Lenovo's Motorola is taking a fresh stab at budget-friendly smartphones in China. But people don’t like it.

The Motorola P30 Play, a Chinese variant of the Motorola One, is now open for preorders online. But the phone has only logged around 300 preorders on JD.com.

Remember, I’m talking about the world’s biggest smartphone market here -- with more than three times the number of smartphone users in the United States. 300 preorders is nothing in China, where the most popular handsets can rack up more than 1 million preorders.

So why is Motorola's handset doing so badly? Many are fixated on the fact that, even though it costs around US$280, it only comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor -- which is already more than two years old.

“I thought Weibo messed up the timeline and showed something from a year ago,” one person wrote.

Another commented, “Did I read this correctly? 625? Are you still living in 2016, Lenovo?”

The Motorola P30 Play comes with an iPhone X-style notch and a dual-camera on the back. (Picture: Motorola)

In a world of US$1,000 flagship handsets, US$280 may not sound like much. And it’s true that the Motorola P30 Play sells for around US$70 cheaper than the Motorola One elsewhere.

But plunging phone sales in China means the fight is getting a lot tougher than a year ago, even on the low end. And slapping a cheap price tag on a handset that's just "okay" simply isn't enough to satisfy picky Chinese customers.

Instead of the Motorola P30 Play, some are pointing instead to Xiaomi’s Mi 8 SE as an example of good value. It runs on a brand new Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 chip, has a larger battery, and comes in more color options -- and costs around US$30 less than Motorola’s handset. And Xiaomi just teased another budget Mi 8 variant called the Mi 8 Youth that’s expected to carry the same newer chipset and also cost under US$300.

Xiaomi’s Mi 8 SE sports a 3120mAh battery and a 5.88-inch AMOLED display. (Picture: Xiaomi)

And the rivalry doesn’t end here. Huawei’s sub-brand Honor, another strong contender in the budget spectrum, just released a giant 6.5-inch phone called the 8X. It’s hard to beat the price: At around US$70 less than the Motorola P30 Play, it still offers a much larger battery and AI camera capabilities.

Honor says the 8X’s 3750mAh battery can survive 9 hours of non-stop internet surfing. (Picture: Honor)

The dizzying options mean it’s getting much harder to stand out. Big names like Xiaomi and Huawei are all trying to squeeze stronger specs into cheaper handsets, fighting for a bigger piece of a shrinking pie. And that’s leaving smaller players caught in the middle. Phones like the P30 Play, which might feel decent enough just a year ago, are now struggling to impress.

But it doesn’t mean the smaller players are giving up. Some seem to be pinning their hopes on eye-catching designs. Nokia, for instance, is rumored to be working on a 5-camera phone -- anything to stand out in China's crowded smartphone market.