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Best Chinese Android smartphones in 2021

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Things made in China often carry a bad rep: after all, being affordable is often given as their first and foremost virtue. You can’t deny that being competitive in terms of price is what Chinese companies are great at, but recently they have picked up the pace when it comes to innovation and design. Just look at the chart of the world’s biggest phone makers and you will see the rise of Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, and many other makers of Chinese phones. This is no coincidence: the Chinese market has grown hugely, but it is also international buyers that appreciate the work done by Chinese Android phone makers. But what are the best Chinese phones right now? 

Xiaomi Mi 11 — Xiaomi’s actual flagship — nothing crazy, just solid specs and pretty looks

There is quite a lot of exciting new Chinese phones that you should know about. They often a ton of bang for your buck, often undercutting the competition while having the same class of hardware inside. On the software side, some Chinese manufacturers definitely like to go crazy with re-skinning the stock Android, making their phones look and feel unique. Be warned that some of these do not ship with Google Play Store or any type of Google framework on the device (ahem, Huawei and Honor).

Huawei Mate X2

Foldable phones are pretty much the pinnacle of technological achievement in the smartphone space right now. That is not to say that they are good enough to warrant their sky-high pricing, no. But they are certainly a marvel to admire from afar.

Such is the case with the Mate X2, which costs an arm and a leg, while it itself is crippled by the lack of Google services on the phone. Well, at least to us westerners — Huawei is still doing well in China.

The Huawei Mate X2 ditched the “outward fold” idea that the original Mate X had, and went with the inside fold instead. Much like the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the Huawei Mate X2 has a regular, hard glass-protected screen on the outside shell for “normal smartphone usage”. The soft and vulnerable big screen is well-defended inside, and is ready to work for you whenever you need it.

Huawei Mate 40 Pro

The Mate series is Huawei’s “camera-centric” smartphone line and it’s not shy to show it. The design of the phone is definitely… an acquired taste, but one can not argue that it is unique.

The phone itself is a fantastic performer. Being a 2020 model, its refresh rate tops out at 90 Hz, but it’s still decidedly smoother than the 60 Hz experience of times past. The camera itself is fantastic — certainly capable of rivaling your traditional iPhones and Galaxies. It’s just a bummer that it doesn’t come with a Google framework and it’s actually a bit hard to obtain in Western markets.

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra

ZTE just launched its latest flagship in April. The Axon 30 Ultra pulls no stops, with a massive camera module, all the top-shelf hardware, and an interesting “satin-like finish” on its back. It aims to be a main contender and it will probably not shy away from having a high price-tag once it starts shipping.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

If you want a phone that is going to turn heads, you can’t go wrong with the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. It’s chock-full with bleeding edge, top-tier hardware on the inside, but what really sets it apart is its outer shell. See, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has a camera module so huge, that it actually houses a tiny screen on the back there.
Why? Well… um. Look, there’s a tiny screen on the back, OK?
Its actual practical use is for taking selfies with the main camera and checking the time / notifications when your phone is face-down on the table (apparently, some people do that).

You can buy a global version (with Google Play) Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra from some international resellers for a price between $1,100 and $2,000, depending on store, memory option, and choice of finish.

Xiaomi Mi 11

OK, this is the actual “Xiaomi flagship” right now — not the super-charged Ultra and not a money-saver like the Mi 11 Lite. The Xiaomi Mi 11 has top-tier hardware and performance, a fantastic screen (though the rounded corners are a bit distracting), and a striking “industrial design” look.

Its camera is not the best out there, but it gets the job done. Also, it comes in a global version, with Google Play pre-installed.

Oppo’s Find X series always presents a flagship with an “experimental twist”. In the case of the Find X3, it’s a microscope camera, kind of showing all these macro cameras “how it’s done”. But that’s in no way the only thing that the Find X3 has going for it. No, no, it’s a pretty-looking, super-performing smartphone with a very decent camera system, beautiful 120 Hz OLED screen, and a ton of software features. ColorOS, on top of Android 11, is chock-full of little enhancements that make the user experience quite fun with this phone. It also has an international version that comes with the Google Play framework, so it’s definitely worth a look. Though, it’s not super-easy to obtain.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro

The Redmi series is Xiaomi’s upper-midrange, but budget-friendly series. A step below their flagship Mi phones, the Redmis still have powerful hardware and OK cameras at super easy-to-swallow prices. The Redmi Note 10 Pro looks very promising with pretty decent specs and a 120 Hz screen. While we haven’t gotten a hold of it yet, you can check out our review of the Redmi Note 9 and Redmi Note 9 Pro phones to get a general feel for what you will get with this here jewel:

Realme 8 Pro

Realme, an offshoot of Chinese smartphone superpower Oppo, has really taken the world by a storm recently, but while you may have heard about its “flagship killers”, its affordable phones are nothing to frown at.

The Realme 8 Pro is an excellent affordable phone. Just take a look at the specs: for just around $400 (minus shipping) you get plentiful features such as a 6.4″ beautiful AMOLED screen, the Snapdragon 720 chip with at least 8 GB of RAM. The battery is a big, 4500mAh in size, providing enough juice for more than a day of use. And then on the camera front, you get the 108 MP main camera plus an 8 MP ultra-wide one, a macro one, and a B&W sensor.

The Realme 8 Pro just launched, so it’s a bit tougher to grab a hold of. But, if you are intrigued by the bang-for-buck side of it, you might want to check out the Realme 7 Pro, which is available in Walmart right now. Note that you don’t get a 120 Hz screen — only 60 Hz.

Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC

Poco is Xiaomi off-shoot brand that focuses on budget phones. Of their current portfolio, the Poco X3 NFC sits squarely in the middle — it offers an upper midrange processor and a 6.7-inch 120 Hz screen, albeit it’s an LCD panel. The X3 NFC is the global variant and is most easily obtained for a very good price. The software on board is Xiaomi’s MIUI, slightly modified to fit the Poco brand.

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