Your buying guide for the best Chinese phones in 2019
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. Now, in January 2019, Oppo has 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?
• Excellent value for money
• Good design
• Competitive specification
• None of your friends will have the same phone
• 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.
- Reviewed on: 17 May 2019
There's really very little to fault in the OnePlus 7 Pro. The display, camera, and core specs are essentially all best-in-class - or close enough to count - while the few shortcuts (wireless charging, an IP rating) are easily explained away by a price point - starting from £649/$669 - that still undercuts the closest comparable rivals by some way.
Yes, this costs a bit more than you're probably used to from OnePlus, but it delivers on enough of its promises to justify that price hike - and if you're not convinced, the regular OnePlus 7 is always there (outside the US at least), at the same ol' price OnePlus has been hitting for the last year or two.
In a year that's already seen both Samsung and Huawei drop pretty phenomenal flagships, OnePlus has still managed to drop a device that might just be the phone to beat in 2019.
Read our OnePlus 7 Pro review.
2. Xiaomi Mi 9
- Reviewed on: 8 May 2019
Devilishly fast, insanely beautiful and offering the best value for money you'll find in any smartphone, anywhere. Mi 9 is a cracking deal at £499, and well worth the upgrade from even Mi 8.
New is an in-display fingerprint sensor as standard, Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 855 processor, 20W wireless charging, a larger screen and a triple-lens camera that includes a massive 48Mp lens.
It's available direct from Xiaomi at £499, or on contract from Vodafone. If you're happy to ship from China, GearBest offers an incredible deal at £361.10, and at this price no other phone comes even remotely close.
Read our Xiaomi Mi 9 review.
- Reviewed on: 20 March 2019
When the Mi 9 is officially on sale in the UK we will have a new Xiaomi phone champion, but in the meantime the £499 Mi 8 Pro is an incredible buy, undercutting every rival flagship phone in the UK. Now that Xiaomi phones are easily available in the UK, there's no reason not to consider it.
With powerful performance, decent cameras, some genuinely useful software, a fancy in-display fingerprint sensor and a cool transparent back cover, this is a great all-rounder at a fantastic price.
Read our Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro review.
4. OnePlus 6T
- Reviewed on: 17 May 2019
This is one of the best phones you can buy even if it is the first OnePlus phone without a headphone jack. An in-screen fingerprint sensor, better speaker and more battery is the pay-off, and it's worth it.
The large display is excellent, the dual cameras are more capable than ever and performance is the best you can get on Android right now along with the Pixel 3.
You'll need to like the colour black, but OnePlus continues - just - to undercut industry prices enough to stand out.
Read our OnePlus 6T review.
- Reviewed on: 4 April 2019
Taking lots of cues from the Mate 20 Pro, and improving the cameras and fingerprint scanner, the P30 Pro is Huawei's best phone yet. The design is out the top drawer, the display is outstanding and the cameras are truly some of the best ever seen on a phone.
It costs more than ever, but if you want the best cameras around, this is the phone to buy.
If you want to spend less (and get a little less), there's the Huawei P30 instead.
Read our Huawei P30 Pro review.
- Reviewed on: 15 May 2019
Swapping out the awkwardly placed selfie camera with a new dual-lens model that is tucked away behind the screen, the Mi Mix 3 is one of several new slider phones that shows how the concept should work. Not only allowing a proper full-screen display, but adding new quick-access functionality to the phone.
In other respects Mi Mix 3 is not a huge upgrade over the 2S, and actually loses some of its bling over its predecessor with the absence of its 18K gold camera surround. But it's still a great phone, available at an incredible price, and it's astonishing to see just how far the original full-display phone has come.
We recommend purchasing the UK model, unless you're on an extremely tight budget. But you can't argue with the pricing: at £499 Mi Mix 3 offers phenomenal value.
Read our Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 review.
7. Xiaomi Mi 8
- Reviewed on: 1 May 2019
It's now been updated with the Mi 9, which adds wireless charging, a faster processor, an in-display fingerprint sensor as standard (previously Pro and Explorer Edition only), and adds a larger display and a third camera lens on the rear. Regardless, the Mi 8 continues to offer astonishing value at the newly reduced price of £399, insane performance and awesome photography.
Read our Xiaomi Mi 8 review.
- Reviewed on: 25 January 2019
The Mate 20 Pro is an outstanding phone. The cameras will be the highlight for many people, but it really is a fantastic all-rounder with a top-quality screen, super-fast charging, wireless charging and excellent battery life.
It isn't perfect, but the small niggles shouldn't be deal-breakers for most people.
Read our Huawei Mate 20 Pro review.
9. Huawei P30
- Reviewed on: 5 April 2019
Huawei's pitch for the P30 is all about the camera, and it's fair to say that the company has delivered. The Pro model may be one step ahead, but this version is still a match for almost any flagship out there, especially in low light and long-distance shots, where Huawei has really thrown down the gauntlet with a combination of three great lenses and some software tricks that even Google's Pixel phones can't yet match.
The P30 also looks stunning, with a big display (and small notch), some lovely colourful finishes, and a seriously slim body - though the trade-off is one of the worst camera bumps we've ever seen. And there's even a headphone jack.
If you want a phone with a phenomenal camera but can't justify dropping close to a grand in one go, the Huawei P30 is seriously worth a look - unless you're in the US, where it simply isn't available.
Read our Huawei P30 review.
- Reviewed on: 23 November 2018
There's no doubt that the Pocophone F1 is one of the best Chinese phones we've ever tested.
Xiaomi has done an outstanding job of creating an impressively high-spec phone for a mind-blowingly cheap price. It's might not be the thinnest and lightest phone around but the design is still attractive and desirable.
If you like the Mi8 but your budget can't stretch this this is the phone for you.
Read our Xiaomi Pocophone F1 review.
11. Huawei P20 Pro
- Reviewed on: 23 November 2018
In the P20 Pro Huawei has delivered a stunning phone which should be on your shortlist along with the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X. Sure, there are some niggles such as the lack of stabilisation for 4K video, no headphone jack and no wireless charging,but if your priority is photography then the P20 Pro does not disappoint.
Add in the long battery life, dual SIM slots and great screen and you've got the complete package: this is one of the best phones of 2018.
It's a fair amount more than the regular model so save yourself £200 on the regular P20 if you don't mind 'only' dual rear cameras, no waterproofing and an LCD screen vs OLED.
Read our Huawei P20 Pro review.
12. Vivo Nex
- Reviewed on: 23 August 2018
It's not perfect, but the Vivo Nex is certainly an impressive smartphone that offers something a little different for consumers. It boasts a fingerprint scanner embedded in the display, a notch-less design and a front-facing camera that pops out of the frame when required. It's not just a gimmicky concept phone though; the performance is good enough to compete with flagship smartphones from the likes of Samsung, OnePlus and LG.
Oh, and it's £100s cheaper than the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S9+ too.
Read our Vivo Nex review.
13. Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S
- Reviewed on: 16 November 2018
The original full-display smartphone is evolving into something really special. Now with wireless charging, faster performance and a dual-camera that builds in AI, the Mi Mix 2S is a closer rival to western flagships than ever - and at a fraction of the price.
The Mi Mix 2S majors on performance and design. With its ceramic, mirror-finish case and 18:9 display it looks and feels incredible in the hand.
With full Google services the Xiaomi is easy to recommend, although it's not ideal for selfie and audio fanatics with a poorly positioned front camera and a mono speaker that doesn't make up for the lack of a headphone jack.
Battery life could also be better, and we'd like to see the company finally take the plunge with a Quad-HD display and waterproofing.
Read our Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S review.
14. Xiaomi Mi 8 Lite
- Reviewed on: 27 November 2018
The Mi 8 Lite is an excellent-value mid-range phone with a gorgeous design and some decent hardware, particularly in the camera department. We're excited for what Xiaomi's entrance to the UK means for the mid-range smartphone market.
Read our Xiaomi Mi 8 Lite review.
15. Xiaomi Mi A2
- Reviewed on: 9 November 2018
The inclusion of Android One makes Xiaomi phones so much more easily accessible to UK- and US users - and that's a very good thing, finally allowing those outside China and India (and more recently Spain, France and Italy) a taste of what else is out there on the market.
A fantastic budget phone, the Mi A2 combines decent build quality with a nice display, good all-round performance and a well-specced trio of cameras. It out-specs and out-performs every other phone in our budget smartphone chart.
Read our Xiaomi Mi A2 review.
16. Elephone U Pro
- Reviewed on: 29 November 2018
A stunning design isn't enough to conceal the imperfections, and while the U Pro from Elephone makes a very decent mid-range handset you will get more for less money elsewhere, such as in the Mi 8 Lite and Mi A2. Nonetheless, as mid-range phones go we don't think too many users will be disappointed.
Read our Elephone U Pro review.
17. Oppo RX17 Pro
- Reviewed on: 29 January 2019
Despite software that may frustrate you the RX17 Pro is a more viable option than the flashier Find X. It's got great performance, excellent build and design and decent cameras.
The display is sharp even if the colours are a tad oversaturated, but it's not unlike Samsung's tuning. An in display fingerprint scanner adds to its bleeding edge feel.
Its best feature is insanely fast SuperVOOC charging that can charge the phone in little over half an hour and is truly amazing.
Read our Oppo RX17 Pro review.
18. Honor 9
- Reviewed on: 11 December 2017
The Honor 9 is an undeniably impressive phone and although the Honor 10 is out, you can still buy it even cheaper direct from Honor.
In performance terms, it's nipping at the heels of the year's top flagships, and only lacking flashy features like waterproofing or a bezel-less screen. It looks great, it runs fast, and it costs less than £300 now.
Read our Honor 9 review.
- Reviewed on: 21 August 2018
The Mate 10 Pro is easily one of the best phones from Huawei yet and the dual rear cameras deliver excellent portrait photos. They can't quite best the Pixel 2 XL's photos but the Mate 10 Pro has a better screen, better battery life and just as much processing power.
Recent EMUI updates have added features that were previously exclusive to the P20 Pro, so at this price, the Mate 10 Pro is very good value indeed.
Read our Huawei Mate 10 Pro review.
20. Honor Magic 2
- Reviewed on: 13 December 2018
The Magic 2 is a beautiful piece of hardware, with a triple selfie camera hidden behind a manual slider - which pulls double duty as a satisfying novelty and the enabler of a big, beautiful 6.39in AMOLED display.
Performance is rock solid - no surprise with the Kirin 980 inside - and the 45W superfast charging is very welcome, but so-so camera performance and software irritations thanks to the Chinese setup are enough to make us question whether the Magic 2 is worth the cost - or hassle - of importing.
Read our Honor Magic 2 review.