Chinese vs. Western smartphones: you can’t go wrong with either side (but you can’t go 100% right as well)

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Chinese smartphones vs. Western smartphones is a clash bigger than life: compared to it, the “Alien vs. Predator” confrontation is a dodgeball game between third-graders.

In fact, since somebody brought up this movie allusion (thanks!), Chinese and Western smartphones are really fit for a western movie. You know, Sergio Leone on the director’s chair and everything by the book: dusty, sun-baked streets under worn-out wooden buildings, saloons with swinging doors, and some tumbleweeds. The air doesn’t move, it’s always high noon, and there’s nobody in sight.

Clint Eastwood draws an iPhone 15 Pro Max slowly. Across the street, a fierce foreigner who just arrived in town, pulls xis (pun intended) Xiaomi 14 Ultra. Each one has a side partner. Behind Clint Eastwood, there’s Robin, who holds his Nothing Phone (2a). Or is that the Google Pixel 8a? The foreigner’s sidekick, Jackie Chan, is confident in his OnePlus 12, but has a foldable Honor Magic V2 in his boot.

Okay, enough already.

I think the pink days of global unity are coming to an end – strictly speaking of phones and brands. I swear I’m not a fossil, but 25 years ago – you know, back in the dumbphone era – in general, people had zero clue about the country of origin of their phone.

Chances are, you could say that Nokia is an English (or better – an American!) brand and in many parts of the world, nobody would doubt it. Sony Ericsson? You mean that half-Japanese, half-Lebanese phone, right?

The irony is that we knew nothing, just like Jon Snow, back then, yet we were happier with our dumbphones.

Today, it’s much different: some of us are (rarely) satisfied with our phones, but the real difference is that we know where things come from.

We didn’t ask for such knowledge, as far as I can recall.

Somebody fed it to us and now, there’s a line in the sand that nobody drew: on one side, there are the so-called Western brands (by that I mean non-Chinese):

Each side gets its own fan base. More often than not, these fan bases are all over each other, throwing allegations, exchanging camera punches and clinching with petty excuses.

To make things even crazier, I’m about to list what I think are the exclusive advantages of each side. Then, I’ll excuse myself and I’ll leave you high and dry.

Why Chinese phones are better

Let’s start with the underdog: the Chinese brands. If PhoneArena’s headquarters was in Beijing, I’d start this article with the statement that it’s the Western phones who are the underdog devices.

However, we live in a world where Apple and Samsung are pretty much the go-to choice for many, many people. They’re dominating. That being said, it doesn’t mean that they’re perfect. Quite the contrary. Power corrupts those who don’t deserve it, right?

So, let’s check out the pros of Chinese phones.

Affordability and value for money

Oh, you’re sure you don’t want to spend a four-digit sum for your next phone? What? You don’t want a $600 mid-ranger either? Come on!

Yes, if the above is you, chances are high that you’re looking at phones from Chinese brands. Yes, they too can be expensive in some cases, but overall, they’re affordable and won’t break the bank.

It’s not just that the Chinese phones are cheaper than their Western counterparts, though. It’s that you’re getting so much value for the spent sum. In other words, the Chinese handsets often punch above their class.

For example, let’s take the OnePlus Open: this is easily one of the best (if not the best) among the foldables right now in 2024. It has large, vibrant screens, top-tier hardware that excels in every aspect, and highly intriguing camera systems, this foldable directly challenges Samsung and Google, both already fierce competitors in the foldable phone market.

They’re truly diverse

If you want a new iPhone, your options are extremely limited: there’s a vanilla iPhone, a slightly bigger iPhone Plus variant, and two Pro options: one regular-sized and one on steroids. That’s it: a mind-blowing crowd of four to choose from. The Pixel line is even poorer.

Chinese phones, however, come in various shapes, sizes, variants and can fold vertically, horizontally… or even outwards, like the Huawei Mate Xs 2.

There are budget (cheap) phones, high-end bijoux, middle-range fighters, camera lords and numerous top-notch rebels left and right, up and down: if you’re sold on the idea of having a phone outside the mainstream brands, the options are almost endless.

Not to mention that these phones often come in exclusive limited editions, like Honor’s partnership with Porsche and with legendary fashion brand Jimmy Choo.

Innovations and features

Because they have to prove that they deserve your hard-earned cash, Chinese phone makers often are quick to introduce, adopt and implement the latest technologies. For instance, Xiaomi was among the first to introduce under-display fingerprint sensors and high-megapixel cameras.

If we’re talking about cameras, there’s an abundance of top-notch camera phones from China to marvel at: the Oppo Find X7 Ultra, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, the Huawei Pura 70 Ultra, the Vivo X100 Ultra. It’s ridiculous!

Also, let’s not forget the battery: do you remember how, days before it was released, the Honor Magic 6 Pro was put (just for the kicks) in a freezer for five days straight at -7 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. -22 °C). It survived, retaining 10% of its battery, while the Galaxy S24 Ultra that was also in the freezer ran out of juice on the second day.

If you’re still not convinced that the Chinese phones are powerful enough, let’s talk power: Realme, Redmi and Xiaomi are currently testing 300W fast charging capabilities. Do you know how fast the Galaxy S24 charges? 25W – yes, less than ten times slower.

Why Western phones are better

There goes my fee from Beijing: let’s talk why non-Chinese phones are the better, saner option.

If this was a newspaper and I was running out of space, I’d boil it down to this: go get the Pixel 8a for $500 – it’s the Pixel 8 killer!

However, I do have the time and space to tell you more why it’s better to choose something from a brand that even your grandma has heard of.

Design

This is extremely subjective. Also, phones these days are not that different from one another. If you don’t believe me, just check what the Sony Ericsson looked like, and then check the Ericsson T29s. Yup, back in the day (I should really stop using that one) phones had character.

That put aside, the iPhone and the Galaxy Ultra have always been regarded as seductive and eye-catching.

Also, there are the Nothing Phone (1) and Nothing Phone (2) which are… well, unique. You may not like these two, but they are intriguing nonetheless.

Also, Apple and Google are known for their use of high-quality materials and meticulous attention to detail in design.

The software: a major selling point

Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android offer tightly integrated ecosystems: this means users get a seamless experience across devices. Apple’s ecosystem, in particular, allows for effortless synchronization between iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and other Apple products.

Not to mention the regular software updates – if you’ve got a Pixel phone, you know how good it feels to get the monthly update before anyone else.

In contrast, the various Android spin-offs in the Far East are Far From Perfect – FFP. They’re often full of bloatware (built-in apps in Chinese that you can’t delete easily) and some of it can’t be ever removed.

Prestige and status

Well, personally I don’t care what reads on the back of my phone, but many people do and I can’t blame them – to each their own.

Brands like Apple and Samsung have established more than successfully strong brand identities and enjoy high levels of brand loyalty. Consumers are happy to pay a premium to get a piece of the glory.

Some people think it’s prestigious to own an Apple flagship, and maybe they’re right: it’s expensive, it’s well-built, it’s sleek and works without hiccups. The definition of prestige!

Privacy

Much of the negative reputation of Chinese phones is due to politicians and officials who say Chinese phones pose a risk to privacy and data security. Allegations of data being shared with the Chinese government have raised red flags among privacy-conscious consumers.

Apple is said to place a strong emphasis on user privacy and data security. Apple’s privacy policies and features like on-device data processing and end-to-end encryption are significant selling points. Also, Western brands often adhere to data protection regulations, such as GDPR in Europe, which can reassure consumers about the safety and privacy of their personal information.

Personally, I’ll say that I’m no longer that naive to believe that Western phones are somehow government-proof and that they’re not a privacy hazard.

Availability

Some Chinese phones are exclusive to China. If you want one, you have to order it – you need to pay several hundred $$$ to someone somewhere across the world and hope that everything will turn out okay.

It’s an experience that has few parallels.

That’s why it’s much easier to just go to the nearest phone store and get whatever you want from a major Western brand – you know it, you love it, there’s no need to take any risks.

Where to go: Eastward or to the West?

The competition between Chinese and Western smartphones is a dynamic one, as stated way up above at the start of this comparison.

Chinese brands offer affordability, rapid innovation, and a diverse product range, appealing to a broad audience. However, they face challenges related to software experience, privacy concerns, and brand perception.

Western brands, known for their build quality, software ecosystem, and brand prestige, struggle with high costs, slower innovation cycles, and boringness.

Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong. The comforting angle is that you can’t go 100% right, either.

That’s life!

So, which side are you on? Do you live in the so-called West? Do you like it safe and simple with homegrown brands… or are you willing to embark on a Far East adventure?


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