Hong Kong is arguably the cheapest place in the world for new and used cell phones. Below is an unbiased guide to the four main options for bagging an affordable device in HK…
AST Global – Although they have a limited range, the cheapest deals for new, unlocked phones (and lots of other tech) is AST Global. They are online only and can deliver to your nearest MTR station. Customers can pay online or in cash and still receive the usual year-long manufacturer’s warranty. Their website isn’t the slickest, and be sure to inspect your goods before handing over cash, but all products include a 3-day money-back guarantee if you keep the packaging. This store is unbeatable on cameras too – cheaper than any of the arcades in Mongkok or Sham Shui Po…
Sin Tat Plaza – Many Hong Kongers head straight to Sin Yat Plaza on Argyle Street in Mongkok. Walk straight along the road out of MTR exit D2 – it will appear on your left (no English signage). Once it was notorious for rip-offs and fake models, but things have been cleaned up in recent years, and – along with Sham Shui Po – it is a great place for second hand mobiles too.
If cost has prevented you from upgrading to a smartphone, then a second-hand Galaxy S1 can be found for under $1000, and an S2 for under $1600. Many of the models are ‘parallel traded’ or ‘grey market’, so you may end up with an American variant, for instance. The mall is also good for mobile repairs and accessories, head upstairs for better bargains and try outside (street-level) for used models. Conveniently, most mobile operators have branches around the block, so you can pick up a sim to go with your unlocked phone.
Chungking Mansions – For dirt-cheap unbadged, counterfeit and original phones destined for Sub-Saharan Africa or Pakistan, Chungking Mansions is a good bet. Anthropologist Gordon Matthews estimates that 20% of the phones in Sub-Saharan Africa pass through the notorious Tsim Sha Tsui mall. Despite appearing new, many of the smartphones have been ‘refurbished’, had their IMEI number etched off and the software installed afresh. As the warranty seals are also often broken, this can only mean that some of the phones are stolen – though some may be factory rejects. If you risk buying a phone here, be sure to test it thoroughly and make it clear that you live in HK. ‘Shanzhai’/’Bandit’ phones (or ‘China knock-offs’) are also prevalent here, so be sure you know what you’re buying. M.I.C. Gadget often has reviews of Shanzhai devices.
High street stores – The final option is the high street, such as Fortress or Broadway. Here, you will often pay at least a fifth more for unlocked phones – sweeteners such as a cheap case or a Hello Kitty keyring may be thrown in to compensate… For this reason, they are usually worth a miss, but it may be an idea to calculate the savings of contract deals on the main carriers – Three, Smartone, China Mobile, 1010, One-to-Free and PCCW.
If you do buy a ‘sim-free’ phone, the cheapest monthly deal for unlimited data is China Mobile’s 3G-Lite at $68/pm. Most data packages cost in excess of HK$200 per month, but casual users – who aren’t streaming endless YouTube videos on the bus – will be fine with this deal.
Other ‘Expat Life’ tips on the blog:
- Accessing BBC iPlayer from Abroad
- Arranging China Visas in Hong Kong
- Buying the Cheapest Books in HK
- Comprehensive Map of HK Markets & Hidden Malls
- Essential expat tips and links
- Flat-hunting Tips
- Flight Links & Tips
- How to Bypass the South China Morning Post Paywall
- Job-Hunting Links
- Teaching in Hong Kong