What should you pay attention to before importing a Chinese smartphone?

Of course you know Huawei, and names such as Xiaomi, OnePlus and Oppo may 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 easier to order a smartphone from abroad from the bank. Now the so-called Chinaphone is anything but new, but recent developments make it increasingly interesting to prefer such a phone over the latest iPhone or Samsung. Chinaphones are generally 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 discuss, among other things, reliable online stores, warranty handling, software, telephone brands and things like 4G support and additional import costs. We conclude with five good Chinaphones in different categories. Just a note in advance: importing a phone is entirely at your own risk.

01 Choose a good brand

If you look at a Chinaphone, you will notice that there are many dozens of manufacturers that sell such devices. How do you recognize a good brand? Preferably choose a phone from a more famous name with a proven (good) reputation and an online presence. You can think of customer reviews, discussions on forums and the number of (reliable) web stores that sell phones of the brand in question. Smartphones from major parties such as Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, Meizu, ZTE and Redmi are a safe buy, for example. 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.

02 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 of course nice, but which device suits you best? It is advisable to check beforehand which specifications are important to you. What is the minimum and maximum screen size? How much storage memory do you need at least, and does the camera have to be 'just good' or are you looking for a phone with an excellent camera? By listing features, you can filter the search results at online stores and comparison sites such as www.kimovil.com and you will only see smartphones that meet your needs.

If we may give a few tips: take a device with at least 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage space and avoid models with a MediaTek processor. The technical support of the chip manufacturer is not that good, so that most phones with a MediaTek processor receive few updates. Preferably choose a smartphone with a Qualcomm processor. Also keep in mind that specs aren't everything, especially when it comes to the camera. A triple 20-megapixel camera sounds impressive, but it says little about the photo and video quality.

Almost all Chinaphones are SIM-free, so you can use them with all Dutch providers. If you have an interesting smartphone in mind, we recommend checking whether there are already expert or customer reviews online. Written articles, YouTube videos, photo albums showing camera quality; there is more to find than you think.

03 Software

Almost all Chinaphones run on Android, Google's operating system. Android supports the Dutch and Belgian language as standard, so that most of the exotic smartphones can be used in Dutch/Belgian. However, manufacturers are allowed to adjust Android to their own taste, and some brands go so far as to remove support for the Dutch and Belgian language. 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 the Dutch language, but models with Chinese ROMs do not. So pay attention to this 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, then apps such as the Play Store, Photos, Gmail and Maps are missing. Inconvenient, 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. This is often referred to as 'GApps', supplemented by terms such as 'ota update' - which means that the smartphone is suitable for installing software updates for the worldwide software 'over the air'.

04 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, among other things. Well-known names 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 out of convenience, and you don't really want that. At the time of writing, Android 9.0 (Pie) is the latest version. Version 10 (Q) will be released this summer. If you buy a Chinaphone with Android 8.0 (Oreo), then you are already behind.

05 Update Policy

As an extension of the pre-installed software, also check a manufacturer's update policy. A phone that still comes with Android 8.0 (Oreo) will probably get an update to Android 9 late or even not at all. The chance of an Android 10 update is then already very small. Preferably choose a smartphone from a brand that takes Android updates seriously and makes firm promises about the support period. Also check how often and for how long the phone gets security updates. Google releases such an update every month to make your Android device more secure, but not all manufacturers roll out the updates to their devices on a monthly basis.

This type of information is in most cases easy to find on the internet, but you can of course also approach brands directly. In general, cheaper Chinaphones receive version and security 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 better update policies than manufacturers you've never heard of.

Pay attention to frequency bands

An important consideration when choosing a Chinaphone is the supported mobile frequency bands. A device that does not support (all) Dutch frequency bands offers less good coverage in our country and may not be able to connect (properly) to the mobile network. Especially cheaper exotic phones sometimes miss the 4G frequencies that we use here. Five 4G frequencies are active in the Netherlands: 800 MHz (band 20), 900 MHz (band 8), 1800 MHz (band 3), 2100 MHz (band 1) and 2600 MHz (band 7). Band 20 in particular is a point to pay close attention to. For example, look at the device pages of online stores and manufacturers for the name of the smartphone. It is generally 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 all Dutch frequency bands. We mainly use www.willmyphonework.net and www.kimovil.com.

06 Webshops

Now that you have a smartphone in mind, it's time for the next question: where are you going to buy it? As with the brands and devices, the range of international online stores is overwhelming. And here too, not all digital sellers are equally reliable and good. Preferably choose a more well-known party that has many (positive) reviews about it and where you can pay insured with your credit card or PayPal. If your phone subsequently arrives damaged or not, you will get your money back.

Also see how a web store handles warranty claims. If your smartphone breaks and you think it's a warranty defect, what then? Do you have to send the phone abroad and if so, who pays for that and how long will you lose your phone? If you go for the webshop with the lowest price, there is a good chance that the service is also of a lower level. We have good experiences with Banggood and Gearbest, two big names that offer almost all Chinaphones at competitive prices.

Compare prices

If you've chosen a Chinaphone, it's time to get it. But where do you do that? As a real Dutchman, you naturally pay attention to the price. As you can read in step 4 (Web shops), the cheapest online store is often not the best choice. Larger and more well-known platforms such as Gearbest, Banggood, Geekbuying and Honorbuy are safe choices that offer competitive prices. Aliexpress is also interesting: thousands of sellers offer phones on this platform. Look closely at the reputation of the seller. They are not all equally good. Saving at larger online stores can be done in several ways. You often receive exclusive coupons for discounts via e-mail newsletters and smartphones are regularly sold cheaper via so-called flash sales, where the sold-out principle applies. Online forums are also a good source of offers, as are dedicated websites like http://www.pepper.com. The aforementioned www.kimovil.com is a handy site that shows the prices of almost all international online stores and also has a section for special offers. And via cashback websites such as CashbackXXL and Shopkorting, you often get a few percent of the purchase amount back via affiliate links. If you buy a device for 300 euros, you can get a discount of 8 euros.

07 Accessories

If you buy a smartphone at a Dutch (web) store, you don't have to think about the accessories in the box. The plug fits and the manual is in Dutch (or at least in English). These certainties are not obvious when you import a Chinaphone. 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 web stores also give a tip to order a suitable plug (inverter) at a (so-called) reduced rate.

Isn't that 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.

08 Avoid extra costs

Do you have an online store in mind where you want to order your new smartphone? Then check from which country the device is sent (for free). This is usually China or Hong Kong, which means that your package will be on its way for two to five weeks. This slower shipping method increases the chance that Dutch 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 Chinaphone of 400 euros is 84 euros! A good website to calculate the import costs of electronics is www.importcalculator.nl.

You can also avoid extra costs by choosing an alternative shipping method. Most popular online stores offer a so-called priority direct¬ option that costs on average between 10 and 30 euros. You will then have your device at home faster (usually within two weeks) and you do not pay any import costs because the smartphone is shipped from an EU country. If your package comes from China, any customs fees will be refunded to you, usually via PayPal. We prefer the security of this fast method over free long-distance shipping, especially with more expensive Chinaphones.

Gaming: Huawei Mate 20 X (€650)

If you are looking for a Chinaphone that is extremely suitable for gaming, you can decide to purchase the Huawei Mate 20 X. Unlike the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro, this device is not for sale in the Netherlands, but can be imported. The Mate 20 X has a waterproof glass housing with a huge (7.2 inch!) Full HD display that takes up almost the entire front. The OLED panel delivers beautiful colors and has a higher contrast than an LCD display. The Huawei phone runs on the fast Kirin 980 chipset that is also found in other Mate 20 models and has proven to be an excellent processor for intensive gaming. The working and storage memory of the Mate 20 X is 6 GB and 128 GB respectively. The large 5000mAh battery lets you play for hours, after which the battery charges quickly via USB-C. Huawei claims that the phone is equipped with an advanced cooling system. There is a triple camera on the back. Interestingly, the company sells an optional gamepad that you attach horizontally to the Mate 20 X. This controller is equipped with a d-pad and an analog stick, so you can play even better and more precisely.

Budget: Redmi Note 7 (from € 160,-)

The new Redmi Note 7 is perhaps the best example of a Chinaphone that offers a lot for little. For about 160 euros you get the version with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, but there are also more expensive models with more working and storage memory. The Note 7 is the first smartphone from the independent Redmi, which was previously part of Xiaomi. The brands still work together a lot and that is why you will find Xiaomi's Android 9.0 (Pie) MIUI shell on the Note 7. The smartphone has a glass housing with an almost front-filling LCD screen of 6.3 inches. Thanks to the full-HD resolution, the display looks nice and sharp. Under the hood runs a smooth Snapdragon 660 processor. Remarkable is the large battery (4000 mAh), which can also be charged quickly via USB-C. However, for price considerations, Redmi supplies a less fast charger, so you have to purchase a Quick Charge 4 charger (18 watts) yourself. The Redmi Note 7 has a dual camera on the back, one of which is 48megapixel. When taking a photo, the camera combines all those details into one sharper 12-megapixel photo. The biggest downside of the smartphone seems to be the lack of an NFC chip, although that is an understandable cut.

Price/quality: Pocophone F1 (from € 260,-)

Xiaomi has been king of smartphones with excellent value for money for years. Last year, the company went one step further by establishing its subsidiary brand Pocophone. The first phone was an instant hit. The Pocophone F1 is seen by many as the smartphone with the best value for money. While there is a good chance that a Pocophone F2 will appear in a few months, the F1 is (still) a very good buy. For the price of a budget device you get a (plastic) flagship with a lightning fast Snapdragon 845 processor and at least 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. The front-filling LCD screen has a full HD resolution and the front camera and infrared sensor offer relatively safe face protection. The Pocophone F1 supports dual-sim, micro-sd, bluetooth 5.0 and all Dutch frequency bands. However, an NFC chip is missing. Don't worry about the battery life, because the large 4000mAh battery will last you at least a day and a half. Charging is fast via USB-C. There is a dual camera on the back. The device runs on Android 9.0 (Pie) with a lighter version of Xiaomi's MIUI shell. Pocophone promises that the F1 will receive an update to Android Q, which will be released later this year.

Specs monster: Honor Magic 2 (from € 499,-)

If you want a striking Chinaphone with the best specifications, you can consider the Honor Magic 2. This smartphone is not officially for sale in the Netherlands – Honor only sells cheaper and mid-range phones in our country. The Magic 2 has a glass housing with a front-filling full-HD 6.39-inch OLED screen. Below the display is a fingerprint scanner. Via a sliding mechanism you conjure a bar with three front cameras above the screen. There are also three cameras on the back, including a wide-angle lens and a black-and-white sensor. The phone runs on the super-fast Kirin 980 processor that is also included in the Huawei Mate 20 (Pro). The working memory is 6 or 8 GB, with 128 or 256 GB storage memory. The Magic 2 is equipped with a 3500mAh battery that charges super fast via USB-C. Thanks to the 40W charger, the battery is fully charged in less than an hour. A 3.5mm headphone jack is missing on the Magic 2. Honor installs Android 9.0 (Pie) with the EMUI shell of parent company Huawei on the phone.

Phablet: Xiaomi Mi Max 3 (from € 230,-)

Are you looking for a smartphone with a huge screen? Then take a look at a device with a display of about 7 inches, which used to be a popular size for small tablets. The Huawei Mate 20 X (see box) is a good choice in 2019, but due to the powerful hardware, it is also pricey. A cheaper option is the Xiaomi Mi Max 3, a phone that was released in the summer of 2018. The 'phablet' is competitively priced: about 230 euros for the 4 GB/64 GB version with support for all Dutch frequency bands. The LCD screen measures a hefty 6.9 inches and looks sharp thanks to the full-HD resolution. Under the hood runs a smooth Snapdragon 636 processor, an octacore chipset (clocked at 1.8 GHz) that can handle the most popular games. You don't have to worry about an empty battery: the huge 5500mAh battery lasts a long day with normal use. Charging is fast via the USB-C connection. The Mi Max 3 also has a dual camera on the back and runs on Android 9.0 (Pie) with Xiaomi's MIUI shell. Unfortunately, an nfc chip is missing.

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