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
Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro
- Phenomenal performance
- Big 120Hz display
- Long-lasting battery
- Big and bulky
- No 5G
- Average camera
The Poco X3 Pro is a phone designed for Android gamers or power users on a budget, though it might also appeal to those who want to go big on specs in order to futureproof their phone.
If pure performance isn’t your priority, then you can find phones that are slimmer and lighter, with better camera performance, for around the same price.
What you won’t find is any phone that can match this pound for pound right now. This is near-flagship processing power in one of the cheapest phones on the market, and it’s almost ludicrous that Xiaomi has pulled it off.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro review
Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro
- Stunning 120Hz AMOLED display
- Long battery life
- Excellent cameras
- No 5G
- No OIS
- Huge camera bump
- MIUI not for everyone
The Redmi Note 10 Pro is one of the best budget phones you can buy, with Xiaomi delivering exceptional value for money.
Highlights here start with the stunning screen offering AMOLED technology and a 120Hz refresh rate, and continue with an excellent set of cameras. The headline is a 108Mp whopper which is backed up by a reasonable ultra-wide and a surprisingly decent telemacro.
There are smaller delights too such as the inclusion of a headphone jack, Arc fingerprint scanner, stereo speakers and even an IR blaster. Battery life is also strong (Xiaomi includes a 33W charger in the box), and core specs are decent with a Snapdragon 732G ensuring smooth performance.
Our only real gripe is a lack of support for 5G.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro review
Xiaomi Poco F3
- Superb performance
- Excellent OLED display
- Impressive cameras
- Underwhelming battery life
- MIUI not for everyone
The Poco F3 is a cracking mid-range phone. Stellar hardware is led by Qualcomm’s 5G-enabled Snapdragon 870 chipset, which delivers excellent performance across the board.
That extends to gaming, where the 120Hz OLED display comes into its own. However, that high refresh rate does hit battery life, especially when you’re working with a smaller capacity than the Poco X3 Pro. The software is also still an acquired taste, despite big steps forward for MIUI in recent years.
A premium design and solid set of cameras make for an excellent smartphone experience, but the strength of the competition makes it more difficult to recommend.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco F3 review
OnePlus Nord 2
- Excellent software
- Great design
- Strong all-rounder
- Only 90Hz display
- Slightly thick
An outstanding follow-up to 2020's best mid-range phone, with great performance, 5G, OnePlus's signature Oxygen OS user experience, and a near-flagship main camera. What's not to love?
What the OnePlus Nord 2 really demonstrates is the company's ability to prioritise the features that users are looking for right now and wrapping them up in an attractive package with a compelling price point.
The Nord 2 misses out on flagship niceties like wireless charging and waterproofing, but those are really the only compromises made here.
Read our full OnePlus Nord 2 review
- Flagship specs
- Superb value
- Nice 120Hz AMOLED display
- 65W fast charging
- Underwhelming cameras
- No water resistance
- No wireless charging
Last year's Realme X50 Pro offered impressive performance for any flagship, let alone one at the price point it managed to hit, and history looks to be repeating itself, with this year's Realme GT.
First off, make sure to pick up the yellow vegan leather-backed model, it's an undeniable head-turner.
In all areas except perhaps camera, the GT is as capable as phones twice its price. A Snapdragon 888 runs the show, paired with up to 12GB of speedy LPDDR5 RAM and accompanied by equally snappy UFS 3.1 storage (up to 256GB).
A 120Hz Full HD+ AMOLED display sits on the phone's front, while a 4500mAh battery with 65W fast charging keep the GT going. This thing is all about speed and delivers it at an incredible price.
If you like this you should also check out the Realme GT Neo 2.
Read our full Realme GT 5G review
Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G
- Respectable peformance
- Impressively thin and light
- MIUI can be unintuitive
- Better value elsewhere
- No water resistance
While the standard 4G-only Mi 11 Lite is already an impressive feat of engineering, thanks to its slim profile, the fact that this 5G equivalent isn't really any thicker, larger or heavier, despite delivering even more power, is an impressive achievement in and of itself. It packs in more than just faster cellular connectivity, too, with a superior chipset and a few other extras that collectively render it a more powerful and competitive mid-range entry.
Mi 11 Lite 5G offers up a pleasingly well-rounded experience and heaps of performance for the price. However, it does occupy a crowded mid-range space, where devices are vying for interest based on standout features, without demanding flagship prices.
As such, if you're looking for the thinnest phone worth buying right now, this is it. If that waistline isn't one of the biggest driving forces behind your purchasing decision, though, there are a number of competitors for around the same money that will also fit the bill.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G review
Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC
- 120Hz display
- 2-day battery life
- Excellent camera
- Thick and heavy
- MIUI can be clunky
- Unreliable fingerprint scanner
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 the year.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC review
OnePlus Nord CE 5G
- Beautiful display
- Thin and light
- Great software
- Plastic body
- Average camera
- No Alert Slider
The original Nord was a category defining device, and the Nord CE doesn’t quite pull off the same trick. Compromises on the camera and build quality - as well as odd choices like ditching the Alert Slider - make the Nord CE stand out less. This feels typical of the price range, and much closer to the competition.
Still, a solid mid-range chipset, a slim build, and excellent battery life and charging chops are enough to ensure that the Nord CE is still a strong option for budget buyers. It’s also one the cheaper phones around with 5G support included, and OxygenOS alone is enough to give it an edge over the competition.
While the Nord excelled, the Nord CE is instead a capable all-rounder. Other phones out there will trump it on specific specs, but few at this price can deliver such a strong overall package.
Read our full OnePlus Nord CE 5G review
Xiaomi Poco M3 Pro
- 90Hz display
- Great battery life
- 5G connectivity
- Bloated MIUI software
- Average cameras
- Awkward for one-handed use
The Xiaomi Poco M3 Pro 5G is, on paper, an exceptionally well-rounded budget smartphone. It offers a big 1080p screen with a 90Hz refresh rate, a 48Mp camera, a big battery and more for a price that won’t break the bank.
It is unfortunate then that its software is something of a let down. While some may be able to live with MIUI, the bloated interface and feature overload need significant work before becoming something worth of recommendation.
But if you can put up with the software, this is a device that will likely meet all of your needs and then some, if never quite trumping the competition in any significant way.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco M3 Pro 5G review
Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S
- Excellent Battery Life
- Decent performance
- Nice colour options
- Average cameras
- MIUI is loaded with bloat
- Lacking high refresh rate
This is the first Redmi Note phone that is just good enough. At times one needs to question the reason for its existence since there are other great Redmi Note 10 models that can provide everything this phone can in a more capable package.
That being said it comes with its own set of strengths - its battery life is definitely superior to its other Redmi Note 10 cousins and its new blue colour is very attractive.
But at a budget price, it just about makes the cut, as spending slightly more will get you a better screen and camera combination in a knockout package that too from the house Xiaomi.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S review
Realme 8 Pro
- Thin, lightweight design
- Outstanding battery life
- Rapid charging
- Unreliable fingerprint sensor
- Middling performance
- Plastic build
The Realme 8 Pro is a device seemingly centred around raising the profile of the company's camera credentials. Based on the rest of the spec sheet, it's a reworking of last year's Realme 7 Pro with a thinner, more lightweight build, slower charging and the same underlying components - save for that all-important camera.
In practice, it achieves its intended purpose and happens to be a well-balanced affordable mid-ranger in the process, with a killer feature that sets itself apart from the rest of Realme's line-up. Just as Xiaomi is a keen rival of Oppo in the wider mobile market, however, so too is the company's Redmi line against Realme in the mid-range and affordable spaces.
The price/camera performance proposition of the Realme 8 Pro is undeniably strong but Xiaomi's Redmi Note 10 Pro just pipped it to the post, hitting the market only a few weeks earlier. It totes a superior processor, higher refresh rate AMOLED display and the same Samsung-supplied 108Mp camera sensor, all for the same price as the Realme.
Read our full Realme 8 Pro review
- Thin & light
- Solid specs
- Reliable main camera
- No 5G
- Only 60Hz refresh rate
- Giant slogan on the back
The Realme 8 is a solid, if unremarkable, budget buy.
For the price you’re getting a dependable main camera, strong battery life, and OLED screen, all backed up by a smooth software experience that prioritises ease-of-use.
Similarly priced rivals might beat the Realme 8 on one or two specs, and particularly you may feel that it’s worth investing in a 5G model at this point.
But you’ll find a welcome balance of features here that should suit most users more or less, making the Realme 8 a jack-of-all-trades.
Read our full Realme 8 review
- Great longevity
- Sharp 90Hz display
- Affordable 5G
- Middling performance
- Inconsistent fingerprint reader
- Slow charging
The Oppo A54 5G is a budget handset the manages to excel in multiple areas – with an attractive design, 5G, 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, 10W charging is glacial in this day and age. Though the night mode on the camera is stellar, the user-experience of taking photos really needs refining to be simpler and cleaner.
For the price point, however, you're getting a solid camera phone that feels high-end and a device that won't die on you quickly. For these reasons we'd definitely say that the A54 5G is a budget contender.
Read our full Oppo A54 5G review
- Outstanding battery life
- Simple software
- Attractive design
- 720p, 60Hz display
- Basic camera
If a big battery life is your number-one concern then the Vivo Y20s is fairly easy to recommend, while the stripped-back software helps keep performance surprisingly smooth, even with some fairly basic internal specs.
The camera setup is pretty typical for the price point, but bear in mind that you can definitely find faster performance and better displays for a similar price with rival manufacturers - so look elsewhere if you spend most of your phone time gaming or on Netflix.
Read our full Vivo Y20s review
OnePlus Nord N10 5G
- Nice stereo loudspeakers
- Oxygen OS is great
- Headphone jack
- Weak depth/macro cameras
- Better value from rivals
- Buggy performance
The Nord N10 5G is perhaps one of the most out-of-place members of OnePlus' current lineup; not because there's no place for an 'affordable OnePlus' but because it's comprised of a number of decisions and traits that seem uncharacteristic for the brand.
Its design and hardware are decidedly more generic compared to the company's other current phones, and while not all of the differences between this and the original Nord are bad (eg a headphone jack and its expandable storage), they don't echo what the OnePlus brand promises.
Thankfully, the company's signature snappy and clean user experience remains intact and is arguably the best thing about the N10, however, it's undermined by bugs that need to be ironed out for it to be a considered recommendation.
Read our full OnePlus Nord N10 5G 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.