They seem to be incredible value for high specification devices, about half the price of a premium brand smartphone. They’re very popular and getting rave reviews in tech forums.
But it doesn’t always work out. Let me tell you a story.
I ordered my first Chinese Android, a nice spec and low priced Vernee Thor. Unfortunately the vendor (Oppomart.com – who have a “good reputation” on discussion forms) straight up lied about having the phone in stock, and so despite paying a premium for express shipping, no phone had arrived after 3 weeks.
I eventually got a refund and it was clear that they hadn’t even been close to shipping it – in fact I don’t think they had them in stock at that point.
My second purchase appeared to go through successfully, but the next day I was emailed a notice that it was cancelled by the marketplace – AliExpress – “for security reasons” and I’d need to send a scan of my passport and re-order. No thanks.
My third purchase (from GeekVida.es) was successful – woohoo! But the phone arrived and had a completely unusable microphone, seemingly a hardware fault on this particular handset. I made a video of the issue and asked for a return authorisation code:
Meanwhile, I had noticed that I had been charged in full for transaction #2, and no refund was forthcoming. I contacted AliExpress Live Chat Support and was informed that I just needed to be patient, refund was on the way. No problem, thank you!
My return authorisation code was given by GeekVida, and after a week’s delay (because I was out of the country) I shipped it back to them. (Update below)
Still no refund processed by AliExpress, and then several weeks later I receive a package in the post from the vendor (the “Super Egrow Group” Store on AliExpress.com). The order had been processed, despite telling me very clearly that it was cancelled. But the package I received had an open box, the phone looked ok but had clearly been a return from someone as the included charger was dirty and obviously used. It also turned out to have been shipped from China, not the UK like I had requested when ordering. I contacted the vendor about sending it back to them exactly as I received it, and getting a refund, on the basis that AliExpress had told me the order was cancelled.
The vendor, Super Egrow Group, refused to accept the refund request, so I used the AliExpress dispute escalation process, and included a screenshot of the AliExpress email telling me the order had been cancelled. I contacted AliExpress Live Chat Support and requested a transcript of my previous Live Chat (#4 above) – the agent told me he could see the transcript, but couldn’t give me a copy of it. Still the email THEY SENT should be enough for them to uphold the dispute, considering they sent it and caused this situation, right?
Wrong. AliExpress denied my dispute claim, so I’m stuck with this phone. (Time to submit a VISA chargeback – still waiting on the results of that process).
Meanwhile, seeing as I’m stuck with it, I decided to start using this phone. Connected to wifi network, it worked great, installed a couple of apps, no problem. What a beautiful screen, blows away the iPhone completely. I went to the phone shop and got a casing for my nano SIM card as it was too small for the phone (micro-SIM slot). I put that in and entered my SIM unlock code when prompted. Denied. Turns out this phone is network locked. To which network? I have no idea. Could be any network in the world.
Contacted vendor asking for the unlock code. Good luck with that.
(Bear in mind that I was getting the Elephone P9000 after the manufacturer had fixed the accidental release of malware in their software update. With the high spec, it’s a really nice device and I had been exchanging messages with some Irish folks who already bought it, just to do some extra checks locally.)
So I have this pretty nice phone, super hardware, beautiful screen, totally unusable locked with this error:
Wrong PIN – Please enter the Privacy Protection password to unlock.
The PIN from my SIM card, doesn’t work. Neither does 1234, 0000, 8888, 123456, 000000, etc. Remove SIM card and reboot. Still get the lock screen to enter PIN and error message “Wrong PIN – Please enter the Privacy Protection password to unlock”.
I brought it to a local phone & PC repair shop, the guys had no idea what it was never mind how to unlock it.
I managed to get to the stage where I could flash it with a new ROM, so I’ve just done that…
… and still see the network lock when I start it up.
So where to next in this unlock saga?
- Vodafone, my carrier, only unlock phones they’ve sold
- The dodgy online unlock sites don’t even list Elephone as a manufacturer
- I tried the local phone repair shop
- I tried flashing a different ROM, turns out it has no effect on network lock
- Elephone themselves don’t like to answer support questions
- The seller is unresponsive
- I’ve no idea what network it’s even locked to
- What to try next? Anyone want to buy a phone?
Back to Geekvida and the P9000 with the dodgy microphone in the video above. I sent it back to them and asked for a refund. They got in touch and told me they had got it and it was now working fine and they would like to send it back to me. I asked them for a refund instead, which they refused on the basis that it took too long for me to sent it back to them, so they were going to send it back (if that’s the case, why ask, just send the fucking thing back).
I said sure, send it back, but only if it is working 100% and the microphone problem does not still occur. In fact, I pleaded with them, “don’t sent it back with the problem still occuring as this is breaking my heart”. Maybe slight hyperbole but seriously, I’m sick and tired of dealing with these shitty phones and dodgy vendors at this point.
I got the phone back from them a few weeks later – hurray! The microphone problem is complete and utterly… still present. What? Didn’t they test it? Didn’t they look at the numerous videos, sound recordings and the notes I left in massive (1 inch high whiteboard marker size) letters in the package? Are they just screwing with me? At this point I don’t know what recourse I have but to try for a chargeback for this device too. The bank will be wondering what the hell I’m doing here.
So, dear reader, when you’re thinking about getting that beautiful, high spec’d Chinese Android phone just like your friend showed you that’s 1/3rd the price of a new iPhone or Samsung, just be aware: it could go perfectly, and within a month or two of your payment you do actually receive a phone that’s new, and isn’t network locked, and works on your local network frequencies.
Or the vendor could lie about shipping and devices being in stock.
They could send you a used, faulty or network locked device.
Or simply charge you when they said they hadn’t.
Or lie in their marketing materials, like Huawei did here.
Or ship from outside the EU contary to their claims, costing you customs and excise fees.
Or you could end up wasting hours of your time, have hundreds of Euros of funds tied up for months, no working phone, and hoping that 3rd parties will honour their obligations but having no power to control it.
You might be happy to pay a premium to avoid all that. At this point, I would.