Cell phone lessons from Hong Kong

As CNET discovered on a recent trip to Asia, cell phones are of a different breed in Hong Kong.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
3 min read
Sony Walkman phones for sale CNET Networks

I returned recently from a trip to Hong Kong and found a cell phone lover's paradise just waiting to be explored. Cell phone shops line almost every street, and no, I'm not talking about stuffy carrier stores with a limited selection of only what they want to sell. Rather, I'm referring to full-fledged gadget shops with an untold selection of manufacturers and models, many of which I'd never seen in the flesh. It goes without saying that the offerings are light years ahead of what we get in the United States, but also the entire cell phone culture is far advanced as well. Read on for my discoveries during my trip and check out my Hong Kong cell-phone slide show.

Unlocked phones are good, carrier control is bad: Unlocked phones are not the exception in Hong Kong; they are the rule. If you want to buy a phone, you need only to pick out the model you want (and be warned, choosing from the huge selection isn't easy), take it to your carrier's store, and pop in a SIM card. It's a nice change from being forced to choose from the phones your carrier wants you to buy. On the downside, you won't get many carrier rebates, but in return you get something novel in the cell phone world--freedom of choice.

Just a small selection of handsets here CNET Networks

Cell phones work everywhere You can get a signal anywhere in Hong Kong. Whether you're on a ferry, hiking a peak on a neighboring island, or shopping in one of the numerous malls, a cell phone signal is not a problem, and dropped calls are almost unheard of. You can even get reception on the subway or in an underwater tunnel traveling between stations. And for some reason, people using their phones on the subway don't feel the need to bellow at the top of their lungs.

High-end phone rule: If you're itching for a Nokia N-series but can't find one in a U.S. retail store, you'd love Hong Kong. High-end phones--such as the N-series--with high-resolution cameras, media players, 3G support, and sleek designs are easy to find. Nokia even has a whole store at the airport for its Vertu line. And I was thrilled to find one of my favorite phones, the Nokia 5300, for sale almost everywhere.

What's a basic phone (and can you read Chinese)? On the flip side, if you want a phone just for making calls and without any fancy features, that can be harder to find. Also, most phones have default menus in Chinese, so if you ever go to Hong Kong and decide to buy something, make sure English menus are available. And don't forget it should have the 850 or 1900 GSM bands to work in the U.S.

Yes, they get it first: Sure the upcoming iPhone will be an exception, but it's no surprise that Asia gets all the cool stuff before it arrives stateside. It's a bit depressing actually.

Prepaid SIM cards are easy to find: I took a trusty Sony Ericsson W600i to Hong Kong and was amazed by how easily I found a prepaid SIM card. I popped into a carrier's shop and forked over about $15 for 300 minutes of service. There was no paperwork, no deposit, and I was up and running instantly for making local calls.