Buying phones from China part 1: why bother?

by: Gary SimsApril 9, 2013

buying phones from ChinaThe traditional way to get hold of an Android phone was to sign a 2 year contract with your carrier and pick a phone to match your budget. However that method is changing with companies like Google offering the Nexus 4 unlocked and contract free, and T-Mobile moving to its Uncarrier business model. But the problem with this new approach is that you need to spend more money upfront to get hold of the phone or (as in T-Mobiles’ case) you need to buy it on credit and pay back the loan in installments.

The problem is that smartphones are expensive. And this is were China comes into the equation. So, why bother to buy an Android smartphone from China? Simple, the price. I have owned several Android devices which came directly from China and in almost every case when I showed a friend the 5.8 inch quad-core Mithril or the SmartQ U7, with its built-in DLP projector, they loved the device but asked, “that must have been expensive.” When I told them the true price, they could hardly believe me!

The truth is that the majority of Android devices are made in China under contract from companies like Samsung, LG, Asus or Sony etc. So in one sense whenever you buy a big brand phone it is actually a Chinese phone! Plus companies like ZTE and Huawei, which are both native Chinese giants, are making big inroads into the branded Android smartphone market. There are also lesser known brands (in the West) like ThL, who have 341 stores across China. And of course we can’t forget Lenovo!

The reason the big brand companies choose China as a manufacturing base is mainly due to cost coupled with China’s rapidly growing tech infrastructure plus manufacturing capacity. These make the per unit costs of modern smartphones cheaper than if they were made in the West. But once you add on corporate costs, advertising budgets and obligations to share holders the price the end user pays for the phone is a lot higher than what it cost to make. And that is OK, that is the nature of business. Every business is the same. Some like Apple choose intentionally to add very big profit margins to their devices (33% or more) while others like Amazon are trying a different approach by selling its Kindle and Kindle Fire ranges at near cost price with an expectation of making money on the content. Between these two extremes there is a whole gamut of business practices and business models.

The advantage that Chinese wholesalers offer is that the big corporate expenses, the huge advertising budgets and the need to make 33% profit on each phone doesn’t exist. The result is access to Android smartphones much nearer to their production costs.

That isn’t to say that buying smartphones from China isn’t without its pitfalls. There are questions about where to buy, who to trust and what happens when something goes wrong. Plus there are questions of quality and design issues. This series of posts will look at the whole experience of buying smartphones from China, so stay tuned for more!

  • MasterMuffin

    GooPhones seem trustworthy, they’re designed so professionally and stuff :D

  • Tim Carruthers

    Does anyone know of any trustworthy ebay sellers or websites to buy from China?

    • Sonya

      I purchased a THL W5 phone from China and love it. Didnt want to sign up for a plan and didnt want to spend big bucks on a phone I wont use in Australia. Do your research and stick with the major brands and you wont go wrong. I went through Ebay as I was unsure of the Chinese websites. The EBay seller I used is called lee-sir2080 Also make sure the phone matches your Countries network.

      • ThL is a good brand, there is a review of the ThL W1 on the site.

      • redhawk22

        I got a THL W8 at and I’m loving it on it right now this is a great phone it’s fast it looks nice it’s kind of a clone of the galaxy S3 or S4 performance not as great as either one of those phones but it’s still really excellent phone for the features of the price I got it from deal extreme which is
        they’re trustworthy I first heard about them from the EDC community and you can search YouTube for DX unboxing or deal extreme unboxing

    • This will be covered in other parts of the series soon… Stay tuned!

      • I hope you will also do a series about buying tablets from China. As I’m sure you know, there are now a bunch of iPad Mini clones that will probably never be sold in the U.S. because, um, they resemble the iPad Mini (the “trade dress” legal issue Apple sued Samsung over).

        • Mike, most of what is be written (and in fact what has been written above) will apply equally to phones and tablets (except for any specifics like 3G frequencies etc).

      • Marc Stephan Nkouly

        where can i read the next part of your articles ???

    • I would appreciate if you went and looked at my Chinese Smart Phone links.

      • Marc Stephan Nkouly

        Please what about resselling your product in AFRICA ???
        here e really appreaciate all those stuff unfortunatly no one give us the opportunity to buy them online and those who actully have some devices here they are so expensives.

    • Mike Reid

      Vendors with over a thousand reviews with 99% scores are pretty good in my experience. The 97% guys may ship slower or mess up more often.

      I’ve had good luck buying International Samsung, HTC and Sony devices from Hong Kong. I don’t touch the lesser brands though.

      • steverocks2888

        Hi Mike I’ve had a similar experience to you regarding this. I’m just wondering whether you would be willing to discuss any issues you’ve had with suppliers, or selling at the other end? ([email protected])

      • margaret

        Ive bought a phone on ebay uk. The phone is coming from honkong. But it will be in english , wont it. I mean do they sell the phone ifor uk . I mean will everything be in english even though its coming from honkong. ( its hard to explain. Would it come for uk version. But can someone who has bought a phone on ebay from any seller in hongkong explain this to me. Thank you. Im thinking its going to be in chinese? Plz reply!

    • Michael Burton Sr.

      I would appreciate if you went and looked at my Chinese Smart Phone links.

      my whole production crew and a few friends use the phones I sale. Thank You in Advance.

    • kork

      i buy 4 phones from

      lenovo a820
      all arived well

    • mike

      This is a year too late, but Fasttech is pretty trustworthy and they have quite a good selection. I’ve bought loads of e-cig stuff from them. Their shipping options suck, but they have no real choice given their location. Every time the post loses my package they refund me straight away. I bought from Chinabuye once. The phone is great but CS is notoriously terrible and I think the fact that I got the phone was a miracle.

    • steverocks2888

      Hi Tim. I saw your post a while back on I’m just wondering what your experience of buying phones has been like. Did you ever find any reputable suppliers etc?

  • luminelx64

    I use the ThL w3+ it’s very nice

  • Appogee

    Great article! So true, the Find 5 and (soon to be) Vivo Xplay are a few premium level phones from small Chinese companies that are amazing. In terms of low end phones, it should be noted that a lot of the cheaper phones that translate to about $250 USD unsubsidized are 1080P phones with a quad-core Mediatek chip in it that doesn’t perform too bad. Mediatek, although cheap, actually runs quite decently. Benching better than the older dual-core Snapdragons at around 13-15K in Antutu.

  • crazyfeet

    I bought two android phoes recently sold by an Indian manufacturer but are actually rebranded chinese phones. Do you think this is a better option? & how do i deal with friends who make fun of me using chinese phones? Their performance is really good but people seem to have a negative view of chinese products esp. Phones…

    • I would just point out that you could buy two or even three phones compared to how much they paid for one!

      The brand doesn’t guarantee anything, Samsung, HTC, Sony etc have all made rubbish phones from time to time.

      • th3-D

        I rather have one good one that 3 meh-phones. What about cars, you like to buy 2 or 3 of them also? Screw the trusted brands, lets all buy 3 chinese cars each?

        I be reading this series, of course, but me and my family will continue to buy and use Sony (and Samsung) phones and tablets.

  • LOL I bet the Simplified Chinese is translated with Google Translate. That means “phones bought from China”.

  • Shanos burgess

    Looking forward to this series, have been checking gizchina (after seeing them referenced on here for articles) china is coming up fast on the heals of the big names!
    My contract is up soon and I will most likely be going sim only again, by doing this for 12 months on three for the one plan (12 x£20 ) I am still better of buying a quad core from china with scores that are double my existing galaxy s2.
    Bear in mind that I have been holding off since last year for a phone that I feel is a worthy successor (after feeling underwhelmed by the s3 and with the Octacore sham feeling let down somewhat by the s4)
    Now it’s a case of waiting a little longer for them to release a decent clone of the s4 with 99% of the spec for 25% of the price lol
    Saying that I may go for one of the non clone brands that are making great advances in both style and quality.

  • “Does anyone know of any trustworthy ebay sellers or websites to buy from China?” or, bought several items from them which ebay refuses to sell (ahem) their loss! never had a problem they seem very good.

  • random

    I’ve learned the hard lesson buying china-branded smartphones.
    All started having troubles after 7-11 months.

    So unless you buying new phone every year, I suggest avoid any smartphones from china.

    • corleto1

      Most of the smart phones are made in China

  • Gopi

    Ok i have few things about chinese android phones

    Who should buy?

    *Who want 2 experience smartphone at cheap price

    *Low budget

    *Can handle phone carefully

    Who should not buy?

    *Who handle phone very roughly

    *These android phones have custom cyanogen mod os which is

    customized with chinese hardware(driver stuff).So you cannot

    upgrade os to next level as cyanogen don’t support officially unless

    xda has custom rom.

    *Who need good after sale support.Usually these phone

    don’t have hardware supports.


  • magnifico17

    buying an android phone from china is cheaper choice but the quality and build design is woth considering

  • Cosmo Lee

    This series suggests a much needed article: how to figure out what kind of experience to expect using a non-local band phone in our own locales.

    Because of the great reviews of the THL W100 I considered buying it for use in the USA. I’m disappointed to find, after much self-education on 3G GSM and misleading information from vendors, that it doesn’t support the bands required on either AT&T or T-Mobile, the GSM operators here.

    The W100 specs state:

    2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz

    3G: WCDMA 850/2100MHz.

    AT&T 3G requires 850/1900

    T-Mobile 3G requires 1700/2100.

    But how could we figure out what would be the user experience of actually trying to use such a phone here? Eg: For T-Mobile, it uses the 1700 band to upload from phone, 2100 to download to phone. But the W100 doesn’t support 3G 1700 band upload. So would it then upload on the T-Mobile’s 2G 850 band and still download on the 3G 2100 band? Since web surfing consists mostly of DL data, this might be a compromise I could live with to have a great phone at a low price. Slower 2G UL speed might be ok…

    Though the specs only state that the W100 runs 2G over the 850/1900 bands, a vender leads me to believe that it should support AT&T 3G since they broadcast 3G over 850/1900 bands. Is this true? Does a phone have to explicitly state it runs 3G over specific bands to get 3G or is it enough to support 3G AND operate on specific frequencies, without explicitly stating that the device supports 3G on those frequencies? Exactly what kind of compromises should we expect? See what I’m getting at? There are the kinds of questions that would be very useful to be able to answer when considering using a non-local phone in our own locale.

    Basically we need a primer on how to navigate and interpret how such a phone would function in our own locales. You readership would be greatly helped by such an article!

    • dennis

      T-mobile has rolled out 1900 band across the U.S, which gives you some more options. Most of the China phones don’t support 3G on 1900 though. :(

      • Cosmo Lee

        See, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. if you look back at the W100 specs, it only states 2G support on 850/900/1800/1900. Yet a vendor is telling me that because the phone works on 1900, and because T-Mobile uses 1900 in many parts of the USA for 3G, for those areas this phone WILL support 3G on T-Mobile. I don’t know what to believe. It would be a great service to have a technical primer to teach readers how to figure out such things… As far as 3G is concerned, the question boils down to: If a phone states support for specific 2G frequencies and also states support for 3G, does this imply that the phone also supports 3G on those frequencies, even though it doesn’t explicitly state so?

    • You can mail us by the way and we’ll tell you which frequencies are supported by your carrier ;)

  • PinkPaws

    I purchased the Vivo X-Play- a lot of the apps and language is still in Chinese. I need it in English… Any help?

  • Soh Lin Siong

    Your Chinese word put wrong already, it should be

    • HuLJ

      correct lah! Yours is “buy mobile phones from China”. His is ” mobiles phone bought from China”

  • rehan azam

    Should we purchase customized Andriod Mobile from Like Iberry etc , Will be there Os And firmware update issue from Company. What will be major Difference between these Chinese company and Brand like Samsung Os related.

    Kindly reply, i am confuse what to buy, 1. Iberry auxus_nuclea_n1 or Samsung Galaxy Quattro or Xolo 1000s. Help Me out…Thanks in advance

  • locckker

    can you upgrade android on chinese devices????? i

  • Sanjana Singhania

    I have bought iOcean phone which is chinese and totally happy with the performance and look. As far as ebay sellers are concerned i think most of the time its safe to buy from ebay as ebay’s seller protection plays important role. For people who are curious if they should buy chinese phones are not here is a article.

  • timepassman
    they provide custom rom also.

  • Alex

    I’m currently at a disagreement or butting heads with some people on gizchina. I live in the US and its a big deal for me not to have 4G on a phone. Everybody likes to say that 4G is really not being used much or the coverage is only in small areas but I live in Orlando Florida and there is 4G in plenty of locations around here. That’s just one of the concerns I have, no accessories like extended batteries and a variety of cases to select from, hardly any XDA developer action or custom rom. 1 click methods available or instructions on YouTube how to root these devices & in some cases weak batteries. I’ve read stories posted of people complaining about WiFi issues or low signal issues, or 13 megapixel rear cameras that have poor performance and are only selling tactics. if anybody’s interested in reading my little argument here is the link

    Don’t get me wrong I do like China phones but at the same time they are trailing behind with certain things like 4G only because its not available widely in China as of yet, though they are rolling it out and its costing a freaking fortune!

    • Hi Alex,

      Although we have been banned from Gizchina (unable to post there) for not being on the ‘mainstream’ opinion I guess)…your argument seems pretty valid from here…but I think it’s not a matter of chinese manufacturers…you just need to wait for the ‘right’ chipset to be released. If you want to have all your 4G/LTE needs fulfilled go for a MTK6595-based smartphone…late MTK6592 do not support 4G/LTE.

      We have been in China recently (we go there like 4-5 times a year) and I can tell you that there are several companies planning to release 4G/LTE phones to fulfill the ‘West’ demand.

      If you want to know better rooting methods or if the phone you are interested in has a ‘scammy’ camera just let us know or drop us an email at info(at) our team will answer you asap.


  • Don’t really agree with the article at 100% but it’s OK.
    Good work.

  • steverocks2888

    Does anyone here have any experience of importing mainstream brand phones from China (Samsung, HTC etc). I’ve bought a few and even though they’re 100% authentic, I’ve been met with suspicion and cynicism. Also does anyone have any other reputable Chinese wholesalers/manufacturers where I can purchase legitimate phones?

  • James M

    Bought one of these chinese phones and after two weeks it developed a nasty buzzing noise and the wi fi cuts out on you as well. wasn’t worth sending back, would be grateful if somebody could give some advise on this maybe there is a fix.

  • corleto1

    Can I buy from China with PayPal?

  • Ewen Crawford

    Is Elephone a reliable phone company? Also, does it work on Canadian networks like Rogers or American networks? Thanks.