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?

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Samsung Galaxy Note: Unboxing and hands-on
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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

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