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 in the UK, 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.
Best Chinese phones 2021
Excellent battery life
No periscope lens
Some performance throttling
The Find X3 Pro is deliriously expensive and not ashamed of it. But if you are willing to spend this kind of money, right now it is exactly where we would spend it. The display is the best around, the charging speeds and battery life are both exceptional, and the core specs are hard to fault – though we’re hoping firmware updates will shore up the shaky thermals a little.
The camera will be a large part of the appeal here, and Oppo’s struck a smart balance. The main and ultrawide lenses excel, and though some will miss the periscope, the included telephoto is great at lower zoom levels. Our only real hesitation is the microlens – fun to play around with, but you do have to wonder how much it adds to the overall cost of the hardware, and how often you’re really likely to use it.
Read our full Oppo Find X3 Pro review
MIUI still sorta sucks
No IP rating
No telephoto camera
The Mi 11 is a fantastic bit of hardware for the price. The fastest chipset around, a beautiful display, and strong cameras are all packaged within a lovely bit of industrial design.
Some will miss the IP rating, though for me the bigger downsides are the choice of a macro over a telephoto lens, the only average battery life, and a software experience that still lags behind the key rivals.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 11 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
Finally adds waterproofing
30W wireless charging
No telephoto camera
OnePlus has now released its OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, but this older model remains the best in our opinion.
The OnePlus 8 Pro was arguably the company’s first full flagship, finally incorporating long-requested features like wireless charging and an IP68 waterproof rating to make it a genuine contender with Samsung’s top flagships.
Understandably the price has gone up accordingly, but it still represents serious value by flagship standards, and you will save at least some money by opting for OnePlus over most other manufacturers. (The OnePlus costs less still, though you’ll have to give up a few features and downgrade the display and cameras.)
The 8 Pro camera is OnePlus’ best yet, and while it still lags behind rivals slightly in software the hardware is among the best around, which has helped to close the gap considerably. Throw in 5G, a great design, and the best Android skin around and the OnePlus 8 Pro is easy to recommend to anyone who can afford it.
Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review
No wireless charging
No microSD slot
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 [email protected] 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 2021 flagship.
Read our full ZTE Axon 30 Ultra review
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
Camera setup could be improved
Realme’s first 5G flagship (and second-ever flagship phone) is an impressively affordable device that doesn’t skimp on high-end specs and features.
The Realme X50 Pro forgoes aspects like IP water resistance and a thin body, but in return sports the latest and greatest Snapdragon 865 chipset, 5G, up to 12GB of RAM, fast UFS 3.0 storage and insane 65W ‘SuperDart’ fast charging, which delivers 60% charge in just 15 minutes and a full charge in only 35.
Best of all, the X50 Pro costs around half that of most top-tier Android flagships.
Read our full Realme X50 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
65W fast charging
OnePlus Nord is better value
Ignore the price and the OnePlus 8T doesn’t feel like a desperately exciting upgrade from the 8 in some respects, but compared to the more recent OnePlus 9 it’s definitely where we’d put our money.
Once you realise the price has dropped the phone begins to look much more compelling. 120Hz and 65W charging are welcome upgrades, even if they’re the sort of techie features that most users likely won’t care about too much.
The software changes brought about by Android 11 are also almost all welcome, not least the always-on display.
From a hardware perspective the camera is the only real stumbling block, made worse by the decision to include the same main lens in the cheaper Nord.
And that’s really the main challenge facing the 8T: it’s good, but pound-for-pound the Nord is still better, leaving OnePlus hoisted by its own petard.
Read our full OnePlus 8T review
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.)
Oppo is listed at Carphone Warehouse, while Xiaomi and OnePlus phones are often offered on contract by the UK’s major mobile operators, but often 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.
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