By Benedict Wee
This article is continued and concluded here.
Okay, so it's Wednesday. I'm a bit late cause I was caught up in all the "Drop The Rate Mate" excitment of yesterday. But better late then never no?
Also, this article comes with an extra play-by-play notes about my journey to get today's featured fake gadget so it contains helpful information should you decide to enter the world of mobile knockoffs.
Gadget: Sunno My Touch HDi
Place of Origin: China
"Inspired" by: The HTC HD
I've been meaning to get a new mobile for my 2degrees SIM but I don't have the urge to buy an iPhone 3GS as I once did after Apple's dubious ethics and the phone's security issues got aired to the public. That and all the bad handling of its initial launch by Vodafone was enough to turn me off the mobile completely so the only other option I'm left with is a Windows Mobile smartphone.
Windows Mobile 6.5's Marketplace Prototype
Being the gadget lover that I am I'm always looking for the newest shiniest toy that the tech world has to offer so when Microsoft announced that their new mobile OS would be touch-friendly I got pretty excited. Even better, I saw a video a week ago where a person managed to hack a HTC HD China knockoff and get it to run a version of Windows Mobile 6.5.
A HTC HD Knockoff Running Windows Mobile 6.5
The original specifications of the HTC HD were pretty impressive during the time it was launched in September last year. The 528 MHz processor with 288 MB RAM and 512 MB ROM powered Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional smartphone came with a 5 MP auto-focus camera and a 3.5mm headphone jack with Wifi, 3.5G and bluetooth connections. Its features would've distracted gadgetphiles from the underpowered iPhone 3G any day. It was a pity that this phone did not get released in New Zealand, otherwise consumers would have a better variety of smartphones to choose from.
The HTC HD
Its knockoff version -the Sunno My Touch HDi- has surprisingly similar specs: a 533 MHz processor with 256 MB RAM and 128 MB ROM, 5MP camera, 2.5mm headphone jack and it comes with Wifi and bluetooth connections. The best bit is that they've managed to install a similar build of Windows Mobile 6.5! This would make the phone one of the first to carry Microsoft's new mobile OS. Sweet!
The phone comes at a pretty low price of US$234 or US$234.99 (NZ$351.59 and NZ$353.01 respectively) with shipping. Why the two prices? I'll explain later. The HDi looks like the real thing and I'm pretty impressed at the way the pirates managed to create an almost perfect replica. Too bad about the 2.5mm headphone jack though, this means that you won't be able to plug in your earphones and having to rely on a crap usb-converter. This phone runs on GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz networks so there is no 3G which is expected since it was developed in China.
My arbitrary score for almost-the-real-thing-ness: 11/10
The phone looks exactly like a HTC HD and it's not like your mates would know the difference since the actual mobile wasn't sold here. It gets an extra 1 because it runs Windows Mobile 6.5 which doesn't come out till Spring, making it really unique and rare.
Bonus Feature: How I tried to buy a China phone
As I mentioned earlier, I needed to look for another smartphone to put my 2degrees SIM in and since the iPhone 3GS is out of the question I decided to purchase the HDi, mainly cause of Window Mobile 6.5. The company I chose to buy the smartphone from is called FastCardTech.
I've visited this website before on numerous occasions to research China knockoff mobiles and they looked pretty legit despite the terrible spelling, glaring grammatical errors and their fondness for repeating the specifications of a mobile in different colors and fonts ad nauseam. What drew me to try purchasing from the site was the huge variety of phones they offered and the different ways you could contact them should any problems arise. And boy were there problems.
One thing that did concern me was the way they answered inquiries about the phones they sold. It was not so much the bad english but the way they tried to avoid questions that would shed a negative light on their products. One of the most common inquires people would ask was if their phones had 3G connections and they would reply by giving the available connections that the phone had like "It has Wifi" or "It uses GSM so and so" instead of just saying no.
Besides that I was pretty confident that this wasn't a scam site so here is the timetabled version of my China knockoff phone journey.
Sunday, 9th August 2009:
- Saw the Sunno My Touch HDi on the "Smart Phones" tab of www.fastcardtech.com and decided to order it straight away. Signed up for membership and was instantly granted access to my profile and orders page. Ordered the phone plus a 4GB microSD card.
Total cost: Phone (US$209) + 4GB China Brand microSD card (US$12) + Shipping (US$25) + Poundage (US$11.59) = US$257.59/NZ$387.03
Notes: "Poundage" means PayPal charges which they make you pay at 4.7% of the total cost. They also accept Western Union Money Transfer and MoneyGram but sending money though those methods would be tedious, more expensive and less secure. At least with PayPal you could dispute any errors and getting a refund would be easy.
- Paid with PayPal and since credit card is tied to an overseas address wrote the correct address in the notes section of the payment so they could send to the correct country. Also sent them an offline message via Windows Live messenger to confirm address.
- Was returned to the www.fastcardtech.com website with an error message stating that the payment failed. Panicked and sent them a message on the phone's Q&A section. Returned to my profile and saw that the order was processed. Relief.
Monday, 10th August 2009:
- Woke up to an email from fastcardtech.com, they told me they couldn't process my order as my address stated an overseas address despite the note I put in. I sent them an email back immediately explaining that I've done this with ebay before and encounted no problems. Waited for them to reply back.
- It's late afternoon and I've received no reply. I get concerned but the customer service officer I left a Windows Live Message to has logged on and I talk to him directly. He explains in basic english that I should have added: "Do not send to postal address but this one instead" to the PayPal reciept. He then suggests that I call PayPal customer service to see if I can amend the note, if I'm unable to do so they'll issue a refund.
- I do. they can't. I tell him. He then sends a message to request a refund.
Notes: The Windows Live customer service person, although helpful, replied to my questions really slowly. I got about a total of 4-5 sentences worth of replies in an hour and because english isn't their first language expect to simplify your questions and get simple answers (some I got were just an "OK") in return.
- I ask how long will it take for them to issue a refund and he tells me the US office isn't awake yet (it was 4pm here) so it will be a couple of hours before I can get the money back and I will have to create another order.
- It's 11pm and I've still not gotten the refund. I message customer service on Windows Live again and he tells me they're still not in yet and I should receive it a couple more hours. I go to sleep.
Tuesday, 11th August 2009:
- I wake up and the refund has been... refunded. I decide to play it safe and create a New Zealand PayPal account. I make an order on the site again.
Total cost: Phone (US$209.99) + 4GB China Brand microSD card (US$12) + Shipping (US$25) + Poundage (US$12.45) = US$259.44/NZ$389.81
-"Wait. What?" you say? Yep, they've increased the price of the phone by US99 cents. I was wondering if I chose the wrong mobile or there was a mistake in the calculation. After adding/deleting the quantity over and over again for about 20 minutes I realized that I was better off just checking my previous invoice. I did and lo and behold, they did increase the price of the phone. Yeah it's only a US buck but it did increase the PayPal charge as well (4.7% of the total cost remember).
- Am a bit irked by them changing the price but I resign myself to the situation and proceed with payment. Wanting to get an answer but not wanting to provoke anything I send an anonymous message in the phone's Q&A section asking about the price increase.
- Am thinking every is going to be alright now. I've paid for my order, used a New Zealand PayPal account and a New Zealand address. Nothing can go wrong. Yay!
- It's 8.25 pm and I get an email from the company's after-sales team. Their english was equally difficult to understand so I tried to get a rough sketch of the situation:
- The HDi has AWESOME processing speeds.
- The HDi will come with equally AWESOME Windows Mobile 6.1.
- This is because there is a software problem causing Windows Mobile 6.5 to crash every so often.
- So they're sending out the Windows Mobile 6.1 version.
- When the factory releases the new Roms of Windows Mobile 6.5 they will support install it on their phones.
- They hope I understand the situation.
- If I encounter further problems or need a Windows Mobile 6.5 HDi they will offer a refund.
Notes: By now I'm feeling really crestfallen. I have two theories; either they never had a Windows Mobile 6.5 HDi in the first place and were just trying to offload their old stock (the 6.1 version has been around for awhile) by saying it did or they truly found a problem with the OS and were being honest. I decide to give them the benefit of the doubt and op for the latter since they did inform others of the error on their site as well.
- I do not want a Windows Mobile 6.1 HDi. The reason I bought this phone was because they said it runs 6.5 and I request a refund by replying to their email.
Wednesday, 12th August 2009:
- Woke up. Checked email. Refund wasn't there. Went to the page and sent a message through the invoice. No reply. Went to the phone's Q&A section and they've replied to my price hike query. They claim to have never increased the price. What they don't know is that I still have the two same orders on my account with the different charges. They did answer me (which is good) but they lied about it (which is very bad).
- Came back home just after lunch and saw that their Online Live Support was active on their website. Went in and told them about my situation. No reply.
- Cooking dinner. Tried Online Live Support again and asks if anyone is there. Someone finally comes through. The guy's name is Philippe. He says "Sure, how can I help you?". I tell him my situation. He doesn't respond.
- Decide to try Windows Live customer service. I get an answer! He explains that even though they're only shipping the HDi with Windows Mobile 6.1, they will release a software update that will allow current users to upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.5 and it will be available at their site for download when it becomes ready.
Notes: So now I'm thinking, do I take the bait and trust them? They were being dishonest about the price hike and it's been an uphill battle trying to get a phone sent to me.
- I do because I still need a 2degrees phone and hey, it makes for writing a good article. I tell him not to refund the payment and wait for the phone to arrive.
To be continued.
So there you go, a personal journey of purchasing a China knockoff smartphone. I will post this part of the blog again as a new post when/if I receive the phone and will probably give my first video review as well. I'll also share my thoughts about what I've learnt about this experience. For now though, if you're thinking about buying a knockoff, proceed with caution.