night photography could be improved. The accompanying 8Mp ultra-wide is handy, but the same can’t be said for the 2Mp macro lens.
The internals are mid-range, with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 695 leading the show, but performance is very decent for the money. A tempting option for the cost-conscious.
The Redmi Note 10 Pro is one of the best budget phones you can buy, with Xiaomi delivering exceptional value for money.
Highlights here start with the stunning screen offering AMOLED technology and a 120Hz refresh rate, and continue with an excellent set of cameras. The headline is a 108Mp whopper which is backed up by a reasonable ultra-wide and a surprisingly decent telemacro.
There are smaller delights too such as the inclusion of a headphone jack, Arc fingerprint scanner, stereo speakers and even an IR blaster. Battery life is also strong (Xiaomi includes a 33W charger in the box), and core specs are decent with a Snapdragon 732G ensuring smooth performance.
Our only real gripe is a lack of support for 5G.
While the Realme GT 2 Pro has its flaws, there’s a lot to get excited about here.
Not only is it among the first phones in the world to offer a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, it’s the first example of Realme pushing past Full HD+ resolution (while also showcasing advanced LTPO 2.0 tech) in order to deliver a more premium experience to users. It also ushers in improved long-term software support, further improving the company’s existing value-for-money proposition.
The company hasn’t stopped there, however, with green credentials that include integrating biopolymer into the phone’s design, the move to near plastic-free packaging (21.7% down to just 0.3%) and the fact that, in terms of sustainability, the GT 2 Pro is also the world’s first TCO 9.0-certified phone.
The Realme GT 2 Pro pushes the envelope, but not necessarily in the ways you might expect, and while the camera could be better and typical top-tier flagship features (like water resistance and wireless charging) are still missing, this phone is a promising sign of what’s to come.
The Honor 50 is the first phone to launch globally since the company split from former owner Huawei – and as a result it’s also the first Honor phone in years to run Google software.
Setting the software aside, it’s the beautiful curved OLED display that really excels by mid-range standards, made better by being squeezed into a phone that’s only 175g and 7.8mm thick. That makes this one of the best choices around if you want a big, beautiful display without a bulky phone.
The Snapdragon 778G delivers solid specs and 5G, but the base 6GB RAM is a little low for the price. Solid battery life and fast 66W wired charging help though.
The main 108Mp rear camera is also impressive, but the other lenses on the back are mostly just taking up space. Selfie shots are great though, and extra video options make this a top choice for vlogging.
Today it’s easier than ever to get hold of Chinese phones in the UK, with many of the big names now officially retailing here. This means you no longer need to rely on Chinese stockists such as GearBest and Geekbuying to import Chinese phones – though you will very often still find cheaper prices when you do. (Do keep in mind that when importing phones from China to the UK you are liable for import duty at 20% of the value on the shipping paperwork.)
Chinese phones are now regularly offered on contract by the UK’s major mobile operators, but sometimes when buying a Chinese phone you will need to get a SIM-free model and then pair it with a SIM-only plan. This is more cost-effective in the long run, but does mean you have to pay the full price of the phone up front.
Lower down the smartphone food chain there are countless other Chinese brands you’ll likely not have heard of, for example UMIDIGI and Bluboo, Ulefone and Elefone, Oukitel and Meizu. On paper the specifications of their phones impress, but you’ll often find corners are cut in the specifications to keep down prices – they might swap in lower-power MediaTek processors and large but lower-resolution displays, for example, while NFC, wireless charging and waterproofing are rare.
On the plus side, Chinese phones pretty much always support dual-SIM (dual-standby), and often will provide this in addition to expandable storage. As they strive to mimic the market leaders, design and build quality of Chinese phones tend to be very high.
Marie is Editor in Chief, managing and leading the consumer editorial team. When she’s not devising content strategy and analysing data she is a regular contributor of reviews, tips and tricks.
Marie has been writing about tech for 15 years, our resident Xiaomi and Chinese tech expert and a follower of all upcoming phones. AKA Tech Advisor’s Power Ranger, she is the go-to for charging tech.
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