International phone help!
August 9, 2011 6:26 PM   Subscribe

International phone recommendation, looking to buy an unlocked phone in the US before leaving, what should I look for and what works best?

I am moving to China in 3 weeks. Looking for phone recommendations. Trying to scout out an unlocked phone - gsm capabilities, wifi would be preferable...any recommendations on brand or model? I'd like to purchase while in the states so that I just have to locate a sim card or wifi access to make calls over skype to tie me over.

I guess a few additional questions are regarding how the sim cards work-- do they work in any phone or is that a feature you need to look for as well?
posted by melizabeth to Technology (6 answers total)
As far as I can tell, unlocked phones are way, way more available anywhere except the U.S.

Only a few U.S. networks use the same technology as the rest of the world, so you might be better off buying it elsewhere.
posted by odinsdream at 7:34 PM on August 9, 2011

You can probably buy a 'burner' phone in china for cheaper than anything you'll find in the US.
posted by dbmcd at 8:01 PM on August 9, 2011

Seconding dbmcd -- is there any reason you want to buy the phone in the US? Chinese GSM phones are dirt cheap at the lower end (you can buy a bare-bones Nokia for about $45) and are unlocked, so you'll be able to swap cards out. If you're looking for something with Wi-Fi, there are a number of RMB 1,000 (about $150) smartphones here running Android, mostly unlocked as well.

SIM cards will work in any GSM phone. They're what gives phones their identity: swap your China SIM card out for e.g. a Hong Kong SIM card, and you'll have a Hong Kong number. Swap in a UK SIM card and you'll have a UK number. Super-convenient.
posted by bokane at 2:03 AM on August 10, 2011

The ZTE Blade is a perfectly capable Android phone that is apparently selling like hot cakes in China. It has wifi, 3g, an 800x480 screen and a 600mhz CPU. I have no idea if you can get it in the States but if you can wait until you get to China to buy I can vouch for it. I have the UK model (sold as the Orange San Francisco) which came with Android 2.1 by default. Unlocking it was easy and free over the internet, and rooting it and upgrading to Android 2.3 was simple as well, should you feel like it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:25 AM on August 11, 2011

ZTE Blade specs and review. Early models had an OLED screen (pentile matrix, I believe) and current models come with an ordinary TFT screen.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:27 AM on August 11, 2011

Thirding dbmcd. Could you clarify why you want to buy one in the US? Is it because you don't know where to buy one in China? If there's someone you know at the place you'll be moving to, chances are that they have a super old phone that they can lend you for a few weeks, and can also help you buy a prepaid SIM card.

By the way, where will you be moving to in China? Cell phone rules are a little different in each city in China. For example, until about a year ago, you needed to have a Chinese ID card to buy a SIM card in China, which meant I had to ask a Chinese friend to help me buy one.
posted by xmts at 7:25 AM on August 14, 2011

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