Living in Australia can be a frustrating experience. You're always reading about the hottest new phone being released overseas, yet everytime you ask if you can buy it in Australia, you're met with a standard "wait and see" response. But thanks to the Internet, you don't really have to wait anymore - you can pick up phones online and have them shipped to you well before they even start getting tested in Australia. But there are a few important aspects you should consider before you spend a heap of cash on an international phone.
1. Is it locked?
Lots of phones are locked to the carrier that sells them in any particular country. Try and pick up an iPhone from the US and you'll discover what this means. And unlike the iPhone, which has a healthy community of developers working out how to jailbreak and unlock your phone easily, many phones will require you to get into the root menu to bypass network locking. If you're not a seasoned developer comfortable with code, then you don't want to buy one of these phones - if you stuff it up, you've just bought yourself a very expensive brick.
2. Will it work on my network?
We're pretty fortunate - most mobile networks around the world use one or more of the same four frequencies to let you make and receive calls, so chances are the phone you buy overseas will work over here. There are some important exceptions however, mostly revolving around the faster 3G/HSPA phones.
In Australia, there are three different 3G/HSPA networks in use: 850MHz, 900MHz and 2100MHz. All three major Australian Telcos (Telstra, Optus and VHA) use the 2100MHz frequency in capital cities. However, in other areas, Telstra uses the 850MHz spectrum for its NextG network, while both Optus and VHA use the 900MHz frequency for 3G.
Where this can pose a problem is in the different handsets. For example: The iPhone supports the 850MHz and 2100MHz frequencies, but not 900MHz. This means that it will work on all of Telstra's network, but only get 3G in the capital cities (it will drop down to GSM speeds instead) for Optus and Vodafone. Alternatively, the new Nexus One from Google supports 900MHz and 2100MHz, but not 850MHz, meaning it won't offer 3G for Telstra customers outside the capital cities.
It's important to check the tech specs on your phone of choice, as well as knowing which network you want to use it on.
3. The Language Thing
This probably seems like a minor point, but if you were eyeballing the latest KDDI phone from Japan to the point you decided to pick it up online, remember that it's probably a Japan-only handset. Even if it works with the Australian networks, it
probably won't have menus in English. Or a manual. Or anything else, for that matter. So unless you speak Japanese natively, this is something to be aware of. may not have English language support. And even if it does, the English manuals are likely to be a lot simpler than the Japanese ones, according to my good mate Chris Nicholls from Tech Trader magazine. In any case, it pays to be careful when making your purchasing decision...
As always, buyer beware. If you're picking up a brand new iPhone from an online retailer and the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. You may get a product, but it might not be the one you were after. You might also have your identity (and money) stolen, so try and be careful, okay?
5. Warranties - or lack thereof
Chances are, if you buy a phone online from outside Australia, you won't get any warranty support. Even if the website says you do, you probably won't.
6. Watch out for customs
This shouldn't really be a concern at all, but there is a chance that customs may take it upon themselves to confiscate your imported phone when it arrives on Australia's doorstep. It could be that you need to pay them some money to receive it, it could be that they destroy it because the box is riddled with dangerous pests that will destroy Australia's precious environmental ecosystem. Either way, it's something you shoud be prepared for.
Ultimately, when it comes to importing a phone from overseas, the biggest piece of advice is to buy smart. Do your research, buy from a reputable seller and - most importantly - make sure you share the fruits of your purchase with us here at Giz AU...