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U.S. customers are missing out on the latest phone innovations

Phones
Phones (Image credit: Android Central)

The U.S. is the world's largest smartphone market, but lately, it has been missing out on new innovations in phone design. Over the last 12 months, we've seen a sea of change in smartphone design. Manufacturers adopted new and innovative ways to reduce bezels, with cutouts being the default option.

We've also seen a few companies like Vivo and OPPO introduce pop-up mechanized sliders that do a better job hiding the front (and even the rear) cameras. The latest designs coming out of China are some of the most interesting we've seen in the smartphone segment, but they're not coming to U.S. shelves anytime soon.

The latest phone designs aren't coming to the U.S.

The Vivo NEX was the first to feature an all-screen front. and barring a few inconsistencies with the software, it was an exquisite phone for its $650 sticker price. In fact, it still continues to be one of the best phones to play intensive titles like PUBG.

Chinese companies are pushing the boundaries for design — and U.S. customers are missing out.

OPPO shortly followed up with its own take on sliders, the Find X. The Find X was even more radical in that the slider contained both the front and rear cameras, and the phone had facial unlock as the primary means of authentication. The more mainstream R17 Pro doesn't have a sliding camera, but it comes with 50W fast charging and one of the best gradient patterns I've seen so far.

Vivo is now going all-in on retractable cameras, bringing the tech down to the $300 segment with the V11 Pro. The company is also working on an insane design that has no buttons or ports. The NEX was born out of a similar idea last year, so it's exciting to see what comes out of Vivo in 2019.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

Then there's the Mi Mix 3, a phone where the entire screen slides down to reveal the front cameras. The Mi Mix 3 is an engineering tour de force with a ceramic chassis, sliding screen, razor-thin bezels, and powerful hardware. It's on sale in a few Western markets — notably the UK — where it's available for just £499 ($660), but the phone won't be hitting U.S. shelves. Xiaomi's latest flagship won't be making its way to the U.S. either. The Mi 9 is the first phone from the brand to feature three cameras at the back, and it also comes with a 20W wireless charger.

Huawei made some of the best phones last year, but with its products banned in the U.S., customers are missing out on the fantastic camera on offer with the Mate 20 Pro, or its upcoming foldable phone, the Mate X.

Chinese manufacturers have pushed the boundaries of design over the last 12 months, and customers in the world's largest smartphone market haven't had access to any of these phones. The U.S. market is firmly revolving around Apple and Samsung, which cumulatively accounted for 69% of smartphone shipments in Q4 2018.

The budget category is even more woeful

As limiting as the options are when it comes to the flagship space, the situation is even more dire in the budget segment. The Moto G7 is one of the best budget phones you can buy in the U.S., and it's running a Snapdragon 632 chipset. The most powerful of the sub-$400 phones in the U.S. — the Nokia 7.1 — is powered by the Snapdragon 636 platform.

For that same amount, you can get your hands on the POCO F1 in the UK, which has a Snapdragon 845 with liquid cooling and a 4000mAh battery. Then there's the fact that there are no devices powered by the Snapdragon 660, 670, or the 675 platforms in the U.S.

Qualcomm's latest mid-range chipsets are fantastic, but they're not on sale in the U.S.

Qualcomm has made considerable improvements to its mid-tier chipsets over the last 18 months, and there just aren't devices that leverage those improvements in the U.S. Contrast that to the dizzying array of options that are available in India, and you'll begin to see the disparity.

The Moto G6 Plus was effectively dead on arrival in India last year as there were at least five phones that offered better hardware at a lower cost.

Xiaomi released the Redmi Note 7 Pro earlier this year in India, offering a Snapdragon 675, 48MP camera, and 4000mAh battery with Quick Charge 4. There's the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2, which has a Snapdragon 660 for under $200, the Kirin 710-touting Honor 10 Lite, the $390 Nokia 8.1 with Snapdragon 710, and the list goes on and on. Even Samsung is getting in on the action with the Galaxy A50.

The sheer competitiveness of the Indian market has driven prices down over the last two years, with $150 phones now offering stellar hardware. That said, it's not easy for Chinese manufacturers to break into the U.S. — as we've seen with LeEco — as it requires a sizable investment and carrier deals.

One of the key announcements out of OnePlus' 6T launch was that the company was partnering with T-Mobile to sell its phone at retail stores across the country. It was a major win for OnePlus, but the company doesn't sell anywhere close to the same number of devices as Xiaomi, OPPO, or Vivo.

Sure, the U.S. market requires more overhead as manufacturers need to partner with carriers for distribution, so it's unreasonable to assume that Chinese brands would be able to sell their devices at such low prices even if they introduced them Stateside. But the fact that no one is even trying tells volumes about the state of the U.S. market.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

39 Comments
  • US customers have been trained to pay iPhone prices and bundle with their carrier bill. So why would other brands want to upset the Apple cart?
  • I see what you did there.
  • U.S. customers do many dumb things, not just pay the outrageous iPhone prices. I agree with the sentiment that competition should be fair. Banning certain devices from the market is just bad. That being said, I don't think the U.S. is missing much regarding the Chinese manufacturer entries here, some of the devices are good, but they come with already obsolete versions of Android that will never get updated. Most of these are throwaway devices, built to last a year and replaced. The only Chinese manufactured phones worth considering are built by HMD and come branded as Nokia, they have Androidone and don't come with the same concerns devices from Huawei come with. Yeah, Huawei, impressive hardware. Join Androidone and then I might consider getting one of your hackjob phones. No thanks.
  • By outrageous do you mean the prices Google charges for their Pixels or what Samsung charges for the Galaxy ? Nice that you only mention Apple. I guess that is what hate does to a person. Don't be so closed minded.
  • Ben, that was short but spot on. Well said.
  • The USA were, China is the biggest and India has the second place
  • It's a good thing that importing these phones is a quick e-commerce transaction away plus most of these phones are fully compatible with US networks.
  • Exactly. I'm getting the P30 Pro.
  • There are certainly less risks taken in the us, but the fact that you lauded a company for working on a product with no button or ports makes me question your understanding of what people want in a cell phone.
  • ...or maybe just what YOU want in a phone. None of us speaks for all of us.
  • I suspect that Trump's war on Huawei is making other Chinese OEMs skittish about entering the US market.
  • Most US consumers are stupid, it's pretty simple.
  • Good thing I'm not apart of the stupid crowd
  • As well as most US consumers think your comment is also stupid. Simply put..
  • Obviously, when people keep buying carrier versions and carriers control the phone market. Very unfortunate and sad state of phone market. Thank god we can still buy unlocked models for those who care about options and don't care about carrier versions and some of their features.
  • I bought the unlocked version from Samsung and it wouldn't support WiFi calling on AT&T and sometimes I would fall out of LTE and into HSPA. I ended up having to get a branded phone.
  • Honestly I would rather miss on some of these if it means I don't have to worry about the Chinese government spying on me. I get enough of that with Google
  • They're not that interested in your cat photos. It's cool.lol
  • China is the enemy, so why would I want to send my US dollars to any Chinese OEM?
    For a stupid phone? How pathetic.
  • The enemy of who? The US may be in a trade war with China and Huawei being used as a political pawn but make no mistake, Trump is doing everything he can to strike a massive trade deal with China. The biggest the world has ever seen is what he said.
  • China has stated it wants to replace the US as the dominant nation. With them being a Communist one party state, that simply cant happen China has a well known and funded cyber hacking apparatus, they are a well known IP thief. What more proof do you need? Yes, most if not all phones are made there, but at least with Apple, Samsung, etc. eyes are on the product so no shenanigans should take place. Germany and other Nations Intel communities have said Huawei cant be trusted.
  • Guess you don't buy much, even my 10yo and 11yo know not much is 100% made in USA, so those us dollars you are so radically concerned about spending end up in China anyway due to parts, etc.
  • I'm not losing any sleep over this. Everybody copies everybody else in this business. So sooner or later, US phones will have the same features.
  • Later, much later!
  • Title is wrong; China is the largest smarphone market by far, India is second and USA 3rd. Taking Q3/2018 number which are the first one coming up on Google, China had over 100m handset sold in Q3/2018, 40.5m for India and 40m for US.
    Not sure how the author figured out the US is the largest market..when it hasn't been for the last decade!
  • What is your source? Also are you talking about number if devices sold, or revenue. I don't think India and China are buying up $1000 iPhone and Galaxy flagships.
  • By unit sold (hence the millions figures) and this has been reported at large but I used the research firm Canalys if that matter... Google it up :)
  • I am all for innovation but calling phones from Huawei, vivo and oppo innovation is bit misleading. This is called intellectual property theft. People who complain about outrageous prices of smartphone should know that even that price (1k) is because the phone is manufactured in china with no labor laws and poor safety conditions. With the amount of innovation that goes in a smartphone, it should cost way more than that. I am sure apple makes all these nice toys that so called vivo and oppo throw at people in the name of sacrificing privacy but does not launch them due to poor user experience. Before someone starts branding me an isheep, I want to let them know that I use android and always keep an iphone for backup. I am also all for China since every country has right to innovate but not steal. China is high end copying machine and not innovator. When you take out the cost of R&D and make money off of user data by selling Chinese government subsidized smartphones, you can sell it at any price that you like. I like to buy product with my hard earned money where sellers are able to stand by their product and provide customer service. I have enough Chinese toys to play with.
  • I guess you haven't seen Huawei's R&D costs each year then. $15-20 billion per year. As much if not more than Samsung and WAY more than Apple
  • Huawei makes a wider variety of devices than Apple, or Samsung so their R&D budget should be higher. It isn't all directed at phones.
  • No doubt China has a 5 finger reputation...But Huawei ...2nd only to Samsung in sales, makes innovative Very High quality phones. They don't need to copy anyone.....Love the new Mate 20...want itl
  • There's a fine line between copying and innovation. A lot of successful companies started out disrupting an existing market before innovating - that includes Ford (the Model A was... fine but not great and there were better cars for the price), Microsoft (MS-DOS, their first killer app, was purchased from another company, and was itself a clone of CP/M), Apple (the Lisa, a Mac predecessor, was a very close copy to Xerox's STAR system), to Google (pre-release Android got MANY fashion cues from Blackberry, before they switched and took hints from Apple). All of those companies went on to release significant innovations of their own design. There's differences of degrees and what's legal (reverse engineering to clone) vs what's not (stealing IP), but there's a long history of learning to copy before you learn to innovate.
  • Ehh, I'm not losing any sleep over this either. I have a phone that does what I want in spades, and it's been years since I bought a carrier phone. Not sure about the Vivo being good for gaming. Every bezel-less phone I've played on sucked because of false touches and having to curl your thumbs in. There's a reason real gaming phones have bezels...
  • US customers are too quick to call any innovation a "gimmick".
  • Huawei phones may not be sold at local stores, but they can easily be had on Amazon or Ebay. Prices are coming down on the Mate 20 series phones...My Mate 10 is still an Awesome phone as well and also found on A and E. Wish they were sold everywhere, but with a Square Trade warranty or the like they are high quality warrantied phones! Save a TON compared to Samsung!
  • The real reason to ban Huawei...? The US wants to Spy and China aren't co-operating... https://moneymaven.io/mishtalk/economics/real-reason-trump-wants-to-ban-...
  • A big part of the problem is that in the US market, Apple sets the tone, with ~40% market share (and more revenue than that due to generally higher prices), versus China (low/mid-single digits) and India (a rounding error). That means the US market, even for Android, tends to favor expensive flagships which are typically less innovative, especially since they tend towards attempting feature-parity vs. Apple rather than new innovations (the last phone with a really new idea that wasn't following either Samsung's quest for more screen or Apple's notch was probably the LG G5, with its clunky mod system).
  • To be honest, most American consumers aren't going to spend $600-$1000 at one time on a phone brand that they don't know via lots of marketing.
    So, Samsung and Apple have the lion's share of the sales in the US.
    Add zero % interest financing for 2 years, and what's not to love?
    I've actually been buying LG phones the past few years, and their flagships are great devices and they cost less than Apple or Samsung.
  • It's not our fault the Chinese OEMS don't want to come over here OR at the very least configure their phones to be compatible with the LTE bands here. We're stuck. I'm sick of the Apple/Samsung duopoly, but I can't do much about it because Chinese OEMs are allergic to Bands 2, 4, and 12.