Why you probably shouldn't buy an HTC phone in South Africa.

Update October 2010: It looks like Leaf have stopped messing with the phones. I have a Vodacom Desire and it doesn’t have any Leaf stink on it. Maybe someone at Leaf read this post?

My mobile phone has a weird bug. The wifi works perfectly and then I leave the house and it never switches over to 3G unless I reboot the phone.

That’s a pretty annoying bug, but what makes it even more annoying is that the problem was actually fixed 8 months ago with the release of Android 1.6. There are also a whole bunch of cool updates as part of that 1.6 release, but still, I’m stuck with version 1.5.

So why not upgrade? Well, the problem lies with a company called Leaf. Leaf are the HTC importers for South Africa. Sadly, if all Leaf did was import the phones we’d be fine, but the over-reaching company gets involved in the process of managing the software on the phones and this is a job they fail at miserably.

When I phoned Leaf to ask when there will be an update made available they said that they were busy “testing” and that I should wait 3 to 4 weeks… This sounds reasonable but unfortunately I can’t believe them. You see, Leaf have a long history of completely stuffing up Android phones in South Africa. This dates back to many many months ago when Leaf first launched the HTC Magic (my phone).

Regular Android phones have an application called “Market” which contains thousands of applications (much like the Apple App Store). You can find all kinds of things like Google Sky Map (hold it up to the sky and it shows you which stars you’re looking at) to apps that make farting sounds. Great stuff, generally.

But when Leaf launched the Magic it came bundled with an app called “Open Market” and no regular “Market”. Open Market had a few (ie, like 30) really really bad applications on it… I think the top rated app was something with wallpapers of dogs. When pressed for an explanation Leaf said that Google didn’t give them permission to use the Market app. After chatting to some people from Google who work on Android it sounds like this “permission” excuse was made up. The more likely explanation is that Leaf were hoping to start selling applications via their Open Market app. Yes, Open Market is developed (used losely) by Leaf. Once they realised that nobody cares about them they buckled and said they were working on an update that included Market… they suggested we wait 3 to 4 weeks while they tested the new version. This was in May.

Eventually, late in August, 5 months after promising something in 3 to 4 weeks, Leaf quietly released an update on their website. The phone was finally what I’d paid for… a fully fledged Android phone… but only for a few weeks as Android released version 1.6 a few days later.

One of the big attractions of Android, and certainly why I bought my phone, is the Open Source and constantly evolving platform… The idea that your phone’s operating system isn’t frozen in time for 2 years and can get updates (automatically if you want)…Unfortunately Leaf are just plain incompetent and don’t seem to care that they’re selling a device that isn’t quite what the customer paid for… Our phones are stuck in time… and, when pushed for an answer we’re told again “3 to 4 weeks”.

When I eventually lost my cool and tracked down Peter, Leaf’s marketing person, he said I should send him an email and that he would get me some answers in a few days… He then got his PR agency to phone me and promise that they would get me some answers the next day… Perhaps ironically it has been 3 weeks and I’m yet to get anything out of them.

So here are the questions I asked Peter in that email 3 weeks ago.

  • When will the HTC Magic get a 1.6 ROM
  • Why has it taken so long? (8 months and counting)
  • What is Leaf doing to correct the problems with the process and how are they going to convince consumers that buying via Leaf is a good idea?

Until Leaf can answer these questions I would advise against buying any HTC products in South Africa.You’re just not getting what you paid for.

The end.

ps. I heard that Leaf are bringing in two new HTC phones, the Legend and Desire… Both look like sweet phones, it’s a pity that if Leaf will probably ruin it for anyone who buys the phone by never releasing any updates. Cash in hand baby, cash in hand.


78 thoughts on “Why you probably shouldn't buy an HTC phone in South Africa.

  1. The apple of my eye is the HTC Legend can’t seem to get over the fact that its sculpted from a single piece of aluminum. This blog has somehow dampened my anticipation…

    Mmmmm I would have to say this blog is one of the best evidence available of Android fragmentation. Something that I had gotten over. Different phones shipping with different versions, not so up to date versions being used to update very old versions.

    Though importing is a solution its obvious that things should not be like this. There shouldn’t be this much pain in updating firmware. HTC might end up paying the price for incompetence on the part of the middlemen and that sucks.

    Do people think the situation will be solved by having a different distributor in SA? If so then surely the complaint should be directed at HTC who hopefully might be pressured to put a call for bids when Leafs contract expires or to pressure Leaf into providing a better service.

  2. Hi I’m looking to buy a Desire HD, is it worth while to get from here or should I buy from abroad? I’m asking for people who either have this phone or have dealt with leaf recently to let me know.

    also if I buy one from overseas, does leaf not still control the updates coming through the 4 networks anyway thus rendering it the same regardless if the phone was brought here or abroad?

    1. Hi Steven

      It appears that Leaf have stopped messing with the phones firmware, so they are shipping with the firmware as HTC ships it.

      However, there is some weirdness going on with the software updates in that it looks like certain batches of IMEIs are “owned” by a geographic region or carrier and whomever is in control of that region (Leaf, Vodacom etc) can instruct HTC to hold back on releasing updates to the IMEIs for that batch.

      Recently someone (we’re not sure if it was Leaf or Vodacom) fscked this up with the HTC Desires. Some of them (like mine) were offered the 2.2 update early, while others were never offered it automatically. Luckily there was a way around this by simply downloading the update manually (via HTC’s website), storing it on your SD card and then rebooting the phone.

      Having said all that, I would actually buy the phone in SA… I don’t know what the logistics/cost would be if you had to send it back to the UK to be repaired… and my Desire is currently in for repairs with Vodacom… although it’s been a month of them fscking up so maybe flying it to the UK would be faster.

      Did I help? I think I may have just confused the whole issue some more.

  3. hey,

    Thanks for the info, it’s good to know that Leaf is sort of coming around now. I have heard that the support for repairs can be long in SA but I’ve heard pretty bad remarks from USA HTC too funny enough.

    I’m planning on rooting my phone for updates and coding some of the Rom myself so updates don’t matter too much to me.

    Thanks for the Help

  4. Had the Desire and was one of the few to get 2.2 straight away but I wbought it from overseas.
    Just got the Desire HD due to my Desire’s overheating issue. Awesome phone although the WCDMA reception Leaves a lot to be Desired (no pun intended on both accounts)
    I rooted my Desire and will do so again with the HD as this will give me the freedom to install any ROM I wish and also back the device up properly.
    But Yes Leaf and HTC Support are utterly useless from right after the point where you pay for the phone!!

    Still HTC + Android = Winner in my books!!

  5. Now I am completely confused and worried. I so much liked the new HTC HD Desire but not sure to get the phone at all. It is great that you have such a bloc where one can get to know what is going down
    Should Ibuy or not buy????

  6. well,

    Its not like there’s any HTC Desire HD stock in SA anyway…

    Been tryin to get one on contract for a couple of weeks. I’ve been told “maybe” by mid March.

  7. I’m seeing a possibly underlying problem here. Why Vodacom? They’ve always had a history of mucking about with phone firmware, and I know and have close relations to at least 3 people who’ve had HTCs for more than 2 years now, no market problems, no updates lagging whatsoever. And going by the fact that one of the people I know is a lead programmer for a respectable company, I take his word when he finds no fault or deviation in the soft- or firmware as was originally intended.

    This leaf redistribution/screwing up of firmware could, other than vodacom, be service provider specific? Like Nashua mobile or some such distributor. An easy solution could be to merely ask for a live demo of the phone to see for yourself what it contains.

  8. I had to buy a new phone while travelling in New Zealand because my old Nokia E71 phone took a swim in the sea 😦
    I chose the HTC Desire Z and bought it from
    I thought it was going to come from NZ but actually the company spent about 4 days sourcing the phone in Hong Kong and it was delivered to me by courier from Hong Kong. I think they would also deliver to SA but I am not sure if you may be landed with additional import duties when it arrives. You do have to pay for the phone not get it as an upgrade with a contract though.

    It is a great phone… Absolutely marvellous. Also no problems with the firmware being messed around by Leaf or Vodacom. Auto update of the firmware is easy – when Andriod released version 2.2 and then 2.2.1 I got a message that it was a large download and I should download it when I was connected to a WiFi network rather than paying high data rates on 3G. It is all quite simple.

    For more than a decade I have been a committed Nokia user, but the HTC Desire Z has changed all that. Android is the way to go.

  9. mmm, now what now? I’m due for an upgrade in June with MTn. I’ve got my mind set on the HTC Desire HD. Should I go for the upgrade or get my beans in a row and find another phone? I would greatly accept any help.

  10. I never understand why these phone vendors don’t just give us vanilla versions because, inevitably, we WILL look for a firmware update that KILLS the SPAM that, i.e. Leaf, put on the phones. I just bought a phone OUTRIGHT and i should have the option to REMOVE vendor specific nonsense off it!! I don;t mind paying in a reasonable amount NOT to have advertising on my phone.

  11. HTC wildfire The May offer from Vodacom looks very good. Does this mean it is a crippled version of Android?

  12. After reading your article I brought my HTC Desire HD from expansys.co.za, a company I think you mentioned, in the belief that they were selling straight HTC phones not associated with a carrier.
    When my gps stopped working I finally discovered that the phones were brought by them from Vodafone UK a company which locks the gps service until you buy a 3rd party product, most likely the one pre installed on your phone.
    Expansys have now had my phone longer than I have but have now promised to supply me with a new unbranded phone when a new batch arrives.
    Here’s hoping

  13. Hi all, I’ve just gotten the HTC Desire HD from Vodacom and everything seems to work fine. 🙂 It’s a Flippin amazing phone! My 1st choice was the desire z (because of the qwerty keyboard) but Vodacom advertised it and then didn’t bring it into the country. Waited ages for it too. Anyway got the HD instead and its REALLY great. The quality is really good too for phone pics and movies.

    Needed to get a cover for it and leaf wanted to charge me R300 or something plus shipping because I live in durban. Got 2 covers and a screen protector for R200 from http://www.amzer.co.uk – just thought id share the link. 🙂 The covers were like £2.2 or something 🙂

  14. i an interested in buying an HTC phone in South Africa. Does it have the full Android Market or are the phones still crippled by Leaf July 2011?

  15. Thanks for that update, I have a HTC Hero and I too had problems and tried to upgrade and download limited software, It now seems that some of the software had adds on it.

    I need to upgrade in the next 2 months and will be goint to the Samsung Galaxy 2……

    Thanx for messing things up Leaf ! Its going to cost you on the long run!

  16. I bought my HTC from the CAPI store at OR Tambo Airport in Sept 2010. Motherboard died on me in May this year. Before even thinking of buying an HTC Desire, google “HTC Desire will not start” & see just how many are suffering from an obvious factory fault on the motherboard. FYI serial no. range affected seems to be HT02… to HT08. Don’t expect any help from Leaf if your phone dies because of this factory fault!

  17. Flash a custom ROM and you will be current, duh! I have an HTC HD2, a win mobile ph, and it’s running the latest version of Android, always. I update it at least a few times a month.
    The Android market can be manually installed by getting the .apk
    Check out xda developers on the web!!!!
    As a techy you should know better.

  18. Further to my post of Aug 24th: I sent my HTC back to Leaf on Aug 26, even offering to pay to have it repaired. Their response was: “not economically viable to repair, we will ship it back to you”. As of 26 Sept, I haven’t received the phone back. It was 8 months old when it packed up. I’ve now got a Motorola MB525, it works like a charm, & I for one will never touch HTC again, or purchase anything from CAPI :-/

  19. After months of shopping around for a business and lifestyle type of phone, i got the HTC Desire HD. Awesome, unlimited contact book _ currently 2580 contacts, emails accounts and diaries synced frm four domains outlook, yahoo, msn, gmail. it also syncs tweeter/facebook/google+. battery is a bit weak but this phone works for my road warrior lifestyle, i couldnt ask for more.

  20. Interresting opinion I must say…

    I would really promote the HTC phones above any of the rest out there – I got the first Android phone the HTC Hero and it has been fantastic since I bought it (in South Africa).
    Like any other phone it does have hickups.

    Regarding the Firmware update- I called the HTC Leaf shop- now called LAB88- many times over to try and get my phone upgraded to newer versions, and to my dismay they gave me much like you the same crap – no they can’t,
    but end last year , I went to a HTC exhibition stall at a Mobile exhibition day and I complained to the guy there , and to my surprise he told me that he can do it for me on the spot 10 minutes. He also told me that it was weird that the shop told me all the crap. Anyway He updated my phone to version 2 and man was I happy , lots of bug fixes.

    Ok , so that was number 1 , secondly the support when I went to the HTC shop. Absolutely brilliant!
    – My phone was giving issues with the bottom touch interface , it frustrated me as it to a point where I couldn’t use it anymore. So I took it to Vodacom , which
    service sucks as they always take a month and not 2 weeks to return my phones, and the Vodacom service guy said, well what Vodacom does with HTC phones is send it to HTC in anycase, so I might as well take it to them straight which would save time on the sending it away and receiving it. So I went to the HTC shop called LAB88 and
    they straight away told me that it was the bottom panel that has gone(broke) and that they need to send it off to
    get repaired , but surprise number 2 , it will only take 7 days, Brilliant! So I waited and 5 days later I got called to come and collect – Awesome! Got there expecting to pay R1000 bucks like vodacom would charge and the Customer service rep tells me, No it is covered by the 2 year warranty.
    And so I was happy again.
    Unfortunately this panel isn’t built very well on the HTC Hero, so a few days ago I returned it again as it was starting to give me issues again, – this time 3 days and they replaced it for free again just before the warranty expires. Absolutely Brilliant service!
    But as an extra I asked the guy in store about the firmware upgrade and he said they do it there instore while you wait 15 min.

    My friend has had HTC phones for the past 4 years – and he has stuffed up one by himself and they replaced it for free and he still loves the HTC phones as well.

    As for buying a HTC phone – Best phone overall and best Customer Service!

    Sometimes it help going into the store than rather calling/emailing and talking to some appi that has no idea of whats going on in the world.

    🙂 Eraser

  21. I had Desire which initially didnt have gingerbread. After a month or two I had it upgraded at Leaf. Took 10min hassle free. I have always had good service from Leaf since the days of IMATE. I am now using a HTC Sensation and hoping HTC will release 4.0 for this handset. Leaf does not have a long history of stuffing up android phones.

  22. I’ve cracked my HTC HD2 Touch screen. Phoned Lab88-apparently they don’t do repairs anymore. They gave me a number in Midrand to phone. Number just rings. I’ve had the phone for over a year now. I love the phone but Leaf’s service in general sucks. I love the HTC, but will never buy one again as long as Leaf are the sole distributors as they simply cannot give reasonable service.

  23. Why (NOT) another HTC after the third one? My HTC HD2 main board became obsolete and had to be replaced, however with the new main board, the Tom-Tom application did not work, which I purchased through LAB 88. All, I have had from LAB 88 was “bulls@!t. No feedback on any of my correspondence, telephonic & e-mail. Last resort was to leave as message to the owner of LAB 88, guest what; No response to date!
    I am obviously now left with a choice: HTC – Probably NOT(this would have been my 4th HTC)! The only reason for this is, is that the provider (LAB 88) can not offer HTC clients support where it isrequired. Sorry HTC, your customer LAB 88 sucks at customer service.

    Johann Broodryk (South Africa – Gauteng)

  24. Hi guys . i have a HTC TyTn 2 windows mobile 6 pda and a HTC S310 windows mobile 5 smart phone. . .i think they brilliant phones, mainly because of the active sync. . perfect for business. .. . tho i am pretty p!ssed off about the fact that i have ABSOLUTLY NO support from HTC or Windows. . both of them have cut support for any windows mobile software and are focusing on Android and Windows Phone. . . would anyone have any advice on where i could get any kind of support for my phones

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