Last updated 11/17/22
As we start preparing for smartphone season, I thought I’d update this post with some quick news on what to expect from which manufacturers for the 2023 model year.
Samsung – The Samsung Galaxy S23 will likely be officially announced in February 2023, and it’ll be safe to say that manufacturing will still be out of Vietnam.
Google – In hopeful news, a recent New York Times article has reported that Google will be shifting some production of the upcoming Pixel 7 to Vietnam, with a goal of as much of half of next year’s high-end model, the Pixel 8, to be produced there. It’s a sign that corporations are finally waking up after the one-two punch of the 2018 tariffs, coupled by the CCP’s disastrous approach of handling COVID by closing down cities and locking down citizens.
Google announced the Pixel 7 on October 6, 2022. My wife ordered one and alas, the phone she got was made in China. Surely enough, the Amazon product page still says “Made in China”, so if Google was planning to move production to Vietnam, they haven’t done so yet. But interestingly, the Pixel 6a is marked on the Amazon product page as Made in Vietnam, so it seems that Google figured how to consistently manufacture their lower end models outside of China. Let’s hope the higher end models join them.
Apple – Apple also appears to be scrambling to at least partially divest from China, but after pouring $275 billion into building China up, decoupling is not going to be so easy. In December 2022, the Wall Street Journal published an article that seemed promising–until it became clear that as Apple divests from China manufacturing, it plans to increase its exposure to China OEMs.
The rest – Google and Samsung aside, most other Android smartphone makers have already released their next gen models as of this writing.
ASUS and Sony remain on my list as brands that will we can be pretty confident will not be sourcing to China–I’ve updated their listings with their newest phones, all of which use the same Snapdragon 8+ Gen1 processor which Samsung and Google will be putting their phones (I’ll update Google’s and Samsung’s listings one they’re available–and assuming they A) remain on the top of “best Android phone” lists and B) have a good amount of inventory that’s not made in China).
Original post follows:
If my Google skills are up to par, that line above says “big brother is watching you” in simplified Chinese. And that’s an apt way to start this particular post.
When George Orwell wrote 1984, he imagined a world where there telescreens were used by Big Brother to monitor the actions of its citizens and to feed them a steady stream of propaganda to control them. When I read the book in the 1980s, I thought to myself, this is ridiculous. No citizen in any country would ever let it get to that point where every single room in every single house is wired up for a central government to watch.
And yet after only a few years, it happened. And we built it ourselves. I had a Palm Pilot, which became a Blackberry, which became an iPhone. And we didn’t need Big Brother to force us to provide every bit of information about ourselves to him–we happily told our little phones who all our friends and acquaintances are, where we live, what our daily habits are, what we purchased, what we ate, what our deepest darkest secrets were, what we liked, what we hated, and how our health was.
It’s bad enough that companies like Apple and Facebook have this information. But can you imagine what the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or Idi Amin would have done with this kind of information as they tried to isolate and even murder any subversives?
You don’t even need to imagine what the Chinese Communist Party would do with this information. They’re already using it to keep their own citizens in line. And yes, they’re already exploiting our openness to create chaos, stir up dissension, and manipulate our elections. If you don’t see that, you need to open your eyes wider.
I’m sometimes a bit astounded at how naive we can be in the West, and especially in the United States. Back when the federal government imposed rules on Hwawei and TikTok, my boss at the time made a comment to me about how terrible it was that our government was being so racist towards the Chinese. I suppose he made a point to tell me this because he assumed I’d somehow be offended. I told him straight out that even though I’m Chinese–actually especially because I’m Chinese–I fully supported those actions. Because if information is power, our enemies in the CCP know a lot more about us than we know about them.
I know you came here to find a cell phone not made in China, and I’ll get to that 🙂 But clearly, this is much more about finding a product that won’t break or helping our own economy. This is a matter of national security. I have a background in Computer Science and technology. Do you know how easy it is to plant a small piece of code into telecommunications equipment or computer software that will let you infiltrate it in the future? And do you remember how every company that wants to do business in China must enter into joint partnership where they share all of their intellectual property with their China counterparts? And of course, the CCP is embedded not only in state-owned enterprises but private enterprises as well.
And in the interest of being able to buy cheap things on Walmart and Amazon, we’ve been cheering them on for 30 years, throwing our money at them the whole time. It’s time to stop it.
Are any cell phones not made in China?
Happily, not only are there a lot of them, but a lot of really good ones. The best brands to look out for are Asus (made in Taiwan), Samsung (made in South Korea), and Sony (made in Japan). Sadly, LG recently made the decision to discontinue their mobile phone business.
There is one Android phone that clearly stands out. It’s listed on every major “best cell phones” list each year, including CNET, PC Magazine, The Verge, Wirecutter, Tom’s Guide, Tech Radar, Forbes, T3, and more. It’s the Samsung Galaxy and Galaxy Ultra. And it’s manufactured in Vietnam and South Korea.
We’ll run down other great phones from ASUS and Sony as well. China-based brands like OnePlus, Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi are going to get very aggressive with pricing in the coming years (no doubt subsidized heavily by the CCP) to try to snare uneducated consumers. And beware of Motorola Mobility; while many Moto phones are manufactured outside of China, don’t expect this to last–Motorola was acquired by Lenovo, who themselves are a 100% China company, headquartered in Beijing.
But by continuing to buy the best from the best, you can do your part to keep those China brands where they are.
But wait–aren’t the parts all made in China?
Yes, a lot of them are. But that’s not the point here.
The point of looking for a cell phone that’s not made in China is to try to slow down the speed at which China is taking over this sector, just as it monopolizes manufacturing of so many other sectors like sporting equipment and coffee makers. Right now, the parts that are manufactured in China are largely cheap parts like cases and buttons. But China has never forgotten its Marxist roots, and has its eyes set on dominating the entire “means of production”, which means eventually having the capacity to make everything themselves, from motherboards to semiconductors to video cards and displays.
A lot of that is done out of Taiwan right now, which means Taiwan is employing its own citizens and collecting its own tax revenue. But if Taiwan continues to go the way of American companies by having amoral, psychopathic executives outsource everything to China to boost their stock prices, even if it means giving up their secrets? Well, that will spell the end of everything, up to and including the end of Taiwan as a democracy and the beginning of the end of the United States militarily as China gains an insurmountable military advantage by being able to surveil every American citizen–all bought and paid for by those same American citizens.
Those who do not remember the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them. I have to say I am astounded at the speed at which members of Taiwan’s Kuomingtang Party (who are behind most of the big Taiwanese companies that are outsourcing to China) have rushed to enable the same Communist Party that murdered and imprisoned their own parents and grandparents. Let’s hope the spanking they got at the polls and what they see with their own eyes happening in Hong Kong wakes them up so they start to diversify their supply chain.
What about Apple?
Sorry Apple fans, but all iPhones are made in China. You’ve heard the horror stories of Foxconn manufacturing plants where workers are locked inside under sweatshop conditions (some even driven to suicide). But Chinese citizens still stand on line to get those jobs and American citizens still stand on line to get those phones, so Apple executives and their shareholders are happy.
But let’s put the human considerations aside. Even though Apple has a reputation for excellent craftsmanship, let’s think about something. Apple phones are well engineered, but not well manufactured. How can I say this? Here’s a list of Apple products I’ve owned, and things to go wrong with them.
* MacBook Pro 13 2018 – Battery swelled up and Keyboard keys repeat. Apple said they would fix the keyboard for free–but only after I paid $200 to fix the battery. Thanks “Geniuses”.
* Apple iPhone X – Lightning port stopped working completely after warranty expired
* Apple iPhone 6 – Became unusable after it constantly crashed, despite purportedly being supported.
* Apple iPhone 4S – The last iPhone I ever owned that was perfect from beginning to end. Also happens to be the last iPhone where Steve Jobs saw through production from beginning to end. Coincidence?
Apple’s recent success is largely due to the legacy that Steve Jobs left behind, but sadly, Apple is showing cracks in the armor. I have had nothing but negative experiences with Apple Store “Geniuses”, who increasingly are smug in their polo shirts but devoid of any real technical knowledge. They’re not trained to fix problems, they’re trained to use every defect as an excuse to sell AppleCare. “Hey! You know your Apple product is going to break, so why not pay us an extra $200 now so that you don’t have to pay us $600 later? Unless we say the problem is your fault, which we will most of the time”.
Sadly, Apple is doing its best to lose me after being a customer of their for 40 years. And their continued reliance on China manufacturing may be just the thing to get me to switch. Love or hate the last presidential administration, but they did the right thing in establishing harsher tariffs on China–reportedly Google and Apple have started to look more towards India and Vietnam to diversify its manufacturing base. Let’s hope the current administration holds the line so that this positive trend can continue.
Best Cell Phones Not Made in China
1. Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G – Best Overall
(Galaxy S23 expected to be announced in February 2023)
Just about every Web site, blog, and magazine that reviews Android phones lists the Galaxy S22 Ultra as the best Android phone (and in many cases, the best smartphone overall) you can buy. There is very little not to like about this phone.
Its photo and video features are the first thing that set it apart. It boasts four professional grade rear-facing cameras, including a 12 megapixel (MP) ultra wide camera, a 108 MP wide-angle camera, and two 10-megapixel telephoto lenses. It also has a 40MP front-facing camera for selfies. Your photos will look like they came from a professional grade digital camera (which they did), and advanced features like 30x and 100x zoom, night mode, and AI optimization of the picture based on faces, natural lighting, angles, and direction help you ensure that you’ll never take a bad shot.
From a video production perspective, its 8K resolution is the highest available in a smartphone (yes, the iPhone 12 Pro Max taps out at 4K), and features like steady cam and up to 60fps video will help you film cinematic-quality video.
The 5,000 mAh battery lasts well over 24 hours, even using 5G, and it supports wired charging at an astounding 45W and Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 at 15W. Your phone can even act as a wireless charging station itself to charge Qi-compatible earbuds, watches, and even phones. Its Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor is the fastest ever in a Galaxy and a process that blows away Apple’s A14 chip in benchmarks. It’s great for gaming, with an ultra-responsive 6.8″ 120Hz display. And of course, it supports 5G.
Samsung of course is known for consistently having the best displays of any smartphone, and this trend continues with their dynamic AMOLED 2X panels, which feature better colors, deeper blacks, and better power efficiency than traditional OLED screens.
If you’re looking for something lighter with a smaller screen size and not as many bells and whistles, the “non-Ultra” Galaxy S22+ or S22 are also exceptional choices.
12/23/21 update: Thanks to Abe for pointing out in the comments that the Samsung Galaxy A32 is also made in Vietnam. For those who don’t want to spend $1200 for a phone, this model is much more affordable, starting at around $200.
2. ASUS ROG Phone 6 – Best Phone for Gamers
ASUS is a company based in Taiwan. I’ll be posting a separate blog post that lays out the difference between Taiwan and China, but all you need to know is one thing. Taiwan are the good guys.
The ROG seres is ASUS’s flagship line of phones, specifically geared towards gaming applications. This isn’t much of a surprise, as ASUS is one of the leaders in gaming PCs and monitors, so it’s in their DNA as a company. And if you spend any amount of time playing games on your phone, you’ll appreciate the detail they put into making this line of phones the choice for gamers.
Gaming on mobile devices has come a long way since Angry Birds. The processing power of mobile phones has gotten to the point where your smartphone can rival game consoles and PCs. And this phone has features that gamers of all kinds will appreciate, from those in intense battles in Fortnite, to those catching their favorite monsters in Pokemon Go.
The ROG 6 is the successor to the highly successful ROG 3 and ROG5. The ROG 6 upgrades the processor from the Snapdragon 888 to the Snapdragon 8+ Gen1, so it’ll give the maximum performance and power efficiency available, comparable to other smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S23. The AMOLED display (which happens to be built by Samsung) has a 360 Hz touch-sampling rate, providing an ultra-low 24.3ms touch latency. Put another way, the touch screen will respond immediately with latency that’s hardly perceptible. It has a 165 Hz refresh rate to provide a crisp, clear HDR image, and the glass itself is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, so it can withstand tapping, pounding, banging, and the occasional toss across the room (although that last one is not recommended).
Great picture deserves great sound. The unit has symmetrical 7-magnet dual speakers with sound optimized by audio specialist Dirac so you’ll be immersed in stereo sound as you hold your phone in landscape orientation. And here’s something amazingly innovative that you won’t see in many phones–a headphone jack!
The ROG series has three unique ways to use your phone as a controller. The AeroActive Cooler 5 clip-on cooling fan not only keeps your CPU cool, it has two physical buttons too use as a controller. It also supports 10 different motion controls such swiveling your phone, pushing it forward, and so on, for games that support them. And there are ultrasonic sensors on the side of (the top when holding it in landscape mode).
The 6000 mAh battery comes with something else you won’t find in many cell phones today–a 65-watt HyperCharge charger. The battery lasts over a day, and the design of the phone even makes sure that the battery cells are separated and spaced properly in the unit to ensure that the heat doesn’t become uncomfortable.
Time doesn’t permit me to list out all the other bells and whistles for gamers, but suffice it to say if mobile gaming is important to you, this one is the best. The ROG 6 was announced in September 2022, and units are being distributed in the US as of mid-October 2022. Check Amazon to check availability.
3. ASUS Zenfone 8 – Best Compact Phone
ASUS makes its way on the list again with its other flagship line, the Zenfone 9, announced on July 28, 2022. I like ASUS’s strategy with both the ROG and Zenfone–instead of trying to compete head-to-head with Samsung and Google, focus on a really important niche, ideally one that exploits weaknesses in the big boys’ products and that leverages expertise that you’ve developed in your other products, like laptops.
Zenfone is a line dedicated to compactness (you remember, the “mobile” part of “mobile device”). As other companies race to build the biggest, bulkiest full feature Frankenstein devices that don’t know if they’re a PDA, a phone, a tablet, or a laptop, ASUS decided to go small.
Small in size does not mean small in power. The Zenfone 8 features the new Snapdragon 8+ Gen1 processor that the mighty Samsung S23 and the aforementioned ROG 6 does, with 8 to 16 gigabytes of RAM and 128 to 256 gigabytes of storage. It’s roughly equivalent in size to Google’s Pixel.
It sports a sharp and colorful 120-Hz AMOLED screen with a high 240-Hz sampling rate–not as high as the ROG, but still pretty responsive. And once again, an actual headphone jack (!) Gorilla Glass Victus on the phone, Gorilla Glass 3 on the back, and IP68 water resistance will help ensure it’ll last.
This is not the kind of phone you’ll necessarily go around and brag about to friends. But if you want a well-made workhorse that you can fit into a pocket or purse without feeling like you have a boat anchor in there. You can check Amazon (scroll down a bit) to see which sellers are offering it.
4. Sony Xperia 1 IV – Superior Video and Audio
Sony’s newest entry into the smartphone space was launched on May 11, 2022. It replaces the old Xperia 1 III that I featured on this list last year, as well as the Xperia 1 II that’s been around since October 2020 (if you’re keeping score at home “Xperia 1” refers to Sony’s top-of-the-line brand of smartphone, while “Xperia 5” refers to its compact version).
The Xperia 1 IV is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the second most powerful Android processor behind the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1.
If you’ve ever owned a Walkman, Trinitron, Bravia, Alpha, or Handycam, you won’t be surprised to find that Sony put a lot of attention into sight and sound. Its photography features were developed in conjunction with the same engineers who build its professional Alpha 9 series of cameras, and include ZEISS optics. One innovation with the Xperia 1 IV is a sliding optical sensor from 85mm to 125mm, meaning all stop between those two zoom distances will be optical and lossless. Prior to 85mm you still have 16mm and 24mm lossless stops, with everything else before 85mm being digital. If you’re a professional photographer and want a DSLR-like experience in your phone, this is the one for you.
Software features like Real-Time Tracking and auto-focus, burst shooting with auto-focus and auto-exposure, low-light capabilities, and a dedicated shutter button. They took learnings from their Handycam business unit to build superior wind-filtering into their mics.
The 6.5″ OLED display supports 4K HDR at a 120Hz refresh rate. Dolby Atmos sound gives you a movie-going experience on your phone (with a headphone jack). And for gamers, your Playstation Dualshock controller will pair seamlessly. You’ll also get 256GB of storage and microSD support (yes, microSD!).
The unit has an upgraded 5,00mAh battery that lasts over a day and maintains its health even after 3 years (are you listening, fruit company?) And as with the Samsung, it not only supports wireless charging, but can double in a pinch as a wireless charging station.
5. Nokia 6300
Just need a phone that lets you use it as a phone, and not a gadget that walks your dog, waters your plants, and cooks you breakfast? Boy do I have the phone for you.
It’s the Nokia 6300. Yes, I said Nokia and no, you haven’t time-traveled back to 2007. Although buy this phone and you’ll feel like you have.
It’s a phone that looks like the phone so many of us had in those glorious days of yore when phones were still phones. It has real buttons (remember those?) and a tiny screen. Sure, it lets you read emails and watch YouTube and chat on social media. But this is a phone that hearkens back to a day when smartphones were gloriously small, light, and used sparingly vs. permanently affixed to your brain.
Nokia does have higher end models that are made in China, but those aren’t really worth talking about. But this (and the similarly retro Nokia 225) are happily made in Vietnam.
An interesting bit of trivial is that Nokia phones are no longer owned by Nokia, but by a company called HMD Global, after Microsoft purchased Nokia’s phone business in 2014 and sold it back to this new company (made of former Nokia executives) in 2016. The phones are manufactured by FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Taiwanese company Foxconn. As part of the sale from Microsoft, FIH Mobile acquired a factory in Vietnam, which explains why certain phones are still being made there.
6. Purism Librem 5 USA – Made in the USA, including the supply chain
Talking about 1984 at the beginning of this post probably turned off a lot of people–like the proverbial boiling frog, millions upon millions of our fellow citizens are all too happy to trade in every aspect of their privacy in order to get free access to free mind-numbing games or even more mind-numbing social media. If the NSA or the CCP can track where you are any minute of any day of the year, no big deal, right?
But if you take your privacy seriously, consider the Purism Librem 5. This is a company that’s gone completely out of its way to create a smartphone whose #1 priority is privacy. This means using PureOS, a GNU/Linux-based open-source operating system that is free from the prying eyes of Apple and Google (who if you let yourself think about it have power that is much more frightening than the US or China governments). Open source means that no government agency or marketing department will be able to sneak a line of code into the OS to track you without the open source community seeing it. And they even source the supply chain to use as many USA-made components as possible.
Finally, as I mentioned in the intro, there’s the Google Pixel 6a. Unlike most brands, which produce their top-of-the-line models outside of China and their cheaper models in China, Google seems to be doing the opposite: prior to this year it had produced the Pixel 4a and 5a out of Vietnam as well.
While Google Pixel 7 is the most advanced model, the Pixel 6a continues to be officially supported and comes in at a much more affordable price point and has most of the features most people need: 5G support, a 12 megapixel camera, a 24-hour battery, and a 6.1″ FHD+ display.
I read a great post by @maytechummia on Twitter that highlighted a few other options. This list dates back to 2021 so it’s a little out-of-date; once all the 2023 models are out I’ll go through and put together a more definitive and updated list. But I’ll leave it here for your reference.
Made in Vietnam
Made in Thailand
Sony Xperia PRO-I – Amazon –
Sony Xperia 5 III – Amazon – Best Buy –
Sony Xperia 1 II – Amazon
Sony Xperia 5 II – Amazon – Best Buy – B&H Photo and Video
Sony Xperia 10 II – Amazon
Sony Xperia 1 – Amazon
Sony Xperia 5 – Amazon
Sony Xperia XZs – Amazon
Made in Taiwan
HTC Desire 20 Pro – Amazon (be sure you confirm with the seller that you will get the Taiwan version, not the Hong Kong/China version)
HTC U20 5G – Amazon (same advice as above)
Do you know of other cell phones that have avoided the China trap? Let us know in the comments!