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.
Nokia has announced its plans to manufacture phones in India by 2022. You do need to check, as some of these manufacturers do make some models in China, but they also have plants in their own countries as well. And if you’re using Amazon, be aware that some reviewers don’t know the difference between Taiwan (the Republic of China) and China (the People’s Republic of China).
Happily, there is one Android phone that clearly stands out. It’s listed on every major “best cell phones of 2021” list, including CNET, PC Magazine, The Verge, Wirecutter, Tom’s Guide, Tech Radar, Forbes, T3, and more. It’s the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 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 – Quick Ranking
|1||Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G||4.6||View on Amazon|
|2||ASUS ROG 5||Rating TBD||View on Amazon (resellers)|
|3||ASUS Zenfone 8||Rating TBD||View on Amazon (resellers)|
|4||Sony Xperia 1 III||Rating TBD||View on Amazon (resellers)|
|5||Purism Librem 5 USA||Rating TBD||View on Purism|
1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G – Best Overall
Just about every Web site, blog, and magazine that reviews Android phones lists the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G 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 three professional grade rear-facing cameras, including a 12 megapixel (MP) ultra wide camera, a 12 MP wide-angle camera, and a stunning 64 megapixel telephoto camera. It also has a 10MP front-facing camera is a 10MP 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 4800mAh battery lasts well over 24 hours, even using 5G, and it supports Super Fast Charging at 25W and Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 at 10W. Your phone can even act as a wireless charging station itself to charge Qi-compatible earbuds, watches, and even phones. Its Snapdragon 888 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 S21+ 5G (6.7″ screen) or S21 5g (6.2″ screen) 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.
- NOT made in China
- The undisputed best Android phone you can buy, based on most industry review sites
- Best camera resolution and quality available in a smartphone
- Super-long battery life
- Following Apple’s practices of removing headphone ports, memory cards, wall chargers
2. ASUS ROG Phone 5 – 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 5, the successor to the highly successful ROG 3, features the same Snapdragon 888 that we saw in Samsung’s Galaxy S21, so it’ll give the maximum performance available. The AMOLED display (which happens to be built by Samsung) has a 300 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 144 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 phone isn’t being distributed widely in the US yet, but you can check Amazon to find unlocked international units.
- NOT made in China
- Built to last
- Meets strict ECBC and SCA standards for the ideal cup of coffee, including optimal temperature, time, even extraction, and amount of total dissolved solids
- Uses only quality European parts; plastics are BPA and Phthalate free
- 5 year warranty
- Isolated reports of uneven saturation
3. ASUS Zenfone 8 – Best Compact Phone
ASUS makes its way on the list again with its other flagship line, the Zenfone 8. 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 same Snapdragon 888 processor that the mighty Samsung S21 does, with 8 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of storage. It’s roughly equivalent in size to Google’s Pixel 5, without the taint of China sweatshop hands nor the$100 premium for saying it’s from Google.
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, keep an eye out for this when it becomes more widely available in late summer. You can check Amazon to see if and when third party sellers from countries who get the phone early will put their units up for resale.w
- NOT made in China
- Super fast Snapdragon 888 processor
- Commercial-quality hot water tank and sprayhead that coovers coffee grounds evenly
- Compact: 5.8 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches and weighs 6 ounces
- High quality cameras; two lenses on the back (64MP and 12 MP) and a 12MP selfie camera on the front
- Excellent, immersive audio; linear speakers powered by a dual logic Cirrus Logic CS35L45 Mono AMP with Dirac HD optimization
- Support for 5G (sub-6GHz)
- No memory card slots
- No millimeter wave 5G (
- No wireless charging
4. Sony Xperia 1 III – Superior Video and Audio
Sony’s new entry into the smartphone space was announced on April 14, 2021. It’ll be launched widely during this summer, and will replace 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 III will be powered by the Snapdragon 888 processor we’ve seen from the top Samsung and ASUS phones.
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 and four lenses (16mm, 24mm, 3D iTOF, and a telephoto lens with two focal lengths 70mm/105mm for super-fast focus). 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.
The unit has a 4,500mAh 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.
- NOT made in China
- 120Hz 6.5″ 4K HDR OLED display
- Superior ZEISS coated lenses, including a variable tele lens
- 5G connectivity and speed10
- Snapdragon 888 processor
- Advanced camera capabilities, including real-time tracking, auto-focus, and SteadyShot
- 256GB of on-board storage and microSD slot
- Sony’s reputation for exceptional hardware design
- Product lineup can be confusing
- Sony’s reputation for shoddy software and user interface design
4. 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.
- NOT made in China
- Made in the USA
- Unbeatable Privacy
- Built on open-source PureOS, not Android or iOS
- Lacks the breadth of apps that the iOS or Android offers
I read a great post by @maytechummia on Twitter that highlighted a few other options.
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!