We all want more for our money, and that includes when we’re looking for our next smartphone purchase. You can get a lot more bang for your buck with a Chinese phone than if you buy from Samsung or Sony’s entry-level range.
We’ve rounded up some of the best budget options for getting a cheap Chinese phone that looks and feels anything but.
If a low price isn’t your number-one priority, also check out the best Chinese phones you can buy today.
Best Budget Chinese Phone reviews
Big 120Hz display
Big and bulky
The Poco X3 Pro is a phone designed for Android gamers or power users on a budget, though it might also appeal to those who want to go big on specs in order to futureproof their phone.
If pure performance isn’t your priority, then you can find phones that are slimmer and lighter, with better camera performance, for around the same price.
What you won’t find is any phone that can match this pound for pound right now. This is near-flagship processing power in one of the cheapest phones on the market, and it’s almost ludicrous that Xiaomi has pulled it off.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro review
Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro
Stunning 120Hz AMOLED display
Long battery life
Huge camera bump
MIUI not for everyone
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.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro review
2-day battery life
Thick and heavy
MIUI can be clunky
Unreliable fingerprint scanner
The Poco X3 isn’t perfect. The big battery makes it bulky, we don’t love the aesthetic, and not everyone will find MIUI 12 immediately intuitive. For the most part these are small complaints though, especially when stacked up against the X3’s myriad strengths: strong specs, an excellent camera, a beautiful display, and absolutely fantastic battery life.
The fact that you can get all of that for under £200 is almost unbelievable, and makes the Poco X3 a shoo-in for the best budget phone of the year.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC review
90Hz AMOLED display
Fantastic main camera
Oxygen OS software
Poor macro lens
No wireless charging
The OnePlus Nord is the best mid-range phone in the world right now. It looks and feels like a phone twice its price, with a display and main camera lens to match.
The 765G processor more than holds its own, and all of the camera lenses are solid except the forgettable macro shooter.
More importantly, you won’t find better at this price, or a better selection of the priority features for most users on a budget, with luxuries like wireless charging or an OTT 120Hz refresh rate ditched in favour of a focus on the fundamentals.
The Nord would be a good buy at £100 more – at this price, it’s a steal.
Read our full OnePlus Nord review
Impressively thin and light
MIUI can be unintuitive
On first impressions, despite its standing as the lowliest member of the Mi 11 family, are that the Mi 11 Lite ‘wows’ with its wafer-thin form. Dig a little deeper and you realise it’s also imbued with a stunning display, capable internals and a feature-packed user experience.
If design isn’t at the top of your list of priorities in a new phone, your money will likely go further elsewhere (although you’re still likely to find something suitable within the Xiaomi catalogue), however, the Mi 11 Lite delivers a pleasingly well-rounded experience for the price, complete with a few unique touches.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite review
Thin and light
No Alert Slider
The original Nord was a category defining device, and the Nord CE doesn’t quite pull off the same trick. Compromises on the camera and build quality – as well as odd choices like ditching the Alert Slider – make the Nord CE stand out less. This feels typical of the price range, and much closer to the competition.
Still, a solid mid-range chipset, a slim build, and excellent battery life and charging chops are enough to ensure that the Nord CE is still a strong option for budget buyers. It’s also one the cheaper phones around with 5G support included, and OxygenOS alone is enough to give it an edge over the competition.
While the Nord excelled, the Nord CE is instead a capable all-rounder. Other phones out there will trump it on specific specs, but few at this price can deliver such a strong overall package.
Read our full OnePlus Nord CE 5G review
Premium design touches
120Hz smooth viewing
Weak macro camera
No headphone jack
LCD not OLED
As with the Pro model, Realme had to choose carefully about what to cull and what to keep in order to have the Realme X50 5G stand out from the crowd and still have it remain as affordable as it has.
Against similarly-priced rivals, like the Moto G 5G Plus, Xiaomi’s Poco X3 NFC and OnePlus Nord, it beats them out on one or more areas, and while it might not offer as well-rounded a package as pricier alternatives using the same chip, there’s little that can compete when it comes to that all-important price/performance balancing act.
Read our full Realme X50 5G review
Excellent OLED display
Underwhelming battery life
MIUI not for everyone
The Poco F3 is a cracking mid-range phone. Stellar hardware is led by Qualcomm’s 5G-enabled Snapdragon 870 chipset, which delivers excellent performance across the board.
That extends to gaming, where the 120Hz OLED display comes into its own. However, that high refresh rate does hit battery life, especially when you’re working with a smaller capacity than the Poco X3 Pro. The software is also still an acquired taste, despite big steps forward for MIUI in recent years.
A premium design and solid set of cameras make for an excellent smartphone experience, but the strength of the competition makes it more difficult to recommend.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco F3 review
Thin, lightweight design
Outstanding battery life
Unreliable fingerprint sensor
The Realme 8 Pro is a device seemingly centred around raising the profile of the company’s camera credentials. Based on the rest of the spec sheet, it’s a reworking of last year’s Realme 7 Pro with a thinner, more lightweight build, slower charging and the same underlying components – save for that all-important camera.
In practice, it achieves its intended purpose and happens to be a well-balanced affordable mid-ranger in the process, with a killer feature that sets itself apart from the rest of Realme’s line-up. Just as Xiaomi is a keen rival of Oppo in the wider mobile market, however, so too is the company’s Redmi line against Realme in the mid-range and affordable spaces.
The price/camera performance proposition of the Realme 8 Pro is undeniably strong but Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 10 Pro just pipped it to the post, hitting the market only a few weeks earlier. It totes a superior processor, higher refresh rate AMOLED display and the same Samsung-supplied 108Mp camera sensor, all for the same price as the Realme.
Read our full Realme 8 Pro review
5G on a budget
Long battery life
Cheap rear design
Clunky fingerprint sensor
60Hz refresh rate
Xiaomi delivers once again with the Redmi Note 9T. Not only does it offer 5G on a budget, but it also gives fast performance, an impressive battery life and a clear and crisp display.
It’s not all positive – the rear design isn’t anything that impressive, the 60Hz refresh rate is low and the side-mounted fingerprint sensor is rather glitchy. In addition, the camera isn’t the best when zooming, and textures are a little soft in portrait mode. In general, there are better budget options out there – though they are without 5G.
Nonetheless, if you want to jump aboard the 5G train without dropping a whole lot of cash on a phone, the Redmi Note 9T is absolutely one to consider.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T review
3.5mm headphone jack
MediaTek chip sacrifices performance and battery life
If you’re on a tight budget, Redmi Note 9 is a fantastic smartphone below £200. It ticks a great many boxes and, though it isn’t flawless, you can’t argue with the value it offers.
Though it’s plastic it is well designed, and it comes with impressive-sounding features such as a quad-lens camera that performed mostly well in our tests, save for lacking some finer detail.
There’s enough power for casual users, though we had hoped for better performance from the huge-capacity 5020mAh battery.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review
Cheap entry price
3.5mm headphone jack
If budget is your primary lookout, Redmi 9 is the best cheap phone we’ve found. Considered in isolation it has much to offer, with a big battery and a quad-lens camera the highlights – at least on paper.
In reality, performance and photography are distinctly average, it’s lacking necessities such as NFC (at least in some markets), and the plastic design with a somewhat dull display leaves us wanting.
You also don’t have to look to far to find considerably more value for money with just a small increase to your budget – you needn’t even look outside Xiaomi’s own product line. With notably better cameras, faster performance and higher storage options, Redmi 9 can’t hold a candle to Redmi Note 9 or the Poco X3 NFC.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi 9 review
Great battery life
There are better cheap phones out there, but if the Oppo A53 sits at the top of your budget then you could also do much worse.
Perks like the 90Hz display and superb battery life make up for slightly sluggish performance and an unexciting camera, and the premium-feeling design doesn’t hurt either.
But if you can spend more, you should.
Read our full Oppo A53 review
Outstanding battery life
720p, 60Hz display
If a big battery life is your number-one concern then the Vivo Y20s is fairly easy to recommend, while the stripped-back software helps keep performance surprisingly smooth, even with some fairly basic internal specs.
The camera setup is pretty typical for the price point, but bear in mind that you can definitely find faster performance and better displays for a similar price with rival manufacturers – so look elsewhere if you spend most of your phone time gaming or on Netflix.
Read our full Vivo Y20s review
No IP rating
No wireless charging
The Oppo Find X3 Lite is a step up from the previous generation, there’s no denying it. The design improvements may be small, but overall they deliver a much more refined aesthetic and feel.
That said, the mid-range and budget phone space is extremely competitive, and the camera on this phone doesn’t quite match up to that of rivals like the OnePlus Nord, which boasts similar specs with a better camera, all for the same price.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is still a solid phone, and one to consider if you want a device that strikes an even balance between good features and reasonable pricing.
Read our full Oppo Find X3 Lite review
Nice stereo loudspeakers
Oxygen OS is great
Weak depth/macro cameras
Better value from rivals
The Nord N10 5G is perhaps one of the most out-of-place members of OnePlus’ current lineup; not because there’s no place for an ‘affordable OnePlus’ but because it’s comprised of a number of decisions and traits that seem uncharacteristic for the brand.
Its design and hardware are decidedly more generic compared to the company’s other current phones, and while not all of the differences between this and the original Nord are bad (eg a headphone jack and its expandable storage), they don’t echo what the OnePlus brand promises.
Thankfully, the company’s signature snappy and clean user experience remains intact and is arguably the best thing about the N10, however, it’s undermined by bugs that need to be ironed out for it to be a considered recommendation.
Read our full OnePlus Nord N10 5G review
Your buying guide to the best budget Chinese phones in 2021
Many Chinese phones are now officially available in the UK, but you may still find cheaper prices in China through the likes of GearBest. If you’re buying from China rather than the UK you’ll need to factor import duty into any budgeting decision, which is calculated at 20 percent of the value printed on the shipping paperwork plus an admin fee of around £11.
You’ll also have to accept slightly longer delivery times (though free international delivery is usually offered), and accept that should something go wrong it’s going to be more difficult to get your money back.
A big one to watch out for is the cellular bands supported by the phone: some of the more obscure Chinese phones don’t support 800MHz 4G LTE. That doesn’t mean they won’t work at all in the UK, but if your network relies on that frequency alone for 4G then the most you’ll get is 3G. This will affect you if you subscribe to an O2, GiffGaff, Tesco or Sky Mobile tariff.
Talking of contracts, you won’t get one for a Chinese phone if you buy it from China. Instead you’ll need to buy the phone up front and then subscribe to a SIM-only deal, but if you’ve got the funds to do so it’s a much better option and can save you a lot of cash in the long run.
Particularly with regard to Xiaomi phones, your smartphone may not come with Google services preinstalled (opt for a Global model or buy within the UK to avoid this). We explain how to install Google Play on a Xiaomi phone here.
We’ve rounded up some of these things you should consider in our guide to buying Chinese tech.
If you decide you want a budget phone but don’t want one from China, also check out our guide to the best budget phones available in the UK.
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