Dive deeper: Our top tested tips
Xiaomi Mi 9
Best for overall value
The Xiaomi Mi 9 offers a sleek design, premium components and spectacular battery life at a very attractive price.
- Excellent value for money.
- Great job.
- Long battery life with fast wired and wireless charging.
- Solid cameras.
- No official durability rating.
- MIUI 10 is not as intuitive as some other user interfaces.
Read our Xiaomi Mi 9 review
OnePlus 7 Pro (for China)
Best for Oxygen OS lovers
The OnePlus 7 Pro offers top-of-the-line features for significantly less than you pay for most other flagship phones.
- Excellent performance.
- Great notchless screen with a 90Hz refresh rate.
- Intuitive user interface.
- Stunning camera performance.
- No official water resistance rating.
Read our OnePlus 7 Pro (for China) review
Huawei P30 Pro
Best for photography
The Huawei P30 Pro offers one of the most impressive smartphone camera experiences on the market.
- Innovative camera with superb image quality.
- Sharp design.
- Performance isn't as strong as similarly priced competitors.
Read our Huawei P30 Pro review
Oppo Reno 10x Zoom
Best for streaming multimedia
The Oppo Reno 10x Zoom is a strong option for smartphone photographers and a solid phone for everyone else.
- Excellent cameras.
- Solid performance.
- All-day battery life.
- No wireless charging.
- No official durability rating.
- Choppy UI.
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Read our Oppo Reno 10x Zoom review
honor magic 2
Best for selfies
The Honor Magic 2 is a beautiful powerhouse of a phone that falls short on a few key counts.
- Stunning display with small bezels.
- Excellent cameras.
- Good performance.
- Magic UI is unwieldy.
- Average battery life.
- Stereo speakers are missing.
Read our Honor Magic 2 review
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Go to IQOO
Best for gamers
Smartphone gaming enthusiasts will love the Vivo IQOO, but everyday users will find better value for money in the Xiaomi Mi 9.
- Outstanding gaming performance.
- Beautiful representation.
- Stunning cameras.
- Non-intuitive user interface.
- Battery life mediocre.
- Tricky fingerprint sensor.
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Read our Vivo IQOO review
ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G
Best for 5G fans
The ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G offers excellent performance and is one of the first 5G phones to be available in China, but it faces stiff competition from cheaper alternatives.
- Fast performance.
- Crisp AMOLED display.
- Excellent user interface.
- The camera works poorly in low light.
- Finicky fingerprint sensor.
Read our ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G review
Buying Guide: The Best Chinese Phones
Our experts have tested40 productsimMobile phones categoryThis year
Since 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better purchasing decisions.See how we test.(Opens in a new window)
The Top Phones You Can't Get in the US
The ChineseSmartphoneMarket is much more robust than what we have here in the US. There are dozens of phone makers in China releasing amazing cell phones that never make their way to the States. As a US-based publication, we don't typically review phones or other gadgets that you can't buy here, but there's so much innovation out there that we decided to take a look.
There are many hurdles when buying a Chinese phone in the US, not the least of which is buying one. We got all of our Chinese phones directly from the manufacturers, bypassing the typical route of buying online. We were unable to source a Huawei P30 Pro review unit due to trade restrictions and tried to buy a Chinese version of the handset online. We tried buying the phone from four different retailers and each time our order was put on hold or canceled (we were looking at a global model of the phone, after all). And such problems are not limited to Huawei specifically; The current political climate makes it difficult to buy almost any Chinese phone online.
If you manage to get your hands on a Chinese phone, the first thing you'll notice is that it looks very different from US or global smartphones. Chinese phones are exempt from Google's apps and services, meaning each phone has its own unique app store and productivity apps. And installing Google Services and its default suite of apps can be a real challenge, depending on the device you buy. There are some companies that will do the legwork for you, but it's always possible for the apps to get deleted when there's a system update from the manufacturer.
The last thing to consider when buying a Chinese phone is how well it actually works in your area. Because Chinese phones are optimized to operate on Chinese networks, they may lack LTE bands that US carriers rely on. This can lead to faulty service. Go over therefrequencycheck.com(Opens in a new window)to find out if a phone has the correct bands for where you live.
If you'If you are interested in buying a Chinese phone, your best bet is to do your research. If there is a global version of the phone, you don't have to worry about installing Google services and apps, nor do you have to hide or uninstall pre-installed apps designed for Chinese consumers. Still, you should make sure the phone works well with your carrier by looking at the technical specs and making sure it has all the LTE bands that your carrier uses for the service.
How we test Chinese phones
Testing Chinese phones at PC Labs is a little different from our usual smartphone testing protocol. When we test Chinese phones, we set up the device in English and use it with the default applications for several days. We also evaluate applications in Chinese with Google Lens.
Once we have a good idea of how the stock apps and custom UI overlay work, we install Google Services and a handful of Google apps on the phone to complete our lab testing. This can be a tedious process as these apps are installed differently on each phone. We then download any benchmarking apps and other tools we need to complete our tests.
See how we test all the phones
Testing cameras is relatively easy. We test all of the cameras on each handset and their capabilities in both daylight and low-light conditions, then review the results on a 4K screen. We then carefully inspect each photo for common camera issues such as background blur, edge distortion, color accuracy, and depth of field.
We conclude lab tests with a battery consumption test. We test battery life by streaming high-resolution videos over Wi-Fi at full brightness. This gives us an objective measure of how the phone performs in strenuous conditions. It's not a perfect test as it can't accurately predict how the phone will hold up under moderate use or during long gaming sessions, but it's consistent and allows us to draw general conclusions about each handset's battery performance.
Our benchmark tests explained
For the most part, we've relied on many of the same benchmark tests we use for US phones to test the Chinese phones in this roundup. However, we added two additional tests—Ludashi und KI-Benchmark—which are popular in China.
It's worth nothing that benchmark tests are great for getting objective data to compare similar smartphones but don't necessarily reflect how each phone performs in everyday situations. Benchmarks are good for a quick comparison, but should never be the only factor you consider when buying a phone.
For this round-up, we used six different benchmarking suites to get a better idea of how each phone performs in different conditions. Here is a brief overview of the information each benchmark provides.
PC Markis a robust benchmarking tool that simulates everyday smartphone tasks to assess mobile phone performance. It tests how well phones perform at specific tasks such as web browsing, video editing, writing, photo editing, and data manipulation. Once the test is complete, information from each individual test is compiled and an overall performance score is created. One concern of ours is that PCMark hasn't been updated in a while, so it may not be using the latest Android APIs. This is one of the reasons we run several different tests.
GeekBenchis a popular benchmarking app that simulates real-world scenarios to determine single and multi-core performance on smartphones. The latest version of GeekBench also tests GPU performance. While GeekBench can provide useful performance details, it's not perfect. Rather than testing the phone holistically, GeekBench tests individual components of the phone's hardware, meaning the results can be fragmented and misleading if not evaluated with great care.
Antutuis the world's most popular Android benchmarking tool. Like GeekBench, Antutu tests individual hardware components and presents you with an average score. Antutu tests CPU and GPU performance, RAM operation and speed, multitasking user experience, individual runtime for specific Google apps, and I/O speeds. It's an excellent comparison test, but it doesn't take into account the overall performance of the phone.
Playful(LDS) is a very popular benchmarking tool in China, used by more than 100 million people. Like many of the tests we use, Ludashi assesses CPU, GPU, memory, and RAM performance and provides an overall score. It compares components individually instead of holistically, but also provides detailed information about system components and can also verify the authenticity of the smartphone.
GFXBenchis an intense graphics benchmark that simulates online games. The tests provide frame rate scores for on- and off-screen graphics of varying intensities. While it doesn't replace the role of testing smartphones with actual gameplay, it is an excellent indicator of how a phone will perform in various gaming scenarios.
KI-Benchmarktests how well smartphones perform AI-based tasks and provides an overall score. The suite uses 11 different situations that allow the handset to detect objects and faces, play basic games, debug images, enhance image resolution when zoomed in, simulate bokeh, simulate object detection in self-driving vehicles, improve low-resolution images, and determine memory limits for intensive tasks. Of all the benchmarking tests used in this round-up, AI Benchmark is perhaps the most useful for determining how future-proof your smartphone is.
We have consolidated all benchmark results into new, unified onesPCMag benchmark resultsfor computers and graphics. The Compute score is determined by equally weighting Antutu, LDS, PCMark, and Geekbench multi-core scores, with each normalized to a percentage of a relatively high score for that benchmark. The graphics score evenly weights the GFXBench Aztec Hi, Car Chase, Manhattan ES 3.0, and T-Rex offscreen tests to see how the phone performs on a variety of graphics APIs. These are also all normalized to a percentage of a relatively high score. All resulting scores are below 100, but they are not above 100; They might go past 100 with better performance in the future.
Should you buy a Chinese phone?
As mentioned, China just has a lot more cool phones than we see in the US. But after testing a bunch of them, it's hard to recommend buying one for use here. Unless you have a good understanding of other languages and the technical skills to configure the phone exactly how you want it, you will probably have a hard time getting past the lock screen. And that's if you can order the phone at all.
However, these phones are a good indicator of the kind of innovation we're likely to see here soon. So even if you're not using the exact same phone, chances are you'll have the opportunity to experience many similar features.
For buying advice in the US, visit our summary ofThe 10 best cell phones.