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Young guns: 10 up and coming phone brands out of China
The Western world is like an exclusive club when it comes to technology. Everyone knows the big tech players, but we tend to forget the rest of the world spins just as much as our part of it. There’s a plethora of other manufacturers which make amazing Android products!
We have put together a neat list of phone makers that mainstream consumers in the West likely don’t know a thing about. Most of us are tech geeks around here, so many of you have probably heard the names and may be familiar with some of these, but we also know plenty of our readers would like to improve their knowledge on some more obscure companies. Get ready, because you are in for an interesting ride!
If you keep up with our feed (or any other tech website’s), you have probably heard of Xiaomi. This company is often referred to as “the Chinese Apple”, thanks to its quick rise to the top, but also a certain inclination towards Apple’s design language. It happens to be #2 in Chinese smartphone shipments in China, only falling behind Apple. The issue is most Western consumers have no clue about these phones, as these can’t really be found at any regular store.
Xiaomi is taking an approach most of the market is not familiar with. They save millions in marketing by resorting to mostly promoting their devices via social media and word of mouth. Another way Xiaomi saves money is by making sure demand is always higher than supply. They have no extra inventory laying around, making their losses much smaller in the long run.
The Chinese manufacturer then transfers the savings to you, the customer. This translates to amazingly affordable devices that offer quite the bang for your buck. Very few competitors get even close to Xiaomi in terms of specs relative to price. Sadly, we have yet to see them really hit the USA, but they are coming. And when they get here, they will definitely leave a mark.
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Meizu is a main competitor to Huawei and Xiaomi, taking one of the top spots among the biggest manufacturers in China. They accomplished this in a very short period of time, as the company was only established in 2003. Just like Xiaomi, Meizu is known for making great devices that keep your wallet relatively healthy.
The manufacturer is responsible for devices like the Meizu MX5, M2 Note and MX4 Pro, which are all great handsets with very low price points. The only issue is they are only big in Asian markets and it will probably take some time before they reach the USA (if they do). You could have the devices imported, but not many customers will opt for such inconvenient measures.
Regardless, Meizu is definitely a company you should keep your eyes on. All these Chinese manufacturers are about to change the tech world as we know it, and Meizu wll be one of the main ones to join the party.
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You are really out of the loop if you read Android Authority on the regular but haven’t heard of OnePlus. Though they are a very new startup, these guys are the kings of social media and the affordable market. They are known for hyping up their devices to no end, but the main difference is that they actually have something to tout, as opposed to just making a blast about gimmicks.
The OnePlus One smartphone was priced at only $300 when launched, yet it came with specs that could put most $600-$700 phones to shame. Internals include a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3 GB of RAM, 16 GB of internal storage (64 GB for the higher-end version) and 13/5 MP cameras, all packaged in a strong body with a solid design.
Honestly, at that price it’s likely still the best phone you can get. Now we know what this Chinese startup can do, and they are coming in for round two. The OnePlus 2 hype train has taken off and it’s not stopping! This is definitely a manufacturer you want to keep an eye on, as they do cater to the American market. Through an invite system, but at least you can actually buy a OnePlus smartphone.
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We have to give props to OPPO. They may not be too popular outside of China, but they can put together awesome smartphones that are actually innovative. They were the first to become “selfie kings” with a rotating camera, and their amazingly thin OPPO R5 and R7 are gorgeous.
The guys at OPPO have made a habit out of breaking the rules left and right, but they always do it in the right ways. I would say we need more manufacturers like OPPO, willing to be creative, stay smart and take risks.
We were actually at their Shenzhen offices and factory once and you can learn all about that in our dedicated post. Or you can just watch the video embedded below!
You probably haven’t even heard of LeTV if you live outside of China, but this doesn’t mean they are a small player. In fact, this company runs the biggest online video company in their home country, which is definitely an important market to have in your pocket. They just happen to be new to making smartphones.
The trio of handsets are meant to be affordable, but they are in no way cheap. The best of the three has a full aluminum body, a 6.33-inch QHD display, a Snapdragon 810 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 64/128 GB of internal storage and a massive 3500 mAh battery. This thing is a beast!
Oh, and all of these come with USB-C, something smartphone manufacturers continue to take their sweet, sweet time on.
ZTE is definitely much more popular, as they have managed to pierce into the American market and become a main player in the affordable smartphone market. Most people don’t know ZTE can also make some mean quality smartphones, and they happen to also be a main player in Asia.
This is one of the few Chinese smartphone manufacturers to have a significant presence in America (and the rest of the world, really), and it’s devices like the ZTE Grand X Max+, the ZTE Star 2 and the SPRO 2 that have taken it where it is.
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ZTE is definitely here to stay, and the last few years they have done wonders to their design and build quality. In fact, they have their eyes set on the #3 spot in the USA. That is an ambitious goal – will they reach it?
Nubia is new… but it really isn’t. The truth is that this is pretty much a branch of ZTE, but they run independently now. They seriously do! These guys even have separate PR teams, which makes things a bit harder for us at times. It’s all worth it, though, because they can make some awesome devices.
Nubia smartphones tend to have a much friendlier and sleek design. They are usually very affordable, but come with specs that make them more than usable for the casual customer. In fact, these phones have some of the best camera software I have ever used. My only gripe with their interface is that they have done away with the traditional app drawer, leaving all installed apps in the home screen (a la Apple).
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Otherwise, Nubia’s handsets tend to be very well built and are held to high performance standards. Want to see some great examples of Nubia’s work? We recently published a review on the Nubia Z9, and I personally reviews the Nubia 5S Mini last year.
The Axon Phone mysteriously showed up online last June. We had no idea what this new manufacturer was about, but after some research we discovered it wasn’t really an actual manufacturer. It turns out this new brand is linked to ZTE, which would make Axon yet another sub-brand of the Chinese phone maker. This company really wants to expand its reach!
We can’t tell you too much about this branding yet, as there is only one device they have announced. For what it’s worth, the Axon Phone does look like a very promising handset (even if it will have its challenges). It carries a “lightning-fast processor”, 4 GB of RAM, dual rear-facing cameras with “incredibly fast auto-focus” and “a large battery for all-around high performance”. It also happens to be the “first true high-fidelity phone to be available in the US”.
That sounds like a lot of PR jargon, to be honest. We really won’t be able to pass judgement until we know more details and get to test the device. What we can tell you is the phone looks to have a great design and build quality. It looks great in pictures and will come with a metallic body.
I love the attitude Huawei has taken toward their lack of recognition in the USA. They know they are the underdogs and they find clever ways to get their name out there… even though people don’t even know how to pronounce it!
Truth is Huawei is another huge Chinese manufacturer with a bad reputation. Those who do know Huawei will recognize it for the super affordable handsets you usually find in American stores. Truth is Huawei is a huge manufacturer in other markets, especially Asian ones. Contrary to public belief (at least in America), Huawei makes some outstanding handsets. An example of a great device from the manufacturer is the Huawei Ascend Mate 7, which we have a full review on.
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Huawei continues trying to gain market share in the USA with devices like the Huawei Ascend Mate 2, which offers a great bang for your buck. Recent rumors also point towards a Huawei-made Nexus device incoming. Surely, many more of you would be interested in Huawei if that ends up panning out.
Chinese tech brands aren’t being very well-received in Western countries. In an effort to combat their long-established fame and get a foothold in other markets, companies have started branching out separate brands to produce phones independently. In this case, Huawei is to Honor what ZTE is to Nubia.
This technique seems to be working very well for the Chinese manufacturer, as Honor sales have been booming and the company plans to take on the US market this year. The truth is they make great devices, even if they do happen to be somewhat similar to Huawei’s in some ways (which is not exactly a bad thing). Take a look at the Honor 6 Plus review we have put together if you want to see what the guys at Honor can do.
This completes our quick look at some of the most dynamic and exciting smartphone brands to come out of China over the last few years. But these are just the bigger Chinese brands, the ones that have set their sights to the world at large. There are literally hundreds of smaller players in China. Brands like Elephone, Ulefone, Vivo, Umi, Zeaplus, Zuk, ZUK, Doogee, THL, and many many others. Though funny as some of these names may sound, they don’t hold a candle to India’s Wickedleak…
What about you? Have you ever used one of these brands? What do you think of this wave of China-based companies taking over the smartphone industry? Are you considering any smartphones from them?