In the last few weeks there has been a marked increase in Australians looking at buying relatively unknown brands of smartphones and tablets from China. At face value, the reasons for doing so are quite clear. Non-recognised brand names seems to correlate with upwards of $100 less for a device that claims to have the same specifications as a Samsung or Apple smartphone. These devices are generally unlocked and usable on any network too which leaves the consumer free to select the best deal available from service providers. There is, however, always the chance that when a deal seems to be too good to be true then it usually turns out to be just that.
If you are looking at buying a handset or tablet from China, the first and most important advice is to look only at the Lenovo and Huawei brands. Although not widely recognised names in Australia, these are two brands which have made some market impact around the world, with both manufacturers in particular seeming to be targeting African nations. Lenovo and Huawei handsets both run on the Android operating system (OS), which will be familiar and recognisable to most Australian users.
Generally around the world Lenovo and Huawei devices have attracted positive reviews; with most users indicating that the device does all that you could want it to and ask of it. If your concern is less about a brand name and more about what the device can do for you then both are worth looking at. There are, however, dangers you should be aware of – especially if the apparent lower price is a key determining factor for you.
In real terms, getting a Chinese supplier to ship you the latest Lenovo or Huawei handset will make you a saving of between $50 - $120 on the average shelf price of an equivalent-spec'd Samsung Galaxy S3 or S4. In actual terms, however, the cost could well end up as high. Although the Chinese suppliers are very keen to attract overseas orders – they usually throw in express delivery free – they do so on the apparent understanding that you will not try to return the device or expect any sort of warranty and support. There aren't too many good or positive stories around about people who have attempted to get follow up support for their devices.
To this end you need to bear in mind that there are few, if any, people in Australia that you could turn to for assistance if something went wrong with your device. A tech expert might well be prepared to “have a go” at fixing it for you, but there can be no guarantee that they will be able to, no matter how talented they are. As and when companies like Lenovo and Huawei have a better, more established presence in the country there can also be no guarantee that they would assist with your imported device – it could well be that they decline to assist as it isn’t a model designed for the Australian market.
The cheaper handsets and devices on offer from China look appealing, and the price can certainly make it seem that Australian retailers are engaged in a rather high level of profiteering. This, however, is really just a face value appearance. The higher price you pay for Samsung and Apple products on the shelf in Australia also includes assurances that you will certainly get help and support for the device, as well as a comprehensive warranty on the handset.
Taking over $100 off the cost of an Android smartphone by ordering it from China may seem like an astute move, but only if you accept there’s no going back with the device. If you are fortunate and can get some 12 – 18 months out of the device, plus lower contract terms from your network service provider due to you bringing your own device, then it would be a good – possibly great – deal. For those willing to chance somewhere in the region of $300 on a phone from abroad which might work OK, however, it may not make as much sense as spending a bigger amount on a device which is fully covered for local support though.