Friday, May 2, 2014

Don’t buy local smartphones in the Philippines

Okay, the post title may sound harsh and rather makes me a self-hating Filipino, but hear me out. Low-priced local brands have been popping up all over the country, all eager to dominate the market as Philippine consumers become more accustomed to smartphones instead of just feature phones. The sad thing is that many of their cheap handsets boast only just that: being cheap. Build quality, aftersales service, and user experience are a whole different story.

Cherry Mobile Apollo

Lousy aftersales customer service

Here’s a tale from a friend of my mine who bought a Cherry Mobile Apollo. Yes, he chose that, because to him it was apparently the best choice for his budget at the time. We all know phones from global brands with the same kind of features are priced usually higher. He had no other choice. Everything seemed okay with his phone at first, but after a few weeks his phone’s accelerometer went haywire. From thereon, his explorer in the endless runner Temple Run would stick always to the left, no matter how my friend would rotate the phone. We tried tinkering the phone to recalibrate its motion sensors to no avail. We had no choice but to surrender the phone for warranty repair.

It was nice for Cherry Mobile to honor their warranty service. The problem is, up until now the phone is still in their possession. My friend has given up on his phone after months and months of calling the customer support in regards to his phone’s repair status. Responses we got from them were varied every time we called: motherboard being replaced, being shipped abroad, waiting for replacement parts. I’m not really sure, but I get the feeling they were all random crap reasons to be given just so disgruntled customers can be appeased.

Update (5/10/2014): Yesterday, we went to the Cherry Mobile store at Ayala Cebu where my friend returned his phone for repair. Their retail section had light foot traffic as usual, but the service center inside was jam-packed with CM device owners obviously wanting to get their items fixed. The absence of windows and the tight space gave the room quite an aggravating, unwelcoming ambiance. We asked a person in charge if my friend’s Cherry Mobile Apollo had been repaired and could be claimed back.

Cherry Mobile Ayala Cebu

As you can see in the job order form photo below (click to enlarge), he requested for repair back in January 7, 2014. You can also see that the phone was purchased only a few weeks before that, specifically on December 17, 2013. When he surrendered his unit, it was labeled as having complete screws and the warranty seal intact. So we can basically conclude that my friend haven’t tampered with his device to cause it to break. It’s also rather disappointing that a smartphone with only a few weeks of normal use breaks (more on build quality in the next section).

Cherry Mobile customer solutions job order form

After a few minutes, we were told that the device was still being repaired. Wow… four months have passed and they’re still not able to fix an auto-rotation issue. Indeed, we left empty-handed. That and my friend received moments after a message from the service center, complete with bad grammar and all.

Cherry Mobile customer service

Update (5/12/14): Two days after the ordeal, we once again received a text that the unit was ready to be picked up at the Ayala Cebu branch. We went back and indeed got the unit, fully repaired. It’s annoying that it takes them months to repair one faulty mechanism, but still we’re grateful that we have the phone back.

Build quality

I myself usually don’t think about warranties during the buying decision process. It only comes up when a problem has already happened with the gadget I bought. Then again, such a problem hardly occurs if we’re talking about a device by a recognized brand.

For instance, I have a Galaxy Note 2 that’s been in use for more than a year already. I’m usually a cautious guy, and there are times when my phone slips from my grip and falls into the ground. I’d guess it dropped more than ten times already—and many of these drops are above waist level—since I bought it. So how’s it doing now? Still functional and the display intact. Sadly, it does look worn out, and I won’t be able to get a lot for it if ever I decide to resell.

On the other hand, many local phones drop dead even after just one accidental fall. Damages are often major: cracked and unresponsive touchscreen, phone not turning on, and so on.

Online reviews

What I usually observe about online reviews is that regular users have contrasting opinions to ones written by critics. The latter can be often found giving out undeserved praises about the local phones, saying how these local devices give consumers the best bang for their bucks. Their opinions are constantly positive about the device (some cons may be mentioned, but often hidden or defended profusely) that one can’t be blamed for thinking that these reviews have been paid for. You see, there’s not much credibility to a post if it’s sponsored. And really, constructive and unbiased reviews are hard to come by these days.

Users, on the other hand, would frequent the comments sections of these official reviews and mention a bad thing or two about the phones. It can be hard to determine which of these comments come from a troll, a hater/fanboy, or a sincere user who’s become dissatisfied with his phone and wants to warn other users of problems.

When local brands aren’t even locally made

Know that saying “mahalin ang sariling atin,” because doing so would help our economy grow? The problem with our local smartphones is that they’re just devices made by no-name companies in China or India. The likes of Cherry Mobile, Starmobile, and MyPhone just buy these cheap handsets and market them under their own brands—badge engineering. Though your reason for buying these supposedly homegrown devices may be to help the local community, you’re just actually helping generic Chinese and Indian companies keep churning out crappy products.

Outdated hardware

Another point why you shouldn’t be buying local smartphones is because of their generally slow performance in comparison to international products. Heck, even the two-year-old Galaxy S3 is in many ways better than any similarly priced local competition released this year. That, and you’re even guaranteed with quality aftersales service by Samsung. This is also why it pays to check every specifications of the phone if you’re really picky about performance. This is also why local brands don’t market the entirety of their phones’ specifications, because a part or two are of inferior quality and lower the general performance down to crappy levels.

Just because a smartphone is marketed as all new doesn’t mean it’s better. An experienced buyer knows that fact, but some ignorant fools are more than willing to buy stuff just because it’s newly released.

Any redeeming qualities?

So yeah, all the points above show my aversion to local smartphones. But I’m not totally saying that all products made by Cherry Mobile, MyPhone, Starmobile, O+ USA, and all other local brands are bad. It’s just that finding a great smartphone by a local brand is like finding a needle in a haystack.

MyPhone Rio

In my case, I’m rather fascinated by the MyPhone Rio. They say the features it has are quite a bargain for the price. But like I said, I have to take into account any unforeseen issues the phone has. Hopefully, I’ll find none when I do my research and when I try a demo unit before buying.

Wrap-up

When you must buy cheap, you have to accept the compromises. And should you choose to buy local, pick one first that really lives up to the promises it makes. Don't get easily get persuaded by what critics are saying; learn what fellow ordinary consumers are saying and make a decision out of that. Further, Don’t just rely on one critic/user review, read multiple ones. Or perhaps go to a website that aggregates all review scores into an average.

If ever you do buy a local smartphone, thoroughly use it before the warranty replacement period expires, so that if you find any defects and deal breakers, you can have your phone replaced with a new unit. Remember, local phones may honor repairs, but that could take months to finish.

What’s your experience with local smartphones? Let us know in the comments below.