Asia is the world’s biggest provider of knock-off goods. From knock-off Rolex watches to replica iPhones, there is no shortage of intellectual property theft in China and nearby countries.
In spite of that fact, more and more Android users are choosing to buy smartphones from China and other Asian countries. Why would you do this? Well, the main advantages are that Chinese Androids are cheaper, off-contract, and unlocked. Furthermore, many smartphones have specs that rival the latest and greatest Android smartphones available in the west.
As you’ve probably guessed, there are also some downsides to buying an Android smartphone from China. Today, I’m going to explain the pros and cons of buying an Android smartphone from China:
-The Price: ‘Price’ is the number one reason why China is a major player in the world today. The cost of labor and just about everything else is lower in China, which means the country can cheaply produce goods at a rate that few other countries can compete with. ‘Price’ is the most important benefit to buying an Android smartphone from China – you can save hundreds of dollars off the price of an unlocked Android by buying it from China.
-Unique features: Smartphones in different markets have different features. No, we’re not talking about built-in firewalls and the inability to access Google or Facebook. Instead, Chinese Androids like the SmartQ U7 and Mithril Android have unique features that make them superior in many ways to devices sold in the west. The Mithril, for example, costs just $275 off-contract and features Android 4.1, a quad-core processor, and a 5.8 inch screen. My favorite unique Chinese smartphone feature, however, is the SmartQ U7 which features a built-in projector. That’s right, you can project a massive image onto a wall or projector screen from a little lens at the top of your smartphone.
-Avoid western market markups: Most of the largest tech companies manufacture their devices in Asia. When these devices are sold in Asia, they generally sell for less than the exact same devices in the west. Once the devices ship overseas, companies need to cover the costs of shipping, marketing, and more. Most tech companies sell devices in western markets at a 33% markup or higher. In Asia, that 33% markup requirement is non-existent.
-Unlocked and off-contract: Outside of North America, unlocked and off-contract Androids are far more popular and easier to obtain. Chinese smartphones ordered online are unlocked and free of contracts, which means you can save money and avoid commitment when signing up for a western network provider.
-Reliability: All of the extra features and knockoff parts on some Chinese Androids come at a price, and that price is reliability. Your phone may work perfectly for a month or two and then inexplicably fail. What are you going to do when that happens? Ship it back overseas and wait 6 months for it to return? Probably not. Make sure you buy from reliable manufacturers and always look for reviews online before you buy.
-Trustworthiness of online retailers: There are thousands of online retailers offering Android smartphones from China, but only a handful of those online retailers are worth your time. Some of our online recommended Chinese Android retailers include McBub.com, and Chinavasion.com, both of which offer English-language service and international shipping. Be sure to research your retailer before you input personal information and avoid retailers where people have had negative shopping experiences.
-Shipping problems: International shipping may seem tricky, but there are some tips and tricks you can use to make it easier for yourself. This is one area where I recommend spending a little more money than you normally would. Ship your smartphone by courier using a recognizable company, like UPS or DHL. Standard shipping times may take 20 to 30 days and sales tax/customs fees may be added along the way. With a courier, you have a little more control over how much your package will cost and you can track exactly where your package is. Even if you pay $30 for courier shipping, you may break even compared to the costs of $5 standard shipping + fees and taxes.
-Connectivity problems: This is one of the most important things to be aware of when buying Android smartphones from China – look at the frequency standards that the smartphone supports. China’s 3G networks are different than North American 3G networks, so a 3G Android in China might only support 850MHz and 2100MHz 3G frequencies (those are the two most popular wireless frequencies in China). The shining standard of international wireless connectivity is the Nexus 4, which supports 3G on all the following frequencies:
Look for phones that support all of those frequencies and you’re sure to have a fast and smooth wireless experience wherever you go. If you do happen to buy a phone with limited frequency range, then it doesn’t mean it won’t work over here. It just means that there are some areas where you won’t be able to enjoy the fastest mobile speeds or receive perfect coverage in rural areas.
One of the best tips for buying smartphones online from China is to avoid using your credit card or any other personal details when making your purchase. Instead, pay for everything with PayPal. PayPal almost always takes the buyer’s side in payment disputes, so if you have any conflict over your purchase, you can file a complaint with PayPal and avoid getting screwed over. Retailers know this and are less likely to scam PayPal users.