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?

Pros:

• Excellent value for money

• Good design

• Competitive specification

• Dual-SIM

• None of your friends will have the same phone

Cons:

• 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.

Best Chinese phones 2019

1. OnePlus 7 Pro

OnePlus 7 Pro
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 8 July 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' £499 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

Xiaomi Mi 9
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 15 July 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.

A Tech Advisor award winner at MWC 2019, Mi 9 is one of the best phones in the world, yet it comes at a mid-range price. It is also one of the top-rated camera phones.

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 £300.07, and at this price no other phone comes even remotely close.

Read our Xiaomi Mi 9 review.

3. Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro

Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 15 July 2019

Beaten by the more recent Mi 9 but not out of the running yet, Mi 8 Pro offers phenomenal value at £299 from eBuyer. And 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 7

OnePlus 7
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 June 2019

The OnePlus 7 is a fairly cautious upgrade from the 6T: the same design and the same display with beefed up specs, a new camera, and a few small software tweaks. It's not a game-changer by any means, but it's a confident, competitive mid-range phone with high-end specs that should appeal to anyone who's been tempted by a OnePlus device before.

If you stand it up against the 7 Pro it probably won't seem all that exciting, but with a £150 price difference between the two that's probably not unreasonable - and there's still plenty in the 7 to tempt anyone who can't quite afford the 7 Pro's full-on flagship price point..

Read our OnePlus 7 review.

5. Huawei P30 Pro

Huawei P30 Pro
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 20 May 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.

Do note that the P30 was announced before Huawei was put on the US trade blocklist and Google announced its decision to pull support, and therefore will continue to have full access to Google apps, services and security updates.

Read our Huawei P30 Pro review.

6. Oppo Reno 10x Zoom

Oppo Reno 10x Zoom
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 23 July 2019

The Reno 10x Zoom feels a lot like the OnePlus 7 Pro, but trades that phone's phenomenal screen for a better camera instead - a trade-off that's likely to make sense for a lot of people. It's got top specs, decent battery, and a slick design - as long as you don't mind the shark fin.

Getting a Snapdragon 855 and a full-screen, notchless display for £699 is a good deal no matter which way you look at it, but the real sell is the triple camera array. With a 48Mp main lens and a 5x optical zoom that can simulate 10x thanks to software tricks, this is one of the few cameras on the market that can rival the Huawei P30 Pro.

The few downsides are that the AMOLED panel is only 1080p, the speakers are a bit wimpy, and ColorOS still feels like a bit of a work in progress - but for most people these will hardly matter at all.

Read our Oppo Reno 10x Zoom review.

7. Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 1 August 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. There's also a 5G version, exclusive to Vodafone, which is the first - and cheapest - 5G phone to go on sale in the UK.

Read our Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 review.

8. Oppo Reno Z

Oppo Reno Z
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 6 August 2019

The Oppo Reno Z might not boast the impressive 10x zoom of the premium variant, but it does offer a gorgeous design, impressive performance and great camera setup for less than £300 in the UK. The plastic body of the Reno Z houses a 6.4in AMOLED display with a built-in fingerprint scanner, alongside a 48Mp + 5Mp rear camera setup and a whopping 32Mp selfie camera to capture those memorable moments.

And despite the mid-range internals on offer, the Reno Z offers a smooth, lag-free experience both when scrolling through social media and playing graphic-intense games like PUBG Mobile. The 4035mAh battery is more than enough to get you through the day with average use, and the 20W Fast Charging support means you won’t be tethered to the wall for too long either.

Read our Oppo Reno Z review.

9. Xiaomi Mi 8

Xiaomi Mi 8
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • 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, insane performance and awesome photography. 

Read our Xiaomi Mi 8 review.

10. Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Huawei Mate 20 Pro
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 12 July 2019

The Mate 20 Pro is a very good phone, and it's even better at the current discounted prices. 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.

The newer Huawei P30 Pro has even better (and more versatile) cameras, but does cost a fair bit more.

Read our Huawei Mate 20 Pro review.

11. OnePlus 6T

OnePlus 6T
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • 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.

12. Huawei P30

Huawei P30
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 20 May 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.

Do note that the P30 was announced before Huawei was put on the US trade blocklist and Google announced its decision to pull support, and therefore will continue to have full access to Google apps, services and security updates.

Read our Huawei P30 review.

13. Xiaomi Pocophone F1

Xiaomi Pocophone F1
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • 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.

14. Huawei P20 Pro

Huawei P20 Pro
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • 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.

15. Meizu 16s

Meizu 16s
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 26 June 2019

With a slim, well thought out design, no notch, top level performance and a great price the Meizu 16s should be a winner – and no doubt it will be for people in the east.

But for the western market the software is a little abrasive and Android 9 Pie has a skin that makes it barely recognisable. If you can look past that then the 16s is a really solid choice to import at around £350 for a Snapdragon 855.

Read our Meizu 16s review.

16. Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • 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.

17. Xiaomi Mi 8 Lite

Xiaomi Mi 8 Lite
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • 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.

18. Xiaomi Mi A2

Xiaomi Mi A2
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 17 July 2019

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.

19. Elephone U Pro

Elephone U Pro
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • 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.

20. Oppo RX17 Pro

Oppo RX17 Pro
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • 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.