IF YOU really can't stand the thought of waiting for Black Friday, here’s a great opportunity to blow your budget two weeks early.
Singles' Day (Guanggun Jie, literally 'bare sticks day') falls on 11 November (because 11.11) and is a celebration of being single. Just that. It's said to date back to the early 1990s and, as well as being a sort of anti-Valentine's Day, it has evolved to become one of the biggest cyber shopping days in the world, eclipsing Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
In fact, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has trademarked the term 'double eleven'. Yes. Really.
But more and more brands are using Singles' Day to market to the Western world. It used to be that ZTE, Huawei and HTC would create goods for white labelling (you have only to look to the 2004 HTC Typhoon, which was variously known as Audiovox SMT5600, Dopod 565, i-mate SP3, Krome Intellekt iQ700, Orange SPV C500, Qtek 8010, Vitelcom/Movistar TSM520 and O2 Xphone IIm) but they now proudly market direct to the world.
Names like Xiaomi, Oppo and Meizu may not be common here yet, but their phones are big, brash iPhone killers and only last week Meizu’s latest phone sold out in China. In 50 seconds.
The good news is that, even if the company doesn’t officially supply the UK, there are mail order sites such as Alibaba, Gearbest, Geekbuying and BangGood that can send your goodies direct from China, for a fraction of what you’d expect.
They all run very tight ships with excellent returns policies and expedited deliveries (for a few extra quid) from a warehouse in the EU.
But there’s also a lot of shonky tech out there. You have only to look back to the INQ field trip to China earlier in the year when we saw entire shopping malls filled with cheap Chinese tech to know that it’s not all plain sailing.
The sheer quantities that are shipped demonstrate that problems, like that of cheap USB-C cables that fry your computer, are out there to get you. So, in celebration of Singles' Day, here’s our guide to some names you can trust.
Quietly appearing over the parapet in the UK, Honor actually markets direct to the UK, mostly online, although it does have a deal with Three. Basically, this is Huawei, which recognises that companies suffer an image problem if you can’t pronounce their name.
Honor is Huawei's 'hip' little sister, which also manages to churn out flagship spec devices for a fraction of the price. Take the Honor 8, for example, one of our favourite phones of the year.
It's basically the Huawei P9 (a fine phone in itself) in a glass case, rather than aluminium, with more RAM (4GB), a non-Leica camera lens, and a fingerprint sensor that works as a button and as a swipe touchpad. Yet it’s under £370. And there’s already a public beta for Nougat. Win.
For this piece, we’ve done something unusual for INQ. We’ve asked marketing teams what challenges they have in selling an Eastern phone to a Western market.
Wilkin Lee, from Honor, told us: "In the past two years, we have grown exceptionally fast, proving that a state-of-the-art smartphone doesn’t have to come at a high price.
"The demand for Chinese technology is rapidly increasing in the UK, and we have met this by providing first class smartphones at an affordable price, without compromising on superior specs, supreme speed, high-quality camera capabilities and premium design.
"Our latest flagship device, the Honor 8, has specifically been designed for digital natives to meet the ambitious, fast-paced lifestyles of this generation. In a competitive market, we do things differently, selling our products exclusively via our e-commerce channel, vMall.eu, which provides customers with the highest grade shopping experience that they expect.
"All of our products marry Chinese technology with the demands from Western Europe, which has made the brand’s transition from East to West a unique one.”
You can get the Honor 8 from Huawei’s vMall for £369. Honor is celebrating Singles' Day, even though goods are shipped from Britain, so there may well be a bargain to be had.
The biggest grey area in Chinese tech is power. USB-C cables and battery packs have both had a bad rep, and the Galaxy Note 7 debacle only made matters worse.
Fortunately, Choetech has proved repeatedly to be reliable in our tests. With products including a 10,400mAH battery with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 and some of the most ridiculously sturdy TPE rubber coated USB-C cables we’ve seen, it's a good name to watch out for.
The firm also offers micro USB to USB-C and USB 3.0 to USB-C adapters for existing cables, but remember that you won’t get the full data speed that way.
You can also check out this six-gang charging station with two Quick Charge 3.0 ports at the website, or on Amazon.
The current darling of the Chinese upstarts, OnePlus has specifically set out to prove that it’s possible to get a phone with top specs without having to pay skywards of £600.
The company is, again, marketing directly in the UK, with a recent deal to offer contracts on O2. A new model, the OnePlus 3T, remains shrouded in mystery, but is seemingly imminent.
The current OnePlus 3 is a tasty beast indeed with superfast charging, an extremely rugged aluminium case, and a fingerprint scanner. It runs its own version of Android that has the look and feel of something a little bit special. Yet it’s £329. And, again, the stock is in the UK.
You can grab a OnePlus 3 from the website for £330, or from O2 from £28 a month. No firm announcement date for the OnePlus 3T (or S, or ST or Pro depending on what you read) but it’s coming.
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