A Note about grey import smartphones

In some cases, a grey import smartphone and an Australian model aren't Galaxies apart

Samsung Galaxy Note

Samsung Galaxy Note

Samsung finally launched its Galaxy Note Android phone in Australia this week. Did you know that the same phone has been readily available to by online since October last year?

Samsung Galaxy Note review
Samsung Galaxy Note: Unboxing and hands-on
A Note from Samsung: Galaxy Note finally lands Down Under

In case you're not aware, the Galaxy Note isn't exactly a new product. We first wrote about it way back in September when it was first announced. In fact, the long-anticipated Australian launch of the device comes months after the device went on sale in various European markets late last year and weeks after it launched in the US.

Despite Samsung not officially selling the Galaxy Note in Australia until now, various online mobile phone stores have been selling the device to Australian consumers since October. MobiCity was the first online retail outlet in the world to sell the phone, while Australian online store Kogan also sells the device. Critically, both sites sell the Galaxy Note significantly cheaper than Samsung does — at the time of writing MobiCity is selling the phone for $699, Kogan for $549 and Samsung for $899.

Stores like MobiCity and Kogan sell the Galaxy Note through what is known as grey importing, also called parallel importing. A grey import tech product is one that is imported from another country without the permission of the intellectual property owner, in this case Samsung. This can be achieved by an Australian business that buys the product overseas and then sells it online, or simply an International business that will ship the product to Australia.

The Galaxy Note isn't the first Samsung product to be sold in Australia before it has been officially released in the country. Last year, Apple won a Federal Court case which prevented Samsung from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android tablet in Australia. However, the banned tablet was freely available to purchase from a number of stores online.

In addition, the Samsung Galaxy S II Android phone was available online from grey import stores before it officially launched in Australia. At the time, that prompted a clearly irate Samsung Australia to release a statement to the media regarding imported Samsung devices.

"It has come to our attention that a third party has been offering Samsung products to various journalists to test and review prior to their official launch in the Australian market," said Samsung's vice president of telecommunications Tyler McGee in a statement. "These handsets are often imported from overseas markets and will not provide you with the optimal user experience that a local version of the device will."

Officially, Samsung Australia says any grey import model of the Galaxy Note is not "optimised" for the Australian market and won't contain Australian software. We've asked the company for a complete overview on what exactly are the changes made to the software and/or firmware between an import model and an Australian one. We'll publish this response as soon as we receive it.

In reality, the differences between the Australian model and an imported model are largely minimal. This reviewer used a grey import model of the Galaxy Note on the Telstra network and found no issues with network coverage, data or reception. The GT-N7000 model covers all three 3G network bands used in Australia, including Telstra's 850MHz Next G band.

The main difference between a grey import Galaxy Note and an Australian model is likely to be carrier branding and software. This often comes in the form of a telco logo when you turn the phone and may also include some shortcuts to telco services in the app drawer.

Do note that Samsung isn't exactly wrong when it says "buyer beware" for those buying grey import models: the company will not honour local warranty for imported devices. Both MobiCity and Kogan offer their own 12 month warranties, but you should do your research on exactly what this includes before you decide to hit the trigger.

At the end of the day we'd always try and buy locally before opting for an import model, but its incredibly difficult to completely dismiss import models if they are both cheaper and available far sooner than their local counterparts.

Do you think Samsung has a right to feel aggrieved with grey import suppliers? Would you buy a grey import smartphone? Are Aussies getting ripped off? Let us know in the comments below.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World

9 Comments

Nitroware.net

1

Vodafone used to have a handset whitelist which stated the only permissible handsets for their network.

Current carriers who own their network will have T+C which allows for termination if uncertified device is used

An imported handset running non domestic firmware will fall into this category. The carrier can claim whatever they want.

Domestic phone? Comes down to the software version and certification

Some handsets have targeted Australian firmware even if they are global. The N9 does for example available here have 'region variant' for Australia firmware which isn’t the same as ‘generic’ au firmware update when it comes to the new PR 1.2 update. Branded carrier firmware is different again.

For phones available exclusively through carriers and not retail even though overseas models eg certain '3' handsets in the past, they all ran locally validated software builds.

No two networks are the same and new phones do go through testing and validation on local networks which take time. Software or Basebands may get patches if is easier to patch the phone than the network.

Then there’s certification, strict legal process for certifying communication devices here. C-Tick, A-Tick, electricity codes for chargers, legalese for warranty and terms of sale and use.

Some devices designed to be world compliant and are submitted to authorities for formal approval for sale and use. Imported phones will not have gone through the AUS process and may have a foreign certification mark on them instead of AUS.

NitroWare.net

2

If a user bricks their handset due to firmware incompatible they will be in trouble if not recoverable. The ACCC has been pushing for mandatory contract life/24months (?) warranties on contract plans but that is for domestic handsets

Known issue with a handset eg Nokia N900 and others which had poorly mounted USB, who will foot the bill? A known minor issue may be overlooked by importer "minor thing, it still works, you broke it, you pay to fix" even if not users fault.

Third parties do not have access to tech bulletins or manufacture assistance. There may even be multiple chains in the process as the importer is not the original source of product.

To some people $340 is piece of mind especially if they have had phones go bad, but these days especially for world phones it’s the same hardware, likely the same software and similar firmware, almost twice the price is a significant tax for local support, especially when its lacking as many AUS branch offices of phone companies are simply sales and marketing outlets with a dash of tech support, Paper pushers basically.

Communications products are supposed to be certified for sale and use here. If they do not carry markings indicating as such even if the model is the same its still not supposed to be, authorities have no way of telling if two same looking devices carrying the same 'model number' have identical guts.

Look out for is foreign locked handsets. Some end users don’t care, assume they can unlock the grey market handset and then complain if they can’t or if there is no free unlock. One can’t be sure if a handset is locked or not even if the reseller says it’s unlocked.
Also some brands have multiple models.

There are two galaxy notes. There are twelve Galaxy IIs. The hardware and software varies for each model distinctly. A user might not be aware that the 3G (or LTE) bands on the grey import handset they have purchased whatever the brand do not match their network.

2/3 the price is significant, one can buy an imported note and a local droid for the price for a local note

Patanjali

3

Carriers here have BYOD plans, and that is how I am using my MobiCity Note on Telsta's NextG. The BYOD plans have extra calls and data.

I paid extra to get the MobiCity 2 year, onsite pickup and loaner warranty. And it does cover full value, but it is not Samsungs's, but that may be a bonus.

The point about buyer beware of warranties is true, because one importer's standard warranty only covered up to $400, which would be a pain if it completely failed.

One advantage of the international versions is that there is no delay for new OSs while waiting for the AU telco to include their branding and crippleware.

As for software, ALL Australian users get access to the free AU stuff, regardless of where or from whom bought. Navigon for Samsung was enabled for the Note back in January and works fine.

Patanjali

4

@dsharoo
I think you are spreading excessive FUD about the AU situation. Why, I don't know, but it paints you as untrustworthy, especially as it is so easy to show you are incorrect.

Why would telcos offer BYOD plans? Every one of them wants in on the chance to poach other's customers and visitors from OS. Maintaining whitelists of AU models is too much work and likely to create more problems for their customers than it is worth.

It is a lot more fluid in AU than the past, and trying to make out as if the AU market has not changed from a decade or so ago is FUD.

Roberto

5

$899 - $549 = $350. Samsung Australia must be joking. Why are most Australian retailers so rapacious? Same applies to cars but worse - they have made it impossible to import direct from OS. So much for open markets and free trade.

Robert Scott

6

Purchased a note in January (Hong Kong)got a letter from Telstra telling me they are aware that I have taken my Sim from my Apple and put into "Note" mentioned that after November the phone would no longer be suported on the 3Gs service as Vodaphone(with whom they carry the service) were making some changes???
If I find the letter I can be more specific but generally do imported units have significant hardware problems or can firmware adjust the changes when/if the time arrives??

Robert Scott

7

P.S. A great unit....traded in my "Tab" to get it.
A winner.

homer

8

Well, if they want to stop grey imports, they should ensure the Aussie market of an earlier release date, and a more competitive price. The reason why so many are willing to buy grey import is, as a consumer in Aus, they feel it is a rip off to buy local and again the wait is too long for the official release.

homer

9

Oh one more thing, and to say imported phone is not supported locally is just plain ridiculous. So they are saying Samsung Australia does not recognise the Samsung brand then and the Note from overseas is a totally different product than the local offering?

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