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The top 8 Chinese phones

It’s time to stop dismissing Chinese phones as knockoffs. We’ve all seen the endless parade of iPhone clones, yes, but over the past couple of years manufacturers from China have stepped up their game in a big way, turning out devices that are innovative, attractive, and straight-up desirable in their own right. If you don’t think there’s any reason to pay attention to Chinese phones, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention.

The problem is, most of the best ones aren’t available in the US, meaning you’d have to deal with third-party importers and a lack of official support if you did want to buy one.

Some of these phones aren’t available with Google services, meaning you’ll need workarounds to access the Play store even though the software is based on Android. And while the US government is yet to show its receipts for claims that companies like Huawei could be a national security threat, the notion is unlikely to encourage many people to decipher their import options.

If you’re in the US, then, we can’t exactly recommend buying any of these phones. But it’s worth knowing what’s out there, even if only to inform yourself about just how those new premium LG or Samsung Android devices hold up by comparison.

And hey, if you do feel like checking out something different, you can probably get it to work if you really try.

  • 6.6-inch 1080p OLED display, no notch
  • 12-megapixel and 5-megapixel primary cameras
  • Pop-up 8-megapixel selfie camera
  • In-display fingerprint sensor
  • Snapdragon 845 processor
  • 256GB storage, 8GB RAM
  • Headphone jack

Vivo just announced the Nex series, the commercial realization of the super-cool Apex concept phone we saw at Mobile World Congress this year. While the Nex S flagship doesn’t have Apex’s “half-screen” fingerprint sensor, it does carry over the most eye-catching feature: a pop-up selfie camera that eliminates the need for a notch.

That means the Nex S has a huge, uninterrupted 6.6-inch screen with the slightest of bezels at the bottom. There’s also an in-display fingerprint sensor — albeit one that’s only thumbprint-sized — and a kaleidoscopic glass back panel.

It’s a futuristic-feeling device, for sure, and the tradeoffs seem fairly sensible.

Stay tuned for more coverage to find out if that’s the case.

  • 6.4-inch 1080p OLED display, no notch
  • 16-megapixel and 20-megapixel primary cameras
  • Elevating 25-megapixel selfie camera
  • 3D face scanning
  • Snapdragon 845 processor
  • 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM

Oppo’s newest flagship is similar to the Nex S in that it attempts to solve The Notch Problem by attaching cameras to motors. The Find X‘s approach, however, is far more complex and ambitious: the entire top section of the phone’s rear panel rises above the screen to reveal a selfie camera and a 3D face-scanning array.

With no fingerprint authentication in the screen or anywhere else, this means you’ll see this rising mechanism activate every time you unlock the phone. It’s certainly a sight to behold, but the stakes are much higher — the Nex S’ motorized camera only comes into play for selfies and video calls, whereas the Find X’s is essential for basic operation.

Phones tend to be solid-state devices for a reason: the fewer moving parts, the fewer ways there are for something to break.

Still, the Find X makes a heck of a statement. There’s surely no more ostentatious way to display your notch opposition. And Oppo says it’ll actually bring the Find X to the US one way or another, though there aren’t any details on the release just yet.

If it happens, it’ll cost you — the Find X will cost EUR999 in Europe, or about £1,160.

  • 6-inch 1080p LCD, no notch
  • 12-megapixel dual cameras
  • 5-megapixel selfie camera below screen
  • Snapdragon 845 processor
  • 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor

Xiaomi’s highest-end phone is the latest iteration of the line that kicked off the whole bezel-shaving trend we’ve been living through for the past year. The Mi Mix 2 was a more refined and usable version of the original, and this year’s 2S is the best Mi Mix yet: it adds wireless charging, a dual-camera system, and Qualcomm’s fastest processor, the Snapdragon 845.

It also doesn’t have a notch at the top of the display, but that’s not necessarily a good thing — the tradeoff is that the selfie camera has been relegated to the “chin” bezel below the screen, meaning you have to hold the phone upside down to use it for video calls and so on. Whether this is a deal-breaker to you will depend on your usage patterns, or whether you’re willing to gamble on either of Oppo and Vivo’s more creative solutions.

  • 6.1-inch 1080p OLED display with notch
  • Hisilicon Kirin 970 processor
  • 128GB of storage, 6GB of RAM
  • Triple camera system with 40-megapixel primary sensor, 20-megapixel monochrome sensor, and 8-megapixel 3x telephoto lens
  • 24-megapixel selfie camera
  • Front-mounted fingerprint sensor

The P20 Pro is one of the best phones of 2018, period.

With a unique shimmering design, a class-leading triple-camera system, and excellent battery life, there’s not much to criticize beyond the fact that its manufacturer has borne the brunt of the US government’s anti-China invective.

That said, I still find Huawei’s EMUI software to be inelegant at best and deleteriously in thrall to iOS at worst. Most of these phones have software that’s taken heavy inspiration from iOS, but while Oppo and Xiaomi’s skins are mostly coherent in their own right, EMUI is all over the place. Huawei is to be commended for going its own way in hardware design and even devising its own processor to great results; hopefully it’ll eventually do the same with its software.

  • 5.5-inch 1080p OLED display
  • 12-megapixel and 20-megapixel primary cameras
  • 20-megapixel selfie camera
  • Snapdragon 660 processor
  • 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor
  • Headphone jack

Meizu was one of the first Chinese phone companies to make a name for itself among Western gadget followers, but its market share has dwindled significantly since the rise of giants like Oppo and Xiaomi.

That’s a shame, because the new Meizu 15 is actually one of my favorite phone designs of the year.

The 15 doesn’t even attempt to fit in with the trends of 2018. It’s just a big 5.5-inch 16:9 1080p panel and very little else — imagine an iPhone 8 Plus with mid-range specs, without the giant top and bottom bezels, and you’re halfway there. But that doesn’t capture the way the phone’s screen goes right up to the left and right borders, with subtly curved glass spilling over the edges.

Nor how Meizu managed to fit a small but functional fingerprint reader below the screen, even matching it with a proper haptics system to simulate a home button press.

It might not look like much in photos, and it doesn’t look like much when you turn it around, either. But I’ve found the Meizu 15 to be more fun to hold and use than maybe any other phone this year, and that’s something.

  • 6.3-inch 1080p OLED display
  • In-display fingerprint sensor
  • Snapdragon 660 processor
  • 128GB of storage, 6GB of RAM
  • 12-megapixel and 5-megapixel dual cameras, 12-megapixel selfie camera
  • Headphone jack
  • Micro USB charging

The Vivo X21 isn’t as flashy as the NEX S, but it’s a groundbreaking phone in one regard: it’s the first mainstream flagship from anyone to feature an in-display fingerprint sensor, the longtime white whale of the phone industry. More impressively, it works really well.

It might be a little slower than a regular fingerprint scanner if you break out your stopwatch, sure, but usually not to the point where you’d notice.

Anyone who’s fiddled with the small sensor on the back of the otherwise-similar OnePlus 6 would find it hard to go back after using the Vivo X21.

The X21 is otherwise unremarkable, but you’ll pay a lot less for it than the Nex S, and it’ll be available in vastly higher quantities in various markets — as you may have gathered from the associated marketing at the ongoing soccer World Cup.

  • 6.3-inch 1080p OLED display
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor
  • Snapdragon 660 processor
  • 128GB of storage, 6GB of RAM
  • 16-megapixel and 20-megapixel dual cameras
  • 20-megapixel selfie camera
  • Headphone jack
  • Micro USB charging

Oppo’s R15 Pro is like a cross between the Vivo X21 and the OnePlus 6 — it loses the X21’s in-display fingerprint sensor but gains the 6’s better main camera and proprietary fast charging system. And out of the three, I think it has the most attractive design, particularly in its gorgeously gradiated Ruby Red colorway.

Like the X21, however, it uses the less powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor rather than the OnePlus 6’s 845. You’ll also have to make do with a Micro USB port, though it does use Oppo’s VOOC fast-charging technology, which OnePlus uses for its Dash system.

  • 6.2-inch 1080p OLED with notch
  • 12-megapixel dual cameras with telephoto
  • 20-megapixel selfie camera
  • 6GB of RAM, up to 256GB of storage
  • Transparent “Explorer Edition” with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor

Xiaomi’s other flagship is somewhat more conventional.

The Mi 8, unsurprisingly, is the company’s first phone with a display notch, and as such it doesn’t really stand out in terms of design beyond the slightly dubious transparent “Explorer Edition.”

The main Xiaomi Mi line has never really been about pushing the limits of industrial design, though. It’s been about offering really solid devices at impressive prices, and the Mi 8 continues that tradition. It has high-end specs, including a Snapdragon 845 processor, and starts at around £420, meaning it’s significantly cheaper than even the OnePlus 6.

A smaller Snapdragon 770-powered version called the Mi 8 SE, meanwhile, starts from £280 and could be the real bargain in the lineup.

Xiaomi continues to offer solid, legitimately modern devices at prices that are hard for anyone else to match.

Amazon employees protest sale of facial recognition software to police

Workers at Amazon have demanded that their employer stop the sale of facial recognition software and other services to the US government. In a letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and posted on the company’s internal wiki, employees said that they “refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights,” citing the mistreatment of refugees and immigrants by ICE and the targeting of black activists by law enforcement. The letter follows similar protests at Google and Microsoft.

“As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used,” says the letter, first reported by The Hill.

The employees (it’s not clear how many signed the letter) refer to the sale of computer services by IBM to the Nazis as a worrying parallel. “IBM did not take responsibility then, and by the time their role was understood, it was too late,” says the letter. “We will not let that happen again.”

The employees call out two specific businesses that Amazon should end: the sale of facial recognition software to law enforcement (marketed as Amazon Web Services Rekognition), and the sale of AWS cloud services to Palantir (a data analytics firm that provides “mission critical” software to ICE).

Amazon’s sale of Rekognition software to the police was first revealed by an ACLU investigation in May, with the civil liberties group warning that the deployment of the technology could be the beginning of automated mass surveillance in America. Palantir, meanwhile, has been working with ICE since 2014 under President Obama, and helps the agency manage the stacks of personal data needed to target and deport individuals.

The letter written by Amazon’s employees references the separation of children from their families at the US border as a motivation for the protest. They write: “In the face of this immoral US policy, and the US’s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS.”

This protest from Amazon is the latest outcry from Silicon Valley workers over work with the US government.

In March, it was revealed that Google was helping the Pentagon build AI tools to analyze drone surveillance footage. Employees protested and more than a dozen even resigned, and as a result Google pulled out of the contract and announced a new pledge not to develop AI weapons. More recently, more than 300 employees at Microsoft demanded that the company stop providing cloud services to ICE.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella downplayed the work, saying the company was only providing benign software for tasks like messaging and email.

It remains to be seen whether the protests at Microsoft or Amazon will affect the companies’ policies, but the trend of tech workers taking an active stance on their employer’s work with the US government seems unlikely to end any time soon.

As seen via Gizmodo, you can read the full letter from the Amazon employees below:

Dear Jeff,

We are troubled by the recent report from the ACLU exposing our company’s practice of selling AWS Rekognition, a powerful facial recognition technology, to police departments and government agencies. We don’t have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used. We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses — this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state, and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized.

We are not alone in this view: over 40 civil rights organizations signed an open letter in opposition to the governmental use of facial recognition, while over 150,000 individuals signed another petition delivered by the ACLU.

We also know that Palantir runs on AWS. And we know that ICE relies on Palantir to power its detention and deportation programs. Along with much of the world we watched in horror recently as U.S. authorities tore children away from their parents.

Since April 19, 2018 the Department of Homeland Security has sent nearly 2,000 children to mass detention centers. This treatment goes against U.N. Refugee Agency guidelines that say children have the right to remain united with their parents, and that asylum-seekers have a legal right to claim asylum.

In the face of this immoral U.S. policy, and the U.S.’s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS.

Technology like ours is playing an increasingly critical role across many sectors of society. What is clear to us is that our development and sales practices have yet to acknowledge the obligation that comes with this. Focusing solely on shareholder value is a race to the bottom, and one that we will not participate in.

We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE, and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights.

As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used.

We learn from history, and we understand how IBM’s systems were employed in the 1940s to help Hitler. IBM did not take responsibility then, and by the time their role was understood, it was too late. We will not let that happen again.

The time to act is now.

We call on you to:

Stop selling facial recognition services to law enforcement

Stop providing infrastructure to Palantir and any other Amazon partners who enable ICE.

Implement strong transparency and accountability measures, that include enumerating which law enforcement agencies and companies supporting law enforcement agencies are using Amazon services, and how.

Our company should not be in the surveillance business; we should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations.

Sincerely,

Amazonians

CyberSight RansomStopper

1Main Window

CyberSight RansomStopper’s main window simply reports that you are protected from ransomware.

Buttons across the bottom let you view alerts, blocked processes, and processes you chose to allow.

There’s also a button to check for updates, if you didn’t select automatic updates during installation.

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