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This is why Chinese phones are so cheap

huawei vs xiaomi
© nextpit

Chinese smartphones are invading the world with their high specs and low prices. When you use a Chinese phone, you'll be surprised at how well they work and fast they can be when they cost so little money. But are Chinese manufacturers a charity service, giving away cut-price smartphones – or is there something behind it all? Read on to find out why Chinese smartphones are so incredibly cheap.

Cheap labor

One of the most commonly known reasons for the low prices of the Chinese smartphones is the low cost of the labor force. China has some of the lowest labor costs in the world, and that's the main reason why many manufacturers build products there. 

Chinese manufacturers, such as Xiaomi, Huawei and Meizu, also have the advantage of building phones locally, which means they have fewer transportation costs – unlike the likes of Apple, Samsung, HTC or Sony. These savings are passed on to the customers.

oppo n3 1
The Oppo N3 is cheaper to produce than its rivals. / © ANDROIDPIT

High-tech but not revolutionary

Another factor is that Chinese manufacturers aren't packing their phones with the very latest and greatest hardware. They're more interested in balancing price with performance. If you've ever browsed a website that sells Chinese smartphones, you've probably seen devices that have reasonably high-end specs, but cost a lot less than a Samsung Galaxy S6. The Galaxy device uses higher quality parts, which are also more expensive.

In many cases, Chinese manufacturers choose a Mediatek processor, which might not be up there with Samsung's Exynos units, but is a lot cheaper. Plus Mediatek is also a Chinese company, so it can offer cheap local distribution.

meizu mx5 date sortie prix actualites caracteristiques image tony balt 10
The Meizu MX5 packs a Mediatek processor. / © Meizu

As for RAM, Chinese manufacturers won't go for DDR4 memory, which is found in many of the current top smartphones. Instead they'll go for cheaper, Chinese-made high-end DDR3 modules. Many choose Sony camera sensors mostly because, like Mediatek, the Japanese company offers good value.

Chinese smartphones also tend to be built with Korean- or Japanese-made displays, which are slightly lower quality than the IPS or AMOLED panels that some devices show off about, but again, much cheaper. As we said above, it's about balancing price and quality.

Focus on online sales

E-commerce is the preferred selling method among Chinese manufacturers. Companies such as Apple or Samsung have spent a fortune on building their own stores, but that money doesn't come out of thin air. When someone buys a Galaxy S6 Edge, for example, they are paying not only for the phone itself, but also for its distribution and the cost of opening and running the stores, among other things. Chinese smartphones are often cheaper because they don't have the same overheads as brands that have physical stores.

Cheap marketing

Did you see the announcement of the Galaxy S6? Have you heard of the contract Robert Downey Jr signed last year with HTC? Or that Sony wants to promote the Xperia Z5 in a new James Bond film? These things cost a fortune. A fortune that you, the customers, end up paying.

sony xperia z5 calling
Does James Bond using an Xperia Z5 encourage you to buy one? / © ANDROIDPIT

Social networks can be much cheaper and equally effective marketing tools. It is possible for such advertising to reach someone who needs a good low-priced smartphone. You want a smartphone without having to pay for advertising? Buy a Chinese one.

Limited quantities

A sales method that works very well, especially in China, is creating a demand for products. If people think a certain phone will run out, they're more likely to rush to buy one. Chinese manufacturers have this in mind, so they only produce a limited number of each device. Stocks of the Xiaomi Mi4 were exhausted in just 37 seconds.

The Xiaomi Mi 4 sold out in just 37 seconds. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sell accessories

Chinese manufacturers generally have a very low profit margin for smartphone sales, so they often resort to selling accessories to increase this margin. The most common accessories are phone covers, but some manufacturers, such as Xiaomi, even sell shoes and slippers.

Perhaps you want slippers with that Xiaomi phone. / © ANDROIDPIT

Could you imagine the Galaxy S7 costing US$350 and Samsung making up its profits by selling shoes? Or clothes? Even underwear? We jest, of course, but it's because of these additional products and services that Chinese manufacturers can afford to sell their handsets at very low prices.

All this is fine, but does product quality suffer?

Until relatively recently, Chinese smartphones were associated with low quality, but that perception is dying out. True, they're not made from the highest quality materials, but they're not made from poor quality materials anymore either. It's not rare to see a Chinese smartphone with aluminum body that offers high performance for less than US$250 these days.

AndroidPIT OnePlus 2 back cover sandstone black 2
The OnePlus 2 is high quality, low price and Chinese-made. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sure, there are better phones out there. But these devices are perfectly adequate for internet browsing, messaging and various media consumption. They have their downsides too. Their Android skins are sometimes horrible and some devices will never see an Android update. But if you're an Android user who doesn't want to spend much money and isn't bother about fast updates, maybe you should give Chinese smartphones another look.

Do you own a Chinese smartphone? Would you buy one? Tell us what you think in the comments. 

Go to comment (41)
Santiago Luque

Santiago Luque
Freelance Editor

Santiago works as a Freelance Editor for the Spanish AndroidPIT

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  • Baiju 1
    Baiju Jul 10, 2019 Link to comment

    Chinese smartphones and smartwatches do not have regular updates, and no way to fix these smartphones and smartwatch, they are in Chinese languages, even though you change to English is still a Chinese phone, feel unsafe because of the Chinese apps. These Chinese phones may not work if you try to upgrade the firmware and root, they get bricked easily. Buying Chinese phones is a real waste of money.

  • 1
    Megantara Santoso Sep 29, 2018 Link to comment

    I used to have brand based mindset, but along with age, i'm leaning toward functionality. If it works the same, will serve me well during its lifespan (i put 2 years lifespan for my phones, most survive longer than that), i'll pick the cheaper one, if it breaks, i can get a new one, which more often is better than my broken one.
    other benefit of picking cheaper phone is that i can buy/replace it without much thinking.

  • 1
    Helen Troy Jun 25, 2018 Link to comment

    Hi everyone, I am an experienced user and customer but not necessarily an expert at smartphone engineering. Here's my take: remember the original 10,000$ IBM PC ? Well as the technology matures it is normal for other players to come in and do pretty much what the box makers did to IBM.
    I have owned Apple, Samsung and Chinese brands, the gap is closing fast to the point that if you are on a budget and are willing to cope with idiosyncrasies typical of many Chinese marketed (they are all made there for crying out loud) phones ...I recommend trying one.
    Pros: the specs you want at a fraction of the price, more leverage choosing your phone plan .
    Cons: difficult to get cutting edge tech ( AMOLED, DDR4, Qualcomm's latest...), may get stuck with older difficult to upgrade version of android , also expect harder time to fix things in the unlikely event that some things goes wrong (...had a smartwatch which just died on me but then again Lithium batteries are known to give you 450 to 500 charge/discharge and then...changing the battery involves some soldering I don't really have time for right now)

    Times are changing and I sure understand the allure of these phones.

    Do your homework , not all manufacturers or sellers are equal, in other words know what your buying.

  • Xu Lu 1
    Xu Lu Feb 3, 2018 Link to comment

    I just dot understand why you release such article while clearly you absolutely have no idea how UE market runs. For example both Iphone and some Chinese phone are being manufacturing in the same source lets say FOXCON, same labour same cost. But Your article sounds like only Chinese company take the advantage from cheap labour, whom doesn't?
    Marketing fund? Are you really sure the company like Huawei spending less than others?
    Only focus on online sales? come one !, maybe you should ask people whom working in the the operator , how Chinese company actually distributes their products. Please stop writing such article before doing any research.

  • 2
    Rockstarmachine 47 Jun 7, 2017 Link to comment

    Even samsung with 4 gigabytes ram have lags a little bit, but with this oppo a39 i am well contented and moved on in planning for a budget for buying samsung phones.

    Gepli PLR

  • Omar Ismael 2
    Omar Ismael Apr 22, 2017 Link to comment

    Well I just bought a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 with Snapdragon 625. I wonder why the phone is cheaper than its counterpart with Mediatek processor when Qualcomm usually sells their chipsets hinger than its competitor. The phone works great, fast, it doesn't gets hot(only gets warm for heavy gaming) and battery efficient. Thanks to the 10nm processing technology on SD 625.

    Gepli PLR

    • Jordan Shilkoff 1
      Jordan Shilkoff Apr 28, 2017 Link to comment

      The SD 625 is 14nm

    • Gepli PLR 1
      Gepli PLR Oct 15, 2017 Link to comment

      Everthing is good if you take care of it.

  • 1
    Milton Brown Apr 16, 2017 Link to comment

    I totally agree with many of the members on this site,I've had Samsung Galaxy's and htc's smartphones in the past.But Why?Just to pay between £30 to £50 a month over two years. When for at least 6 months possibly even more I've had a Oukitel K6000 Pro smartphone with 3GB of memory and many great features,also 32 GB internal memory and I've expanded it with a 128 GB micro sd card,you can't do that with an IPhone. what more the Oukitel K6000 Pro his quite nippy and performs well.And I paid £150 for it.BIG FLAGSHIP SMARTPHONES WHO NEEDS THEM NOWADAYS?

  • Nader Idkeidek 1
    Nader Idkeidek Jan 15, 2017 Link to comment

    really funny to read an article with so many wrong information, I have Lenovo Note and it is working perfectly since 2 years, my kids have VSUN Race and VSUN Touch that are working smoothly with no hiccups. Now why are afforadble ? well you dont pay the Brand fine as in Apple and Samsung.

    • 24
      Deactivated Account Mar 27, 2017 Link to comment

      Hey Nader, could you go into a bit more detail what you think is wrong with the information in this article?

  • 2
    AJW Aug 9, 2016 Link to comment

    The person that wrote this has never ever been to China or worked in a factory anywhere they do not have a clue how it works or why Chinese stuff is cheaper ... this is just out and out wrong ..sad that so many do not have a clue

    Jack Chen

  • 3
    Eddie Rich Aug 4, 2016 Link to comment

    I got a DooGee dg310 for US $50 ($80 - $30 coupon). I've used it for 2 years now and haven't had any problems. My main use is messaging and actually making phone calls. The camera works great, as do the wi-fi, bluetooth, etc.

    I don't know why anyone would pay over $200 for a phone.

    LydiaGepli PLRJack Chen

  • 2
    Shafri Salleh Aug 3, 2016 Link to comment

    Except for xiomi and its kind I would not buy china phone in malaysia, it's flooded the market in kiosk on the mall walkway and this kiosk owner are mostly loan sharks or pimps, china knock off are everywhere and we should pay premium for premium products, yes we pay for advertising but we should not pay for thief and underworld activities

  • 1
    c Gibson Jul 20, 2016 Link to comment

    My wife has a Meizu phone with 'Flyme' - that is Android, customized for the Chinese market. There is plenty of bloatware and it seems impossible to root the phone? It is a great phone, but the bloatware and all the Chinese spam suggests that the phone has built-in apps contacting people we don't know and who we don't want to know..... I am looking for a Chinese phone myself, but preferably one with a top camera and pure Android without a spammy Chinese UI

  • Osama Khan 3
    Osama Khan Mar 27, 2016 Link to comment

    Actually i am using i Chinese phone coolpad note 3 which cost me around 135 USD...
    It have fingerprint scanner jz as good as one in iPhone...
    3gb ram..
    1.3ghz octa core processor...
    Hd display...etc
    Everytime i use this device it makes me wonder how do they manage to sell such a awesome device at this price.... I mean if i calculate all the stuff they put in this phone it easily gonna exceed 135usd amount... +_+

    Gepli PLRSylvia Prasad-AliArief Rakhman

    • Sylvia Prasad-Ali 1
      Sylvia Prasad-Ali Aug 31, 2016 Link to comment

      I bought a chinese copy phone Samsung Galaxy S7 for USD230 - it works superbly - even some of my friends of genuine S7 are being jealous of them spending a fortune and I got similar thing cheap - it depends on whom you buying from, check out reviews and understand the specs - no regrets on my nine gadget purchases from a chinese dealer - 3 tablets, 1 phablet, 3 smartwatches and 2 smartphones - both samsung copies.

      • 1
        Rachel Rehu Oct 7, 2016 Link to comment

        Can you please tell me what website you purchased your copy samsung from

      • Sylvia Prasad-Ali 1
        Sylvia Prasad-Ali Oct 7, 2016 Link to comment

        Hi, Check out

      • 1
        Stewart Dunnett Apr 17, 2017 Link to comment

        Can you tell me the model of the phone you have thats a replica please

  • 2
    Jessica Davis Jan 14, 2016 Link to comment

    I haven't seen a way to use the Meizu M2 Note, for example, on any CSM network in the US, even though it is a CSM phone. Does anyone else have the same problem? Thanks.

    • 1
      Heather H Mar 27, 2017 Link to comment

      Can you give me the name and maker of your phone...what would I look for on ali?

  • 9
    Salomon Jan 13, 2016 Link to comment

    I have bought one galaxy s6 chinese copy. After 1 week it have been virus infected and I can't use it.
    It says that there is an system update. But when I hit the update button it install another apps that I not need. Even after an reset the problem is not solved. Have anyone any Idea please help . Otherwise it will land to the rubbish

  • 1
    subramanian Jan 1, 2016 Link to comment

    Using one plus one from day one it was launched in far no problem. Excellant value for money.

  • 2
    Ong Zun Kai Dec 31, 2015 Link to comment

    have a Xiaomi redmi 1s , has no Bloatware

  • Devlin Williams 1
    Devlin Williams Nov 10, 2015 Link to comment

    I got a Mstar M700 a month ago and no real complaints, octa core 2gb ram, 16 gb, Mediatek board. 2 issues tho, battery life only fair,Bluetooth streaming is good sometimes and very bad and crackly other days.Stock android 5.0 unskinned.
    This phone cost me €135 and antutu puts it just below the Galaxy note 4.

  • 1
    Robby Breadner Nov 8, 2015 Link to comment

    this is good news for those of us who use iPhones. i doubt i'll ever switch because i am OLD and i have been exclusively on the mac platform since the early 90's. but the ripple affect should help bring down the prices of premium handsets. hopefully. if i wasn't so entrenched with apple, these phones would definitely entice.

  • Masoud Zarshenas 1
    Masoud Zarshenas Nov 8, 2015 Link to comment

    Media Tek is a Taiwanese company

  • Ronald Fwanio 4
    Ronald Fwanio Nov 5, 2015 Link to comment

    I'm using the not so new but quite most people buying it. Its the Xiaomi Mi4i 16GB Chinese phone! Like it very much especially the camera is way too better than iPhone or other expensive phone.

  • 3
    Eluwa Michael Nov 5, 2015 Link to comment

    I own an android phone called injoo note. It runs on kitkat 4.4.2 and has 1 gb ram,16 gb internal space, 13 megapixel back, 5 mega pixel front.The processor is mediatek and its a quad core processor of 1.3 ghz each i bought it here in Nigeria for 23,000 Naira which is $116 by exchange rate.
    The cool part of it is that i enjoy big games like fifa 14 (my fav),the updated asphalt 8 , n.o.v.a freedom version, Godfire, etc. but some game did not perform well like shadow guns, nfs hot porsuit....

    My next phone would be a samsung or an HTC phone, coz i really like to tryout any new android versions, aside from this...i think i would stick to chinese phone...and besides, there support here in Nigeria is great too.

    GT Ohh

  • Michal Horna 14
    Michal Horna Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    very useful article
    For light users, this is a good way

    GT Ohh

  • 10
    Edward Amarille Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    I agree. I have the grand X max+ and have never been happier. Great battery life, 6 inch screen, can even handle most games quite smoothly. There really isn't much that flagship phones can do that I can't with this one. Wireless charging I was able to add for under $10, NFC and fingerprint sensor aren't a big enough deal for me to worry about it. For $170, this phone is a beast.

  • 5
    adr Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    My OnePlus One is a very good phone, much better value for money than "the big ones"

    Omar Hamwi

  • 3
    ashiik ali Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    Your money spent on a Chinese phone is its cost, ie you are not paying for its marketing expenses. Market trends are Changing. Move on.

  • 2
    Yogesh Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    I have YU yureka( modified coolpad danzel d2) with preinstall cynogen os 11.0 upgradable to cos 12.1 via ota

  • 1
    Adrian Fern Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    I had a few Chinese copy phones about 4yrs ago and all of them hit the bin within 2 months of ownership as the quality was terrible. Seems things have moved on since then if this review is correct, I would be very sceptical if I ever bought one again about the build quality..

  • 2
    Tanweer Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    Can someone tell me how they are with respect to touch screen & screen quality?

    Omar Hamwi

    • Omar Hamwi 17
      Omar Hamwi Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

      We've got a few reviews you might like to check out. We cover quite a few Chinese manufacturers.

      GT Ohh

  • 2
    Shibin Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    Well explained

    GT OhhOmar Hamwi

  • 3
    Shawn Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    I own the Huawei MediaPad X2 and I love it! It has a 7-inch screen, octo-core 64-bit processor, 3 GB RAM, and a 5000 mAh battery. I get compliments on it all the time. People can't believe it's a phone. I was skeptical but I love this phone.

  • 3
    krfan1 Nov 4, 2015 Link to comment

    I've owned a ZTE ZMAX on T-Mobile for a year, and its been a great phone! Great battery life, big screen. The camera isn't that great, and it just got updated from 4.4.2 to 4.4.4, but got Band 12 LTE. I knew it wouldn't get Lollipop, but it's been rock solid on Kit Kat. Since I don't play games, the Snapdragon 400 with 2GB RAM is fine most of the time. My friend has a Note 4, and was impressed with what I got for $271 (incl. taxes). I got a phone that does 90% what the Note 4 does (I don't care about the S-Pen) for a 1/3 the cost!

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