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10 best smartphones not made in China

Sure, China assembles Apple's iPhone and many other popular smartphones, but lots of great handsets come from other places - including South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and India. Curious to see what's available? Here are my 10 favorites.

China manufactures the Apple iPhone and many other popular smartphones, but there are lots of other options made in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and India.

China manufactures the Apple iPhone and many other popular smartphones, but there are lots of other options made in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and India. If you don't want to buy a phone from China, check out some of these other options.

Most of these phones are available directly from wireless carrier shops or directly from Samsung, LG, Motorola, ASUS, or Sony. Many can be found on Amazon and solid second-hand deals are present at places like Swappa. All of the phones are powered by the Android operating system. We listed the phones alphabetically -- since prices vary and functionality and capability are so similar it is tough to rank order the phones.

ASUS ROG Phone II (Taiwan)

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Image: ASUS

ASUS released its latest powerhouse smartphone in late 2019. The ROG Phone II is advertised as a gaming phone and has the specs to back it up. The 6.59-inch display sports a 120Hz refresh rate (months before the current phones with this technology) and is powered by a Snapdragon 855 Plus with 12GB of RAM and a leading 1TB internal storage capacity. 

It has a couple of rear cameras and a 24MP front-facing camera. Dual front-facing stereo speakers power the audio to your face while gaming with trigger controls along one side of the phone. A massive 6,000mAh battery keeps you gaming for hours on end too. The phone also supports vibration during gameplay with side-charging design to optimize the landscape orientation.

To complete the gaming experience, the rear ROG logo lights up in an assortment of colors while gaming accessories are available for enhancing game modes.

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LG G8X ThinQ (South Korea)

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Image: LG

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While Samsung is pushing innovation with the Galaxy Fold, it is very expensive at $2,000, and despite the large 7.3-inch display, the dual app experience is definitely compromised by screen size. We tested the LG G8X ThinQ with its LG Dual Screen cover, and it clearly offers a platform that is much better for productivity at a price that is even less than flagships from Apple, Samsung, and others. 

The phone was released in 2019 and is available now for a fair price with solid specs. It still has a focus on a high-end audio experience with dual stereo speakers, a 32-bit quad DAC and 3.5mm headphone jack.

MIL-STD 810G drop/shock certification is included, along with a microSD card for inexpensive storage expansion. A dedicated Google Assistant button helps you get things done quickly too.

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LG Stylo 5 (South Korea)

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Image: LG

While many phones on this list are flagships, there are also solid mid-range phones available to consider from countries other than China.

The LG Stylo 5 is one of the few phones we have to choose from that come with an integrated stylus. The Stylo 5 is available on multiple carriers in the US, including many pre-paid carriers. It sports a 6.2-inch display with 3,500mAh battery, 13MP rear camera, and 5MP front camera.

The focus of this phone is the stylus. You can handwrite notes, draw objects, sketch, and color. Animated text messages, GIF creation tools, and more are supported by the stylus.

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LG V60 ThinQ (South Korea)

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Image: LG

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The LG V60 ThinQ 5G recently launched on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon. It's only available in the US from one of these wireless carriers, but it may appear as an unlocked model on Amazon in the future.

This latest LG V series device continues to focus on video creation with a triple rear camera system, 8K video recording, four microphones, ASMR and Voice Bokeh audio technology, and advanced camera software. It's also powered by a massive 5,000 mAh battery with a 1080p display so it is sure to help you capture hours of video content.

The LG V60 ThinQ 5G is composed of two pieces of Gorilla Glass 5 with a metal frame and is certified for shock resistance to MIL-STD 810G. LG's new phone has a 6.8-inch OLED panel, Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage with a microSD card, and 5G. A Dual Screen cover is included for the $900 price and gives you a large platform for serious productivity.

Along with 5G and a focus on video capture, the LG V60 continues LG's tradition of audio excellence with a 3.5mm audio port with quad DAC support and stereo speakers. It sounds great through the speakers, but the wired headphone experience is even better. It's one of the last phones remaining with a 3.5mm audio port so audiophiles are sure to be pleased.

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Moto G Stylus (India)

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Image: Motorola

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ZDNet's Larry Dignan and I are both heavy Samsung Galaxy Note users and enjoyed taking this $300 note-taking alternative for a spin. Larry's article discusses his likes and dislikes, while my in-depth review is coming soon.

The Moto G Stylus is a well-built budget phone with a fairly stock Android experience with Motorola goodies. A big display, large capacity battery, interesting macro lens, capable 48MP shooter, and Snapdragon 665 processor make this a good phone for the masses.

At less than one third the price of the Galaxy Note, the Moto G Stylus doesn't have all of the advanced pen support we see in the Note series. However, you can take notes with the stylus, but it really only offers a fingertip experience with a bit more fine detail.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip (South Korea)

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While I spent more than $2,000 to try out the Samsung Galaxy Fold, I didn't make that same leap to test out the Galaxy Z Flip because it didn't offer that same mini-tablet form factor. The Galaxy Z Flip provides a more pocketable phone experience but doesn't bring much more than that to buyers.

The Galaxy Z Flip improves upon the Fold technology with the use of glass in the panels. Unfolding the Z Flip reveals a 6.7-inch gorgeous AMOLED display. It's an expensive phone at nearly $1,400 but serves as another technology demo of things to come in the future.

There is a small one-inch display on the outside, primarily used for notifications. It has solid camera performance, a Snapdragon 855, 256GB of internal storage, and Samsung's latest One UI 2. It doesn't have 5G and the utility of this folding orientation is debatable.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10/10 Plus (South Korea)

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 sat on top of our 10 best smartphone list for much of the past year and was at the top of the list earlier this year. While the headphone jack is gone, everything else has been improved on the 2019 version of the Galaxy Note line. The Note 10 is now offered in two variants, with the presence of a microSD card slot, display size, and battery capacity being the prime differentiators.

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus is an excellent enterprise smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, massive amounts of RAM, fast internal storage, microSD card expansion, capable rear quad-camera system, and much more.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 has a Link to the Windows button in the quick controls area along with support for the latest version of DeX. Extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the Note 10 is convenient for road warriors.

The Galaxy Note 10, starting with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage, starts at $579.99 while the Note 10 Plus with 12GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage starts at $729.99. There are also increased RAM and storage options for both devices, but the default base models offer ample RAM and storage for most users. The Note 10 Plus is available now from Samsung and all carriers. Given that we are a few months from the next Note line, it is the perfect time to score a deal on an amazing smartphone.

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Samsung Galaxy S10 series (South Korea)

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Samsung's 2019 flagship continues to be a solid choice, especially with the massive price cuts as the S20 series devices are now available.                

The S10 Plus improved upon the S9 device with an ultra-wide camera, much longer battery life, better software with One UI and the ability to wirelessly charge up other devices.

Samsung's S10 and S10 Plus have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Super AMOLED Infinity-O display, 8GB RAM (with 12GB option), 128GB to 1TB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, five cameras, IP68 rating, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, ANT+, and a stunning design with gorgeous Prism color options.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus continues to have all of the excellent Galaxy Foundation aspects such as a high level of water resistance, fast wireless charging, a stunning Super AMOLED screen, expandable microSD storage, a 3.5mm headset jack, and much more. In addition, extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the new Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the S10 Plus is convenient for road warriors.

The Galaxy S10 series starts as low as $349.99 for the S10e up to $599.99 for the S10 Plus. While there are 5G options today, buying one of these at half price of an S20 makes a lot more sense for most people.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 series (South Korea)

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Samsung announced the Galaxy S20 series a few months ago and phones are now available for consumers. After spending a couple of weeks with the S20 Ultra 5G, it is clear the phone is built for business and captures the crown for the best 5G device available today.           

The focus on the S20 line this year is universal 5G and improved camera experiences. There are some focus issues Samsung is currently dealing with on the S20 Ultra and while you may not want to pay $1,400+ for that phone right now, the S20 Plus may be more appropriate.

Samsung's S20 series devices are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, AMOLED 120Hz refresh rate displays ranging from 6.2 to 6.9 inches, 12GB RAM (with 16GB option), 128GB to 512GB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, three rear cameras (the Ultra has unique camera specifications), IP68 rating, WiFi 6, and Bluetooth 5. Battery capacity ranges from 4,000mAh to 5,000mAh. The S20 does not support high band (mmWave) faster 5G networks so make sure you pick the device that will fit your network needs.

An argument can be made that the S20 series isn't the best smartphone available today, but in terms of 5G and the latest technology, they are tough to beat. The price makes them a bit tougher to justify, but when you realize how this tool is used constantly the price for the value is easier to comprehend.

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Sony Xperia 1 II (Japan)

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Image: Sony

The new Sony Xperia 1 II (pronounced mark two) was recently announced and should be available soon. It is likely going to be priced in the $1,000 range and looks to offer all of the great things we expect in flagship smartphones. These features include 5G, best mobile processor, ample RAM, high-end photography, and more.

Sony announced that its Alpha camera engineers helped develop the cameras on this new flagship and that gets me excited since we have seen sub-par performance on Sony smartphone cameras when compared to the competition. Finally bringing some of Sony's amazing digital camera technology to its phones is welcome.

In addition to the camera experience, Sony is focused on the visual experience in this new phone with its 4K HDR OLED display and Dolby Atmos forward-firing stereo speakers. Gaming is also enhanced with the device so it is likely to appeal across the entertainment spectrum.

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