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A Rough iPhone 4S China Buying Guide


I am pretty sure that iPhone is the most deluxe and awesome phone available today.  The iPhone Taobao app in particular is incredible – it offers an easy way to send the shop an SMS message to ask ‘where the heck is my stuff?’ So when the opportunity came up to buy the wife a new phone for Christmas, I hit Taobao in search of the best deal. Here is what I found!

iPhone 4S prices fluctuate every day

As of the time of writing (Jan 2012), the average price on an unlocked Hong Kong 16GB iPhone was 5500rmb ($874). That is a $220 markup from the original Hong Kong price! Hong Kong is out of stock on iPhone 4S, so you can’t buy one direct from Apple in HK.

The price fluctuates constantly, and you will see dozens of the top shops  making adjustments every day. Every shop offers many options, and each will get small adjustments according to stock and the market.

The Choices You’ll Face

International Versions

  • Hong Kong (港行 or 港版)Are the most desirable ones in China. Always unlocked.
  • Korea (sometimes referred to as international 国际版). Also always unlocked. But somehow less desirable than the HK ones.
  • USA and Canada can be locked or unlocked
  • Chinese version will be officially launched in February 2012 or later

Other options and vocabulary:

Locked (锁) Means you can’t just drop your sim card and go. You need to have a contract with an authorized service provider. If you want to go this route, don’t buy from Taobao. Visit a China Unicom office.

  • Locked (有所)
  • Unlocked (无锁)

Jailbreak (越狱) means adding excellent external apps that Apple doesn’t allow.  As of Jan 2012 cannot be done on iPhone 4 8GB, or any iPhone 4S. Only older iPhone 4 16GB and 32GB.

  • Can jailbreak (可越狱)
  • Can not jailbreak (不可越狱)

Activated (激活) means that it has not yet been turned on and registered. For unlocked phones, this is not a problem. It just means you need to insert your sim card and connect to iTunes to register.

  • Activated (激活)
  • Unactivated (未激活)

Selecting packages (套餐)

Most shops will offer to help you load your iPhone up with $500 worth of apps. If you do this, you will receive a package which has already been opened.  Otherwise, your box will be sealed and inactive, ready for you to break the factory-fresh seal. Many packages will also come with a little starter kit: a SIM card cutter, a screen protector and a crappy case.

Given the high costs of the iPhone 4S, I decided to buy a pre-jailbroken iPhone 4 for my wife.  She is happy. This is a big purchase so if you do buy from Taobao, make sure you have the consult of a Chinese friend. And if you do buy from Taobao, buy through this link and TFG gets some love!

iPhone 4S on Taobao

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