A Perspective on Generic Devices (from China) versus Mass Production Devices

by xaueious After reading a lot and understanding more about the Chinese electronics industry, I've gained a lot of knowledge into what to expect out of the devices you buy and what caveats exist before purchasing such devices, and the state of the industry. This is still speculation in a lot of parts. I'm Chinese myself but I never ever lived in mainland China before. I haven't had first hand experience with them, but I was curious and so I decided to write this up.

You get what you pay for with Chinese hardware. No more. No less. Sometimes it isn't a bad decision. I think they can do better, but they aren't just about to change any time soon.

You will pay for the hardware, but they pledge no after-sales support. Any promise of a higher version of Android is bleak. They don't allocate budget for that sort of thing. They like doing generic devices because no one can find them and give them bad rep. They sell generic devices because they can't afford to go big.

This is beyond just reading about Foxconn in the news. This is more about the state of the so called shanzhai companies, mostly in Shenzhen. These are the companies making your Ekens and Apads and what not. Shanzhai just refers to small companies in general. So of these there are the companies that do the electronics IC stuff including the software, and the companies that do the physical hardware components as well as assembly.

Companies such as SmartQ and Ramos are different. They employ these companies to do the hardware and electronics, but they have real marketing in their companies. But that doesn't mean they often don't have much technical expertise themselves either.

Overall, you have to weight the advantages and disadvantages before you decide to dive in and get a shanzhai device. The price difference might be a couple of loose bills, but the difference in support and sometimes quality will be significant. I personally have nothing against buying devices from shanzhai companies because I actually want to support what these small startups are doing, but at it helps to be aware of things like this before you go and buy one for yourself.

I'm going to end this with some pros and cons of going the shanzhai route.

Pros of going shanzhai

  • Cheap! you always pay a lot less cash for what you would get comparably if you got something that is mass production. Most of the money you spend is money going directly into the components of the product and not wages or marketing
  • products still have a design life of at least a year
  • they learn about their products as they start selling them, and do generally express a desire in improving the quality of their products

Cons of going shanzhai

  • Chinese development of electronics devices is often rushed to market with minimum attention to detail during the design stages. Many companies don't really do real R&D. They copy designs and modify them. That's what makes them fast. But that also makes means they are not knowledgeable about what they are making at times.
  • variable and sometimes questionable quality control, because of poor factory and worker conditions
  • terrible wages for all factory workers, at around 15RMB per hour overtime (that's $2 USD). You buy and you support this system. As the products are rushed the market, workers are forced to work overtime, sometimes without getting paid for it.
  • no pledge of after-sales support, including firmware updates because they do not hire specialized staff for that
  • complete disregard for intellectual rights
  • products may not be designed to last more than a year
  • fragmentation between electronics ic design and physical hardware design, as companies are too small to do both. Usually the companies doing the physical hardware design outsource for electronics, but that means they have little leverage over the software not only because they do not have the personnel to perform the tasks, but because they are often completely uneducated about the electronics side of things. Do not expect any firmware upgrades. Ever. They rarely have done so in the past for other products. They do not allocate any budget for after-sales support. Once they are done selling one batch, they move on. You can only hope that they keep making the devices, but if the devices have inherent problems already, get rid of it because they are trying to do the same thing and move on to the next batch.
  • they are incompetent at marketing. Their specs are wrong not because they are liars first, but because they don't pay attention to that kind of thing and just have no business sense sometimes. Usability is their motto.

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