Not just Huawei: A guide to China’s biggest and best smartphone makers

James Martin/CNET

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

Apple, Samsung and Huawei have lengthy been mainstays on the worldwide smartphone leaderboard, however in recent times there’s been a string of latest gamers. Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo would possibly sound unfamiliar to most Individuals, exterior a tech-savvy bubble, however they’re proper up there with the world’s high manufacturers.

Whereas Samsung wears the crown because the world’s largest smartphone firm and Apple nonetheless pulls in probably the most revenue, Chinese language cellphone makers have ascended quickly worldwide and are displaying resilience amid the coronavirus pandemic. Huawei surpassed Apple to develop into the world’s second largest vendor of smartphones final 12 months, reaching this coveted milestone with out promoting any telephones within the US, and briefly eclipsed Samsung in April.  A Shenzhen-based cellphone firm, Transsion, in the meantime, has overtaken Samsung as the No. 1 phone supplier in Africa since its launch there in 2018. 

“Chinese language smartphone makers have captured round 40% of the worldwide market share, exhibiting that Chinese language companies are more and more able to constructing shopper merchandise with international enchantment.” mentioned Dan Wang, expertise analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, a analysis agency. 

Along with engaging buyers all over the world to purchase their handsets, Chinese language distributors have labored laborious to shed the popularity that they are merely low cost copycats — they’re beginning to drive improvements equivalent to foldable designs or pop-up cameras, which supply a window into the way forward for smartphone expertise. Royole, a Shenzhen-based firm, unveiled the world’s first flexible smartphone, beating Samsung to the punch, though the South Korean electronics large is usually mistakenly credited for it. Nevermind that it was a spectacular failure. Xiaomi, in the meantime, unveiled the first trifold foldable phone that a lot of the world had ever laid eyes on. Vivo and Meizu each made waves once they launched telephones and not using a single bodily button and nearly no ports.


Generation China is a CNET series that appears on the areas of expertise the place the nation is trying to take a management place.   

Together with these progressive designs, Chinese language cellphone manufacturers are more and more churning out high-end telephones and pushing worth boundaries, aiming to transcend their funds cellphone picture and compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple after specializing in the funds or entry stage marketplace for years. Critics say they nonetheless have an extended technique to go. 

“These aggressive pressures drive modifications in pricing, innovation and advertising and marketing, however I am not satisfied that Chinese language distributors, other than Huawei beforehand, pose a big menace to Apple’s model,” mentioned Tuong Huy Nguyen, senior principal analyst at Gartner. “Apple is a high-end model and an ecosystem-driven expertise.”

To be honest, China’s smartphone business has witnessed its justifiable share of failures together with the meteoric rise of corporations like Huawei and Xiaomi because the smartphone market consolidates. Gionee, a Shenzhen-based producer that was among the many first Chinese language companies to interrupt into the profitable Indian market, went bust final 12 months. There was additionally Vsun, a Chinese language contract producer that laid off all its staff on the identical day it filed for chapter in Could final 12 months. Small gamers have been squeezed even tighter amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in Chinese language cellphone makers refocusing their efforts again to their residence market, in accordance with business analysts.

However the speedy emergence of China’s cellphone makers on the worldwide stage underscores the nation’s rising technological prowess. It comes as Beijing seeks to catch up and finally overtake the US as the worldwide technological chief throughout 10 high-tech sectors together with robotics, semiconductors and even electrical automobiles, as a part of Chinese language President Xi Jin Ping’s formidable grasp plan referred to as Made in China 2025. It is this very plan that fueled the pricey commerce struggle between Washington and Beijing. In Could, Beijing unveiled a follow-up plan that particulars China’s involvement in setting the requirements for key tech like 5G.

Nonetheless, some Chinese language cellphone makers are poised to realize market share from Apple and Samsung within the second quarter regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged the worldwide financial system and disrupted provide chains, in accordance with a TrendForce report printed in April. 

However who’re the important thing gamers? The next is a breakdown of all the Chinese language cellphone makers it’s best to know, in accordance with how recognizable they’re within the US.  


Huawei logo is seen on an android mobile phone

US chipmakers proceed to promote product to Huawei, regardless of a Trump administration ban on the sale of US expertise to the Chinese language telecom large.

SOPA Pictures

Of all of the Chinese language cellphone producers on this checklist, Huawei might be the title that wants no introduction. It is the world’s second largest smartphone firm, and it is on the middle of a world battle for technological dominance between Beijing and Washington. 

As soon as just about unknown to most Individuals, the telecommunications large was splashed throughout newspapers when high government (and daughter of the corporate’s founder) Meng Wangzhou was arrested in Canada for an alleged violation of US sanctions with Iran. Since then, the Chinese language telecom has regularly made international headlines, particularly because the US Commerce Division banned American corporations from doing enterprise with Huawei with out first acquiring a license. 

For Huawei, that meant it may lose entry to essential technological elements together with semiconductors, that are key elements utilized in its base stations and telephones. It additionally meant Huawei’s handsets have been lower off from the total energy of Google’s Android working system, together with a number of standard apps together with the Google Play retailer, Gmail, Google Maps and apps that depend on Google like Uber and eBay. 

At its launch in September, the Mate 30 was Huawei’s first main cellphone to launch with out Google’s proprietary apps. Regardless of US efforts to constrain Huawei, the corporate reported first-half earnings this month exhibiting income grew greater than 13% from a 12 months in the past to round $65 billion.

However in Could, Washington tightened its entity checklist measures in a transfer that blocked Huawei’s international chip provide from key provider’s like Taiwan’s TSMC, which may put Huawei’s future in real jeopardy.  “It’d cripple Huawei, which I take into account China’s most vital expertise firm,” Wang mentioned.



ZTE launched the Axon 10 sequence within the US final 12 months, which marked its comeback into america after being swept up in a commerce combat with the Trump administration. 

Angela Lang/CNET

You might bear in mind ZTE from when it bought embroiled in a commerce combat with the US authorities. As soon as the fourth largest cellphone vendor by market share within the US, ZTE noticed its operations come to a grinding halt after the Commerce Division in 2018 barred the state-owned Chinese language telecom from shopping for elements from American corporations over sanctions violations. 

Though the ban was lifted a number of months later as the results of Trump’s surprise intervention, ZTE paid the US $1.four billion in penalties, the Chinese language telecom took a reputational hit and suffered a $1 billion loss in 2018

The 35-year-old firm had spent years constructing its model within the US, the place it bought low-cost smartphones by way of wi-fi carriers together with AT&T and Verizon, promoting 19 million telephones in 2017, in accordance with Canalys. It had achieved what none of its homegrown opponents had been in a position to within the US. A lot of that evaporated with the controversy. 

Final 12 months, ZTE quietly reentered the US market with its “comeback cellphone,” the Axon 10 Pro, its first main cellphone launch because it was banned. Nonetheless, business analysts say they’ve doubts over whether or not ZTE can shake off the influence of the US ban even after putting in firm veteran Ni Fei on the helm of its shopper electronics enterprise.  

“ZTE is predicted to face challenges from each its Chinese language opponents and the US-China tensions,” mentioned Will Wong, analysis supervisor at IDC Asia Pacific. “Since ZTE has been banned by the US up to now, the present tensions between the US and China are anticipated to make its channel gamers extra cautious whereas working with them.”



Angela Lang/CNET

Lenovo is a big within the PC business. It may even lay declare to the world’s first 5G laptop. Nevertheless it’s additionally the proprietor of some of the iconic American cellphone corporations: Motorola, which it purchased from Google for a cool $2.9 in 2015. Nonetheless, it has been an extended highway again to the black for Lenovo’s cellphone enterprise. After years of bruising losses and layoffs, Lenovo’s cellular unit turned a small revenue final 12 months, its first because it acquired Motorola, because of a “clear concentrate on chosen markets, a aggressive product portfolio and expense management.” This 12 months, the corporate launched a string of telephones throughout the worth spectrum beneath its Motorola label just like the revamped Razr, and it is gearing as much as launch its Legion-branded gaming cellphone as the corporate seeks to develop these good points in its cellphone enterprise.


OnePlus Nord

Launched this month, the Nord is OnePlus’ inaugural midrange cellphone from a brand-new line by the identical title.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Not like most of its Chinese language opponents, OnePlus has emerged as an unlikely success story in the US, breaking into the brutally aggressive American smartphone market inside the seven years of beginning out. The younger firm, which has roots in tech metropolis Shenzhen, began off there as an online-only provider of high-end but inexpensive telephones. 

Nevertheless it really broke into mainstream America in 2018 when it launched the 6T flagship sequence with the assist of a key US ally: T-Mobile. It was the primary time OnePlus had the backing of a serious US service, which marked an vital milestone for OnePlus since most Individuals nonetheless purchase their telephones from carriers. It additionally meant that the telephones can be out there in T-Cell’s huge community of retail shops across the nation. 

Soar forward to 2020, and OnePlus is without doubt one of the fastest-growing smartphone manufacturers within the US after its cellphone gross sales greater than tripled in 2019, in accordance with Counterpoint Analysis. Though its market share stays minuscule in comparison with these of Apple and Samsung, it has managed to grab a small slice of the pie from each juggernauts, in addition to curry favor with a few of the most discerning gadget lovers on the market. 

In April, it launched its OnePlus 8 flagship series amid the coronavirus pandemic with the backing of Verizon, and is about to launch the extra wallet-friendly Nord this month through an augmented actuality launch.  


Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro

Xiaomi’s flagship for this 12 months is named the Mi 10 sequence.


Xiaomi is certainly one of China’s earlier homegrown success tales. Based in 2010, Xiaomi, which was as soon as broadly ridiculed for blatantly copying Apple, has matured into certainly one of China’s home champions, transport greater than 124 million phones in 2019 in additional than 90 international locations worldwide. 

For a few years, Xiaomi’s not-so-secret weapon has been promoting high quality telephones at close to price. It has even launched a $100 phone. This low-margin technique has helped Xiaomi domesticate a loyal fan base, particularly in price-sensitive international locations in Asia like India, the place its slick Android telephones usually promote out inside hours of launch. 

Xiaomi generates most of its income from promoting telephones, however recurring income from the sale of software program and providers that experience on its cellphone enable the Beijing-based firm to promote its handsets for affordable. It additionally sells a portfolio of its personal sensible merchandise to assist enhance its model. 

Xiaomi Mi Electric Scooter Pro 2

Along with telephones, Xiaomi depends on a portfolio of sensible merchandise together with bedside lamps and air purifiers to assist construct its Mi model internationally. An upgraded electrical scooter (pictured above) was launched in July.

Screenshot by Sareena Dayaram/CNET

Lately, nonetheless, Xiaomi — like lots of its rivals — has prioritized promoting extra high-priced telephones as the worldwide smartphone business and its margins shrink. This technique appears to have paid off, with the corporate reporting almost 14% income progress within the first quarter regardless of the enterprise challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. It stands in distinction to Samsung and Apple, which have each warned of a difficult 12 months forward. 

Oppo and Vivo

Concept art for Vivo's planned headquarters

Vivo has damaged floor for a 32-story highrise, which is able to home its headquarters, within the southern Chinese language tech metropolis of Shenzhen. It is scheduled to be accomplished by 2025.


For those who’re not  acquainted with the title Vivo, there’s nonetheless a superb likelihood you’ve seen a few of its telephones, which appeared in Marvel’s blockbuster Captain America: Civil War. As with its older and bigger sibling Oppo, the Chinese language cellphone maker’s trademark advertising and marketing fashion includes utilizing high-profile product placement and sponsorships to win over European buyers. Though Oppo and Vivo aren’t family names within the West, each have vaulted up the worldwide rankings to position inside the high six smartphone producers in a relatively brief time frame, due partially to the recognition of their inexpensive telephones amongst younger customers. 

Oppo and Vivo (together with Xiaomi) are anticipated to have gained much more market share within the April-to-June quarter regardless of the pandemic, in accordance with IDC. That is primarily as a result of each corporations take pleasure in a powerful foothold in Asia, together with the world’s two largest smartphone markets, China and India, the place most of their regional gross sales are generated, in accordance with Wong. Although Oppo and Vivo stress that they are opponents, each corporations have been spun out of the identical guardian firm. BBK Electronics is a privately held, media-shy Chinese language conglomerate believed to be the world’s third largest producer of smartphones. Together with Vivo and Oppo, it counts OnePlus and RealMe as a part of its steady of manufacturers.



Ian Knighton/CNET

RealMe is the child of the bunch, a 2-year-old firm based by a former Oppo government. RealMe telephones discovered success rapidly as a result of they have been low cost however juiced up with cutting-edge expertise. 

Final 12 months, the corporate, which can be owned by BBK Electronics, mentioned it shipped 25 hundreds of thousands telephones — a determine it hopes to double by the top of 2020.  

“Their reference to Oppo allowed them to type a partnership with channel gamers in a extra environment friendly manner, which may be troublesome for brand new smartphone makers as channel gamers might not be acquainted with a brand new model,” mentioned IDC’s Wong. 

The model initially piggybacked on Oppo’s success, and was recognized again in 2010 as Oppo Actual earlier than it spun off into an unbiased division. It additionally quickly entered new worldwide markets, discovering success in India and elements of Europe in recent times. Earlier this 12 months, the corporate unveiled its first 5G telephones as a part of a push towards the premium finish of the market.


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Playing with TCL’s triple-screen foldable


TCL is the new kid on the smartphone block — 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 produced handsets carrying the Alcatel name, the once-popular Blackberry brand 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 included a 5G phone, internationally. 

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

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



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

Dave Cheng/CNET

Formerly a maker of MP3 players, Meizu was one of the earlier Chinese firms to make a foray into the hypercompetitive world of smartphones. The Zhuhai-based company rolled out its first 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 approximately 20 million smartphones in 2015, which was a 350% jump from the year before. Huawei sold about 100 million in 2015. In a sign of confidence 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 operating system into Meizu’s popular handsets.  

But Meizu has failed 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 business 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.

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Sareena Dayaram