As rewarding as it can be to spend hours on some practical research, looking for your next laptop or scouting out an awesome new smartphone for a friend (or parent), sometimes it can be just as fun to be a little bit impractical and look at the coolest new hardware, whether or not it’s really available in your neck of the woods.
Don’t get us wrong — there’s no shortage of awesome smartphones, made by manufacturers big and small, distributed in the United States. But sometimes, you just want to be impressed by something other than the same few flagship phones that dominate both news cycles and the displays at every big-box electronics store or local carrier shop at the mall. And there’s no shortage of innovation and awesome design finding its way into cool new smartphones made by smaller brands around the world.
So we did the research to find some awesome smartphones that aren’t on shelves in the United States (or at least not yet). Some are a dream come true for those looking for super-impressive specifications. Others would be perfect for diehard mobile photographers. And still others are simply great all-around smartphones that just about any habitual texter, browser, or social media fan would love to have in his or her pocket. After reading up on these impressive phones, you may be just end up keeping your fingers crossed that some of these smartphones, or at least future models by the same smartphone makers, will make their way stateside sooner rather than later.
1. Acer Liquid X2
While you may know Taiwanese tech manufacturer Acer for its PCs or Chromebooks, but the company also makes some Android smartphones that are worth a look. It recently unveiled the Liquid X2, for instance, and The Verge’s Chris Welch wrote that the phone features “one of the largest batteries we’ve yet seen in a phone.” Rated at 4000mAh, the Liquid X2’s battery is larger than that of the Droid Turbo or the Note 4, and even though it powers a 5.5-inch display, the battery’s large capacity should enable users to go a day or two without recharging.
The phone features a 64-bit oct-core processor and supports three SIM cards, which makes it ideal for travelers or for users who need to keep their work and personal lives separate from each other (and from some third set of activity). It offers the same 13-megapixel f/1.8 sensor camera on the front and back (for some excellent-quality selfies), and integrates a Quick Touch flip case that offers quick access to music controls, the weather, and time without fully opening the case. It runs a near-stock version of Android Lollipop for an excellent user interface. Android Central notes that Acer hasn’t yet provided pricing details, nor has it confirmed a release outside of Asia.
2. Gionee Elife E8 or Marathon M5
Gionee is definitely one of the Chinese smartphone manufacturers that’s least recognized by American shoppers, but several of its smartphones rival the flagship phones more commonly seen in the U.S. The company recently unveiled the Elife E8 and the Marathon M5, both great choices for busy users who want a smartphone with battery life far above the average.
The Marathon M5 features what DigitalTrends characterizes as a tablet-sized battery at 6,020mAh, a capacity practically unheard of in an age where high-end phones routinely prioritize a thin form factor over exceptional battery life. Gionee also equipped the phone with a power-saving mode, which gives the M5 62 hours of standby time on just 5% of the phone’s battery. The phone is powered by a quad-core 1.3GHz processor and features 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage expandable up to 128GB by microSD. It also integrates a 13MP rear-facing camera and a 5MP front-facing camera, plus a 5.5-inch 1,280×720 pixel screen. As with most phones intended for Asian markets, it includes dual SIM card slots, both able to support 4G LTE.
Android Community reports that the headlining feature of the Elife E8, on the other hand, is a 23.7MP rear-facing camera equipped with software that can reportedly shoot up to 100MP resolution — possibly the best smartphone camera currently on the market. TechSpot notes that the camera launches in just 0.8 seconds, includes phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization, and the ability to record 4K video. The rest of the phone’s specifications impress, as well, including a 6-inch quad-HD AMOLED display, a 2.0GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and Android Lollipop right out of the box. Several of Gionee’s smartphones have made their way to the United States rebranded as BLU smartphones, so a U.S. launch for either phone isn’t out of the question.
3. Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro
Chinese manufacturer Lenovo is known in the United States for its computers and tablets, but also makes some pretty impressive smartphones that we wish we could get in the U.S. Take the Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro, for instance, which features a 16MP rear camera with a 6-piece lens module, 16:9 BSI sensor, optical image stabilization, and automatic scene detection. The phone also features a 2.5GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, a 6-inch 2560×1440 pixel display, and a 4,000mAh battery.
The Vibe Shot is another enticing choice for photographers, as it features a 16MP camera, a two-stage shutter button that enables you to focus with a half-press before taking a photo, and a slider that switches between a standard shooting interface and a pro mode that enables you to adjust the exposure, ISO, and other settings. Or, for users who don’t prioritize mobile photography, another impressive smartphone is Lenovo’s Smart Cast, which features a built-in projector to beam a touchscreen or virtual keyboard onto your desk. Engadget reports that the Smart Cast is the first smartphone with an integrated focus-free laser projector.
Lenovo’s website notes that despite the company’s recent acquisition of Motorola in the United States, it has no current plans to release Lenovo-branded smartphones in the U.S. But it does note that “the acquisition of Motorola Mobility opens the door to a world of possibilities in the not-so-distant future,” so you’re encouraged to sign up for the company’s mailing list if you want to be among the first to know if Lenovo’s smartphones come to the states.
4. Oppo R7 Plus
Chinese manufacturer Oppo makes some impressive smartphones, including its top-of-the-line R7 Plus. TechRadar notes that the smartphone falls somewhere between midrange and high-end tiers, with a 6-inch 1080p display, a full metal unibody, a Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz, and 3GB of RAM. Reviewers note that it feels speedier than other Oppo devices, and Oppo has improved its ColorOS 2.1 — which is based on Android 5.1 Lollipop — with redesigned apps, a new look, and a crash rate of just 0.3%.
The R7 Plus features a 13MP rear-facing camera with fast autofocus, anti-shake optimization, and an UltraHD mode, which can reportedly take photos of up to 50MP. The feature takes four shots at the same time, then stitches them together to create a single image. The front-facing “selfie” camera is 8MP. The phone features 32GB of internal storage, and a microSD card slot enables the storage to be expanded by up to 128GB. The R7 Plus isn’t yet available in the United States, but its current price would convert to about $480 if it were available to American shoppers.
5. Xiaomi Mi Note
Xiaomi is the third-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, with some exceptional smartphones in its lineup, but none that are available in the United States. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal called the Xiaomi Mi Note “the best smartphone you can’t buy in America.” The 5.7-inch smartphone is lighter and thinner than both Apple’s 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung’s 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4, and costs just $370, just half of the $750 you’d pay for an iPhone 6 Plus off-contract in the United States.
Xiaomi’s prices are famously low because it sells its phones online and spends little on traditional marketing. Among its other unique business strategies are its software development process of tapping tens of millions of customers for ideas, updating its software every week, plus its alleged copying of designs from rivals that has led to some legal battles for the company.
The phone is made completely of glass and metal, and the front and back of the Mi Note are made of curved glass, and Gizmodo reports that the phone feels better in the hand than an iPhone 6 Plus. The smartphone is equipped with a quad-core 2.5Ghz Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, LTE support, micro-SIM and nano-SIM slots for two different carriers, and a 13MP Sony camera. The Mi Note’s camera software features a manual mode, which, for instance, enables you to expose a nighttime photo for up to 32 seconds. A “Beautify” mode identifies the gender and age of the subject and automatically smooths skin and makes eyes appear larger. And Xiaomi’s MIUI actually seems to improve on stock Android with intuitive and intelligent features.