Read this before getting an imported smartphone or tablet

Feb 17, 2013, 10:28 IST | Nimish Dubey

Thinking of asking a friend or relative going abroad to bring back a gadget or two? Think again, for notwithstanding the lower price, you could end up with a product that does not exactly work the way you want

India might be one of the largest markets in the world, but the stark (and sad) fact is that a number of international manufacturers do not release their products on Indian soil. This is particularly so in the case of technology, where products launched with much fanfare overseas either come late to Indian shores, or never come at all (hey, the first iPhone and Android device were never officially launched in India).

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

One can, of course, still get one’s hands on them, courtesy friends and relatives going abroad. In fact, there are many people who actually prefer this path, as prices of many electronic goods overseas are actually significantly lower, even after you factor in customs and duties. But like every rose, this tech one too has its thorns. Ignore a few factors and your overseas purchase might end up either not functioning well, and in some cases, not at all.

Network factors
This is applicable mainly to devices that come with some sort of connectivity, such as phones and tablets. A network which is supported overseas might not be supported in India. A classic case of this was seen in the case of the new iPad, which comes with support for high-speed LTE networks, but only in a limited set of countries. Not all networks are alike and the ones supported overseas might not be in India.

The locked or unlocked issue
Most network connected devices (phones, tablets and even some e-book readers) are often locked to an operator and in some cases even to a region. In simple terms, this means they will not function unless working on a particular operator’s network and in some cases, even in a particular region. Of course, you can ‘unlock’ the device to overcome this, but that often voids warranty.

Warranty and service matters
If you are spending a pretty penny on a device, make sure that it not only has an international warranty but also has service support in your country. Else you might end up like an Amazon Kindle e-reader user in India, who gets a global warranty, but has to send the device to the US to get it repaired. Even in the case of an international warranty, do check the names of the countries where the warranty is supported — you will be surprised to notice how often India is missing from the list.

Blocked features
All gadgets are not the same — not even if they bear the same name. For instance, for a while, the Nexus tablet being sold in India was a 16GB version while the lowest priced one abroad was an 8GB one. Similarly, in the case of operator-locked devices, some features, like the ability to use the device as a Wi-Fi hotspot or GPS or Bluetooth might be locked down — again, one can unlock the device to get these working, but bang goes your warranty in that case.

Update headaches
Buying the gadget is only the beginning. Companies often issue software updates, adding features and removing bugs to the device. But if you’ve got your device from overseas, you might find yourself not getting these on time (it would depend on the region where it is purchased from) or in some cases, not at all (if the update and/or product is not available in your country.

In the end, it really boils down to just how badly you need a device. In many cases, you might not have a choice but to get it from overseas, but if getting it from India is an option, our advice would be to buy it from home turf. Yes, it might cost more, but at least you have service and support to fall back on.

Popular Overseas Gadgets

Amazon Kindle Fire range
Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are second in popularity only to the iPad, thanks to decent hardware and relatively low prices, but alas, are not officially available in India.
Point to ponder: You might not be able to download apps or videos on it if you buy it from abroad.

iOS devices
Yes, they are all available in India, but travellers abroad are still requested to bring back iPhones, iPads and iPod touches because of the price differential.
Point to ponder: If the device is locked, you might have to jailbreak it to make it work in India, which murders warranty and could limit functionality.

Microsoft Surface RT and Pro
Microsoft’s venture into computer hardware might not have so far set the market on fire, but the tablet still has great flaunt value in India, especially when combined with the keyboard-laden cover.
Point to ponder: You might have to send it back to the place for purchase, should (Lord forbid) something go wrong.

Google Nexus 4
The latest Nexus phone from Google had been expected to land on Indian shores last year but has been delayed, allegedly due to supply issues. That has not stopped people from ordering this powerful device from overseas to get a ‘pure Android’ experience.
Point to ponder: You might need to flash the phone to make it work in India, if it has been purchased from an operator. That would void the warranty.  

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