20 Best Chinese Phones 2016 in the UK : OnePlus 3, Xiaomi Mi 5, Xiaomi Redmi Pro, More

Chinese phones offer excellent value for money, with specs to rival flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 and often at less than half the price. So if you want a great deal on a smartphone, look no further than our round-up of the best Chinese phones 2016.

You’ve probably heard of brands such as Huawei/Honor, ZTE and Lenovo, although you might not be aware that the latter makes phones as well as laptops. Xiaomi, too, is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, and in China it’s bigger than even Apple and Samsung.

But the problem with many Chinese phones is that they can be difficult to get hold of in the UK. 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? Why you should and should not buy a Chinese phone

Pros:

• Excellent value for money

• Competitive specification

• Usually dual-SIM

• None of your friends will have the same phone

Cons:

• Without an official channel through which to purchase you may unintentionally buy a counterfeit product

• Faulty devices may be difficult to return

• You may incur import duty

• The phone may not work with your network

Best Chinese phone specifications: What to expect from a Chinese phone

The majority of Chinese phones we’ve reviewed have been dual-SIM dual-standby. We’ve found this to be a standard feature of Chinese phones at any price point. However, as is the case with Huawei/Honor phones, which are among those that are officially sold in the UK, the UK variant is often not dual-SIM. You should also check whether the second SIM slot is in addition to or replacing the phone’s microSD slot. Also see: Best dual-SIM phones 2016 and dual-SIM buying advice.

4G is a common feature even at the lower price points. A handful of phones will support 4G on both SIM slots, but in many cases only the first SIM will be used for data. And while we’re used to seeing phones that standardise on nano- or Micro-SIM, Chinese phones can often feature full-size SIM slots. Of course, you can pick up an adaptor from somewhere like Amazon for as little as a pound. Also see: What is 4G? Complete guide to 4G.

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. In the UK we use LTE bands 3, 7 and 20, or look for 800-, 1800- and 2600MHz. EE operates on all three, Three on 800- and 1800MHz, O2 on 800MHz, and Vodafone on 800- and 2600MHz. Also see: How to tell if a phone is supported by your mobile network.

MediaTek processors are a common feature within Chinese phones. These are usually marketed as octa-core and 64-bit, but whereas many UK-sold flagships are sold with four cores tuned for performance and four for efficiency, here you’ll usually find all eight cores running at the same speed. Two- or even 3GB of RAM is not uncommon, and expect to find 16GB of storage, with microSD support (often only to 32- or 64GB, rather than 128GB). Also see: What’s the fastest smartphone 2016.

Rather than NFC, phones with MediaTek processors often come with a feature called HotKnot. This works in a similar way, allowing you to do such things as share files and play multiplayer games with other HotKnot-capable phones. You may also find a fingerprint scanner, but if it’s a swipe- rather than touch-style scanner then it won’t be a lot of use.

In the photography department a 13Mp Sony sensor with f/2.2 aperture is often found at the rear, while you’ll usually get a 5Mp selfie camera 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 – the painting of a face white is a cultural tradition. There will be a slider somewhere that lets you turn off this effect. Also see: Best sounding phone 2016.

An HD or full-HD screen is common, and we’ve reviewed many a 5.5in-screen Chinese phablet, but expect to pay more if you want Quad HD. The screen is usually a good-quality IPS panel, but may often be marketed as having 2.5D Arc glass. This does not mean the screen is curved, but rather that the edges of the screen are slightly curved (like on the iPhone 6). Gorilla Glass 3 is another common feature, which is fortunate because getting hold of a case for a Chinese phone is just as involved as buying the phone itself (we advise getting one at the time of purchase).

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.

While we’re on the subject of software, be aware that some Chinese phones are sold rooted. For many people that’s a bonus – for example UMI’s Rootjoy app lets you easily install any OS you like, including Lollipop – but it will put off some customers. We advise you to check whether wireless updates are available or if you will have to manually update the phone before you buy, if you think the latter may cause you grief.

Best Chinese phones 2016

We’ve been reviewing Chinese phones supplied to us by Geekbuying, Coolicool and GearBest for many months now, but the honest truth is there are still many Chinese phones out there we have yet to review, and many, many Chinese phone manufacturers we’ve never even heard of. Some of those phones, such as the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro, probably deserve to sit at the top of our best Chinese phones chart, but Xiaomi phones are not officially available in the UK and landing a review sample has in the past been difficult – also see: How to buy Xiaomi phones in the UK.

We won’t recommend any Chinese phone we haven’t physically held and tested. Over time we will build up our collection of Chinese phone reviews, and hopefully include some Xiaomi products too, but 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. If you’ve found a Chinese phone not listed in our chart then check its spec and compare it to the phones we’ve reviewed here.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016

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1. OnePlus 3

OnePlus 3

The OnePlus 3 is another amazing smartphone from the Chinese company as easily its best effort yet. It’s a little bit more expensive than its predecessor but it’s still a ridiculous price considering the design, build and hardware on offer which matches rivals but also beats them in some areas. There’s very little to dislike here unless you really need things like expandable storage and waterproofing. You don’t even need an invite any longer, either.

2. Xiaomi Mi 5

Xiaomi Mi 5

A fantastic Android flagship that comes in at an outrageously low price, the Xiaomi Mi 5 has the braun and the beauty to match the greats. Perhaps not a wise choice for first time Android users, but those comfortable in customising the setup will love the excellent-value, gorgeously designed Xiaomi Mi 5.

3. Xiaomi Redmi Pro

Xiaomi Redmi Pro

The Xiaomi Redmi Pro offers unbeatable value for money at around £250, undercutting every flagship yet offering much the same performance and many comparable features. Due to the lack of Google Play and a number of Chinese preinstalled apps we’d recommend Xiaomi phones only to seasoned Android users, however.

4. Elephone P9000

Elephone P9000

We’re very impressed with the Elephone P9000, which is a great all-round Android phone at an unbelievable sub-£200 price. It’s fast, battery life is good, it’s feature-packed and it even runs Marshmallow. Wireless- and quick-charging-, NFC-, USB-C-, dual-SIM- and microSD support are the icing on the cake. Recommended.

5. OnePlus 2

OnePlus 2

The lack of NFC, a microSD card slot, a removable battery, and quick- and wireless charging means the OnePlus 2 is not a flagship killer. It does have some killer new features though, including USB Type-C, 4G dual-SIM support and some powerful hardware. At the reduced price of £249 (we don’t recommend the 16GB OP2), it’s an unrivalled deal.

6. OnePlus X

OnePlus X

The OnePlus X was the best value smartphone of 2015. We love the premium design in a smaller form factor to the firm’s other phones. Software is a strong point and you get a gorgeous screen. However, cuts had to be made somewhere and the X is lacking features such as NFC, 11ac and Wi-Fi. It also is missing the fingerprint scanner and USB Type-C port found on the OnePlus 2. Battery life isn’t great and cameras aren’t best in class but this is a great phone for the price.

7. Xiaomi Redmi 3S

Xiaomi Redmi 3S

Right now the Redmi 3S Pro is available for just an extra £5 over the 3S, but ordinarily we would have said you will struggle to find better value for money than what is offered by Xiaomi’s new Redmi 3S. This budget Android phone is feature-packed and capable, and has a new fingerprint scanner. You can’t expect any more for £120, just remember that Google Play isn’t installed out of the box.

8. Xiaomi Redmi Note 4

Xiaomi Redmi Note 4

The Redmi Note 4 isn’t a huge upgrade over the Redmi Note 3 in terms of core hardware, with simply a greater amount of storage and a faster processor, but the design changes are a huge improvement over its predecessor. If you don’t care about looks and can make do with less storage then the cheaper Redmi Note 3 may well meet your needs. The Redmi Note 4 remains a great buy, but the omission of Google Play support may put off some users. O2 and Giffgaff customers should also note the lack of support for 800MHz 4G.

9. Lenovo ZUK Z1

Lenovo ZUK Z1

The Z1 is a good first attempt from ZUK. It’s not a super-cheap budget phone, but we think the price is about right given the hardware inside. Standout features include the 5.5in full-HD screen, large battery, 64GB of built-in storage and USB-C port. Although there’s no removable battery or microSD card support, you could argue that you need neither.

10. Honor 6 (by Huawei)

Honor 6 (by Huawei)

We’re seriously impressed by the Honor 6 which costs just £249 while providing specs you would normally pay a lot more for. It has a decent 5in Full HD screen, high quality cameras, good battery life, 4G support, good performance, expandable storage and wireless features like NFC and an IR blaster. The microSD cards slot is limited to 32 GB and Emotion UI isn’t the best Android software but these don’t stop the Honor 6 being the best value smartphone around.

11. Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3

The Xiaomi Redmi 3 is a very decent budget Android phone, but it isn’t intended for a UK audience and doesn’t come with Google Play installed out of the box, so we wouldn’t recommend it for those not familiar with Android. It has a plasticky but decent build, with good performance for the money.

12. Meizu M3 Note

Meizu M3 Note

The Meizu M3 Note is a great phone, with outstanding battery life and a nice metal unibody design, but it isn’t a patch on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, which is faster and comes with a better camera, more up-to-date software and, importantly, a cheaper price tag. That said, it’s difficult for us to recommend to UK users (particularly novice UK users) the Meizu M3 Note over other budget Chinese smartphones we’ve tested, given that Google Play is not preinstalled and so much of it has not been adapted from Chinese.

13. Bluboo X9

Bluboo X9

We never fail to be impressed by how much value you can get for your money if you’re prepared to buy a smartphone from China rather than the UK. Bluboo might not be well known over here, but its X9 is a stylish phone that packs in both a fingerprint scanner and a 5in full-HD screen for just £110. General performance is capable, and there’s plenty of space here for all your apps and media.

14. Xiaomi Mi 4C

Xiaomi Mi 4C

On paper the Xiaomi Mi 4C is an excellent mid-range Android phone, with a fantastic spec for the money – it’s half the price of the Nexus 5X and can be just as fast. There’s a generous battery, a fairly good camera and some interesting new features such as USB-C. However, our benchmarking showed overheating to be a problem, and the issues we experienced with software out of the box make it difficult to recommend to less techie users.

15. Elephone Vowney

Elephone Vowney

Elephone has focused so hard on the specs, it’s dropped the ball somewhat on the build quality. The Vowney has an awesome specification for the money, but at a glance you really wouldn’t know it.

16. Ulefone BeTouch

Ulefone BeTouch

Ulefone’s BeTouch is an unrivalled deal at £147. It’s fast, it’s dual-SIM with 4G connectivity, it has a working fingerprint scanner for security, the screen is large and with an HD resolution plenty crisp enough for the money, and there is absolutely no bloatware. A few minor quibbles aside, it’s genuinely difficult to fault this phone at this price.

17. Honor 6 Plus

Honor 6 Plus

For anyone looking for a smartphone with a large screen, the Honor 6 Plus is absolutely worth considering. It has great specs, a good-looking and sleek design and a cool camera, all at a surprisingly low price.

18. UMI eMax

UMI eMax

UMI’s eMax offers superb value for money. It’s not as good-looking as other UMI phones we’ve reviewed, but the eMax has a big and bright full-HD screen for enjoying media and more, and showed very capable performance in the majority of our benchmarks. Photography is decent at this price, and enthusiasts will appreciate the Rootjoy support. At £115 you can’t go far wrong with the UMI eMax.

19. UMI Iron Pro

UMI Iron Pro

Aside from a new fingerprint scanner and USB-C, there’s not much new in the UMI Iron to justify the Pro moniker in this phone’s name, especially given that it’s no faster than the original. However, for the money it’s a decent mid-range Android phone, and the EyePrint ID eye scanner is pretty cool, if no more secure than your PIN. Given that you can buy it for around the same price as the original UMI Iron, it makes sense to plump for the Pro version.

20. UMI Iron

UMI Iron

The UMI Iron is a good buy at £149.99, and the first we’ve seen to include eye-scanning security. This is a cool feature, if no more secure than the requirement for a four-digit PIN. Although the heart-rate scanner didn’t work in our tests and the Micro-USB charging port seemed oddly misshaped, the UMI Iron nevertheless offers a good set of hardware and more than acceptable performance for the money.

21. UMI Hammer S

UMI Hammer S

We really like the UMI Hammer S. It’s not the fastest phone you’ll find at this price, but it’s fast enough for daily use. The design is nice, and genuinely useful technology – USB-C and the fingerprint scanner for example – comes at an attractive price. A strong rival to the excellent Vodafone Smart Ultra 6.