Something that often troubles us as Android users, as I’m sure it troubles many of you, our readers, is whether to import a phone from overseas, or wait (pray?) for a local Australian release. We are (un)fortunate that Australia isn’t (yet) a part of the United States of America, which seems to be the place where all new Android phones come to market.
In fact, there are few occasions that I can think of where a launch has occurred in Australia before anywhere else.
We, Android users, tend to like the bleeding edge. There are many users who are happy to take what our favourite Aussie telcos have to offer, when they get around to offering it, but I dare say that there are a good many MORE users who’d rather have the latest release before the Aussie telcos get around to releasing it – and that’s assuming they do ever release it.There are a number of good (great?) reasons to import Android devices from overseas, and there are a couple of ways to do it too, depending on your preparedness to muck around. However, there are a few pitfalls, and I want to clear the air a little about what you can and can’t do, and the relative advantages/disadvantages of doing so.
1. Importing phones from the USA is probably the best place.
There’s a few simple reasons why this is so. In the states, they have phone networks like ours. The large telcos there operate 3G networks many of which use the same frequencies as we use here.
For example, any phone released on AT&T is almost certainly going to work without a hitch (and in fact, perform very well) on Telstra’s Next G network. Equally, phones released by T-Mobile are quite likely to work very well on Optus or Vodafone (or 3 I guess).
There’s also the other simple reason that phones are most of the time released in the good ol’ USA before they are available anywhere else.
1a. UPDATE: You can also get decent prices / good releases from the UK as well.
A few of you commented on this story about the lack of UK options. Of course, how could we forget this? Our own Buzz Moody wrote about importing handsets from the UK a year ago. As others have commented, Buzz pointed out three UK vendors worthy of note:
Each of the three offer competitive pricing and all ship to Australia using couriers (DHL or FedEx).
When purchasing from the UK you are exempt of VAT (tax), so you don’t have to pay it. This can reduce your costs. It’s very unlikely you’ll end up paying customs duties or GST on the phone on entry into Australia, unless its valued over $1000 AUD (and most phones aren’t).
Folks from Whirlpool and from our comments below have had a great deal of success with early release handsets from the UK, so if the handset you want isn’t available in the US, or even if it is, the UK is a good viable option.
2. A couple of pitfalls for importing yourself.
As with Australia, the source of most phones in the USA is from telcos. As you’d imagine, they’re probably not all that keen on selling phones to people with shipping addresses in Australia, so you need to find some way of getting the phones to you.
Places like PriceUSA.com will source a phone via their agent in the USA, have it shipped to the agent who will then ship it to you in Australia. There are other freight forwarders too, many of which will give you a pseudo-address in the USA that you can have things shipped to, and forwarded to Australia. Expect to pay for these services though.
There can also be issues with Customs – phones worth more than $1000 will likely attract Customs’ duties and GST – factor these costs in.
As you might guess, this can be a tricky process. Many, many people have imported phones this way – I’m reminded of the rush on Google Nexus One phones when they were released – and I’m sure many, many more people will continue to import this way. It’s one of the lowest cost options, short of buying the phone in the USA yourself if you happen to visit.
3. If you don’t want to import it yourself, you don’t have to.
There are a couple of options for sourcing phones from overseas without needing to get involved in the nitty gritty of handling importing and other things yourself.
There are a couple of places that take care of sourcing US stock and importing it to Australia for sale – meaning all you need to do is select a handset, pay the price, give them the shipping address and Bob’s your uncle.
One of Ausdroid’s sponsors, MobiCity, is one of Australia’s favourite importers of mobile phones, and a good place to find them well ahead of any official Australian launch.
However, this is an opinion piece – not an advertisement – and there are a couple of things you should bear in mind buying from MobiCity. Because they take care of sourcing stock and importing it for you, they take on some of the risk, and incur some costs. The primary way they account for this is slightly higher prices than standard retail prices in the USA.
When the Nexus One was released, if memory serves, it was available for around $500 from Google directly, however, they weren’t shipping directly to Australia. MobiCity very quickly had the Nexus One available, however it cost a few hundred dollars more. For many people (me included) this was well worth the price.
However, for some people, this mark-up isn’t worth it – importing it yourself, if you know what you’re doing, can save you a fair bit.
4. What to do if something goes wrong?
Phones bought in Australia are covered by all manner of warranties and things – basically if you buy a new phone and it goes caput, there’s a fair chance that either the telco or manufacturer will repair or replace it (if the damage isn’t your fault). If you drop it in water or something, then you’re up the creek…
However, things that you buy from overseas aren’t covered by Australian statutory warranties, and if you import it yourself, you’re going to have to deal with a warranty offered elsewhere, and you can imagine that manufacturers are going to have a bit of a laugh at you trying to have a device in Australia repaired under a US warranty. Some people have had luck with this – many haven’t.
This is where importers like MobiCity can in fact be quite beneficial – not only do they absorb much of the risks for you (as outlined above), however, they also provider another service – a third party warranty. Without going into excessive detail – you can read the link for MobiCity’s explanation of what they do and don’t – they basically offer the equivalent of a manufacturer’s warranty on phones you buy through their site. This means phones that are DOA (dead on arrival) are replaced if they are notified within 48 hours of delivery. After this, repairs and replacements are dealt with under a separate system which works quite well.
If you buy direct from the USA, and you don’t have such a third party warranty, then if something goes wrong your best option is to get in touch with the manufacturer and let them know what’s gone wrong, and see what they can suggest which might get you going again. However, don’t expect this to be an easy process.
UPDATE: We have had folks point out that phones bought from the UK have been returned to the UK for warranty service, however we haven’t verified this (and I haven’t personally experienced it), so as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.
5. So, how does it work in practice? Have you guys done this before?
This post is from me (Chris), not the other guys, so I can only speak of my own experiences. I’ve dealt extensively with MobiCity, both in purchasing phones for myself and friends, and also receiving review units for Ausdroid. Much of MobiCity’s stock comes from Canada and the USA, and every time without fail I’ve received a working handset with no issues whatsoever.
Although not my own experience, I know a good number of people who imported (by themselves, with the assistance of a freight forwarder) Nexus One phones when they were released, and they – also – had no issues whatsoever in receiving a working handset. However, if they had experienced issues with their phones, they’d probably have had an interesting time trying to get warranty service.
The bottom line is this – importing phones (either yourself or with the assistance of companies outlined in this article) is a fairly easy process, and most of the time you’ll have no issues at all. Bear in mind though these dot points:
- Phones imported from the USA (or anywhere, really) are unlikely to be covered by a warranty in Australia, so if something goes wrong, good luck. Check this at the point of purchase – if you’re buying through a third party site like Clove or Handtec, check what their policies are.
- Phones sold by companies in Australia (like MobiCity) are covered by warranties, and you also have statutory protections as well. This can well be worth the extra cost you’ll pay these places for your new phone.
- You’ll pay a bit more for someone else to do the work for you – it might be cheaper to import it yourself, but make sure you know the risks.
Above all, enjoy your new phones!