The rise of Chinese smartphones

The rise of Chinese smartphones

Traditionally, if you wanted to buy a smartphone, you looked to the east.

Japan gave us blue-chip brands like Sony, and South Korea is home to Samsung and LG.

Europe is modestly represented by Nokia and Doro, while Apple’s dominance of American smartphone manufacturing has recently been challenged by Google.

And then there are Chinese smartphones.

Chinese democracy

A decade ago, Chinese handset manufacturers were largely unheard of in the UK.

Yet thanks to controversy about its involvement in our forthcoming 5G infrastructure, most people have now heard of Huawei – even if they’re unsure how to pronounce it.

(For the record, it’s pronounced ‘wah-way’, with a silent ‘h’ at the start).

Huawei’s compatriots have also arrived on our shores, including OPPO, Honor, OnePlus and Xiaomi.

All five manufacturers benefit from low production costs, in a country where manufacturing labour is abundantly present.

And although the ongoing China-America trade war might harm the long-term prospects of these brands, undercutting competitors on price has proved hugely successful to date.

As Western Europe’s largest smartphone market, the UK provides a litmus test of manufacturer performance and market share.

In the last quarter of 2018, one in eight smartphones sold in this country bore a Huawei badge. That’s genuinely impressive for a brand which was unheard of just a few years ago.

This is how the five main manufacturers of Chinese smartphones are currently represented in the UK market…

Huawei As the world’s third largest smartphone producer (behind Apple and Samsung), Huawei has worked hard to cultivate a premium reputation.

Its P30 Pro handset is now regularly compared to iPhones and Galaxies in product comparisons, thanks to innovations like a triple rear camera with a wide-angle lens.

The P30 Pro offers specifications comparable to the best of its rivals, including a 6.15-inch screen, the latest version of Android and 512GB of expandable memory.

Like Apple, Huawei also markets cut-price versions of its flagship products, using the Mate, Lite and Smart monikers.

You can walk into a high street phone emporium and choose from over a dozen SIM-free handsets, with the 2019 Y6 costing little more than £100.

Honor Confusingly, Honor has adopted similar device names to Huawei. There is a 20 and a 7, plus more affordably-priced Lite sub-brands.

Largely identical Honor handsets may command different prices depending on how much RAM is offered, so it’s important to take care when choosing a new model.

Their current UK product portfolio is almost as large as Huawei’s, though without the high-end premium products used to raise the latter’s profile.

OnePlus Unlike Honor, OnePlus has gone down the high-end route.

Its 7 Pro (the number seven is considered lucky in China, hence its ubiquity) has received five-star ratings from UK review platforms, thanks to high-end specifications.

Mirroring Apple’s numerical product range, more affordable devices like the 6T are now slightly older, but still competitive.

OPPO Targeting younger consumers has worked wonders for OPPO, with a range of handsets extending from budget to premium products.

Its flagship Find X contains a 6.4-inch screen, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal memory at a time when most competitors max out at 64GB.

OPPO has also introduced a number of innovations to the market, including a pivot-hinge camera and one of the first bezel-free screens.

Xiaomi Innovations are also a theme over at Xiaomi, where the Mi 9 contains an in-display fingerprint sensor and a selfie camera hidden behind its screen.

Affordability is a cornerstone of Xiaomi’s product range, offering mid-market smartphone specifications at budget prices.

At the time of writing, the Pocophone F1 costs less than £340, despite sporting a 6.18-inch screen with an 18.7:9 ratio, facial unlocking and almost 400 hours of standby time.

The rest While the five brands listed above represent the current market leaders in Chinese smartphones, they’re not the country’s only phone manufacturers.

The full list encompasses numerous brands you almost certainly won’t have heard of – Ulefone, Elephone, Homtom, Bluboo, Vernee, Vivo, Meizu…

For now, these handsets can only be acquired from third-party resellers online, or via specialist importers.

However, that’s likely to change, with Doogee becoming the latest Chinese brand to try and establish a presence in the west.

In ten years’ time, an article like this may list many more Chinese smartphone brands alongside the ones already familiar to Western consumers…

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