Why I bought a Chinese Phone Today

If you’re like me, you know what it’s like to travel with the cheapest phone you could get your hands on. Seriously, my current phone has springs in it, like a thing that came out of a cracker jack box.

The Vodafone 785 (Jelly Bean, Kernel 3.4.5) was designed in such a way that it would be obsolete before it was even packaged. No 3G, no memory space, painful user experience. That’s weak. I’ve done my research and am setting off today to find something new.

The most important specs I’m after are a really good camera and video quality, a friendly user interface, good memory space, a clean and smooth web browsing experience, decent screen resolution, good battery, and all the basics. Preferably, I’d like a way to transfer files between the phone and my Macbook. Not too much to ask for, right?

Here’s the case:

I have a Macbook Pro, which means I’m in the Apple universe and the power of marketing beckons me to buy something from the Apple line.

While their phones rock, the trick is that Apple doesn’t release updates for their older line of products. Once your phone reaches a certain age (I’ve been told that it’s as long as 5 years or as short as 2 years), it is discontinued and abandoned. In order to not feel left out, I’d have to fork out the cash to buy a newer model. The hallmark of Apple’s marketing scheme is that if you keep buying the next-best thing in their product line, you’ll always feel a bit neglected.

That said, the iPhone SE is just perfect for what I want to do, but it’s not released in Thailand yet, and it’s on the expensive side at 15,300 baht (16GB) to 19,400 baht (32GB) if you buy it through a Dtac package. Plus I’ve already decided not to buy into the Apple ecosystem this time around.

So no iPhone SE for me.

This is Southeast Asia, so alternative brands and copycat devices abound. After recommandation from some locals, I’m off to Central Airport Plaza to see what Chiang Mai has up for grabs.

There are a few malls in Chiang Mai, but I know for sure that two of them are known for their gadget shops.

Kad Suan Kaew is an old beast that is part shopping mall, part flea market, part grocery store, and let’s throw in a movie theatre, an arcade, and I’m pretty sure there’s a dance studio and a gym up there somewhere.

It’s a freak of a building to navigate. If you’re after smartphones, most of the sellers are on the 4th floor. Otherwise there are little phone shops all over the place, selling the same stuff. Many of them offer secondhand devices as well as repair and unlocking services. I had a new screen added to my phone a month back for less than a dollar, and had it unlocked for under five bucks.

Because all of the locals recommended it, I went to Central Airport Plaza instead. It’s a mall that’s more on the high-end, but the bottom floor is full of delicious local cuisine if you’re up for something different. I went up to the 3rd floor and walked into Chiang Mai Teleshop, which boasted a neat little “evolution of mobile phones” museum. The staff were very helpful and honest while I narrowed down my selection. IMG_20160503_161241

First phone that caught my eye was the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. It’s pretty certain that this baby is the best thing one can get on the market as far as smartphones go, and it’s available in most of Thailand’s shopping malls brand spanking new. But it’s as expensive as the newest iPhone. Unfortunately, the Galaxy S7 Edge and it’s most recent predecessors are out of the question purely for monetary reasons.

One thing I made sure to do before heading off to the mall was to ask around. After previously speaking to some locals and exploring the maze that is Kad Suan Kaew, I came up with a few of the top Asian brands out there. Seems that a lot of people were swallowed up by the Apple universe, but others are opting for brands like OPPO and ASUS. I came into some luck by meeting a Chinese couple from Shanghai who happened to work for a Chinese phone company called HTC. The company makes some solid smartphones that are lesser known in the USA, but since I was unsure if the brand is readily available at a good price here in Chiang Mai, I picked their brains a bit more.

My friends told me that both Oppo and Xiaomi made toy phones, with a bad reputation for falling apart and having underpowered specs. Given that the price for these phones are on the low range, you pay for what you get.

On the higher end are the Huawei and ZTE phones, which you can get at a ridiculous price in China. The international versions are often twice as expensive, though. These are the two brands that I’m after today.

All of the winning options run on the Android operating system, which is fine by me. Android offers a great platform for the average user and if you’re only a tad savvy with technology, you can at least move files between an Android device and a Macbook. If you master a few key apps or manage most of your media via the cloud, having an iPhone to match your Macbook isn’t going to vastly improve your life.

Armed with all of this research, I found myself in this neat little shop, ready to close a deal.

Lucky me, there was a line of Huawei phones on display. Of the three available, the GR5 was the best middle ground, far above the quality of the next best thing while the higher-end device is mostly designed for mobile gaming. Brand new and equipped with a 32GB micro-SD and a 1-year warranty, the full package cost me an acceptable 8,690. The phone by itself with the standard micro-SD costs 7,990 brand new.

And the winner is…

You guessed it, right? The Huawei GR5. Model number KII-L-22, EMUI version 3.1, kernel version 3.10.49. It has a 64 bit octa-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 1080 x 1920 resolution and 4k video, a beautiful camera on both sides (though the front is 5 MP), and can handle 4G.

Do I know what most of that means? No way! But it excels in what I was looking for at a great price. The idea of needing an iPhone just because I have a Macbook has quickly proven to be nonsense. There are simple ways around that barrier.

Sample of the front-facing camera in ‘beauty mode’. Are you an unapologetic narcissist? This camera may be a good fit for you.

I’m blown away at how many cool productivity and artistic gadgets that are packed into this device, and I must warrant a lot of that to the Android 5.1.1 operating system. Because all but the first of my mobile devices have run on Android, it really feels like I’m levelling up, and it feels good to stick with open-source. No offence, Apple. I dig your gadgets. But this is the coolest alarm clock I’ve ever owned. It even doubles as a flashlight and a magnifying glass. Oh, and the fingerprint reader on the back definitely makes me feel like some kind of special agent.

I’m curious…is it waterproof?

What kind of phone are you travelling with? Do you even use a phone? Tell me about it, it’s always interesting to hear what you have to say.

Thanks for reading,

Bradley A. Stone


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