7 Chinese smartphones you’ve never heard of - but will definitely want

OnePlus ain't the only game in town when it comes to cheap-but-powerful smartphones

“Made in China”.  Finding that phrase on the back of the box used to be the kiss of death when it came to tech.

The bad rap Chinese products get for being imitations, fakes or just sub-par isn't always warranted, though - and certainly doesn't apply to the smartphone arena. China has been rapidly taking the phone world by storm, seriously undermining their Western, Korean and Japanese rivals with powerful but affordable flagships. 

OnePlus, ZTE and Xiaomi have been pumping out hero handsets at ridiculously low prices for years, but there's a new wave of smaller brands that are also worth taking a look at. ZUK, Elefone and Coolpad might not be household names yet, but they're all beginning to make their mark on the industry.

Almost everything on this list has the CPU and RAM to compete with big-brand phones like the Samsung Galaxy S7. A lot of them have loads more storage, too. Camera performance is a bit more variable, but they’ve all got something else in common: a rock bottom price. And that makes them all seriously desirable.

Thought that a OnePlus 3T was the only Chinese smartphone worth your cash? Think again.

LeEco Le Max 2

LeEco has fingers in many pies - it's working on electric cars, makes TVs in its native China, and has some bargain-tastic phones, too. The LeMax 2 is a powerful 5.7in phablet that will make you forget about the now-deceased Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Its processors are just as good as the rest of the Western competition, and it has a camera that places huge priority on resolution and detail. It's made entirely from metal, in keeping with this year's trend for aluminium and glass over plastic, and follows Apple in ditching the old 3.5mm audio jack. Instead, it's one of the first phones to support CDLA for lossless, high-quality music streaming.

  • CPU/Memory: Snapdragon 820, 6GB RAM 

  • Screen:  5.7in 1440x2560 IPS LCD

  • Storage: 128GB internal

  • Camera: 21 MP, f/2.0 with optical image stabilisation, phase-detect autofocus and dual-LED flash

Get it if... the 3.5mm headphone jack is already dead to you

Get it from: MobiCity, £185 (32GB version only)

Vivo Xplay 5 Elite

Does that design ring any bells? Vivo has paid homage to Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge and Galaxy Note 7 with the Xplay 5 Elite, which has a dual-edge display running along its clean metal unibody. 

When it first launched, we wondered whether Vivo had basically just created a cheaper version of the Galaxy S7 Edge — and the answer is probably yes. With similar hardware, the only major difference is the logo on the back, and the price you'll end up paying for one.

  • CPU/Memory: Snapdragon 820, 6GB RAM

  • Screen:  5.43in, 1440x2560 curved AMOLED 

  • Storage: 128GB internal

  • Camera: 16 MP, f/2.0 with phase-detect autofocus, dual-LED flash

Get it if... You just can't bear to say goodbye to the Galaxy Note 7

Get it from: Banggood, £669

Coolpad Cool S1

Oh look, another case of "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". Looking at the specs and design alone, you could easily confuse Coolpad's S1 with a OnePlus 3T - nearly everything lines up, including the screen resolution, CPU and storage. Coolpad adds its own custom UI on top of Android, of course, and makes do with an IPS screen instead of AMOLED, but the price is much lower too.

The real winner here, though? Buy the right bundle and you'll get a free pair of Harman Kardon earphones, which are worth about US$120 on their own. Not bad at all for a company with a name as decidedly uncool as "coolpad".

  • CPU/Memory: Snapdragon 821, 6GB RAM 

  • Screen:  5.5in 1080p IPS LCD

  • Storage: 128GB internal

  • Camera: 16MP, f/2.0 with phase-detect autofocus and dual-LED flash

Get it if... You want OnePlus features, but don't have OnePlus 3T cash

Get it from: AliExpress, £280

Ulefone Gemini Pro

The biggest mystery on this list, Ulefone only announced the Gemini Pro earlier this year and despite showing it off at Mobile World Congress, still hasn't finalised the specs. All you really need to know, though, is that from a few feet away, no-one will know you're not actually using an iPhone 7 Plus - the two look almost identical, right down to the dual-camera setup on the back.

You can stay smug in the knowledge you paid a lot less for your phone, though: Ulefone should be selling the Gemini Pro for a rock-bottom US$199. You'll have to pay a bit more for the storage and memory listed here, but you'll still save a fortune compared to Apple's current flagship.

  • CPU/Memory: MediaTek Helio X27, 4GB RAM 

  • Screen:  5.5in 1080p IPS LCD

  • Storage: 128GB internal

  • Camera: Dual 13MP with dual-LED flash (specs TBC)

Get it if... You want the iPhone look, without having to actually use iOS

Get it from: Pompmall, US$190

Gionee A1 Plus

Gionee isn't messing about when it comes to selfies: the A1 Plus is packing a 20MP front-facing camera, complete with f/2.0 aperture, 1/2.8in sensor and LED flash. Good luck finding those face-friendly specs anywhere else. It's a similar story around back, with a dual 13MP/5MP setup that has oversized sensors and an f/2.0 aperture.

You get Android Nougat out of the box (which can't be said for a lot of phones on this list) and a hand-stretching 6in screen, as well as expandable storage and a whopping 4000mAh battery to keep you snapping all day. 

  • CPU/Memory: MediaTek Helio P10 CPU, 4GB RAM 

  • Screen:  6in 1080p IPS LCD

  • Storage: 64GB internal, microSD card expansion

  • Camera: 20MP, f/2.0 front with optical image stabilisation, phase-detect autofocus and dual-LED flash, 13MP+5MP, f/2.0 rear

Get it if... You're an unashamed selfie addict, and anything less than 20MP just won't do

Get it from: TBC

Meizu Pro 6

The Meizu Pro 6 is almost a Frankenstein phone made from the best bits of Apple and Samsung's latest and greatest. It's built to look almost exactly like an iPhone 7, but has the power of a Mediatek MT6797T Helio X25 chipset inside. The newer Pro 6s swaps that for a MediaTek CPU, but it drops the camera resolution too - and you want the best, right?

The metallic unibody design was elegant when Apple did it, and that's still true here, with an all-in-one home button that doubles up as a fingerprint sensor. Specialising in remarkable audio performance, the Pro 6 is also the proud holder of an uprated digital-to-analog (DAC) converter, which helps in transmitting lossless audio signals — making the Pro 6 an ideal flagship for audiophiles.

  • CPU/MemoryMediatek MT6797T Helio X25, 4GB RAM 

  • Screen: 5.2in, 1080p AMOLED

  • Storage: 128GB internal

  • Camera: 21MP, f/2.2 with phase-detect autofocus & laser autofocus, dual-tone LED flash

Get it if... You like the Apple look, but just can't live with an Apple DAC

Get it from: Amazon, £313