Once upon a time, when smartphones were not on the horizon, when the iPhone hadn’t been released to anyone outside Apple conference rooms, Chinese phones swooped down on the Indian market and caught everyone unaware. People were going crazy for phones with loudspeakers, a TV antenna, dual SIM support and a very low price tag. These phones were normally blatant rip-offs of the Nokia and Samsung handsets of the time.
How things have changed. Today, smartphones are ubiquitous and many of them come from China – from the manufacturing floor to the showroom – in a matter of weeks. Almost all big-name manufacturers use Chinese manufacturing units to keep costs low. With the rise in the number of manufacturing factories, phone assembly units, Chinese startups saw the opportunity to design good-looking phones which are not entirely out of reach of the common man, but still bring desirable specs and features. Perhaps, the most famous Chinese startup, which became a very popular OEM with fans, is Xiaomi. With its M1 and M2 phones, Xiaomi managed to created iPhone-like buzz in China.
Where once Chinese phones were slagged for their low quality, now people are realising that you can get a fully-decked-up phone for the price of a mid-ranger. Thanks to the power of e-commerce, we can get our hands on some of the best phones from China. Of course, we cannot give any guarantee about build quality or after-sales service of these brands. But we do like these superphones for the specs and, of course, the low price.
The UMI X2 reminds us of the Galaxy Nexus slightly, especially the placement of the camera and the design element around the lens. But even so, one could say that the Nexus pales in comparison to this SOB when it comes to specs alone. The X2 is packed with specs and features that are premium and high-end and which big-name manufacturers are charging upwards of Rs 45,000 for. The X2 is delivered to India from China for Rs 17,000. For 19,000, you can get either a black or white-coloured X2 with an extra battery.
For that money, you get a 5-inch 1080p IPS display, the power of a quad-core MediaTek MT6589 processor, 2GB of RAM and a PowerVR SGX544 GPU. That display means a pixel density on par with the HTC Butterfly and the Sony Xperia Z. It even has Gorilla Glass 2 to keep scratches to a minimum. What about Android version? 4.1 Jelly Bean. Cameras? A 13-megapixel one on the back with flash and a 2-megapixel snapper on the front. Surely, the battery must be crap. Hell no! The 2500 MaH battery is bigger than one in the HTC Butterfly. Internal storage is a whopping 32GB and, of course, there’s a card slot to add a further 64GB to this.
There are the usual connectivity options such as Bluetooth 4.0, and it is packed with a gravity sensor, proximity sensor, magnetic sensor and an ambient light sensor.
Jiayu is a Chinese manufacturer that has released phones on the bleeding edge of the specs race. The G4 is no exception. It is the company’s 2013 flagship phone and also features the latest quad-core MediaTek MT6589 CPU like the X2. The processor is clocked at 1.2GHz per core and there’s 1GB of RAM, along with the PowerVR SGX544 GPU.
The 1280 x 720 resolution of the G4’s 4.7-inch IPS screen is the same as the last-gen Jiayu G3 and pixel density is a very good 312 ppi. The touchpanel on the phone is manufactured using OGS technology, which allows for a thinner display and consequently a slimmer phone. The camera on the Jiayu G4 is of the 13-megapixel variety and on the front, there is a 3-megapixel snapper. Internal storage is limited to 8GB, but the microSD card slot is present.
However, the phone does look a little like Apple’s iPhone thanks to the camera placement on the back and the soft curves on the edge of the phone. The G4’s price on the Jiayu online shop is listed as $250 and with shipping charges, the price will go up to $280 (approx Rs 15,000). That is the same price as the Micromax A116 Canvas HD, which has the same processor and a slightly larger screen but trades the 13MP camera for an eight megapixel one.
The G4, it was announced yesterday, would be available in the Indian market for Rs 9,000. If true, that means the handset is being sold for a lower price here. We’ll have to wait and see if some specifications in the Indian version have been changed.
With a Germanic name like Newman, you expect the phones to be made in Europe or America, but it is one of the many Chinese startups that have produced high-spec'ed phones while taking advantage of the low manufacturing cost in the country. The N2, which is a follow-up to the hugely popular N1 (but, of course), looks very much like 2011’s Samsung Galaxy Note N7000. However, it uses the processor used in last year’s Galaxy S3 and Note II. The Exynos 4412 quad-core processor clocked at 1.4 GHz and ticking along with 1GB of RAM should work just fine this year too.
Newman has coupled the processor with a 4.7-inch IPS display with Gorilla Glass protection and a resolution of 1280 x 720. On the back is a 13 megapixel camera, while a 2MP snapper is on the front for video calls etc. There are the usual connectivity options such as Bluetooth 4.0, and users can use a 3G connection or the Wi-Fi (802.11 n/b/g) for data.
Like the X2, the N2 also has a gravity sensor, a proximity sensor, a magnetic sensor and an ambient light sensor. Internal storage is limited to 8GB, but the microSD card slot is present.
The phone is available in a multitude of pastel shades and all of them, except for the black one, look very peppy. The phone runs stock Android 4.0, but surprisingly has four capacitive buttons on the bottom, which was removed by Google from Android with Ice Cream Sandwich.
Despite that name, we assure you this is not the first quad-core Windows Phone 8 handset. In fact, the THL W8 runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. THL is, in fact, a well-recognised brand in its home country and has promised an upgrade for the phone from Android 4.1 to 4.2 Jelly Bean after launch. The W8 also employs the MT6589 processor by MediaTek and has the same clock speed as its Chinese brethren, X2 and G4. It seems like everyone is lured by MediaTek’s phone kit solution. The THL W8 shares many common specs with the above phones. However, we would like to dock points for the phone being a blatant rip-off of the Samsung Galaxy S3. They have even borrowed the physical Home button design from Samsung.
That aside, it has a 5-inch IPS LCD with a resolution of 1280 x 720 and 1GB of RAM. On the back of the phone is an 8 megapixel camera, while the big surprise is that the front-facing camera is of the 3.2-megapixel variety. The phone, like many in this list, is a dual-SIM, but only one of them can be used for a 3G connection. Connectivity options include Bluetooth with EDR & A2DP, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n with Wi-Fi hotspot and micro USB v2.0.
Internal storage of 8GB can be expanded via the microSD card slot. THL has also thrown in a notification LED, which, thanks to apps on the Play Store, can be customised for different alerts. As for price, the W8 is available for $270 (approx Rs 14,000) including shipping. That means it’s a similar deal to the Micromax A116 Canvas HD, which has largely the same specs.
A cursory Google search will show you more of these phones, which have 2013 features with a price tag that’s last millennium. But there are other manufacturers too like Huawei and Xiaomi, whose phones offer similar specs but for a premium. Last year's Xiaomi M2 packs a 720p display in a 4.3-inch screen. That’s a ppi of 342. It also has the latest Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor along with an 8MP camera on the back. However, it’s priced at over Rs 20,000. The case is similar with Huawei's phones.
The Huawei Honor 2, which uses the company’s homegrown K3V2 quad-core processor and has Dolby speakers on the back along with a 13MP camera, costs something around Rs 20,000, which again is much higher than the phones listed above. We think that the cost of buying a no-name Chinese phone is totally worth it because of the low-price. After all, not everyone can afford handsets that are breaching the Rs 45,000 mark and which essentially offer similar specs. Sure, there is a great deal of risk in buying phones online, but the price and the specs justify taking it.
Disclaimer: Do note that these phones are only available online at shopping sites like AliExpress or Uredeal at the moment and not in the Indian grey market, according to our sources. We will keep you updated about their availability at brick-and-mortar stores.