We all want more for our money, and that includes when we’re looking for our next smartphone purchase. If you don’t want to pay for the name, know that you can get a lot more bang for your buck with a Chinese phone than if you buy from Samsung or Sony’s entry-level range.
There are, of course, some things to watch out for when buying Chinese tech. You’ll need to factor import duty into any budgeting decision, which is calculated at 20 percent of the value printed on the shipping paperwork plus an admin fee of around £11.
You’ll also have to accept slightly longer delivery times (though free international delivery is offered), and accept that should something go wrong it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get your money back.
A big one to watch out for is the cellular bands supported by the phone: many Chinese phones don’t support 800MHz 4G LTE. That doesn’t mean they won’t work at all in the UK, but if your network relies on that frequency alone for 4G then the most you’ll get is 3G. This will affect you if you subscribe to an O2, GiffGaff or Sky Mobile tariff.
Talking of contracts, you won’t get one for a Chinese phone. Instead you’ll need to buy the phone up front and then subscribe to a SIM-only deal, but if you’ve got the funds to do so it’s a much better option and can save you a lot of cash in the long run.
We’ve rounded up some of these things you should consider in our guide to buying Chinese tech.
If you can live with all these things, buying your next smartphone China is the best way to get an extraordinary deal on a new phone. We’ve rounded up some of the best cheap Chinese phones below – smartphones for which you’d pay two or three times the price in the UK, US or Europe. If you’re happy to pay a little more and get even more for your money, also see our guide to the Best Chinese phones.
Best Budget Chinese Phone reviews
1. Xiaomi Mi A1
We’re big fans of Xiaomi phones, but have been frustrated by MIUI on many an occasion. The Mi A1 and Mi 5X are to all intents and purposes the same phone, except one runs Android One and the other MIUI 8.5. That’s huge news: at last we have a Xiaomi phone we can really get onboard with in the UK and Europe.
The Mi A1 itself is a well-built and decent all-round mid-range Android phone. It’s not the fastest phone we’ve ever seen, and its low-light photography can be faulted. It lacks wireless charging, a futuristic full-screen display, a Quad-HD resolution, waterproofing, even NFC.
But at around £200 it offers amazing value, with good performance, a good camera, a nice design and decent software with timely security updates. If you’re on a budget, it’s difficult to think of a similarly priced phone that will do a better job.
Read our Xiaomi Mi A1 review.
2. UMIDIGI Z1
It’s not as fast as its predecessors, with which it shares the same but still just as good-looking design, but we do like the extra battery power and storage space, and the improved cameras of the Z1. We’re also pretty keen on the price – at £139 the UMIDIGI Z1 is a very impressive budget phone.
Read our UMIDIGI Z1 review.
It’s cheaper than the best UK budget phones, yet blows them out the water on performance. For the money the good-looking Nubia Z17 Mini’s hardware is more than adequate, it’s just a shame it’s not running the latest Android software.
Read our Nubia Z17 Mini review.
5. Elephone S8
The Elephone S8 has a lot to offer under £200, including a large, very decent 16:9 Quad-HD screen, but it’s not the upgrade to the Elephone S7 we were hoping for. Its design is a real departure, more Mi Mix Mk II than Elephone S7 Mk II, and it loses nice touches such as the microSD slot and headphone, while upgrading the battery, charging port and cameras.
Read our Elephone S8 review.
6. Elephone P8
At £162 it’s difficult to find fault with a smartphone that offers 64GB of storage, a mostly decent camera and a metal chassis with roomy full-HD screen. The Elephone P8 offers good value and performs admirably against its closest competitors, though it lacks the wow factor.
Read our Elephone P8 review.
A similar performer to the UK’s best budget phone, the Moto G5, but with enhanced cameras and more storage, the Elephone P8 Mini is a great buy if you’re happy to import it from China.
Read our Elephone P8 Mini review.
8. Maze Alpha X
18:9 screens are the current fashion and the Alpha X is one of the most affordable phones to have one.
Its specs are pretty good considering the price, but the big battery does make it quite heavy.
Ultimately, the Alpha X is good value despite its middling cameras and performance.
Read our Maze Alpha X review.
9. DooGee Mix
There’s plenty to like about the Doogee Mix. The display, while only 720p, is bright, colourful and detailed, plus the slim bezels make it seem bigger than the actual 5.5in size. An unfettered Android experience is welcome, and the battery life means you’ll make it through the day without a problem.
Cameras are a bit hit and miss, but you get get good results if there’s plenty of light. Although, those wanting a gaming device will find the hardware can’t quite cope with anything too demanding.
For around £200 you’re getting an attractive, highly usable device, that stands out from the crowd. Not bad at all.
Read our DooGee Mix review.
10. Vkworld Mix Plus
The Vkworld Mix Plus is a super-budget phone that majors on design but not a lot else. The camera and overall performance are best described as passable, but provided you’re an undemanding user it should be capable of whatever tasks you throw at it.
Read our Vkworld Mix Plus review.