Dangers of buying used phones originating from the US and Korean market

Apple selling their phones only in a limited set of countries, made the concept of people buying phones from the US market and unlocking them if possible as the only way to get an Apple IPhone.

The trend for Android has been phones from providers such as T-Mobile, AT&T being brought and then being unlocked.  Similarly phones from from Korea has been another major intake in Sri Lanka due to the high number of people going to work there.  Here you find telco’s such as SK and KT telecom.

Many purchase this phones as they are either,

  1. Significantly cheaper than buying an international or local used version of the same phone
  2. Offer a higher configuration than the international or local variant of the same phone
  3. Availability of more models than local model range

The cheaper issue is definitely not the danger, but more so the different in configuration.

Common differences in US/Korean telco phones compared to international or local variants

  1. Very different processor, a key reason being that the LTE versions tend to have a different chipset, mainly due to the reason that the normal units powered by Tegra based processors do not support a LTE modem (Most popular the international S3 had a very powerful Samsung Exynos processor and MALI400MP GPU, the LTE version a much less capable Qualcomm unit coupled to an Adreno GPU.  Most users misunderstood that the higher clocked 1.5Ghz Qualcomm unit was in fact slower than the 1.2Ghz Samsung Exynos)
  2. Larger screen sizes (a popular upgrade in the US market phones, many Galaxy S1 and S2 variants had larger 4.5″ screens, and in some cases 1280×720 screens when the international units were having 800×480 screens)
  3. Large internal configurations (the most well known is the US variant S3 has 2GB RAM, while the international variant only has 1GB, the higher configuration possibly to combat the Apple threat than any other reason)

Problems that users may face when buying such used phones

Regardless of the phone being unlocked there are problems.

  1. Cannot replace the firmware with the international or local firmware version: You will NOT be able flash the phone with the international firmware since the hardware is different.  Even if you do, there are problems that come because of the differences in hardware
  2. Updates can be much slower or not available: Hence unlocked or not you have to wait until the updates are provided for the telco to get your phone updated.  However these devices are still custom made by the manufacture for the specific telco, and will be bundled with customizations requested by the telco including custom applications and updates are going to be much slower than the international version, and in some cases the updates stop (e.g. Many US phones for Android never got updated beyond Android Froyo or Gingerbread while international versions in some cases got ICS or updated variants of Gingerbread featuring newer core apps and tweaked performance, Motorola phones are the biggest offenders here).
  3. Slower performance, and less available memory: Another common issue is the customization done on behalf of the telco’s in many cases slowed down the phone due to bloatware running and many of these apps could not be easily removed unless the phone is rooted, something most users may not end up doing.
  4. Problems using 3G/4G data: Another little understood change is that the 3G and HSDPA network support may differ, as most phones are not true quad-band when sold to specific markets, hence they may work but not as efficiently and reliably as the local or international variants.
  5. Highly used batteries and internal components: Users in these markets would have used these phones WIFI on always, and this would mean the batteries would have had may of their usable recycle times completed, and the internal components having a lot more wear than local phones where WIFI and 3G being fully on is not very common.  while the phone externally will look great, the internals can be in a bad shape, expect higher maintenance costs or failure in units.

So when buying an used phone, check the model carefully.  Check what is different from the international and local variants and see if you are okay with the changes, and understand that the phone may not work properly.

One important check is also to see if the phone model code printed behind the phone and the code in the phone are same.  If they differ, it means the phone has been upgraded by maybe international version, but these phones are sure to give problems.

So sometimes a few bucks more for an used International or local variant may make a lot more sense 🙂

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