From an outsider’s perspective, the stateside smartphone market looks more carrier-driven with unwavering platform loyalty and consumer preference largely constricted to two top brands. Meanwhile, those in other regions are more accepting of phones from emerging makers that conveniently undercut their mainstream counterparts, often without making many compromises. OnePlus once led the burgeoning budget flagship segment, but many of its peers from China have since joined in to take a slice of the pie. Beyond OnePlus, which expanded its US availability not too long ago, there is a whole lot of other brands that you’ve probably never heard of in the US but are thriving elsewhere.
Be it Xiaomi's spinoff Redmi or Oppo’s Realme, you’ll find many of these brands with a portfolio covering the entire spectrum from top to bottom, offering more bang for your buck than your usual $1000 flagships. Even Samsung couldn’t stay immune to the glaring competitive heat and introduced a pair of Lite phones, which, again, haven't received a proper US release. There is a long list of such smartphones that we thought you might want to know about to sulk over what exactly you’re missing out on.
The Xiaomi Mi 10 line
The 2020 flagship range from Xiaomi comprises a pair of phones — one standard and another Pro variant — as it has become the industry norm. While announcing their EU availability, the Chinese company added a cheaper Lite model to the mix, bringing premium exterior and 5G connectivity, which its two heavyweight siblings also support, to a package costing just €349 ($385).
The 10 and 10 Pro come packed with a 1080p AMOLED, Snapdragon 865, 8/12GB of RAM, along with four rear cameras. For this combination, the prices start at ¥3,999 ($575) in China and €799 ($880) in Europe. Xiaomi is expected to bring these handsets to several European markets, Russia, and India, among other regions. As you'd guess, the US isn’t a part of this list, and it’s unlikely to change, given Xiaomi’s presence in Western markets.
Redmi K30 and K30 Pro
Among the bunch of sub-brands that sit under Xiaomi’s massive umbrella, Redmi enjoys a far greater mass recognition. It recently unveiled the K30 5G, which is probably the cheapest 5G-enabled phone we’ve seen so far at a starting price of 1,999 yuan ($284). Xiaomi didn’t skimp on the features side either, as the phone is decently specced with a 120Hz LCD, quad cams, 4,500mAh battery, and the Snapdragon 765G — a ubiquitous processor that's now become the default choice for nearly all budget 5G handsets.
It has a 4G-only model that costs even lower and a Pro variant (also 5G-enabled) that replaces the vibrant K20 Pro from last year. As you’d expect from a high-end device in 2020, the K30 Pro is equipped with Snapdragon’s top-of-the-line processor and uses an AMOLED screen, although a 60Hz one. In its home market, Xiaomi has priced it starting ¥2,999 ($425).
Realme X50 Pro
Oppo’s spinoff brand Realme gives a stiff competition to Xiaomi’s Redmi in nearly all verticals, so much so that they’re often found to be closely priced. Realme announced its high-end X50 Pro 5G in two tasteful shades of red and green, and with Android 10-based Realme UI, doing away with its parent company’s heavy Color OS skin. The phone's AMOLED screen refreshes at 90Hz, which is far better than Redmi’s 60Hz, and its 4,200mAh battery charges using a 65W brick included in the box. For a base price of €599 ($650), you’ll get 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
Black Shark 3 and 3 Pro
After Asus’ ROG series and the Razer Phone, Xiaomi’s Black Shark is perhaps the most recognized name in the flourishing gaming phone segment. The latest iterative upgrade announced last month includes two phones equipped with 5G radios — the first in their clan to have them. While you get the usual Snapdragon 865, up to 12GB of RAM, and massive batteries on either model, the Pro is a tad better with shoulder touchpads and an x-axis haptic motor.
Priced starting ¥3,499 ($502) in China, the Black Shark phones should get an international release down the line, but the company often excludes the US. The previous-gen lineup was supposed to hit stateside stores in early 2020, but that clearly didn’t happen, and the official US store still hasn’t gone live on Black Shark’s website. Things aren’t expected to change for this year’s models either, which may see a delayed launch if they come at all.
Galaxy Note10 Lite
With its flagships now going beyond the $1000 mark, Samsung released a pair of phones — the Galaxy Note10 Lite and S10 Lite — to reclaim the sub-$700 territory it lost to the likes of OnePlus. Several months after their original debut, only the S10 Lite has come to the US, with no word on the Note10 Lite's availability. Besides taking design cues from the flagship Note10, the Lite also inherits the iconic stylus along with all its software quirks. Though not as powerful as the S10 Lite’s Snapdragon 855, the Exynos 8895 on the Note does a decent enough job.
The handset houses a respectable 4500mAh battery and an in-display optical fingerprint reader. Samsung has so far brought this phone only to a few key markets outside the US for a price of €599 ($650) in the EU, while it’s priced under $550 in India. Even if it does come to the US, it’s hard to imagine how the market would receive it when Samsung has decided to keep the S10 line for another year at a reduced price.
The second Poco flagship
Poco managed to turn heads and draw global attention with its cut-price Poco F1, reminding many of OnePlus’ early days. After its initial announcement in mid-2018, the F1 remained the only phone in Poco’s stable for the longest time, until the X2 came out, which had a rather cold reception since it doesn't offer the same crazy value of the F1. It is speculated that the F2 is indeed in the works, but the company's executive squashed the narrative that it’d be a rebranded Redmi K30 series phone, as the recent X2 was. Whether repackaged or not, the purported upcoming high-end Poco phone will almost surely not come to the US.
Importing these value-for-money smartphones from Europe and China remains an option, but you’re likely to face troubles with your mobile network. The variants available, say, in the UK almost certainly support only the regional bands, rendering them nearly unusable in the US. However, some Chinese brands do make international versions of their popular phones that you may end up finding on eBay or sites like AliExpress, so that remains an option if you're inclined to take the risk.