Among the countless curiosities of China and its vast technological market is the ability to start your own smartphone-making company from scratch, without the hassle of having to figure out a complex business strategy first. If you could care less about seeing your brand name in the Top 10 manufacturers, and your business's goal boils down to “sell boatloads of smartphones in a market that is set to ship $120 billion worth of them by 2017”, your plan is practically a no-brainer. Step one, you stock up on those cheap and trusty MediaTek processors like there's no tomorrow. Step two, you painstakingly replicate other people's hard work and give millions of customers “the latest flagship models” at one-third of their prices. Step three, you laugh all the way to the bank!
Тhe shameless practice of selling affordable replicas of red-hot foreign smartphones has become an awe-inspiring industry of its own. What used to be a gathering of poorly-manufactured, borderline grotesque
imitations of sleek, expensive flagships, has evolved into a clone army
that eats into the Chinese market share of big-game, premium devices. The latest MediaTek-powered replicas of Samsung's, Apple's, and HTC's heavyweights, for example, are virtually indistinguishable from their originals. Each detail of not only their construction, but their factory interfaces as well, is faithfully reproduced. Meanwhile, these knock-offs sport capable quad-core and even eight-core chipsets, and don't joke around in hardware terms. Although the experience of creaking plastic and paint-chipping will likely accompany your purchase.
Not only that, but it's not unusual to see some Chinese maker you've never heard of release a replica of an upcoming flagship smartphone before the original has been formally announced
. Some brands, such as GooPhone, have even went as far as to patent the stolen design in their homeland, quicker than its rightful owners could utter “Lawsuit!”. That's completely outrageous, but also an impressive demonstration of the world's most potent manufacturing force. We could say the same words – outrageous
, for almost each of the 11 Chinese replicas we've rounded up here. Alas, the fake Galaxy Note 4 or Nexus 6 are yet to be produced, but we assume it's only a matter of time plus a few leaked sketches and photos.
Now, let us show you what a saunter through the depths of China's wholesale shopping websites uncovered...
11 Chinese smartphone clones that blew our minds!
11 Chinese smartphone clones that blew our minds!
1. Star LT36H - go home, Sony Xperia Z, you're drunk!
Admittedly, the Star LT36H could only fool a donkey into believing this is Sony's superbly crafted 2013 flagship, and not a harmless wannabe. Although this Chinese knock-off is completely oblivious to the stand-out details of the Xperia Z's construction, like its circular power-button, it remains a passable, if cheap shot at Sony's sleek OmniBalance design. And at $157, its specs aren't too shabby, either.
The Star LT36H features a 5-inch 720p IPS display; an MTK 6589 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, paired with 1GB RAM; 4GB storage; dual-SIM; a 9.4MP rear camera + 8.0MP front-camera (OK, the Chinese dealer might be playing possum here!); and a 2500mAh battery. It runs Android 4.2.1 and is able to access the Google Play Store, which isn't always a given in China.
2. HDC Galaxys Note 3 - go ahead, take a wild guess!
The powerhouse that is the Galaxy Note 3 is one of our favorite smartphones of 2013, and one of the highest-rated devices by our readers. However, we have a severe, overbearing issue with its visual identity. It doesn't come in pink! We're joking, of course, but while Samsung's yet to let the all-rosy version join its business-elegant brethren, Shenzhen's HDC (famous for its HDC One and HDC One mini, go figure...) went ahead and produced an ultra-authentic Galaxy Note 3 in black, pink, and white.
Although HDC apparently forgot to clone the S-Pen stylus, which is something other makers such as GooPhone can do for breakfeast, the Chinese achieved an impressive imitation. They'll also make-up for the missing S-Pen by sending customers an ordinary stylus as a gift. Splendid!
Apart from being visually identical, complete with a stitched faux-leather back, the $210 HDC Galaxys Note 3 houses a 5.7-inch 1080p IPS screen, a quad-core MTK 6589T CPU running at 1.5GHz, paired with 2GB RAM; 32GB storage; 13.3MP rear camera + 8MP front camera; a big ol' 3200mAh battery; and Android 4.3.1.
Believe it or not, there are even more authentic and powerful Note 3 clones out there - ones with actual S-Pens, three gigabytes of RAM, Galaxy Gear compatibility, and octa-core CPU. These replicas are downright scary in how close they come to the real thing.
3. The iPnoho 6 and iPncne 7 - China's rotten Apples
We did mention the Chinese black-hat manufacturers' habit of releasing replicas of future flagships well before they hit the market, right? Well, the company that made the iPnoho 6 and iPncne 7 is clearly ran by forward-thinking individuals. Admittedly, we didn't picture the next iPhone looking like an air-conditioning remote Apple would have released in the 00's. But if that's the industrial design of the future, who are we to object? As for the iPncne 7, the only thing we have to ask is: does it run “Agnyr Brids”?
4. HDC X - First-ever Moto X clone!
Is the Google-hearted Moto X still away from your country? Don't worry, China's to the rescue! HDC's impressive $189 Moto X replica offers a 4.7-inch 720p display, 1.2GHz quad-core MTK 6589 CPU paired with 1GB RAM; 4GB storage; 8MP rear-camera + 2MP frontal camera; 2400mAh battery; and Android 4.2.
That's a nice set of features, complete with a highly authentic look, but don't expect the HDC X to have the Moto X's high-end speech and contextual recognition. Proprietary technology isn't that easy to clone, yet.
5. Galaxy GalaTab 6.3 – a genetic experiment that went awesomely awry!
Whoever created the GalaTab 6.3 made one beautiful monstrosity - at least up front. This thing is a bizarre, yet somewhat convincing fusion of the HTC One's bold industrial design, and the Galaxy Tab series' friendly plastic look. Although we suspect it never made it past the working prototype stage, as it isn't up for sale anywhere, the GalaTab totally existed before the 6-inch HTC One Max was announced. Allegedly, it also ran Android 4.2.2 before this particular update got to the original HTC One. With all things considered, the GalaTab is something straight out of the Android X-Files.
6. Sinoteck H10 - the bottom-end BlackBerry Z10
How do you like your BlackBerries? White, and imported from China, of course! Although it nails the BlackBerry Z10's look (in plastic), the H10 is offensively underwhelming for a replica of the Canadians' all-touch flagship. Seriously, the BB Z10 deserves better than this!
The H10's 4-inch display has a wimpy resolution of 320x480; its CPU is a dual-core MTK 6515 running at 1GHz, paired with a miniscule 256 megabytes of RAM. According to the listing, the storage memory is also an appalling 256MB - which introduces the question of how, exactly, does one fit Android 4.2.2 in there???
As for the rest of the "goods", the SinaBerry H10 has a 0.3MP camera up-front and 2MP at the back. And its battery is a 1800mAh unit. Well, let's hope the low-cost phones that BB CEO John Chen has been cooking up with Foxconn won't end up like this.
7. Sinoteck N1020 - it has a 2MP camera that says 41MP on the back!
With its Android 4.1-powered Lumia knock-off, Sinoteck almost brought us a heart attack. From laughing! The N1020 is a "copy" of Nokia's critically-acclaimed Lumia 1020 camera-with-a-phone-attached, albeit with "slight" modifications. For instance, the display has been scaled down to a passable 4.4-inches in diagonal, with a 480x800 resolution. The CPU is a SpreadTrum SC6820, clocked at 1GHz, while the RAM and ROM memory is, apparently, a cringe-worthy 256MB each. The PureView camera is purely a 2MP rear shooter, while a 0.3MP camera is manning the front. However, these measly specs are powered by a hefty 2800mAh battery. That CPU must be a beast!
Among the N1020's endless curiosities, we find it highly unusual to control Android with a Windows Phone button layout. Perhaps Sinoteck got an early clue about the Bluebird phone
, and decided to launch the N1020 while it could still be considered ahead of its time. By the way, we're still laughing.
8. Excite 502d - or how the Android phone by Nokia could have looked
The Excite 502d is actually made in the Philippines by Cloudfone Mobile. It's an original handset with an oddly familiar design. So familiar that Windows Phone's Live Tiles would fit perfectly in the picture, don't you think? Still, let's not ridicule Cloudfone for nabbing Nokia's design, because all this manufacturer wants is to sell decent handsets in a very undeveloped market. It's understandable that Cloudfone had to go for something safe and proven.
The 5-inch (with a 480p resolution), dual-SIM smartphone runs Android 4.0 on a dual-core Snapdragon CPU, paired with 512MB RAM. It has 4GB of storage. It also packs a surprisingly hefty 13MP camera, perhaps to stay faithful to Nokia's photo-centric image. Furthermore, the Excite 502d serves to show how Android would look on a current smartphone made by the Finns. We like it.
9. iNew V3 - a gorgeous Xperia knock-off
We have to admit - the iNew V3 is one beautiful bandit! At first glance, you'll probably mistake it for a certain Xperia flagship. However, this is much more of an original creation based on Sony's OmniBalance design principles, than an outright copy. For starters, the iNew V3 is remarkably svelte at 0.25 inches (6.5mm) thickness and 4.5 oz (128 grams) weight, while having a 5-inch HD display. Its shell is made of plastic, instead of rocking the Xperia's metal/glass combo, which helped the Chinese cut down on its body measurements.
Under its alluring Sony-inspired visage, the handset houses a quad-core MTK 6582 CPU, paired with the good old Mali-400MP GPU and 1GB RAM; 16GB of storage space; an 8MP camera in the rear and 5MP camera up-front; and a 1830mAh battery. It runs Android 4.2.2. Allegedly, the iNew V3 features Motion Unlock technology that lets you unlock the phone and browse its contents by brushing your palm in front of its display.
Alas, we have a reason to doubt such premium functionality, because Chinese dealers have the sneaky practice of false advertising. If you take a look at the iNew V3's brochures, you'll see glowing promises of a 1080P display with 441PPI pixel density covered in Gorilla Glass 2, and a 13MP Sony camera sensor. But the real spec-sheet, conveniently placed at the bottom, spells a much less glamorous set of features. Which doesn't mean the iNew V3 is not a bargain at $200.
10. OrientPhone One MAX - One HTC clone to Max them all!
Compared to the ludicrous HTC/Galaxy Tab knockoff we saw, the OrientPhone One MAX is a safe and sound, $260 clone of the HTC One. However, the Chinese added a bigger, 5-inch 1080p display. And if its spec sheet is to be trusted, this knock-off is impressive - it's powered by MediaTek's juiced-up MTK 6589T quad-core CPU clocked at 1.5GHz, paired with the PowerVR SGX544 GPU that both Apple and Samsung favored for their premiums
It also has a 13MP rear camera and 8MP front camera, a 2800mAh battery, and runs a clean, Sense-less version of Android 4.2.1. Very tempting, overall, unless you work for HTC and have this Chinese company called OrientPhone profit from your work...
11. OrientPhone P6 Plus - the Huawei Ascend P6's doppelgänger Mate
While the Eastern giant Huawei has its own 6-inch series - the Ascend Mate phablets, it also has an exceptionally lean mid-range phone, the Ascend P6. Thus, consumers face a dilemma. Choose the Ascend Mate, and you compromise on aesthetics; choose the Ascend P6, and you miss on screen real-estate. No longer! Hong Kong's OrientPhone managed to fit both in one attractive package, by applying its product strategy of Xerox-ing a hot design and stretching it to fit a bigger display.
Looking at the OP P6 Plus's photos shows these guys made an impressive phone, but they weren't able to match the original's ultra-fit 0.24-inch (6.18mm) thickness and 4.23 oz (120g) form. The copy-shop P6 is 0.29 inches (7.5mm) thick and weighs in at 8.18 oz (232 grams) in comparison.
Spec-wise, though, the $287 P6 Plus tramples the Ascend P6 with its 6-inch 1080p display and 13MP rear-camera, while having roughly the same quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM power. Still, this doesn't mean it's actually faster than the P6, as those quad-core MediaTek silicons seem to struggle with 1080p displays.