What you need to know before importing that exotic Chinese Android phone

Enlarge / The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 Edition Palace Museum.

In recent years, we have seen a big change in the functioning of the smartphone market. China has become both the largest smartphone market in the world and the home of some of the most interesting smartphone companies. Lately, all cool and wacky smartphones seem to start in China first, then perhaps (or sometimes never) in the rest of the world. This includes devices such as the any Oppo Find X screen with its motorized pop-up video camera. A little earlier, you may have already taken a look at the original phone Xiaomi Mi Mix that gave the go to the craze for smartphones with thin casing.

The United States often seizes the global smartphone market, so you might be tempted to import one of those exotic alien smartphones. You can almost always do this, either via a random Chinese smartphone site, or sometimes even on The question is, however, should you? The importation of a smartphone poses a number of problems, so there are some points to consider.

Connectivity Issues

The biggest problem you will encounter is cellular connectivity, a foreign phone that may not work on your local cellular network. Each operator has a set of LTE bands in which it operates and, although phones sold in the United States generally ensure the use of good tapes, Chinese smartphones may not work at all on your operator or work with reduced connectivity Droid Life has a good reminder here for US networks, and you will need to compare it to the technical data sheet of each phone. The general answer is that you have a chance with GSM operators like AT & T and T-Mobile, and that Verizon improves thanks to VoLTE (Voice over LTE) which removes the need for CDMA. You will have a lot more trouble with Sprint.

Some Chinese manufacturers such as Xiaomi and Oppo are installing in Europe, which means more LTE compatibility and better compatibility with the US, which improves the situation. Also, do not forget that phones may have variations for different regions, so make sure the version you buy contains the groups you need.

If you're really desperate, the phone you want should work in Wi-Fi mode, no matter the choice, which means that it has to work at home or at the office. It also means that simply carrying a wireless access point is also an option.

Play Store and Boot Loader Barriers

Enlarge / You could survive using these alternative Play Store, but you really do not want it. Strictly Chinese smartphones, or phones with software designed for the Chinese region, will be problematic. Google does not do a lot of business in China, so Chinese Android phones will not come with Google apps. This means that your phone does not have the Google Play Store. You will have trouble accessing most ecosystems of the Android application. Restoring the Play Store is not as easy as downloading an APK Play Store and installing it on your device. Most Google apps rely on a myriad of other Google support applications for background synchronization, cloud messaging and login. Just install the Play Store. APK will not work.

It is difficult to operate the Play Store with a version of Android other than Google. It is easy to download the required Google applications on a PC – maintains a package containing the latest Google applications to download, available in different versions for each combination of CPU architecture and Android version. The. The problem is to install them on a phone. Some Google apps require system level permissions to work. They must therefore be installed as system applications, which a user is not normally allowed to perform. Your Chinese Android phone will need a "bootable boot loader", which is basically an on / off switch allowing you to fully control the phone's software. With an unlocked bootloader, you can boot into recovery mode and change the phone to get system permissions and install the Google apps you need.

It can be difficult to know if your phone is equipped with an unlockable boot loader. It is usually not on the data sheet. You will have to hope that the technicians will have posted the information somewhere on the Internet. A good place to check is the XDA Forums which is detailed by phone model. Just look for your phone and see if other people are progressing in modifying or unlocking the boot loader and / or rooting the phone.

In the past, Chinese companies were quite good at providing unlocked bootloaders, but recently they have been removing barriers for security reasons. As we have found personally during the importation of Xiaomi Redmi 3 smartphone retailers are not necessarily trustworthy. In our case, the reseller opened our device, unlocked the boot loader, sent Google applications to the system partition, put the phone back in its box and sold it as unopened and "new". At least we hope that's all they've done. Who really knows? The scary part is that we did not even notice that our phone had been tampered with when we received it.

Watch all those great phones that escape us! Here is the Oppo Find X featuring a motorized contextual camera.

Ron Amadeo

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 follows the road of all screens with a slider phone design.


The Xiaomi Pocophone F1 offers high-end specifications in a plastic case for just $ 340.


Thus, to prevent retailers from unlocking and mass-modifying consumer devices, some companies need a code or PC program to unlock a boot loader, sometimes with a period d & # 39; waiting. Xiaomi, for example, requires that you "apply" an unlock code by creating a Xiaomi account, logging in and downloading the "Mi unlocking tool". After you plug in a computer and run the tool, you will get an unlock code confirmed or denied, and there may be a period of waiting before your code arrives. . This waiting period varied from two days to two months . Huawei has closed the boot loader completely unlocks the requests.

Google has also started to fight Google side-loading applications. The company recently erected a barrage for "uncertified" Android devices that originally did not ship with Google apps. As with the unlocking process of Xiaomi, this requires to jump through some hoops so that you can be tracked and judged. Google's instructions ask you to install the Android development tools and a rooted device, then run a command to retrieve a Google ID and submit it to Google while connected to your Google Account. If you have personally flashed Google apps on your Chinese smartphone The Right Way, you will have already done the bulk of that work, but it would be painful for an unscrupulous phone salesman.

Your best choice would be to try to import a Chinese phone from a place other than China. Does he also sell in India or Europe? Aim this version. Google apps must be preinstalled on everything that does not come from China, which will save you tons of headaches.

ROM or not ROM?

If you get a phone with an unlocked boot loader, another option is to completely erase the existing software and flash a new software package, called "ROM," usually replenished by someone in the community. ROMs can start with the existing package and change it, or reject all the OEM package and start with Android. Chinese versions of Android are almost always lame iOS clones. Thus, a standard Android ROM can offer you a more normal and consistent Android experience. ROMs based on pre-installed software can be focused on speed improvement, customization or removal of crapware.

The challenge with spare ROMs is to maintain the functionality and stability of the pre-installed software package. With the Treble Project of Android 8.0, Google has been working a lot on the portability of operating systems with android. Today, most new phones should be able to store an Android ROM and start on the home screen. XDA has a whole forum dedicated to the Treble Project and each ROM here should, in theory, be universally compatible with all phones designed for Android 8.0 and later. There may be issues with hardware support outside of the basic functionality of the smartphone. Camera-specific functions or strange hardware additions, such as a pop-up camera or heart rate monitor, may no longer work with a Treble-only ROM.

Again, you hope that someone on the Internet is already coming to you and is running into these problems. Popular smartphones should have a decent community on their XDA sub-forum that has worked to resolve the various compatibility issues that appear. It's always worth taking a look around a phone forum before you commit to buying an import.

I hope this will improve soon

It is hoped that the current wave of China-centric smart phone companies will soon adopt a more global approach to launches. All major players are working to develop outside of China, usually in Europe. The United States may be difficult to break through the operator-centric market, the contentious character of established smart phone readers, and suspicion of the Chinese government but companies as Xiaomi and Oppo constantly claim that they intend to enter the US market in the future.

For now, you can either handle the puzzle of importing a phone and trying to get it in shape yourself, or just dreaming of those delusional smartphone designs from afar.

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