However, devices from Xiaomi, ZTE and Hisense are not well known in SA and also face perceptions that “made in China” means a lower quality product.
Undoubtedly, the biggest mover is Xiaomi which has launched two devices: the Mi 4 flagship and the lower priced Redmi 2.
While the Redmi is pitched at consumers who want a lower priced smartphone, the device is not cheap, despite the plastic body. It also sports a Snapdragon 410 64-bit processor so it punches way above its weight in performance.
But the bragging rights for Xiaomi rests on the MIUI 6 operating system: while it is Android, it looks and feels different to standard Android flavours and is updated regularly.
Applications icons are more elegantly designed and are neatly organised into folders. Google apps work the same so once you log in with your Google account, your contacts and calendar are all in sync.
For picture fans, an 8 megapixel (MP) shooter is more than enough for upload-to-Facebook images and you get a 2MP front facing selfie camera.
Like Samsung, the Redmi also features a simplified operation for the smartphone and the company also encourages you to create an Mi account.
This gives you access to internet cloud services as well the online store.
But Xiaomi has to face a strong challenge from ZTE, which already has over 6% market share in SA. The Blade L3 is a capable device that also bats above its price rating.
The phone runs a “purer” version of Google’s Android operating system (Lollipop) and you get a Mediatek quad core processor with 1GB of RAM.
The plastic removable cover feels as if it’s solidly build and the device sustained a number of unfortunate drops without damage.
Neat party trick
The camera is also an 8MP unit with 2MP secondary shooter which delivers acceptable images in low light as long as you have a steady hand.
In terms of software, you can programme soft buttons on the front and set shut down and reboot times.
The 2 000mAh battery delivered almost two days of use on one charge and the device was constantly being mistaken for far more expensive smartphones.
South Africans will be more familiar with Hisense as an appliance manufacturer, but the company has produced a number of smartphones for the local market.
The party trick of the H7 Pure Shot is that once you log in with your Google credentials, the phone automatically loads all your apps so they’re ready to go.
However, given the cost of data in SA, it’s wise do this when you’re in a Wi-Fi zone.
Features from the Pure Shot are also geared toward selfie fans with a secondary camera flash as well as an 85° lens. The main camera is rated at 13MP and delivered crisp images.
What they cost
It also has a similar-sized display (12.7cm or 5 inches) to the Blade L3 but larger than the Redmi 2 (11.9cm).
Under the skin of the Pure Shot though, is a Qualcomm Snapdragon octa-core processor mated to 2GB of RAM and this gives the gadget oomph for tough applications or … (ahem) games.
All three smartphones win in that you get dual SIM capability and expandable memory slots. The Hisense device has an elegant metal frame, Xiaomi focuses on customisation, and ZTE delivers value.
While it may be difficult to choose one winner, consumers will ultimately benefit as the cost of these phones make them strong contenders.
The Redmi 2 retails for R1 999, the H7 Pure Shot is R3 499, and the Blade L3 drops at R1 499. – Fin24