Clone Wars – Chinese OEMs and Clone Devices

Here’s the situation: you’re on a tight budget, and your last phone just broke down. You’re now surfing a Chinese website that sells phones at really cheap prices, and you see an iPhone 6S Plus clone running Android 4.2.9 [sic]. What do you do?

I’ll leave that question up to you to answer. But have you considered the reasons why these clone devices are available on the market, let alone made by factories? Is there even profit to earn?

A Brief History of Clone Devices

The Chinese have always been innovative in their ways of copying stuff. The clones of virtually anything in China are named ‘shanzai’. Just for a note too, my interest in these clone devices arose when I went to China with my family and saw an array of these clone devices, sitting there in that store for sale. Everything from electronics to even food can be cloned and copied. However, what interests me most is the extreme level of cloning regarding iPhones and Samsung devices.

They weren't even trying at the start. Look at this thing!

They weren’t even trying at the start. Look at this thing! (Source: GizChina)

Initially, iPhone clones were the hype when one talked about clone devices, as there are people out there who can’t afford to pay a huge sum just for a smartphone (which if you ask me, Apple continuously overprices their devices). These iPhone clones usually use MediaTek chipsets, and range from being totally unusable to being actually quite impressive in terms of specifications and other hardware aspects. Some even look so perfect that experts are fooled. Of course, that’s just for the hardware. These clones typically run Android, but there are clones that run on Java operating systems such as J2ME. Essentially, the smartphone clone market started out from these iPhone clones.

Samsung clones weren’t really a thing until Note 3 clones started coming out. Samsung, just like Apple, grossly overprices their devices (I don’t blame them though, their advertisements and marketing can cost quite a bit). These clones ran on heavily modified versions of AOSP running a TouchWiz like skin. The ‘TouchWiz’ apps are usually taken from ports or just a skinned version of the stock apps. Some of them though are pretty impressive. At this point in time some manufacturers of these clones have already begun realising how they could essentially copy the design, but put their own logo on the devices.

Currently, the trend for clone devices is slowly dwindling, but with OEMs like Goophone still pushing out these devices at a relatively average pace, we can still expect them to be in the market.

Copying, Manufacturing, and Selling

Intellectual property in China (Source: Project Fernvale)

Intellectual property in China (Source: Project Fernvale)

In China, copyright works very differently. Instead of having the typical licensing everyone uses, China has a ‘Gongkai’ IP model, whereby information is shared for a fee wherever and whenever, but not necessarily following a law or rule. This means that anyone can simply grab a design blueprint of a device for a fee and manufacture a similar looking device, or if good enough, you could potentially even copy the design yourself and re-sell it to these clone manufacturers. Essentially it means nothing is really ‘copyright’ if you have money. These clone device OEMs then can easily obtain design blueprints of popular devices such as the iPhone, or various Samsung devices, as long as they have money.

I've owned the No.1 N3 before, and frankly speaking it was quite decent.

I’ve owned the No.1 N3 before, and frankly speaking it was quite decent.

Manufacturing these devices can be a little bit of a problem though. Usually these clone device OEMs use shady factories that work ‘underground’, hidden away from public eye. However, despite all the work put to hide these factories from the public, they still get busted. As mentioned before, OEMs can always put their own logos on these devices, or also tweak the design slightly, so sometimes these OEMs can openly manufacture their devices without a problem, such as in the case of No.1, which has been manufacturing clone devices that feature their very own logo.

Finally, to sell these clone devices to the end-users, these OEMs usually make use of online stores to sell their devices. Of course this is to evade any raids, as selling these clone devices openly on the market would lead to an almost instant shut down, for obvious reasons.

On the Other Hand

Chinese devices aren’t always clones. Bigger OEMs like Xiaomi and Oppo do make some really decent devices that may or may not look like some other devices, but for the most part they are decent enough for daily usage, and most of these OEMs do provide timely software updates so that your device is kept up to date with the latest version of Android (I’m excluding Xiaomi out of this because their MIUI took a long time to be updated to 5.0).

There are other smaller OEMs out there too which began by making clones, but have now begun releasing fairly decent devices (albeit not having decent software updates).

A good example of how a Chinese OEM can shine would be in the case of Huawei, the OEM that recently was revealed to be manufacturing one of the newest Nexus devices . This was an impressive feat, considering Huawei wasn’t that big of an OEM anyway. Their Nexus 6P, of course, impressed the Android community, and of course being a Nexus device will receive timely software updates and the newest versions of Android whenever they are released. So really, not all Chinese OEMs sell ‘China phones’ that are of mediocre or poor quality. I’ll highly recommend checking out the rising OEMs, such as Elephone and Ulefone.


With chipset makers like MediaTek providing extremely cheap chipsets for these small OEMs to use in their devices, alongside the flexibility of these chipsets, iPhone and Samsung clones are here to stay. However, numerous Chinese OEMs continue to impress us with devices that are fit to be flagships in the modern trend. (By the way, don’t get that iPone 6S Plus clone, it probably sucks and runs Android 4.1.2)



  • I disagree with what you said.

    “Samsung, just like Apple, grossly overprices their devices (I don’t blame them though, their advertisements and marketing can cost quite a bit)”

    Apple’s advertising and marketing can also cost quite a bit. In fact, this includes many other OEMs not only Apple and Samsung.