We all want more for our money, and that includes when we’re looking for our next smartphone purchase. You can get a lot more bang for your buck with a Chinese phone than if you buy from Samsung or Sony’s entry-level range.
We’ve rounded up some of the best budget options for getting a cheap Chinese phone that looks and feels anything but.
If a low price isn’t your number-one priority, also check out the best Chinese phones you can buy today.
Best Budget Chinese Phone reviews
1. Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC – Best Overall
The Poco X3 isn’t perfect. The big battery makes it bulky, we don’t love the aesthetic, and not everyone will find MIUI 12 immediately intuitive. For the most part these are small complaints though, especially when stacked up against the X3’s myriad strengths: strong specs, an excellent camera, a beautiful display, and absolutely fantastic battery life.
The fact that you can get all of that for under £200 is almost unbelievable, and makes the Poco X3 a shoo-in for the best budget phone of 2020.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC review
2. Realme 7 – Best Value
The competition is too fierce for the Realme 7 to claim the best budget phone crown that its predecessor wore for so long. But don’t hold that against it too much.
This still offers phenomenal value for money, with strong performance and all-round specs packed into an attractive design at an affordable price.
We’re a little disappointed by the camera, and wouldn’t recommend anyone buy the base model with 4GB RAM, but beyond that there’s not much to complain about here.
Do note there is also a Realme 7 Pro version.
Read our full Realme 7 review
3. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S – Best Battery Life
The Redmi Note 9S is one of the best budget phones we’ve seen. This is a fantastic phone for less than £200, a real all-rounder with decent performance and cameras, as well as mind-blowing battery life. The Redmi recorded the longest time in the Geekbench 4 battery life test that we’ve seen to date.
We are not fans of the rear camera module, and the lack of NFC in some territories is a shame, but those niggles aside it ticks all our boxes at this price point.
A fine example of not a lot of money very well spent.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S review
4. Oppo Find X2 Lite – Best Budget 5G Phone
The Oppo Find X2 Lite is a well balanced mid-range phone. It offers good features across nearly all the key areas, with its solid processor enabling excellent performance and great battery life.
The points in its favour don’t stop there, as the phone is well-suited for mobile gaming and the camera offers some superb image stabilization.
The exterior of the phone makes it obvious we’re not dealing with a flagship, although that doesn’t mean the design is poor in any way. The camera is prone to oversaturation, but it generally takes very good photos.
Read our full Oppo Find X2 Lite review
5. Realme X50 5G – Best Value Mid-Ranger
As with the Pro model, Realme had to choose carefully about what to cull and what to keep in order to have the Realme X50 5G stand out from the crowd and still have it remain as affordable as it has.
Against similarly-priced rivals, like the Moto G 5G Plus, Xiaomi’s Poco X3 NFC and OnePlus Nord, it beats them out on one or more areas, and while it might not offer as well-rounded a package as pricier alternatives using the same chip, there’s little that can compete when it comes to that all-important price/performance balancing act.
Read our full Realme X50 5G review
6. Oppo A53 – Best Display
There are better cheap phones out there, but if the Oppo A53 sits at the top of your budget then you could also do much worse.
Perks like the 90Hz display and superb battery life make up for slightly sluggish performance and an unexciting camera, and the premium-feeling design doesn’t hurt either.
But if you can spend more, you should.
Read our full Oppo A53 review
7. Oppo Reno 2 – Best Pop-up Camera
If you already have any other Oppo smartphone, it’s probaby not worth splashing out on the Reno 2. For everyone else, it looks like a good option if you want an Android phone with good cameras, excellent performance and long battery.
You may be among those who still do not trust the resilience of motorised cameras. Although we understand your doubts, the wing-shaped design of the Reno 2 seems good and also allows you to have a beautiful screen without notches.
Read our full Oppo Reno 2 review
8. Oppo A9 2020 – Best Battery & Camera Combo
The Oppo A9 2020 is a budget handset that manages to excel in multiple areas, with an attractive design, a 48MP quad-camera and a massive 5000mAh battery that outshines even some of the most expensive phones on the market.
It’s not without faults, of course. Though the battery life is excellent, there’s no fast charging. Though the night mode on the camera is stellar, the user-experience of taking photos really needs refining to be simpler and cleaner.
Read our full Oppo A9 2020 review
9. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 – Solid Budget Option
If you’re on a tight budget, Redmi Note 9 is a fantastic smartphone below £200. It ticks a great many boxes and, though it isn’t flawless, you can’t argue with the value it offers.
Though it’s plastic it is well designed, and it comes with impressive-sounding features such as a quad-lens camera that performed mostly well in our tests, save for lacking some finer detail.
There’s enough power for casual users, though we had hoped for better performance from the huge-capacity 5020mAh battery.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review
10. Xiaomi Redmi 9 – Solid Budget Option
If budget is your primary lookout, Redmi 9 is the best cheap phone we’ve found. Considered in isolation it has much to offer, with a big battery and a quad-lens camera the highlights – at least on paper.
In reality, performance and photography are distinctly average, it’s lacking necessities such as NFC (at least in some markets), and the plastic design with a somewhat dull display leaves us wanting.
You also don’t have to look to far to find considerably more value for money with just a small increase to your budget – you needn’t even look outside Xiaomi’s own product line. With notably better cameras, faster performance and higher storage options, Redmi 9 can’t hold a candle to Redmi Note 9 or the Poco X3 NFC.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi 9 review
Your buying guide to the best budget Chinese phones in 2021
Many Chinese phones are now officially available in the UK, but you may still find cheaper prices in China through the likes of GearBest. If you’re buying from China rather than the UK you’ll need to factor import duty into any budgeting decision, which is calculated at 20 percent of the value printed on the shipping paperwork plus an admin fee of around £11.
You’ll also have to accept slightly longer delivery times (though free international delivery is usually offered), and accept that should something go wrong it’s going to be more difficult to get your money back.
A big one to watch out for is the cellular bands supported by the phone: some of the more obscure Chinese phones don’t support 800MHz 4G LTE. That doesn’t mean they won’t work at all in the UK, but if your network relies on that frequency alone for 4G then the most you’ll get is 3G. This will affect you if you subscribe to an O2, GiffGaff, Tesco or Sky Mobile tariff.
Talking of contracts, you won’t get one for a Chinese phone if you buy it from China. Instead you’ll need to buy the phone up front and then subscribe to a SIM-only deal, but if you’ve got the funds to do so it’s a much better option and can save you a lot of cash in the long run.
Particularly with regard to Xiaomi phones, your smartphone may not come with Google services preinstalled (opt for a Global model or buy within the UK to avoid this). We explain how to install Google Play on a Xiaomi phone here.
We’ve rounded up some of these things you should consider in our guide to buying Chinese tech.
If you decide you want a budget phone but don’t want one from China, also check out our guide to the best budget phones available in the UK.