Our Top 10 Surprise phones of 2014


This isn’t necessary a list of the best phones of 2014 (although some of them are), but a list of the most surprising phones we have seen in the past 12 months!

What we love most about the Chinese phone industry is the sheer volume of phones brought on to the market each week (day even). It seems a there is a launch around just about every corner and that means Chinese phone makers have started to think outside the box, build better quality, and lower prices. 2014 has been a great year with some real surprise devices launched, here are a few that grabbed out attention throughout the year.

iNew V3

inew v3 review

As already stated this isn’t necessarily a list of the best phones (that will come later this week) but rather a list of phones that surprised us the most during the year. The iNew V3 was one of the first phones we reviewed this year, and in all honesty really set the bar for entry-level phones.

The iNew V3 was far from perfect, the first lot of phones had NFC that didn’t work, and the small battery of the phone plagued it (and continues with the recently updated iNew V3 Plus).

But still this was an amazing phone for early 2014! It had a rather good HD display, pleasant thin design (although not as thin as iNew’s marketing team would like us to believe), and the 13 mega-pixel camera was very impressive for the price.

A great start to an amazing year of Chinese phones!

Oppo Find 7

oppo find 7 review 1

We knew (or thought we knew) a lot about the Oppo Find 7 before the launch, but it was still a pleasant surprise when we finally got to see the actual phone at the launch toward the start of 2014.

The Oppo Find 7 shunned convention by becoming one of the first flagship phones of the year with Snapdragon processor to get a micro SD card expansion bay and removable battery, not to mention the cool notification light, and impressive camera software.

Although I had some serious screen issues with my personal Oppo Find 7 (resulting in getting a full refund and buying a Vivo Xplay 3S) and the fact the Oppo Find 7 was seriously overshadowed by the OnePlus One, I still think it is one of the most surprising phones of the year!

UMi Zero

If a company has every turned itself around this year it has to be UMi who takes the credit for doing it the best. After a rocky start with the UMi Cross, UMi X3, and truly terrible UMi X1 Pro and C1, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect from them when they announced the UMi Zero.

Thankfully this was one of those times when the leaked photos and renders actually resulted in a truly stunning mid-range phone. Even now I’m surprised by just how good this $200 phone feels in the hand (thanks to the unibody alloy body). It’s not just the looks though, the attention to detail (packaging included) and the features, Super AMOLED display, Gorilla Glass, 2GB RAM, F1.8 camera etc are all impressive at this price point!

The Zero really has shown us what Chinese smartphone makers are capable of in respect to build and we will be expecting much more from phones that come in the future.

Meizu MX4

It might not be the cheapest of the Meizu range, and it might not be the flagship, but the launch of the Meizu MX4 was a truly surprising event. We all had an idea that Meizu was up to something with their new phones, but none of us quite expected the 1799 Yuan Meizu MX4.

It surprised for it’s use of a Mediatek processor, new alloy construction and 20.7 mega-pixel main camera. The surprises continued once the international pricing was announced!

The MX4 also gave us a taste of things to come from Meizu with the MX4 Pro launching 2 months later with new fingerprint scanner and 2K+ display, and most recently the Meizu m1 note (personally my favourite Meizu of the year so far).

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Kingzone K1


kingzone k1

I’ve not had personal experience with the Kingzone K1, but from what Christopher over at GizChina.de, and other reviewers have said, the K1 is a surprise phone of 2014.

The K1 was one of the first “flagship Mediatek” phones to get a decent price tag, well made good looking design and that all important 2GB RAM. Reviews were impressed with the build and 14 mega-pixel rear camera meaning there is a lot of anticipation for the upcoming LTE Kingzone phones.

Ecoo E01

Ecoo Focus E01 (4)

The ECOO E01 came out of know where and although it looks a lot like the Samsung Galaxy S5 it did finally bring 2 major features to budget phones that had never been seen before! An octacore MT6592 processor and FHD 1920 x 1080 display.

The fact that these components were now showing up on phones below the $150 international price points was simply outstanding and gives us an idea of what to expect from budget phones in the future. Let’s just hope for a more original design and at least 2GB RAM.

OnePlus One

The OnePlus One came as a surprise to phone fans, the phone industry and to OnePlus themselves. I honestly don’t think anyone realised that the OPO would go on to become so popular and so quickly.

Personally I prefer the Oppo Find 7 the OnePlus is based on as it has all the features that the OnePlus is now just getting with updates (MAXX Audio), and was easier to get, in fact the OnePlus invite system was one of the big surprises of the phone world for 2014 and one we hope isn’t repeated.

Again the OnePlus isn’t without it’s problems, many of which related to the CyanogenMod ROM (which I actually feel made the phone less desirable for it’s lack of features for such a competent piece of hardware), and many Oneplus diehards have become resentful to the brand over the year, but they have been a huge surprise and one many continue to watch.

Green Orange T1

green orange t1 rugged phone 2

The Green Orange T1 has only shown up on GizChina once before, but I remember the time I read about the phone the first time even now! This is a rugged Android phone designed for aggressive outdoor use that not only looked great but has killer hardware to boot!

Before the Green Orange T1 was announced every rugged smartphone looked like one of those rubber bricks you have to collect from the bottom of the pool when learning to swim, and had specifications that would be more at home on phones for 5 years ago.

The Green Orange is proof that a waterproof and shock resistant phone can actually look good and perform well!

No.1 Mi4/DOOGEE DG850 Hitman

The title for the review of the DOOGEE DG850 Hitman reads “A Clone we can Condone?”thats’ because it and the No.1 Mi4 are both shameless rip offs for the Xiaomi Mi4, but both are actually really good phones!

Which every factory makes these Mi4 clones (also branded as KingSing and Elephone) is don’t a stellar job with the build quality. Both phones are very well made, feature a stainless steel chassis and have surprisingly good hardware optimisation.

Sure they are clones, but they are damn good clones.

Huawei Ascend Mate 7

Huawei-Ascend-Mate-7

If you had told me a few years ago that I would really consider buying a Huawei phone I would have checked you had taken your medication and told you I would rather use an old Nokia 3310.

How wrong would I have been? The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is a seriously sexy looking phone! It has amazing hardware, a beautiful body and it’s only for the fact that the new Vivo is due out that I haven’t already bought one.

So shock of the year! Huawei made a sexy phone! (well a few actually!).

We will have our top 10 phones of 2014 posted later this week so stay tuned!

Previous Xiaomi to launch new phones on 15th January?
Next JiaYu S3 will come in 3 colour choices

29 Comments

  1. Rob
    December 29, 2014

    Some good phones there, especially the Huawaei at the end (one I would consider if it wasn’t so damn expensive)! Any ideas when we can expect the long overdue Vivo Andi?

  2. Riccardo Benzoni
    December 29, 2014

    I guess no one here was surprised when coolpad released the F1 with mt6592, 2gb ram, 13mp sony camera, gorilla glass in FEBRUARY at the price of 888yuan, two ripoff clones are way more surprising…

    • Rob
      December 29, 2014

      Its surprising how many good phones are ignored on this site. Also the phrase ‘we don’t like clones’ is constantly used but every clone that comes out of China is on here usually with a review of it! I personally would prefer that the clone manufacturers weren’t given the publicity here and only original phones were mentioned/reviewed, but I guess that will never happen….

      • amirexpressir
        December 29, 2014

        you see, this year we saw more than 10 phones which could be in the the suprise list of 2014,…so lets not find faults(we have iuni u2/u3 and 100+ v6 too and maybe others…) in not mentioning….

        • Rob
          December 29, 2014

          Well I’ve bought the kolina 100+ for a friend so looking forward to checking it out, think it was a couple of months to late to the party though. Still well specced though.

          • amirexpressir
            December 30, 2014

            It was out at first month 2014……but its just recently that it’s price had cut down

      • balcobomber25
        December 30, 2014

        Just because most people don’t like clones doesn’t mean they should ignore them completely. It’s like Iphones, most people who come here aren’t interested in an Iphone so should we just pretend they don’t exist? Clone phones are a huge part of the Chinese smartphone industry. Many of the top phone companies today started out by making clone phones.

    • Airyl
      December 29, 2014

      The F1 wasn’t really that good of a phone to me. The specs were there, but the build quality, software optimization and camera performance were lacking.

      • Riccardo Benzoni
        December 30, 2014

        Maybe you tried it with the very first version of the rom (if you ever tried it), it’s true that the first rom had some bugs and camera was not working at full potential, but they released a huge number of weekly updates and the last jb official rom is perfect, now they released the kitkat rom and they continue updating it every 15 days, this support is really a great surprise for me, only very few brands in the world offer this support, they winned me for at least one more smartphone (maybe a 6795 one!).

    • balcobomber25
      December 30, 2014

      The F1 was a good phone but it was hardly surprising. Especially since there were already several phones released with almost the same exact specs. We all knew octa core phones with 2GB of RAM would be good phones. There was no great surprise.

      There is a lot more surprise that two ripoff clone phones actually have come so close to matching the quality of the original. Up until now even the best clones were still far off from the original. KVD is changing that.

  3. JDJ
    December 29, 2014

    Missing the iuni u3. I bought one I and have to say except the OS which is still bit buggy the phone itself is incredible .

    • Rob
      December 29, 2014

      I bought this phone and then cancelled it after finding out that google play isn’t available on it. Is it now available and how is the audio on it and has it had any updates since you got it???

      • Yury
        December 29, 2014

        of course have google play

      • JDJ
        December 29, 2014

        Yes it has google play but not all the Google services are working. Like i mentioned some bugs there. Couldn’t get all my Google data synced to this phone. I hope this will be fixed in updates. For now i forgive them because of the hardware. Great screen!, great performance, dual sim, 4g and looks like fast charging to me. Like Andi mentioned in his review pretty heavy which is not a problem for me and the phone feels like quality to me

        • amirexpressir
          December 29, 2014

          Isn’t there other Custom roms like Cyanogen or Miui or lewa for it?
          also there are 2 roms(one from Franch team and one from original Factory,check both of them)

    • Airyl
      December 30, 2014

      What’s surprising about it?

      • balcobomber25
        January 2, 2015

        Nothing seeing as the U2 was already a great phone, thats why it is not here.

  4. GKako
    December 29, 2014

    2014 was a year of surprices and Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is the best example.

    • Simon
      January 2, 2015

      Looking forward to the ascend P8 🙂

  5. Adam Irvine
    December 29, 2014

    The OnePlus One is superior to the Oppo Find 7 when talking price point… For those of us who don’t have deep pockets Andi, the Find 7 was simply out of the question at the price it is, and the Find7a isn’t the same phone like some people claim (2gb Ram) etc…

    And whilst Cyanogen seems to have really dropped the ball recently, for OnePlus earlier in the year, this was a very big attraction for loads and loads of potential customers!

    • balcobomber25
      January 1, 2015

      For those who didn’t recieve an invite the OPO was out of the question, unless you had deep pockets and wanted to buy it from a reseller. For the rest of us it came down to the Mx4 or Mi4.

      • Adam Irvine
        January 1, 2015

        Nope, even buying from Aliexpress back then was cheaper! (64gb Model comparison)

        Besides, it’s always been relatively easy to get an invite over on the forums…

        • balcobomber25
          January 2, 2015

          I know plenty of people who camped out on the forums all day long and could never receive invites. There are tens of thousands of forum complaints on sites all about cell phones about people not being able to get invites. Spare us the OPO fan boy tag lines. If it was so easy to get them it wouldn’t have been such a big deal in the media and news.

  6. Airyl
    December 29, 2014

    Agree on Ascend Mate 7. Arguably my one of my favourite phones just behind the Vivo Xshot and JiaYu G3.

  7. balcobomber25
    December 30, 2014

    KVD Shenzen (owner of Doogee) makes the Mi4 Clones. That factory has also released my top surprise of this year:

    The Doogee Turbo DG2014. I received this phone as a gift from a supplier I work with. I used it as a replacement for my workphone which was a Kingzone K1 (wife stole it lol). It doesn’t have the best specs but I have been blown away with the quality of this phone. From the solid build to the fact that it came stock with Kit Kat. After some minor tweaks it has become my go to phone, and I also have a Mi4. The quality of this phone for $120 is my biggest surprise.

  8. balcobomber25
    December 30, 2014

    Many people here are confusing the word surprising with the word best. A surprise phone is one no one expected to be good or didn’t expect to have so much success. Just because a phone was good doesn’t mean it was a surprise. For instance the Moto X/G was a huge surprise when they first debuted, the Moto X2/G2 although a better phone was not a surprise at all.

  9. RH
    January 4, 2015

    While waiting this past summer for an invite for the OnePlus, I bought a Huawei Ascend Mate2 and was presently surprised how well it works. Even thought it has mid-line specs, you would never know it (I’m not a gamer). Friend of mine has a Nexus6, and we adjusted the screen brightness to the same level, installed the same apps on my Mate2 and his N6, and just ran the apps side by side. There MIGHT have been a split second difference in browsing, launching apps, but not the expense of paying more than 2X the price for the N6. Plus, I easily get 2 days out of the battery, running around 1500 minutes on the phone per month, a bunch of work related web stuff, couple hundred emails a month, few dozen photos. Until the apps can catch up to what the hardware is capable of, for my usage pattern, I can’t see spending 800 dollars or more for the Samsung’s, Iphone’s, HTC’s of the world. The bang for your buck, is if you can find a well made device, that has excellent battery life. For me, I found it with the Mate2.

  10. JamesC
    January 6, 2015

    where is Doogee 900 turbo 2?it is the best!!!!

  11. Chinese Mobile Phones
    January 12, 2015

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    Elephone p5000:
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    Coupon Price: $229.99
    http://www.gearbest.com/cell-phones/pp_131231.html