How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones?

2013 05 26 23.26.21   How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones?Do you own an iPhone 5? Or do you wish you could own Apple’s latest but can’t afford the premium price? If you answered “yes” to either question, you will probably want to know an awful or awesome secret, depending on your perspective: the iPhone 5 has a cheap knock-off that’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

New players in the game of international trade, who care little for patent law can help those looking for a cheap knock-off. It’s doubly vexing for legitimate iPhone owners that these iPhone poseurs pay low monthly fees and own phones that appear almost identical to the iPhone 5. And they paid next to nothing.

The arrival of the so-called “GooPhones” brings up many questions: Are Chinese knockoffs as good as the real thing? Furthermore, is it legal to own or import these “iPhonies”?

How the GooPhone Became Semi-Legal

The story of how the GooPhone became semi-legal begins with the chaotic nature of international intellectual property rights law. Throughout the late 80s and early 90s China and the US signed a number of international and bilateral agreements which nominally require each nation to respect each other’s intellectual property rights laws. In theory, a US patent possesses validity in China. In reality, Chinese and US courts heavily side with their respective domestic companies, frequently overriding the validity of foreign laws. This failing in international law opened the door to the GooPhone.

side by side   How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones?

The GooPhone became a legal brand when a Chinese firm acquired leaked photos of the iPhone 5 before Apple filed a patent on the design. The GooPhone’s makers then hurriedly manufactured and patented the design before Apple. This revealed deep issues with the US patent system as well as international intellectual property laws. However, for those seeking a semi-legal knock-off, the GooPhone and its copycats brings up an excellent question – are Chinese knockoffs as good as the real thing?

Many Kinds of GooPhones

GooPhone became an umbrella category used to describe all iPhone 5 clones produced in China. Ironically, after its initial success the GooPhone became shamelessly copied by other Chinese companies. While some variants on the GooPhone build – clones of a clone – copy every single aesthetic component of the iPhone 5, other phones dispense with the proprietary connectors and in general improve upon Apple’s original design. However, these design alterations allow discriminating consumers to determine the difference between the Mona Lisa and its fakes, so to speak.

Look At the Back

One of the things that might jump out after turning an iPhony over is its lack of a shiny Apple logo. You might see an alternative logo, such as a Bee for the official GooPhone. Other iPhonies use the Apple logo, but with a matte finish instead of a gloss. Fewer still completely copy the apple logo, which clearly infringes on Apple’s trademark.

The dead giveaway, however, is whether or not the phone has been approved for use in the United States (or elsewhere). You can check the Federal Communications Commission’s ID number online using a database lookup tool. As with many replica phones, the GooPhone pictured below lacks an FCCID, despite displaying symbols of FCC approval. However, within the operating system the GooPhone displays the same FCCID as Apple’s iPhone (CLEARLY dubious).

back   How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones?

A disreputable seller may use a skin or cover to hinder detection. Fortunately, other methods allow for determining whether or not you’re buying a fake. Such as scraping off the back of the phone with a razor.

Untitled   How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones?

I’m not sure why they even bothered to paste over Apple’s logo. I imagine these are sold as the real deal in China and overseas as clones. I would like to note that the official GooPhones do not fraudulently use Apple’s branding.

Thicker Glass

A surefire method of finding out whether you bought a fake is by examining the thickness of the glass screen. Because iPhonies tend to use cheaper materials, it’s unlikely you will see Gorilla Glass 2, as the true iPhone 5 uses. Instead, fakes substitute a thicker sheet of glass – at roughly double the thickness. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult noticing this difference, unless you hold the phones side-by-side.

You might think the glass thickness would contribute to the weight of the phone. In terms of total weight, though, they are nearly indistinguishable from each other. I had a friend hold both and he was unable to determine which one was the real and which the iPhony.

The Operating System

While the copycat user interface appears to be extremely similar in appearance and function as a real iPhone 5, it’s not an exact copy. The replica uses a specially skinned version of Android 4.1, Jelly Bean to achieve its iOS-like appearance. You may notice the presence of the launcher button from Ice Cream Sandwich, though, which provides a dead giveaway.

ics launcher   How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones?

It’s worth noting, however, that as a stand-alone operating system, the faux-iOS is actually quite good. The GooPhone accesses Google’s Play Store and, in all functional respects, operates as an unlocked Android handset that can work on any US cellular carrier, such as an MVNO. MVNOs offer greatly reduced prices for cellular service, without a contract. Oftentimes switching carriers only requires purchasing a SIM card from the carrier and insert it into your phone.

On the downside, it’s neither iOS nor does it have the same buttons as Android. Therefore, iOS and Android veterans may find the GooPhone difficult to operate, since it only resembles iOS and lacks Android’s native appearance.

Different Connectors

While some GooPhones include a Lightning connector, the “GooPhone” iploxe i5S model that I examined uses a standard microUSB port for connection. Ironically, the fake offered a small degree of superiority when compared to the real thing.

The genuine iPhone Lightning connector uses a reversible, pricey proprietary cable for charging and connection to a PC. The new cable replaces the old 30-pin dock connector which has been built into everything from cars to speaker docks, though Lightning is still catching up. Apple uses the same connector on all of its devices, which provides compatibility with dedicated accessories. Unfortunately, cheap third party cables don’t exist unless you import from China.

ports   How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones?

Different Screws

The iPhone i5S used regular Philips screws, instead of the Torx screwed used in the iPhone 5 to keep its touchscreen in place. However, some GooPhones even go to the extent of using Torx screws.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

The biggest differences, as the old axiom holds true, between a fake iPhone and the iPhone 5 are on the inside. But even so, there are still strong similarities between the GooPhone and the real thing.

The iPhony includes less of everything, including stepped down RAM, a cheaper dual-core MT6577 MediaTek 1GHz CPU, a lower resolution screen, a much weaker camera and inferior thermal properties. In short, the GooPhone is a clear step down and it has some engineering issues. On the other hand, there’s a huge price difference.

Low, Low Price

Our readers will likely feel a sense of surprise when they hear about the price of a 32GB dual-core Android phone — $150, and that’s at the higher end of the price spectrum. If a buyer purchases in bulk, it’s possible to acquire a similar model for $50 each. Surprisingly, many of the sellers also include a year-long warranty, although trying to make a claim for these kinds of warranties might be difficult, depending on what part of the world you live in. I strongly doubt that the 1-year warranties will hold up across borders.

For the most part, the Chinese version of eBay, DHGate.com, provides a central location where Chinese sellers can connect with US buyers. Use of their service virtually requires use of DHGate’s escrow service. For the most part, if you attempt to make a direct transaction with a Chinese seller, they will likely keep the money and send you nothing. Fortunately, DHGate’s escrow service will hold your money while the package is in transit. When it arrives, DHGate will then transfer your funds into the seller’s hands. This system prevents abuse of the online auction houses.

DHGate isn’t the only place online to get inexpensive, unlocked Chinese phones. Android-Sale.com and TheCheapChoice.com also sell phones direct from China.

Conclusion

Are iPhone replicas as good as the real thing? Definitely, not. But should you buy one? That answer depends entirely on your opinion on international intellectual property rights law. Essentially, what GooPhone did was technically legal in Chinese courts, but ethically barren. Even so, the end product is shockingly quite good for the price.

Personally, I would recommend against buying a GooPhone. International law appears to apply only when convenient for domestic corporations, so while the GooPhone is technically legal according to international trade agreements, the GooPhone’s fleeting legality may prove tenuous at best. And when you scrape off the back it clearly violates trademark laws.

For those of you seeking to purchase legitimate iPhones, I would be very wary of vendors selling an inexpensive iPhone 5. There are a large number of products that don’t infringe upon Apple’s trademark that you can find from auction houses, such as DHGate. These handsets, while cheap, often have better specs than the GooPhone. And while all international trade comes with substantial risk, if you do your research, it’s possible to get a great unlocked phone for very little. We’ve actually discussed unlocked Chinese phones before in the Answers section and the consensus was caveat emptor — let the buyer beware.

Anyone have any experience with imported phones? Let us know in the comments.

Special Thanks to Rajaa Chowdhury for the tip!

Image Credits: Apple and Rotten Apple via MorgueFile.com

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

19 Comments -

cabdi cabdillaahi

I am lovely mobel

Schvenn Meister

I spent 4 months in the Philippines and there is a massive market there for knock-off phones, because Manila is considered the text capital of the world, a fact its citizens are very proud of claiming. The beauty of that market is that they also have just as many “repair” shops as they do vendors. It was a wild experience seeing rows upon rows of vendors, each with bins of literally hundreds of phones and parts, whether in packaging or loose, selling for pennies on the dollar. The “technicians” would repair any phone for you, or you could buy the parts and do it yourself. So, the risk to the locals was minimal. Buying and shipping overseas however, would definitely be shady.

Matt

My question is, since they’re actually an android phone with an iOS skin, is it possible to flash standard android on it and thereby have a reasonably cheap android alternative? Or would it be cheaper to by (if in Manila etc) a “Cherry Phone” or “MyPhone” etc?

I once bought a clone of an Galaxy S2 from a street vendor in Manila for a friend and took it to a “repair technician” there to try to get the OS updated but he told me it was impossible… so there may simply be no option to update/flash these phones.

GooPhone Buyer?

You know, if it is Android 4.1, then I guess you can just get Espier Launcher iOS7, Espier Notification iOS7, Espier Control Panel, Hi Music, and other apps so it actually LOOKS like iOS7, along with the phone. Now, you have a phone that’s pretty much EXACTLY the same as an iPhone.

By the way, Espier is a Chinese company. Just so you know. And it’s all free.

Agraj Poudel

Since China is a bordering country I should say I see a lot of these here. These are the reason why the value of IPHONES are degrading here because its like everywhere. I personally haven’t used one but from what I hear these phones are okay but the batteries are the problem. They need to get it replaced soon.

Vlado Gomez

I have a home on Android 2.1 – was OK

Rob H

What I’m failing to understand is: in what respect are these iPhone copies? They run Android, use Google store, unlocked, may have standard (better!) connectors rather than Apple proprietary.

Sure there’s a possible problem if they are being sold as genuine iPhones but if you choose to buy an iPhone at well below normal cost from a guy in a bar or a street bazzar in Manila and without a contract, what do you expect?

I’ve got a better idea – buy an inexpensive Andriod.

Kannon Yamada

Good question. I would say the external appearance, and UI, is where they come off as copies/rip-offs of the iPhone.

The UI in the cloned version of iOS is actually very good. It feels a lot like an iPhone 5, except there’s some clear indicators that it’s Android (such as the launcher icon). If they went with MIUI as the core operating system, rather than a cloned version of iOS, and perhaps varied the external appearance slightly, it would probably be marketable in the US. Although they would certainly get sued and lose in Americans courts.

null

Considering long history of chinese knock-offs, must say that usually they have an eye for good designs, and nowadays current generations of their basic platforms are reliable and functional enough to be considered as more than poor man’s phone – same platforms are used for low-end sector by some non-chinese brands (phillips iirc ) and chinese “real” brands like Huawei, Lenovo and Alcatel. So as long as you don’t want to migrate to iEcosystem but love Apple designs, GooPhones are worthy enough to be considered. Main no-no is that in many parts of the world you’re considered austere if your phone is cheap Alcatel or branded generic like Ritmix, but “poor” if you use (more pricey!) GooPhone.

Taylor

Wwat bout the other phones on the http://android-sale.com website and the iPad mini knock-off .. Are those just as legal ?

Kannon Yamada

They’re technically legal to import until they get sued. If they do get sued, the case is first investigated by the USITC for patent/copyright infringements. If found guilty, the ITC issues an import ban on the phones.

However, they are unlikely to get sued, since these cases oftentimes take years to litigate and knock-off companies can simply change their corporate name.

I highly suggest checking out the US Harmonized Tariff Schedule for more information regarding the importation of electronics from Asia.

http://www.usitc.gov/tata/hts/

One thing that I’d like to make clear is that our legal system’s complexity makes a great deal of activity illegal. For example, it’s a felony to use a Wi-Fi network without the express permission of the owner. However, your phone’s GPS system (if you use Google Maps) uses many different Wi-Fi networks as you drive about. Does that mean everyone with a guidance system is a felon? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be charged with a crime.

Juan Dela Cruz

i’m a Filipino that live in Philippines currently in (Bulacan Province) one hour ride to Manila. it would be nicer to buy a cheap local Branded Phone like Cherry Mobile that have a real Quad Core Processor also has a 1year warranty. than buying this GooPhone that doesnt have a warranty (disposable). In Manila specially in “Quaipo and Divisoria” theres a lot of Fcking Chinese and Muslim than are selling this type of clone scrap GooPhone. I think if theres no Fcking Chinese in Manila there are no clone phone. China is a fake country and there product are no quality.
sorry for my wrong grammar coz in Philippines Tagalog is our primary Language.

Kannon Yamada

Thanks for sharing Juan! Your English is quite good. Better than some Americans.

You’re right that we should consider knock-offs as disposable phones. I would say that the majority of knock-offs have poor quality batteries and extremely inexpensive internal components. But that is not so different from many low-end phones from Samsung and Motorola. By the way, in the US we call them “burners” because you use them and then burn them when finished. They are unfortunately often used while committing crimes. :-(

I would say that virtually all cellular products are made in China. Even [a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_Mobile”>Cherry Mobile makes their phones there, although their ownership is in the Philippines.

It comes down to this – some knock-off companies make really bad phones while others make good (or better) phones. I wouldn’t say that they’re as well built as an LG phone, but they are getting better every year.

To my knowledge, the only three companies in the world that make phones outside of China are LG, Samsung and HTC (which is ROC). All of these phones probably have components that were made in China. Later this year, Motorola will release a phone that will contain parts made only in Japan, Korea and Taiwan – called the Moto X.

backlash

sorry to bust your bubble. There are better phones being made in china. They are not all goophones. companies like oppoo, jiayu, thl, meizu, faea, lenovo make phones that are as good as or better than apple.or samsung.

why should anyone spendmoney on aniphone or samsung.
there are better brands out ther. i will never buy or use an apple or samsung again.

Kannon Yamada

Did I give the impression that quality phones weren’t made in China? Jiayu, Oppoo (Russian company?) and others are definitely better built than the GooPhone.

But that makes sense. The majority of phones produced globally are made there. In fact, everything Apple sells was produced in China. And almost every phone on Earth has at least a few components sourced from China.

luke

where can you buy an iploxe?

Kannon Y

That’s a good question.

It’s mentioned in the article, but you can buy from China’s version of eBay, as well as several legitimate importers.

I prefer DHGate, as they us an escrow service (money doesn’t exchange hands until you get the device). I’ve dealt with returns before – some dealers are honest, some are not so honest. If they’re crooked, you won’t get your money back on defective items. Caveat Emptor!

Anonymous

Just for the record , i bought a goophone and i absolutly love it.