In the mobile device arena, brands that used to be regarded as unacceptably sub-par now rival the market leaders, offering similar quality and performance at major cost savings. good news for Santas out shopping for Christmas pressies.

Recently, advances in chip technology and better production systems mean that second-tier manufacturers are now able to offer stylish, high-quality products while the big names struggle to keep ahead.

The trend is most visible in smartphones and tablets. For a couple of decades, the clear market leaders have been Apple and Samsung. For many people, indeed, if it isn’t an iPhone it isn’t a phone they would be prepared to be seen using in public.

The figures would back them up – Apple and Samsung flagship phones were more powerful, had bigger screens, better cameras and looked lovelier than any of the competition. No wonder people were prepared to pay extra for them (and, in the case of Apple, a lot extra.)

Nowadays, however, smartphones are rapidly becoming commodified and there are many brands, mainly from China, that offer phones that are almost as good for a fraction of the price.

And the trend is evident in many other areas of technology, too. Here is a selection of potential Christmas gifts where Santa can keep the savings for himself:

Just about every day, analysts announce another “iPhone killer” but they never seem to wound iPhone sales, let alone shoot it in the head.

But many offer iPhone alternatives with almost the same power at a fraction of the price.

Take the Vivo X90 Pro, which sells sim-free in Portugal for €1,045 and makes the iPhone 15 Pro look a bit pricey at a €300+ more.

The Vivo X90 Pro is based on the latest Mediatek chipset, has a big screen and runs Android 13. But its crown jewel is a very superior camera featuring a massive sensor from Sony and optics by Zeiss. It has a massive bubble on the back but it’s a small price to pay for the very excellent results. No telephoto, sadly.

And the design is nice too, with vegan leather on the back, a real contemporary twist.

Foldable smartphone
The king of foldable phones is the Samsung Z Fold5, and so far none of its rivals have managed to impress. The price is eye-watering at €1,950.

The new One Plus Open must be making Samsung a bit worried, however. It is a serious contender. It is powerful, with the latest Snapdragon 8 chipset, and has a screen that folds with a snap and also opens to any point you want for comfortable viewing when placed on a table.

The software is very advanced if a bit buggy. And it also addresses a major weakness of foldable phones – the camera.

Restricted space meant that foldable phones have featured small but not very good cameras. One Plus has collaborated with Hasselblad on a camera that is one of the best. The main cameras are a 48MP ultra-wide and a 64MP telephoto with three times zoom. The drawback is a big bulge on the back but this has been thoughtfully designed to minimise the apparent bulk. And, of course, being a folding phone means you can use the main camera for selfies and video conferencing, which is nice.

Unfortunately, the iron economics of folding phones (huge screen areas, complex mechanical hinges) mean that the Open phone isn’t really a saving on the Samsung Z Fold5 at €1,649. It is simply better rather than much cheaper.

As with all techno items, check around for the best prices; in Portugal they vary – sometimes hugely – from one supplier to another. FNAC and Worten are always good starting points, and do look into online-only dealers to ensure support is available if needed.

The latest iPad Pro starts at €1,299. The Xiaomi Pad 6 costs just €379.99 at It is beautifully styled, has a bright display and a decent camera. Operation is fast and fluid.

So far, pretty much up there with the iPad. So where are the compromises? The processor, a Snapdragon 870, is from the last generation so not nearly as powerful as Apple’s, but it does the job at a much lower price. The screen is LCD rather than the swanky OLED but you would be hard put to tell. It runs Android 13. The rear camera is only 13MP but who takes photos with a tablet anyway? Perfectly good for scanning documents and stuff. The forward facing camera, positioned on the long edge for video conferencing without side-eye, is also well up to the job.

Xiaomi has also dispensed with most of the fripperies. No mobile data capability so if you want to work in a café via 5G you are out of luck. No flash card slot so you will either have to invest in the 256GB memory option or do what everyone does these days, store everything in the cloud. There is no audio socket but connecting headphones by Bluetooth is the modern and much more convenient way.

Xiaomi has also launched a new stylus, the Smart Pen (2nd Generation) at €79.95, which compares well with the Apple Pencil 2nd Generation which costs a whopping €149. The original smart pen was a bit underwhelming but the new one works just as well as the Pencil at half the price.

Words: Chris Partridge

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