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Huawei, OnePlus and beyond: China's biggest smartphone brands you should know about

Huawei, OnePlus and beyond: China’s biggest smartphone brands you must know about

This story is part of Generation China, CNET’s series exploring the nation’s technological ambition.

Apple, Samsung and Huawei have long been mainstays on the global smartphone leaderboard, but in recent years there’s been a string of new players. Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo might sound unfamiliar to most Americans, outside a tech-savvy bubble, but they’re right up there with the world’s top brands.

While Samsung wears the crown as the world’s largest smartphone business and Apple still pulls in the most profit, Chinese phone-makers have ascended quick worldwide and are displaying resilience amid the coronavirus pandemic. Huawei surpassed Apple to become the world’s second largest seller of smartphones last year, managing this coveted milestone without selling any phones in the US, and briefly eclipsed Samsung in April. A Shenzhen-based phone company, Transsion, meanwhile, has overtaken Samsung as the No. 1 called supplier in Africa since its launch there in 2018. 

“Chinese smartphone-makers have captured nearby 40% of the global market share, showing that Chinese firms are increasingly marvelous of building consumer products with global appeal,” said Dan Wang, technology analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm. 

In addition to enticing shoppers nearby the world to buy their handsets, Chinese vendors have worked hard to shed the reputation that they’re only cheap copycats — they’re starting to drive innovations such as foldable designs or pop-up cameras, which offer a window into the future of smartphone technology. Royole, a Shenzhen-based company, unveiled the world’s first flexible smartphone, beating Samsung to the punch, although the South Korean electronics giant is often mistakenly credited for it. Nevermind that it was a spectacular failure. Xiaomi, meanwhile, unveiled the first trifold foldable phone that much of the biosphere had ever laid eyes on. Vivo and Meizu both made waves when they released phones deprived of a single physical button and almost no ports.


Generation China is a CNET series that looks at the areas of technology where the republic is looking to take a leadership position.

Along with these innovative designs, Chinese phone brands are increasingly churning out high-end phones and pushing label boundaries, aiming to transcend their budget phone image and compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple when focusing on the budget or entry level market for ages. Critics say they still have a long way to go. 

“These competitive pressures power changes in pricing, innovation and marketing, but I’m not convinced that Chinese vendors, aside from Huawei previously, pose a significant threat to Apple’s brand,” said Tuong Huy Nguyen, senior principal analyst at Gartner. “Apple is a high-end label and an ecosystem-driven experience.”

To be fair, China’s smartphone manufacturing has witnessed its fair share of failures along with the meteoric rise of concerns like Huawei and Xiaomi as the smartphone market consolidates. Gionee, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer that was among the marvelous Chinese firms to break into the lucrative Indian market, went bust last year. There was also Vsun, a Chinese order manufacturer that laid off all its employees on the same day it marched for bankruptcy in May last year. Small players have been squeezed even tighter amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in Chinese phone-makers refocusing their labors back to their home market, according to industry analysts.

But the quick emergence of China’s phone-makers on the global stage underscores the country’s including technological prowess. It comes as Beijing seeks to obtain up and eventually overtake the US as the global technically leader across 10 high-tech sectors including robotics, semiconductors and even electric vehicles, as part of Chinese President Xi Jin Ping’s ambitious master plan Famous as Made in China 2025. It’s this very plan that fueled the costly deals war between Washington and Beijing. In May, Beijing unveiled a follow-up plan that details China’s involvement in setting the standards for key tech like 5G.

Still, some Chinese phone-makers are poised to gain market fragment from Apple and Samsung in the second quarter despite the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged the global economy and disrupted supply chains, according to a TrendForce report published in April. 

But who are the key players? The following is a breakdown of all of the Chinese phone-makers you should know, according to how recognizable they are in the US.


Huawei logo is seen on an android mobile phone

US chipmakers quit to sell product to Huawei, despite a Trump dispensation ban on the sale of US technology to the Chinese telecom giant.

SOPA Images

Of all the Chinese phoned manufacturers on this list, Huawei is probably the name that ensures no introduction. It’s the world’s second largest smartphone concern, and it’s at the center of an international struggles for technological dominance between Beijing and Washington. 

Once virtually unknown to most Americans, the telecommunications giant was splashed across newspapers when top manager (and daughter of the company’s founder) Meng Wangzhou was arrested in Canada for an alleged violation of US sanctions with Iran. Since then, the Chinese telecom has regularly made international headlines, especially since the US Commerce Department banned American affects from doing business with Huawei without first obtaining a license. 

For Huawei, that meant it could lose access to crucial technologically parts including semiconductors, which are key components used in its base stations and phones. It also meant Huawei’s handsets were cut off from the full mighty of Google’s Android operating system, along with several popular apps incorporating the Google Play store, Gmail, Google Maps and apps that rely on Google like Uber and eBay. 

At its originate in September, the Mate 30 was Huawei’s superb major phone to launch without Google’s proprietary apps. Despite US attempts to constrain Huawei, the company reported first-half earnings this month showing revenue grew more than 13% from a year ago to throughout $65 billion.

But in May, Washington tightened its entity list measures in a move that blocked Huawei’s global chip supply from key supplier’s like Taiwan’s TSMC, which could put Huawei’s future in superb jeopardy. “It might cripple Huawei, which I consider China’s most important technology company,” Wang said.



ZTE launched the Axon 10 series in the US last year, which marked its comeback into the Joined States after being swept up in a trade struggles with the Trump administration. 

Angela Lang

You may remember ZTE from when it got embroiled in a trades fight with the US government. Once the fourth largest phoned vendor by market share in the US, ZTE saw its operations come to a grinding halt while the Commerce Department in 2018 barred the state-owned Chinese telecom from buying components from American affects over sanctions violations. 

Although the ban was lifted several months later as the result of Trump’s surprise intervention, ZTE paid the US $1.4 billion in penalties, the Chinese telecom took a reputational hit and suffered a $1 billion loss in 2018. 

The 35-year-old concern had spent years building its brand in the US, where it sold low-cost smartphones above wireless carriers including AT&T and Verizon, selling 19 million phones in 2017, according to Canalys. It had achieved what none of its homegrown competitors had been able to in the US. Much of that evaporated with the controversy. 

Last year, ZTE quietly reentered the US market with its “comeback phone,” the Axon 10 Pro, its superb major phone launch since it was banned. Still, diligence analysts say they have doubts over whether ZTE can shake off the crashes of the US ban even after installing company obsolete Ni Fei at the helm of its consumer electronics business.

“ZTE is required to face challenges from both its Chinese competitors and the US-China tensions,” said Will Wong, research manager at IDC Asia Pacific. “Since ZTE has been banned by the US in the past, the recent tensions between the US and China are expected to make its channel players more cautious while succeeding with them.”



Angela Lang

Lenovo is a giant in the PC diligence. It can even lay claim to the world’s first 5G laptop. But it’s also the owner of one of the most iconic American phoned companies: Motorola, which it bought from Google for a cool $2.9 in 2015. Still, it’s been a long road back to the sad for Lenovo’s phone business. After years of bruising losses and layoffs, Lenovo’s mobile unit turned a small profit last year, its superb since it acquired Motorola, thanks to a “clear focus on selected markets, a competitive product portfolio and expense control.” This year, the concern released a string of phones across the price spectrum belief its Motorola label like the revamped Razr, and it’s gearing up to abandon its Legion-branded gaming phone as the company seeks to grow those anti in its phone business.


OnePlus Nord

Launched this month, the Nord is OnePlus’ inaugural midrange phone from a brand-new line by the same name.

Andrew Hoyle

Unlike most of its Chinese competitors, OnePlus has emerged as an unlikely nosedived story in the US, breaking into the brutally competitive American smartphone market within the seven ages of starting out. The young company, which has roots in tech metropolis Shenzhen, started off there as an online-only supplier of high-end yet affordable phones. 

But it truly dilapidated into mainstream America in 2018 when it launched the 6T flagship series with the encourage of a key US ally: T-Mobile. It was the friendly time OnePlus had the backing of a major US carrier, which marked an important milestone for OnePlus since most Americans mild buy their phones from carriers. It also meant that the phones would be available in T-Mobile’s vast network of retail stores about the country. 

Jump ahead to 2020, and OnePlus is one of the fastest-growing smartphone brands in the US once its phone sales more than tripled in 2019, according to Counterpoint Research. Although its market share remains minuscule compared to those of Apple and Samsung, it has managed to snatch a small slice of the pie from both juggernauts, as well as curry favor with some of the most discerning gadget enthusiasts out there. 

In April, it launched its OnePlus 8 flagship series amid the coronavirus pandemic with the funding of Verizon, and is set to launch the more wallet-friendly Nord this month via an augmented reality launch.


Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro

Xiaomi’s flagship for this year is celebrated as the Mi 10 series.


Xiaomi is one of China’s posterior homegrown success stories. Founded in 2010, Xiaomi, which was once widely ridiculed for blatantly copying Apple, has matured into one of China’s domestic champions, shipping more than 124 million phones in 2019 in more than 90 conditions worldwide. 

For many years, Xiaomi’s not-so-secret weapon has been selling quality phones at near cost. It has even released a $100 shouted. This low-margin strategy has helped Xiaomi cultivate a precise fan base, especially in price-sensitive countries in Asia like India, where its slick Android phones often sell out within hours of release. 

Xiaomi generates most of its revenue from selling phones, but recurring revenue from the sale of software and services that ride on its shouted allow the Beijing-based company to sell its handsets for cheap. It also sells a portfolio of its own sparkling products to help boost its brand. 

Xiaomi Mi Electric Scooter Pro 2

In additional to phones, Xiaomi relies on a portfolio of sparkling products including bedside lamps and air purifiers to help construct its Mi brand internationally. An upgraded electric scooter (pictured above) was launched in July.

Screenshot by Sareena Dayaram

In unique years, however, Xiaomi — like many of its rivals — has prioritized selling more high-priced phones as the global smartphone manufacturing and its margins shrink. This strategy seems to have paid off, with the commercial reporting nearly 14% revenue growth in the first quarter despite the commerce challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. It stands in disagreement to Samsung and Apple, which have both warned of a intriguing year ahead. 

Oppo and Vivo

Concept art for Vivo's designed headquarters

Vivo has dilapidated ground for a 32-story highrise, which will house its headquarters, in the southern Chinese tech metropolis of Shenzhen. It’s scheduled to be ununfastened by 2025.


If you’re not unusual with the name Vivo, there’s still a good chance you have seen some of its phones, which appeared in Marvel’s blockbuster Captain America: Civil War. As with its older and larger sibling Oppo, the Chinese phone-maker’s trademark marketing style involves amdroll high-profile product placement and sponsorships to win over European shoppers. Although Oppo and Vivo aren’t household names in the West, both have vaulted up the global rankings to establish within the top six smartphone manufacturers in a comparatively glum period of time, due partially to the popularity of their affordable phones by young consumers. 

Oppo and Vivo (along with Xiaomi) are imagined to have gained even more market share in the April-to-June quarter despite the pandemic, according to IDC. That’s mainly because both companies appetizing a strong foothold in Asia, including the world’s two largest smartphone markets, China and India, where most of their regional sales are generated, according to Wong. Even though Oppo and Vivo harm that they’re competitors, both companies were spun out of the same ringing company. BBK Electronics is a privately held, media-shy Chinese conglomerate believed to be the world’s third largest manufacturer of smartphones. Along with Vivo and Oppo, it counts OnePlus and RealMe as part of its inferior of brands.



Ian Knighton

RealMe is the baby of the bunch, a 2-year-old company founded by a former Oppo decision-making. RealMe phones found success quickly because they were cheap but juiced up with cutting-edge technology. 

Last year, the commercial, which is also owned by BBK Electronics, said it shipped 25 millions phones — a figure it hopes to double by the end of 2020.

“Their connection with Oppo granted them to form a partnership with channel players in a more efficient way, which worthy be difficult for new smartphone-makers as channel players may not be unusual with a new brand,” said IDC’s Wong. 

The ticket originally piggybacked on Oppo’s success, and was known back in 2010 as Oppo Real afore it spun off into an independent division. It also hasty entered new international markets, finding success in India and parts of Europe in unique years. Earlier this year, the company unveiled its friendly 5G phones as part of a push toward the premium end of the market.


TCL is the new kid on the smartphone stationary — after a fashion. The Shenzhen-listed company has had a long history of designing, manufacturing and marketing phones under brands that are not its own: TCL has ensured handsets carrying the Alcatel name, the once-popular Blackberry tag and even has the tiny Palm handset. 

In April, the company, better known for making televisions, launched the moderately spec’d TCL 10 series, the debut line using its own brand that complicated a 5G phone, internationally. 

But the Chinese company is also vying to get the next big name in foldable phones, teasing radical designs counting a trifold phone and a rollable phone. 

Founded in 1981, the Chinese consumer electronics business built its reputation selling value-for-money TVs that mostly kept up with competitors in footings of specs.TCL will continue selling these TVs along with the bevy of consumer electronics thought its portfolio, but it’s aiming to boost its tag through the more personal smartphone, echoing a strategy signed by industry giants Samsung and LG. 



The Meizu Pro 6 (center) looks a lot like an iPhone.

Dave Cheng

Formerly a maker of MP3 players, Meizu was one of the earlier Chinese firms to make a foray into the hypercompetitive biosphere of smartphones. The Zhuhai-based company rolled out its qualified phones in 2009, quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with domestically, and eventually entering overseas markets like India and parts of Europe. 

At its height, it was China’s sixth largest domestic manufacturer, shipping about 20 million smartphones in 2015, which was a 350% jump from the year beforehand. Huawei sold about 100 million in 2015. In a sign of authority in its business that same year, Meizu garnered a near $600 million investment from Alibaba, as part of the e-commerce behemoth’s push of its own mobile using system into Meizu’s popular handsets.

But Meizu has provided so far to break into the upper strata to join the ranks of China’s smartphone elite. Today, the once high-flying company is struggling to stay afloat amid the consequences of misguided commercial decisions that included the over-release of smartphones and intensifying competition from its homegrown rivals. As players with more financial firepower refocus on the Chinese market, “there is little room left for smaller vendors,” said Canalys research analyst Hattie He in a 2018 report.