This year appears to be the year where the big boys catch up with their more nimble competition and introduce their own take on the upper mid-range classic. Lenovo’s ZUK, ZTE’s Nubia and Huawei’s Honor, have joined the likes of Xiaomi, Oneplus and IUNI in offering direct to consumer, competitively priced – often close to cost – offerings lifting the game of the Chinese smartphone scene, and at the same time gaining a place in the hearts and minds of the fickle domestic consumer.
This list is not an attempt at denominating the most worthwhile pick for 2015, but rather a list of the most exciting, refreshing models that came out this year, an exciting year in Chinese smartphones, where it very much appears that Chinese smartphones across the board seem to be getting significant international attention for quality and value moving ever closer to the likes of their Korean brethren and beyond the likes of Xiaomi.
Xiaomi Mi Note
This list would of course not be complete without a Xiaomi offering and the latest Xiaomi offering happens to be one of the most impressive models Xiaomi has released to date. The metal on the edges, glass on the front and back combo Xiaomi brought to the game with this release, is perhaps the most style-forward device Xiaomi has brought out so far. Additionally what was surprising about this release is that Xiaomi broke with company mold offering its top spec edition for RMB 3300 pushing further into the leagues of international flagships and perhaps signalling the brands willingness to compete on equal stakes with the internationally competitive brands outside of China.
Specs: 5.7″ 386ppi 1080p touchscreen, Snapdragon 801 chipset, 3GB of RAM, f/2.0 aperture 13MP camera , 3,000mAh battery
Huawei Nexus 6P
Being picked out from among the fray by Google to build the next Android exhibition device is most certainly a badge of approval in the eyes of most and Huawei has become the latest brand to join stalwarts Samsung, HTC and LG in bringing out its latest flagship.
Building on many of the recent successes Huawei has had with its Ascend Px line and its Honor series Huawei did not disappoint in the usual areas that Chinese manufacturers can fall short, namely imitative design aesthetic, poor build quality and software experience. the new Nexus device skirts Huawei’s own homegrown software in place of showcasing a premium “Google” software experience, in addition to piling in strong specs, a refined design experience and solid build quality. To boot the new Nexus is also priced much higher than the Nexus’ of old, a bold move for a company that is mostly known outside of China for low-spec smartphones offered at budget prices, but as many commentators have noted this new offering certainly demonstrates Huawei has the stuff to build truly great devices irrespective of price point.
Specs: 5.7 inch 2K 518 ppi display; Snapdragon 810; 3GB of ram; 12.3 MP, dual-LED flash camera; 3450 mAh battery
ZUK, a Lenovo spinoff, came into being in the era of peak smartphone on the Chinese mainland, where analysts have noted growth has stalled and opportunities for expansion are continually being strained. Amid the challenges, ZUK appears to be attempting to replicate what OnePlus has become famous for, offering a quality proposition with a trimmed back operating system, of course offered direct to consumer and over the internet. Breaking with the mold popular on the Chinese mainland and offering a bare-bones OS system with no excess bloat, ZUK appears to be tapping the growing international crowd of users who seek a minimalist Android experience with high build quality, a market as yet not fully exploited. With OnePlus having dissolved its partnership with Cyanogen, the company behind the internationally famous Android fork featured on the Z1, if ZUK sticks to its guns it may just be able to carve out a niche for itself in the maximally competitive market that is China.
Specs: 5.5″ 1080p 401ppi touchscreen, Snapdragon 801 chipset, 3GB of RAM, 13MP Sony IMX 214 sensor camera with OIS, 4,100mAh battery
Rounding out the trio of Chinese heavyweights, the Lenovo-sponsored Nubia Z9, represents the latest smash from yet another spinoff increasingly pushing into scarily high quality territory with a mean price to match. what began with the iPhone 4 series a few years ago is now a popular synonym for high quality build, that is, a glass double on the front and back and a metallic wrap around, but notably this is no iPhone imitator, the Nubia has a clear design language that takes it to the next level. De rigeur for the highend is of course a strong spec suit with build quality to match and the Nubia does not disappoint with top of the line snapdragon specs and a sturdy plasticless assembly. The big question mark for emerging Chinese manufacturers however is will this be enough to convert users in the tough high end bracket or just enough to secure a spot.
Specs: 5.2″ 1080p 424ppi touchscreen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 810; 3GB of RAM, IMX234 Exmor RS sensor 16MP camera with OIS, 2,900mAh battery
LeTV Le Max
LeTV is synonymous in China for its famous web video service which ranks in the top 5 most popular services for the mainland. This year has been an especially busy one for LeTV and it has made headlines for a number of different developments from releasing updates to its smart television and set-top box line, to investing in entertainment co-productions, to unveiling a line of smart bikes and perhaps most famously releasing its first line of smartphones. The Le Max represents the high end of its 3 new phones the Le 1, the Le 1 Pro and Le Max and aside from being well designed build-wise, software wise and aesthetically pleasing, what is perhaps most exciting about the Le-series of smartphones in general is the amazon-esque way that LeTV hopes to make money, they’re betting on content not on hardware price – a direct threat to Xiaomi. With a larger more popular content back store and significant investments in original productions, LeTV seems well positioned to take advantage of its standing in the content ecosystem and adding a new line of smartphones will likely work nicely with its existing popular options in smart television sets and set-top boxes.
Specs: 5.5-inch 2K HD screen; full metal body; Snapdragon 810 chip; 4GB RAM, 13MP camera; 3400mAh battery
(All images featured throughout this story were company sourced)
With contributions from Toni Tang.