Chinese Android phones pros and cons part 2: aftersales service, perks and cameras

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Note: This editorial is part two of two. See part one.

Last week, me and Victor set out to unravel the mystery that Chinese smartphones are. Never to be behind the trend, we recognized that the world's biggest smartphone market is, well, about to get even bigger. Supply creates its own demand, according to Say's law, and what a supply it is! Chinese vendors occupy all strata of the quality and price spectrum, from cheap, white box devices, through numerous copycats, down to some seriously premium devices. China truly has it all, and yet it's plagued with stereotypes that it has somewhat earned. But is it all as bad as some are making it out to be? Read on, as our search continues, and we work to provide you two opposing views on the relative merits and weaknesses of smartphones that carry the 'Made in China' fine print on their backs.

He's dead, Jim! Technical and firmware support 

PROS (Chris P.): Getting proper servicing for a Chinese smartphone is, without a doubt, the biggest hurdle to their success. Depending on where it is you call home, the situation is drastically different, of course, but it suffices to say that people hailing from the States will have a hard time getting theirs serviced. Fortunately, this is about to get a whole lot better, with several Chinese brands expressing interest in expanding worldwide and in the US in particular. This, while still a work in progress, means that we’re not at all that far from allowing Chinese brands onto the mainstream stage, and that’s nothing short of fantastic. Remember, the more competition there is in the field, the more affordable smartphones will become, and the more diversity you’ll enjoy

As for timely updates, these are obviously a hindrance for any manufacturer, as we've seen time and time again. As for China, select handset makers, such as Xiaomi and Oppo, have shown a great interest in keeping the software side of things up to par. For its part, Xiaomi is already working on an Android 4.4 KitKat update for its flagship Mi-3 phone, while Oppo has been experimenting heavily with CyanogenMod.

CONS (Victor H.): Imagine a situation: you have ordered your brand new deal-o-tastic Android phone from China. You have waited a couple of weeks to get it. The gadget finally arrives. You are excited, pumped up, opening the box with trembling hands. You fire up the phone and it does not work. Or it has a few dead pixels. Or something else comes up. Can you imagine all the hassle of returning it back, getting a replacement or your money back? Are you even sure you can return it to the seller, and that customer support will understand any proper English? I honestly don’t have the time and will to deal with all of this, and probably nor do you.

Perks: a phone with a built-in projector? A 3D display? Dual SIM? Biggest battery? You can have one from China

PROS (Chris P.): While perks are usually pretty much synonymous with gimmicks, there’s an argument to be made about the positive impact that Chinese manufacturers could have in the smartphone industry of tomorrow. Phones like the Zopo ZP200 tout a 3D display (which can be turned off at will), and while phone like that are far from best-sellers, they do promote the idea of diversity and trying out different combinations. And that’s always a good thing, because you never know when somebody might step on something big. Frankly, mainstream brands have become quite monotonous in their offerings, and some color never hurts. Moreover, phones like the Lenovo P780 boast a mind-blowing 4000mAh capacity cell, and dual SIMs are always nice to have. In other words -- it’s not all about show.

Recommended Stories
CONS (Victor H.): There’s no arguing that it’s plain cool to have a built-in projector in your phone, and dual SIM connectivity would not hurt either, but truth is those are decisions that translate into compromises. A built-in projector works out in a bulkier, larger device and dual SIM also ensues design compromises.

Other perks are often included for bragging rights alone, and carry little true user value. Smartphones with 3D displays seemed like all the rage a couple of years ago, but they turned into a fiasco of huge proportions and for a good reason - people found them cool at first use, but did not see any benefit in the longer term. Guess what? You can still find them in China! Diversity comes with its pluses (like the aforementioned 4000mAh battery), but at the end of the day, you can’t have it all, and you just have to pick the right compromises.

Cameras: is it all show?

PROS (Chris P.): There’s no denying that, in China, cameras have been a department that has received a disproportionate amount of attention in the past. This is because fancy camera units are expensive. In any case, the opposite is now the norm. You’ll be hard-pressed to stumble upon a higher-end Chinese brand smartphone that isn’t utilizing a camera unit from either Samsung or Sony. Especially the latter. Moreover, phones like the new Gionee Elife E7, the Xiaomi Mi3, and the new Nubia Z5Sn are all equipped with some pretty awesome tech. Features include OIS, 4K video capture, slow-mo’s and so on in the case of at least the Nubia Z5Sn. Not too shabby for a full-fledged flagship that costs about as much as the Nexus 5.

CONS (Victor H.): Smartphone cameras have improved so quickly, reaching near-parity with point-and-shoot cameras. A lot of it is thanks to camera sensors by Sony, OmniVision and others, but there is more to the equation than just the sensor.

A camera is about the overall experience, the camera interface, editing features, and so much more. Common sense tells you that a white-box Chinese manufacturer simply does not have the resources and the team that would build such a great all-around experience. It’s no surprise then to see that a lot of them rely on a generic Android interface. There is nothing wrong with generic as long as it usable (it is), but if you are looking for more advanced features and shooting modes, those might not be there. You can also often see Chinese phones advertised to have impressive cameras on paper. A ‘13-megapixel’ front facing camera sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s just that it’s often times not capable of recording even 720p videos, and the still images turn up surprisingly awful. The takeaway is to not rely on just reading the specs, as they don’t always paint a full picture.

With that said, there are clearly some exceptions. Companies like Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE and Xiaomi have both the resources and the will to bring decent cameras. The problem is with the real dirt cheap white-box Chinese makers, that often cannot deliver a great camera.

Intellectual rights and workers’ rights: should you support “Made in China”?

PROS (Chris P.): Stealing is wrong. Period.

Of course, that never stopped the top dogs in the industry from copying each other. To try and put it all on the Chinese manufacturers seems unfair to say the least. Nobody is promoting iPhone 5s knockoffs here. Just like nobody is suggesting that you buy into one of those. There are plenty of manufacturers, like Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, Meizu, etc., that offer original designs that don’t blatantly copy. Those, not at all accidentally, are also the ones that offer the highest levels of quality on all fronts.

To try and put a nation of over a billion people under a common denominator, to me, is downright wrong and misguided.

CONS (Victor H.): Hey, I might be old-fashioned here, but I think stealing is wrong. It does not take a genius to accept the fact that Chinese companies, often enamored with Western gadgets and design, shamelessly steal and copy. It actually takes a genius to make up excuses for that. Not all companies do copy, of course, but those who do are never punished. When it comes to intellectual rights, China is a jungle with its own selective laws, or rather - lack of such. It all boils down to the fact that originality and creativity are values worth defending.

Final words

This last section is purposefully not tagged as a conclusion. We want you to make one for yourself -- we've already provided enough food for thought. Whether you'll end up buying a phone born and raised in China is a matter of choice, but also a commitment. We've seen the local market there break free from its infancy, and that's no surprise -- we're talking about the world's biggest smartphone market after all. The Chinese manufacturing machine has been put into motion, and if it manages to keep as steady a pace, we may very well be hearing more about currently obscure brands. But it'll require an effort that transcends far beyond cheap prices -- the worldwide smartphone market is a killing field, and only the very strongest survive. In the end, it feels like both sides agreed on one thing: China is way too big for every single smartphone to be put under a common denominator.

Note: This editorial is part two of two. See part one.

Recommended Stories

Loading Comments...
FCC OKs Cingular\'s purchase of AT&T Wireless