Of course you know Huawei, and perhaps names like Xiaomi, OnePlus and Oppo also ring a bell. But there are many more Chinese manufacturers that sell good and competitively priced smartphones. In this article we explain everything about importing a phone and give tips for the best Chinese smartphones in various categories.
It is becoming increasingly easier to order a smartphone from abroad. Now the so-called China phone is anything but new, but recent developments make it increasingly interesting to choose such a phone over the latest iPhone or Samsung. China phones are usually comparable in quality and features, but cost much less. In this article we explain what you should pay attention to when importing a smartphone. We will discuss reliable web shops, warranty processing, software, telephone brands and things like 4G support and additional import costs. We close with five good China phones in different categories. Just a preliminary note: importing a phone is entirely at your own risk.
1. Choose a good brand
China phones brand
If you look at a China phone, you will notice that there are many dozens of manufacturers who sell such devices. How do you recognize a good brand? Preferably choose a phone of a better known name with a proven (good) reputation and an online presence. This includes reviews from customers, discussions on forums and the number of (reliable) web shops that sell phones of the relevant brand. For example, smartphones from large parties such as Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, Meizu, ZTE and Redmi are a safe buy. However, there are also many phone brands that sell lower quality smartphones or are disappointing as a company, for example because the customer service is poor or because the phones are not updated.
2. Which device will it be?
The many good phone brands together sell hundreds of interesting smartphones in all price ranges and with very different specifications. All that choice is fine, but which device suits you best? It is advisable to check in advance which specifications are important to you. How big should the screen be minimum and possibly maximum? How much storage memory do you need at least, and does the camera have to be ‘just right’ or are you looking for a phone with an excellent camera? By listing features, you can filter the search results at web shops and comparison sites such as www.kimovil.com and you will only see smartphones that meet your needs.
If we can give a few tips: take a device with at least 2 GB RAM, 32 GB storage space and choose a good processor like Qualcomm and MediaTek. Also remember that specifications don’t say it all, especially in the camera area. A triple 20 megapixel camera sounds impressive, but it says little about the photo and video quality.
Almost all China phones are SIM-free, so you can use them with all network providers. If you have an interesting smartphone in mind, we recommend checking whether there are already expert or customer reviews (reviews) online. Written articles, YouTube videos, photo albums showing the camera quality; there is more to it than you think.
Almost all China phones run on Android, the Google operating system. Android supports the many languages by default, so that the majority of the exotic smartphones can be used in your preferred language.
Manufacturers are allowed to adjust Android to their own taste, and some brands go so far as to remove support for other languages. A small part of the devices can therefore only be used in English and Chinese. Meizu is one of the manufacturers that does that. Xiaomi smartphones with a ‘global rom’ support various languages, but models with Chinese ROMs do not. So pay close attention when choosing a device.
Another point of attention is that really exotic smartphones, intended for the Chinese market, usually do not have Google apps on board. If you buy such a device, apps like the Play Store, Photos, Gmail and Maps are missing. Clumsy, because then you have to install them via unofficial websites or even put completely different software on the device. Unless you like that, we recommend looking for a device with global ROM that explicitly mentions Google software. That is often referred to as ‘GApps’, supplemented with terms such as ‘ota update’ – which means that the smartphone is suitable for installing software updates for the worldwide software ‘over the air’.
4. Android version
It is definitely worth checking which Android version is installed on the phone. Google releases a new version every year and that update adds improvements and new features. Well-known brands such as Huawei, Xiaomi and OnePlus usually sell smartphones with the latest Android version, but not all brands do that. Smaller manufacturers in particular often install an older Android version on their (new) devices for convenience, and you don’t really want that. At the time of writing this post, Android 11 (beta) is the latest version. If you buy a China phone with Android 8.0 (Oreo) or Android 9.0 (Pie) or maybe even Android 10 (Q), then you are already behind.
5. Update policy
As an extension of the pre-installed software: also look at the update policy of a manufacturer. A phone that now comes with Android 9.0 (Pie) will probably not get an update to Android 10 (Q) later or even at all, the chance of an Android 11 update is then already very small. Preferably choose a smartphone from a brand that takes Android updates seriously and makes hard promises about the support period. Also check how often and for how long the phone receives security updates. Google releases such an update every month to make your Android device safer, but not all manufacturers roll out the updates to their devices monthly.
In most cases this type of information is easy to find on the internet, but you can of course also approach brands directly. In general, cheaper China phones receive version and safety updates less often and for less time than more expensive models. Larger and better-known brands such as OnePlus, Lenovo and Realme (part of OnePlus) usually have a better update policy than manufacturers you have never heard of.
6. Pay attention to frequency bands
An important point of attention when choosing or buying a China phone are the supported mobile frequency bands. A device that does not support virtually all frequency bands offers less coverage in some country and may not be able to (properly) connect to the mobile network. Especially cheaper exotic phones sometimes miss the 4G frequencies that is available for your country. Band 20 in particular is a point to watch out for. For example, look at the device pages of webshops and manufacturers for the name of the smartphone. Usually it is best to choose a ‘global’ phone, and not an Indian, China or US version. There are also several websites that indicate whether your favorite smartphone supports your country frequency bands. You can use www.willmyphonework.net and www.kimovil.com.
Now that you have a smartphone in mind, it is time for the next question: where are you going to buy it? As with the brands and devices, the range of international webshops is overwhelming. And here too, not all digital sellers are equally reliable and good. Preferably choose a better known party with many (positive) reviews and where you can pay with your credit card or PayPal. If your phone then arrives damaged or not, you will get your money back.
Also see how a web shop handles warranty claims. If your smartphone breaks and you think it is a defect under warranty, what then? Do you have to send the phone abroad and if so, who pays that and how long have you lost your device? If you go for the webshop with the lowest price, chances are that the service is also of a lower level. Customers have good experiences with Banggood and Gearbest, two big names that almost all China phones offer at competitive prices. You can as well order from Jumia and Konga.
8. Compare prices
If you have chosen a China phone, it is time to purchase it. But where do you do that? It’s normal that you naturally pay attention to the price. As you can read in the previous step (Webshops), the cheapest webshop is often not the best choice. Larger and better-known platforms such as Gearbest, Banggood, Geekbuying and Honorbuy are safe choices that use competitive prices. Aliexpress is also interesting: thousands of sellers offer phones on this platform. Take a good look at the reputation of the seller. They are not all equally good. There are several ways to save at larger online stores. You often receive exclusive coupons for discounts via e-mail newsletters and smartphones are regularly sold cheaper via so-called flash sales, where the surplus principle applies. Online forums are also a good resource to find offers.
The aforementioned www.kimovil.com is a handy site that shows the prices of almost all international webshops and also has a section for special offers. And via cashback websites such as CashbackXXL and Shopdiscount you often get a few percent of the purchase amount back via affiliate links. If you buy a device of 300 euros, it can easily result in an 8 euro discount.
If you buy a smartphone at a (web) store, you don’t have to think about the accessories in the box. The plug fits and the the manual is in English and maybe one or two other languages. These certainties cannot be taken for granted when you import a China phone. If you buy a non-European model of a smartphone, you probably need an alternative plug or a plug converter. Sometimes the seller sends one or both of them along, which he often makes clear as an extra service (which is usually included in the price). Many webshops also give the tip to order a suitable plug (inverter) at a (supposedly) reduced rate.
Is that not the case or would you rather arrange an original plug yourself? Then we have a tip to pay attention to the maximum input and output of the original plug. Preferably choose an identical charger or a charger with a slightly lower power. This way you can be sure that the battery does not exceed its maximum during charging.
10. Avoid extra costs
Do you have a webshop in mind where you want to order your new smartphone? Then look at which country the device is sent (for free). Usually that is China or Hong Kong, which means that your package will be on the road for two to five weeks. This slower shipping method increases the chance that customs will check your order. If your smartphone costs more than 150 euros (excluding insurance and transport costs), you have to pay 21 percent VAT and customs clearance costs. The customs clearance costs differ per carrier, but are usually around 15 euros. And make no mistake: 21 percent VAT on a China phone of 400 euros is 84 euros! A good website to calculate import costs of electronics is www.easyship.com.
You can also avoid extra costs by choosing an alternative shipping method. Most popular webshops offer a so-called priority direct option that costs between 10 and 30 euros on average. You will have your device at home faster (usually within two weeks) and pay no import costs because the smartphone is shipped from an EU country. If your package is from China, any customs fees will be refunded, usually via PayPal. We prefer the certainties of this fast method over the free long-distance shipping, especially with more expensive China phones.