Chinese OEMs in the West: Can They Capture both the Mainstream and Enthusiasts?

Chinese OEMs in the West: Can They Capture both the Mainstream and Enthusiasts?

Chinese OEMs are no stranger to North America, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that they really started breaking into our higher-end smartphone market. Until then, offerings from major brands such as Samsung, LG, Sony, and HTC have been dominating the smartphone space.

In fact, the same handful of smartphone brands have been available in North America since the beginning.

I wrote an article early in the year highlighting the increase of budget offerings, and one part of that article mentions smartphones like the Huawei Honor 5x and the Y6 as being really good bang-for-your-buck devices. With their success in the lower-end space, industry giants from China are now stomping into North America with their high-end smartphones. But how will they compete with the well-known brands that we know?

One of the ways Huawei is competing is by offering a two year warranty on some of their handsets, rather than the standard one year manufacturer warranty that is required. It looks like right now this extended warranty applies to certain devices only. Interestingly, Rogers in Canada is offering 2 years on the Huawei Y6 as well. The Y6 has also been listed as a “Staff Pick” device since its release on the carrier, which is an interesting testament to the company’s future commitment to the brand.

Huawei Honor 5cHuawei has already seen relative success in the North American market, largely due to the company’s partnership with Google to release a device like the Nexus 6P. This phone remains a go-to option for enthusiasts, and proved to Western audiences how well Huawei can handle premium hardware packages. Now we are seeing more head-turning smartphones from Huawei, namely the recently announced P9. One of the major features of the P9 being the dual-lens technology, which features one RGB and one Monochrome sensor, both of which can be used independently or together to create excellent photographs.

Huawei is also investing 3 million in the University of Toronto’s electrical and computer engineering department over the next three years in the hopes to boost the technology behind cellular data communications in Canada. In addition, their presence in Canada has been a big success with providing Communications growth in northern communities and ongoing discussions about 5G. Huawei is already a pioneer of the “internet for all” idea with their ongoing plans to bring their MBB network to areas of need all over the world. It would seem that one of the ways that Huawei is making an impact in the western market is through providing advanced mobile network technology. It makes sense that Huawei could be the one to make this push, as they are one of the top three largest smartphone companies in the world, even though they are just starting to get traction and recognition in North America. Also, they are well-known in other parts of the world for their cellular infrastructure technology.

Another Chinese company, Xiaomi, recently saw a good number of devices receive support from TWRP and can now support custom recoveries, furthering the appeal to the enthusiast community. Many are opting for the a smartphone from a Chinese manufacturer because they tend to be less expensive, but still provide good performance. Huawei and Xiaomi are the newest brands to grace our shores, but we can’t overlook that brands like Oneplus, ZTE, and Alcatel, which have also been pumping out devices that have made our wallets smile and satisfied performance needs.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3

Phones like the Redmi Note 3 are redefining the budget smartphone.

There’s also been the Asus Zenfone series, which turned some heads in the West a year or so ago with the release of the Zenfone 2, an unlocked smartphone that was readily available for purchase at an affordable price either online or at local electronics shops. Thankfully, the Zenfone 2 is also rootable and has decent development support. Of course, I can’t forget to mention OnePlus, who gained popularity with their high-end but low-cost devices, and their phones’ healthy ROM options for enthusiasts.

What this all means is that there is a clear push from these companies to really make an impact in the western cellular market, even against big competition from companies like Samsung and Apple. Even if the overall build quality doesn’t always match up, like with the Xiaomi Mi5 and the Nexus 6P bend tests. But who is planning on bending their phone anyway? I suppose it’s still an important consideration for durability, but I don’t feel it’s a huge issue, especially since both devices perform well and are reasonably durable (as long as you don’t bend it!). Timely updates and good software support is probably one of my most important considerations when buying a smartphone, so we’ll have to see if these OEMs provide that, as it would be a good nail to the competition. And of course, as we all know, competition is important to ensure that we keep seeing the high-quality product, but low cost, trend continue.

Xiaomi and Huawei are some of the bigger names, but they are not the only ones looking at big slice of the Western pie. You have companies like LeEco doubling their smartphone efforts, and they have now established headquarters in the United States. We can expect bigger incursions by more “Eastern Giants” as the year progresses, which means more affordable options to a market that has been accustomed to the high-end.

It may take a while before consumers begin to notice brands like Huawei and Xiaomi as viable, as currently they are mostly known only to the enthusiast community. But it’s already happening, and everyone is all in a buzz about these Chinese OEMS and what they have to offer. And that’s really the key here – good quality devices that don’t break the bank is exactly what has made Android successful (not to mention viable) in other parts of the world.

What do you think? Are smaller and/or Chinese OEMs beneficial for the Western consumer? Can they hope to attract the attention of both the mainstream and the enthusiast? Let us know in the comments!

About author

Lisa Hoffart
Lisa Hoffart

Hailing from the Great White North, Lisa Hoffart is a student, cell phone salesperson, and an Android enthusiast. You'll probably find her playing video games, trapped under a mound of homework, or hanging out with her cat.