Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on Dawn.com.

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience

.

Chinese fever

October 26, 2013

Email

Low-cost Chinese phones are eating into market share of Apple and Samsung. — Reuters Photo
Low-cost Chinese phones are eating into market share of Apple and Samsung. — Reuters Photo

If you walked through the streets of Abdullah Haroon Road in Karachi a few years ago, you’ve seen the mobile market dominated by traditional brands such as Sony Ericsson, Nokia, and BlackBerry Ltd.

Later on, tech giants such as Samsung and Apple came to the party and grabbed their position as popular mobile phone brands in Pakistan. But while the well-established brands were battling for supremacy, a small Chinese hurricane, underestimated by its rivals quietly gathered force in Pakistan. At first, Chinese mobile phones appeared to be blatant knock offs, providing extremely cheap and unreliable alternatives to the best-selling phones that were out of the reach of the average consumer. But then came the QMobile explosion and things changed drastically.

Today, Abdullah Haroon Road is barely recognisable in terms of brand availability as compared to five years ago. While the big brands are still there, many official outlets that sell authentic products have shifted to a new mobile phone shopping mall across the street. Searching for a phone in the popular mobile street today, one would think there has been a technology invasion from China.,

“Yaar, things are different now”, says Faisal, an experienced salesman at a mobile shop who has been in the business for the last five years. “QMobile is outselling all the leading brands in Pakistan because it is cheap and reliable. The China-based company offers full-fledged smartphones at a price you can easily afford. In this era, when mobile phone snatching has become so common, who wants to pay so much money for something one isn’t likely [or lucky enough] to keep for long?”

Certainly, the statistics are in QMobile’s favour. Based out of Karachi, Pakistan, the mobile phone company had raked in phenomenal figures in terms of revenue by June 30, 2012: 761 million rupees, which was 85.8 per cent more than the previous year. The company imports devices designed and manufactured in China, and then sells them under its own label locally. While the majority of the company’s profits are rolling in from the low-end market, QMobile has expanded its portfolio during the past year and added ‘high-end’ smartphones to its line-up.

Typically, one would not expect high-end products from China, but Google’s Android operating system has changed the scenario due to its open source nature. This has allowed the Chinese factories to concentrate on their area of expertise – low cost manufacturing – while shipping the products with a highly sophisticated operating system.

Apart from QMobile, other high-end Chinese smartphones are also available in the local market, including ThL W11 and the UMI X2 Turbo. These smartphones are priced at around 30,000 rupees and claimed to be as powerful as flagship devices from Samsung, HTC and Apple. They’re available at select stores on Abdullah Haroon Road as well as on certain Pakistani websites such as AllmyTech.pk and Homeshopping.pk.

One of the most expensive and popular Chinese smartphones in Pakistan seems to be the Xiaomi M2S, which is manufactured by China Telecom. Priced at less than 40,000 rupees, the phone’s claim to fame is that it can stand toe-to-toe with the Samsung Galaxy S4, which is considered to be one of the best smartphones in the world.

In terms of technical specifications, the phone is indeed a powerhouse. It features a 1.7GHz Snapdragon quad-core processor, which matches the speed of the HTC One, while barely trailing the 1.9GHz clock of the Galaxy S4. The phone also sports 2GB memory and a front and rear camera with decent resolutions.

On benchmarking software such as AnTuTu, the Chinese smartphone managed to keep pace with the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, and is available at a lower price when compared to these smartphones. While the Xiaomi M2S performed well in the benchmark test, the catch is that it features lower resolution than the phones it challenges. Also, the camera sensor isn't as grand. The phone doesn't feature a long lasting battery, unlike its competitors, which is a problem considering how quickly a frequently used smartphone's battery drains.

Another issue is the warranty factor. In Pakistan, mobile phones are said to be sold under warranty, but many e-mails, phone calls, and text messages to Allmytech's official contact information received no response. Finally, a few days later, they responded to our inquiry, but their promised follow-up phone call never came. Moreover, some of the numbers on their website were also not functioning, establishing little confidence in their services. Such a dry response would be very frustrating to a customer with a legitimate complaint regarding a malfunctioning device.

That being said, the high-end Chinese smartphones in question have earned favourable reviews on the internet, and buyers have termed their purchases as 'surprisingly high quality'. QMobile users have also praised their high-end devices, though some have complained about the dissatisfactory user experience of the phone.

Anyone who is interested in buying a powerful smartphone without paying the premium price, should look at the warranty situation, and consider the fact that these lesser known high-end devices take a deeper hit on resale value than the more tried-and-tested brands. These phones may also suffer from longevity issues after the warranty has expired, because their long-term life is still dubious.

However one thing is for sure, these high-end smartphones from China are here to stay, and their product support and acceptance is certain to grow in the years to come. More competition is never a bad thing.