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.
We’ve rounded up some of the best budget options for getting a cheap Chinese phone that looks and feels anything but.
Your buying guide to the best budget Chinese phones in 2018
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.
Particularly with regard to Xiaomi phones, your smartphone may not come with Google services preinstalled. We explain how to install Google Play on a Xiaomi phone here.
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.
If you decide you want a budget phone but don’t want one from China, also check out our guide to the best budget phones available in the UK.
Best Budget Chinese Phone reviews
Xiaomi’s Redmi 6 Pro and Mi A2 Lite are one and the same, with the former running MIUI 9 and the latter Android One with full 4G LTE support in the UK. Which you buy really depends on where in the world you are and whether you need Google services preinstalled.
GearVita supplied our Redmi 6 Pro review sample. Right now you can pick up the $219.99 (£171.53) Redmi 6 Pro with $30 off (valid until 31 August 2018 with coupon code RMI6PRO). Shipping is not free, but not extravagant either.
GearBest supplied our Mi A2 Lite, and offers the Android One phone at £170.96/$215.99 with free delivery to the UK.
There’s a 19:9 Full-HD+ panel with notch display, a dual-camera at the rear and genuinely usable performance. With 64GB of storage and the ability to add a microSD card up to 256GB without sacrificing dual-SIM support, the Redmi 6 Pro or Mi A2 Lite is an excellent budget buy.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro / Mi A2 Lite review.
2. Honor 9 Lite
The Honor 9 Lite might not have all the mod cons but it’s one of the cheapest phones around to offer an 18:9 screen with a bezel-free design. It’s an attractive phone and general specs are good, including no less than four cameras. It doesn’t have flawless performance but there’s little to complain about at under £200 making it the best budget phone around.
Read our Honor 9 Lite review.
If you’re looking for a good-looking Android phone on a budget the Huawei Nova 2i is a great example. Purchased via GearBest and delivered from Hong Kong, in some ways it’s a little better than the comparable Huawei and Honor phones intended for the UK market though it does lack support for 800MHz 4G LTE.
Thanks to a large full-HD screen with minimal bezels, dual-cameras front and rear and a slim unibody build the Nova 2i doesn’t look anything like a budget phone. Performance is on par with other phones at this price, but that’s not to say it’s bad: the Huawei should be a good fit for most users.
Read our Huawei Nova 2i review.
4. Honor 7X
Honor does pretty much everything right with the 7X. It looks like a much more expensive phone than it is, has a headphone jack and offers a choice of dual-SIM or expandable memory.
The 18:9 screen is great to use, and most apps work ok when forced to fill it. Battery life is good and cameras are acceptable, but not excellent.
The bottom line is that Honor has put together a decent phone that gives you an 18:9 screen which looks like a flagship for far less than flagship prices.
Read our Honor 7X review.
With a decent 18:9 screen, the P Smart is a fine Android phone that should appeal to anyone looking for a cheap contract phone. However, the fact it’s so similar to the Honor 9 Lite (which costs £30 less when bought SIM-free) makes it hard to recommend, especially as the Honor has a couple of extra features – dual SIM and a second front camera – which the Huawei lacks.
Read our Huawei P Smart review.
6. 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.
The S2 Pro from UMIDIGI offers amazing value at just a touch over £200 thanks to its large 18:9 display, huge battery and capacious internal storage. Performance and photography are adequate, making this an excellent budget- to mid-range choice, and worth considering as an alternative to the Moto G6 if you need the extra storage or dual-SIM capability.
Read our UMIDIGI S2 Pro review.
8. 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.
The 2GB RAM model we reviewed lacks features compared to the better-specced Redmi Note 5A options that cost only slightly more. There’s no fingerprint scanner, a slower processor, a less impressive selfie camera and less memory and storage.
But none of this takes away from the fact this super-budget smartphone offers extraordinary value under £70. It doesn’t excel at any one particular thing, but it is capable for less demanding users and nicely designed for a plastic phone.
If you do buy the Note 5A we strongly recommend choosing a Global variant for improved connectivity and the preinstallation of Google Services.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi Note 5A (2GB) review.
10. Xiaomi Redmi 4A
The Redmi 4A is ageing, and yet it remains a very good budget phone and a decent all-rounder under £100. Though it lacks more modern aspects such as a fingerprint scanner, metal build and 18:9 display, it’s almost impossible to argue at this price. The 4A has since been succeeded by the 5A, but there’s really no difference in core specification, making this an even better deal if you can find it at a rock-bottom price. The Global model is recommended, provided you’re happy to get along with MIUI 8.5.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi 4A review.