As in many other industries, Chinese products have shaken off an image for tacky replicas, and now stand on a far more competitive footing.
Mobile phones are certainly no exception.
Apple is certainly a huge player in China, but Chinese brands like Vivo, Oppo and Huawei have products that offer similar processing power, memory and sharply pixelled touchscreens for a fraction of the price.
Samsung used to be popular, but quality issues along with diplomatic false moves have greatly reduced the popularity of their friends, to the extent that I don’t actually know anybody that uses one at the present moment.
In fact, I would say a majority of friends and family use Chinese brands now, but the focus of my blog post today is on considerations a foreigner in China should take into account.
The obvious generality is that any phone will do, as long as it works and you like it. However, there’s a deeper practical issue that I want to delve into that is perhaps of more concern to the so called western countries, like the UK, USA, NZ, Canada, Australia and Western Europe.
For me, the only sticking point separating myself from the excellent value Chinese phones is the operating system. It’s not an issue of functionality at all, but rather the fact that they virtually all use Google Android.
Chinese users needn’t care about this, but westerners who need access to Google Play to download and update important apps developed overseas, whether it be installing a reliable VPN, social media, banking or managing subscriptions, will find they are denied thanks to a long standing fractuous relationship with the authorities in China.
The final straw for me was a Samsung tablet gift I received and set up back in the UK, but was only able to use a few days before my Google Play account was blocked, and the device subsequently banished to the shelf virtually ever since.
Apple products don’t have this issue in China. The iOS has no restrictions, and foreign bank cards registered in their respective App Store regions work absolutely fine, and there is no need or requirement to change over to the Chinese version.
However, the picture is not entirely a bed of roses.
There are some other minor points that foreign users like myself should bear in mind, in addition to the sizeable premium you have to cough up.
The search results are different according to the region set on Apple ID. For example, a search I conduct for VPNs will bring up a large number of options, but the exact same keywords when set to the China region won’t bring any up at all.
Likewise, a lot of Chinese applications that used to be available on the UK region have disappeared of late. In particular, I often used QQ and Baidu music to listen to free music of all genres, but this are no longer available since Apple is pushing their iTunes platform, and I’m pressed to cough up ten pounds sterling a month for access that I don’t intend to take up.
Also, the apps I use for well known coffeeshop membership points aren’t listed on the UK region either. You can get around these problems by switching your region, downloading the apps, then switching back. This is all fine, but I get annoyed with having to register my details on Apple ID all over again each time, and many other applications stop functioning in the meantime.
I cannot vouch for the following claims 100%, as some of these is based on word of mouth.
Apart from contract phones where a telecom’s company offers you a handset free of charge in return for at least two years on an expensive package rate, in which case you most likely take home a low quality device you’ll dump as e-waste the day your last payment goes through, there is said to be differences in production quality of iPhones sold in mainland China and abroad.
Another issue I can’t quite vouch for, but have heard of regularly, is that devices sold on the mainland are programmed to hinder users accessing unauthorised applications and functions, particularly VPNs.
Having said this, I bought my MacBook Air at the official store in Guanyinqiao Paradise Walk观音桥北城天街, and I haven’t experienced any negative issues apart from system updates which I don’t want to mention now.
The best way to circumvent these potential drawbacks is to purchase an Apple device out of the country, or buy from trusted sellers who ply the crossborder trade route between the mainland and Hong Kong.
On my trip to Nanjing last month, I bought an iPhone XR from Hong Kong through a Chinese relative of my old English friend for a mere 5500 Yuan, and haven’t looked back since.
In conclusion then, my advice is that if you don’t need to access any foreign based applications or stores, then choose whatever device you like best. For people like myself, who uses paid overseas region apps, VPN and functions on a daily basis, then Apple is your only reasonable choice.
On a final note, I do find keeping a second handset with a UK number helpful for many foreign online accounts that require local mobile numbers. SMS messages come through for free, and using packages such as Giff-Gaff have extremely reasonable packages, and I always have a phone handy for whenever I land back on British soil.
The link below is an affiliate for official refurbished Apple products. I picked up an iPhone 6 with 64GB for just 150 pounds. It looks as good as new, and it works an absolute dream! There is of course a little risk involved with resold items, but I still highly recommend you pick one up if you need a working Apple device at an amazing price, and don’t necessarily want the very latest model.