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China’s 10 Most Wanted Smartphones – Great News for Android, Not So Much for iPhone

Smartphone growth and usage continued to accelerate in China in 2011 – but which phones do Chinese consumers most want to buy? QQ Tech looked at the most popular product searches for such devices on all the major search engines, and compiled this top ten list. The results are awesome news for Android – which runs on seven of the ten – and offer a glimmer of hope to Nokia. But the iPhone is not the one sitting on the throne.

Note that this method is better than taking a poll, as asking an invited audience for their opinions can be very self-selecting and reductive. So by taking these stats from popular product searches, we get a free-form and realistic view of what Chinese consumers are keen to buy with their own money. Of course, that doesn’t translate into sales, but it gives a good picture of which smartphones are the most likely to be parting cash from consumers.

So here, in reverse order, is the top ten:


10th. Lenovo A60

Lenovo (HKG:0992) smartphones won’t be too familiar to overseas readers, but they’ve been a low-end to mid-range mainstay in China for years. This A60 is one of the better efforts, with Android 2.3.3 and a 3.5-inch HVGA screen. Lenovo’s custom UI, with those huge round icons, is not exactly classy though. But it seems plenty of Chinese netizens are keen to read-up on the phone with a view to buying it. Afterall, with a China Unicom (NYSE:CHU; HKG:0762) subsidy, it’s a cheap ticket to the smartphone club, costing just under 1,000 RMB (US$158).


9th. Meizu MX

Another local kid makes the list, as Shenzhen manufacturer Meizu generates a lot of hype and excitement for its newest MX. The Meizu MX comes with a highly-customized Android 2.3.5 (which it now calls Flyme OS) which looks good on its 4.0-inch screen and is powered by its dual-core processor. The screen is higher-res than many others on the list, at 960 by 640 pixels. Starting at 2999 RMB for the 16GB version, this could be a headache for the more established brands in 2012.


8th. Motorola Defy (ME525+)

Despite Motorola (NYSE:MMI) pushing some high-end business-oriented handsets in China, its cheaper phones are proving to be of interest too. This ME525+ runs Android 2.3.4, has a 3.7-inch screen, and costs about 1,900 to 2,200 RMB.


7th. HTC Wildfire S

And now things get a bit lame, with the ridiculously under-powered Wildfire S from HTC (TPE:2498) – known as the G13 in China – with its small, low-resolution screen that makes it obsolete and unable to run a lot of newer, funkier apps.

Despite running the older Android 2.2 OS, its small form-factor combined with the Sense UI makes this pretty popular around here. It costs about 1,300 on the grey-import market, but it’s a very bad deal via more official channels where it costs 2,000+ RMB.


6th. Samsung Galaxy SII

Samsung’s (005930:KS) new flagship – dubbed the i9100 around here – is the impressive follow-up to the best-selling original Galaxy S. In a recent analytics report, we found that the first version was now the most popular single Android phone model in China, usurping the HTC Desire. But, frustratingly, it seems Samsung might deny all those consumers an upgrade to Android 4.0, which ought to be the decent thing to do for a mere year-old phone. Shame on you, Sammie!

Anyway, Chinese consumers seem to like the TouchWiz UI and other local customization such as a Chinese app store which accepts local payment methods. The Galaxy SII is currently about 3,400 RMB on the grey-import market.


5th. Nokia N9

Halfway through the list, and we finally encounter Nokia (HEL:NOK1V; NYSE:NOK). This beautiful-looking device seems popular in product searches, though I’m very skeptical that this will translate to sales once people realise it runs a moribund OS – MeeGo – for which there are few games or apps. The 16GB models costs about 3,500 RMB in most gadget malls, although the official local price is a not-so-reasonable 4,888 RMB.


4th. HTC Sensation XE

HTC’s most impressive release this year was perhaps the Sensation XE, which launched in China last month with all the usual Beats ephemera such as branded in-ear headphones and better music software. Its 4.3-inch qHD screen was a welcome feature, as Android phones were so slow to rise to the challenge of Apple’s ‘retina screen’ iPhone. The 1.5GHz dual-core phone, complete with the updated Sense 3.5 UI, costs about 3,500 RMB on unofficial sales channels.


3rd. Apple iPhone 4

Daddy’s home! Yes, Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) ubiquitous iPhone makes the list of popular product searches, but only in third place. With the iPhone 4S still not on sale here officially, it seems the older but aesthetically identical previous model is still in vogue. The 8GB model costs 4,000 RMB when schlepped over the border tax-free from Hong Kong, or 4,500 RMB direct from Apple or China Unicom.


2nd. Nokia N8

Grandpa’s home! Pull up a comfy chair, make a mug of hot chocolate, and get out the medication – because Symbian has just arrived on our list. The creaky old OS is still soldiering on in Nokia’s N8, which is proving popular amongst those who’re familiar with Symbian and its still significant catalog of apps and services.

There have been a lot of bad omens for Nokia in China this year, but the interest in the N8 is a ray of hope at a time when middle-income Chinese have been turning to Android smartphones and the iPhone. The N8 costs about 1,800 RMB.


1st. Xiaomi M1

Regular readers of PO won’t be too surprised to find the much talked about dual-core, Android-powered Xiaomi phone at the top of the list of searches in 2011. It launched with a bang and a breath-taking price tag – just 1,999 RMB – back in August of this year, and ends the year being talked about in the Chinese tech press pretty much everyday, snagging a supply deal with China Unicom, and attracting a further US$90 million in funding – some of which is coming from Yuri Milner’s own pocket.

In October, we dropped into Xiaomi HQ in Beijing to get a hands-on demo of the phone on the same day that it hit shelves across China; here’s the video:

[Hat-tip to QQ Tech news (article in Chinese) for collating the list data; Motorola Defy image from Whatmobile.net, and the Lenovo one from Zol.com.cn]



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