Looking back just two years ago, candid observers would be remiss not to point out the incredible advancements of the Chinese smartphone industry. In the span of just a dozen (or two) months, tiny local manufacturers turned into superstars by rapidly closing the quality gap between their incomprehensibly cheap wares and those of well-established giants.
That gap, of course, hasn't been bridged completely yet – both in reality and in the public's mind. Indeed, breaking down the stereotype that everything made in China necessarily has to be of poor quality is a daunting challenge, especially since shoddy products still make up the majority of exports from the global foundry that is the Middle Kingdom. But if you leave it at just that, and refuse to look closely, you may be missing out on some truly great deals, and this is what this pick is all about – home-grown Chinese devices that offer outrageous value for the money.
Here they are.
Price: ¥599 ($96) in China
By far the most recent device on the list, Xiaomi's Redmi 2A is a phone seriously worth your consideration if you're looking for an awesome all-arounder, but are still on a budget.
For the equivalent of $96, the Redmi 2A offers a 4.7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels, a 1.5GHz, quad-core Leadcore L1860C processor coupled with a dual-core ARM Mali-T628 GPU and 1GB of RAM, 8GB of expandable flash storage, and two 4G LTE SIM slots. At the back, we're looking at an 8-megapixel Omnivision camera with f/2.2 aperture lens and an LED flash, and a 2-megapixel selfie snapper up front. The 2,200 mAh battery within is the work of either LG or Sony (depending on batch), and should prove capable enough to easily last you a full day. The only downside to the Redmi 2A? The version currently available only works with China's TDD-LTE and TD-SCDMA networks, so you'll have to wait a while longer before a worldwide model is made available for purchase.
Price: ¥999/¥1199 ($161/$193) in China
As far as affordable phablets go, the Meizu M1 Note is a monster. For the equivalent of just $161, Meizu is offering locals a 5.5-inch IGZO display with 1080 x 1920 pixels, a 64-bit, octa-core MediaTek MT6752 processor coupled with Mali-T760 GPU and 2 gigs of RAM, and two SIM slots (LTE/2G). The device is further equipped with a 13-megapixel Samsung main camera with f/2.2 lens, and a 5-megapixel OmniVision selfie snapper with f/2.0 lens. To round off the package, Meizu has also included 16GB/32GB storage and a large, 3,140 mAh battery.
Price: ¥899 ($145) in China
Another phablet-extraordinaire is Lenovo's even more affordable K3 Note. For under $150, Lenovo is giving away quite some hardware, including a 5.5-inch display with a sharp resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, a 64-bit, octa-core MediaTek MT6752 processor coupled with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage, and two SIM slots (LTE/3G). On the imaging front, the Lenovo K3 Note offers a 13-megapixel/5-megapixel camera combo. Considering the healthy, 3,000 mAh battery, you'd expect this ultra-affordable device to be on the thick side, but in actuality, its profile only measures 0.3 inches-thick (7.6 mm).
Price: $180 over at Efox-shop
Back in the end of 2013 / beginning of 2014, the Gionee Elife E7 was a hot, hot flagship. Today? A massively affordable one.
Indeed, at $180, the Elife E7 is quite the excellent buy if you're budget-conscious. For that kind of dough, you're getting a 5.5-inch display with a resolution of 1080 x 1920, good for the satisfying 401 pixels per inch, the most powerful, 2.5GHz version of the quad-core Snapdragon 800 (nowadays known as the Snapdragon 801), and 3GB of RAM. Not impressed? How about a large, 1/2.3" OmniVision OV16825 sensor with 16 megapixels and bigger-than-average, 1.34 µm pixels at the back? Pair that up with an overly generous, 8-megapixel front-facing selfie cam, and you've got yourself a well-rounded package. The only less-than-ideal piece of the puzzle is the 2,500 mAh battery, which could have been slightly bigger.
Price: ¥999/¥1199 ($161/$193) in China
Not a fan of plastic phones? The IUNI U2 is what you're looking for.
Boasting an HTC One M7-like aluminium unibody, the U2 is a wonder to behold. The construction houses a 4.7-inch display by Sharp, with a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, a 2.2GHz, quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB or 3GB of RAM (hence price difference), and 16GB or 32GB of storage (again, price difference). The main camera at the back is a 16-megapixel OmniVision unit with f/2.2 lens and an LED flash, and up front we have a 4-megapixel UltraPixel selfie snapper. The entire thing is powered by a 2,200 mAh battery that should get your through a full day no problem.
Price: ¥699 ($112) in China
Another recent Meizu value warrior, the Blue Charm, as the name implies, is a lot alike to the Meizu Blue Charm (M1) Note – just smaller and cheaper.
What do you get? Starting with the display, we've got a 5-inch panel with 720 x 1280 pixel resolution, powered by a 1.5GHz, quad-core MediaTek MT6732 with ARM Cortex-A53 cores, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage expandable through a microSD card, and two SIM slots that offer 4G and 3G connectivity. Looking at the imaging department, Meizu is offering a 13-megapixel Samsung camera with f/2.2 lens and a 5-megapixel OmniVision selfie shooter with f/2.0 lens. Lastly, keeping the lights on is a generous, 2,500 mAh cell.
Price: ¥899/¥999 ($145/$161) in China
Compared to the rest of the manufacturers already on the list, Jiayu is a relatively tiny device manufacturers, but it has stuck around for years now. Better yet, its smaller scale, hasn't stopped it from pushing the envelope in terms of value for money.
The Jiayu S3 is case in point. It's got a 5.5-inch LTPS display with a sharp resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, a 64-bit, octa-core MediaTek MT6752 processor with a dual-core ARM Mali-T760 GPU, 2GB or 3GB of RAM (depending on price), 16GB of expandable storage, and two SIM slots. Also on board is a 13-megapixel Sony IMX214 camera with f/2.0 lens, along with a 5-megapixel Samsung selfie cam with f/2.4 lens. The entire thing is powered by a healthy, 3,000 mAh juicer.
If you're looking for a compact device with a sub-4.5 inch display, the Elephone G2 has you covered. It sports a 4.5-inch IPS screen with a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels, and is powered by a 64-bit, quad-core MediaTek MT6732M processor with ARM Mali-T760, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage with the option to expand it with 32 gigs more, and two SIM slots. Elephone has also included an 8-megapixel main camera, a 2-megapixel front-facing snapper, and a 2,300 mAh battery.
While the Elephone P3000s will only start shipping on the 16th of April, the device offers an incredible enough value for money ratio to pique our interest.
The P3000s is outfitted with a 5-inch, 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution display, a fingerprint scanner, and is powered by a 64-bit, octa-core MediaTek MT6752 processor with ARM Mali-T760 GPU and 3GB of RAM. Elephone has included 16GB of internal storage, which can be expanded with up to 128GB more, two SIM slots, and a hearty, 3,150 mAh cell. Imaging wise, we've got a 16-megapixel main camera with f/2.2 lens, and a 5-megapixel selfie snapper.
Price: $149 in the US
If endurance is what you seek from your smartphone, then BLU's Studio Energy is exactly what you're looking for. Sure, some of you will be quick to point out that BLU, a Miami-based company, isn't Chinese, but the truth is that it re-brands Gionee devices (Gionee Marathon M3 in this case) and then localizes them and sells them in the States and South America. You could get the actual Gionee device, of course, but if you live stateside, there's really no reason to.
So, what do you get with the Studio Energy? To start off with the highlight feature of this phone, we're looking at a humongous, 5,000 mAh battery monster (and the current record holder in our custom battery life benchmark)! With that kind of capacity, the Studio Energy has no trouble powering the rest of the internals, including the 5-inch, 720 x 1280 pixel resolution display, nor the quad-core MediaTek MT6582 processor. Also on board are 1GB of RAM, 8 gigs of expandable storage, an 8-megapixel main camera, and a 2-megapixel selfie snapper.
Price: $189.99 in the US
Last on our list is another BLU device – the super-thin Vivo Air. A re-branded Gionee Elife S5.1, the Vivo Air's profile measures in at just 0.2 inches (5.1 mm), and is light as a feather.
Underneath the anorexic exterior, we've got a an octa-core MediaTek MT6592 processor with ARM Mali-450 GPU, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (not expandable), and a 2,100 mAh battery. On the imaging front, we're looking at an 8-megapixel main camera, and a pretty decent, 5-megapixel selfie snapper.