China veteran Bill Dodson got his mobile stolen and took to opportunity to investigate China’s fast changing and competitive battle ground for mobile hardware. A report from the shopping mall in Suzhou on his weblog.
Instead of just going back to HTC I decided to check out other brands, including domestic labels. For those who have never been to a Chinese mobile phone market, it is very much like a bazaar. Sales clerks could be selling socks and knit caps for all they care; which isn’t to say they don’t care. Instead, in general, sales staff are young, energetic and talkative, for the most part. They go to great lengths to find you a phone that matches your requirments, instead of bending your requirements to one brand. Sales staff at mobile phone bazaars typically hawk several brands, and have no resistance to placing on high-gloss glass counters phones from several competing makers.
I checked out Motorola and Samsung phones, and took a glimpse at Sony Ericsson’s offerings. The Nokia stands seemed rather lonely, if not well staffed. It was clear Nokia was putting a great deal of attention on the China market. However, the Microsoft squares didn’t seem to stimulate much interest in the shops I visited. Motorola, surprisingly, seems to have begun a resurrection, of sorts; however, I found the version of Android and accompanying apps loaded on its phones uninteresting.
Samsung was very strong, especially with its Galaxy offering. Its cameras were amongst the clearest, and it had the fullest line of phones with cameras mounted on the face of phones, to take advantage of apps like Facetime, to ease video calling.
The Chinese domestic brands had breeded like rabbits since I had last bought a phone at the end of last year. Now, in addition to ZTC, Huawei, Konka, Dopod, Amoi and Lenovo were phones from online service providers: Tencent (with its QQ phones); Baidu, the Google knock-off; Qihoo 360, Netease, Xiaomi and even Alibaba. Handling these smartphones, however, was a disappointment.
At the price point of about 1500 rmb the resolution of the cameras on the phones was sorely lacking, while their implementations of Android expressed a sense of arrested development. Of course, they were not meant to go head-to-head with the Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone; but were instead meant to meet demand at the low-budget end where students and country folk find their finances more constrained than the middle class.
However, Samsung, Motorola and Sony Ericson makes at the low end were still more rugged and feature-rich than domestic brands.
At one mobile phone market in Suzhou I wandered to the HTC exhibition, which was the most crowded in the large room. I spotted the model I had bought for myself six months before. It was a staggering 30% less expensive than half a year before.
Now, still less than the compact model I had previously bought, were newer models that were black, thin and sleek. The HTC One V was one of them. 5 megapixel (self-focusing) camera; half the thickness of an iPhone; 3.7 inch display; Android 4.0.3. Matte black. Very cool. No. Awesome.
I wanted one.
And at 2,300 rmb (just under US$400), it was a great value.