You might think smartphone use is limited in North Korea, considering how smartphones offer access to pretty much everything the North Korean government is censoring from its citizens.
But North Koreans have been using smartphones since 2013, most of which are supposedly made within the country’s borders by North Korean companies.
A North Korean news site called NKNews.org has been reporting on the country’s smartphones released over the years, and some of them don’t look half bad! With a few tweaks to remove the built-in censors, some of these smartphones could probably work just fine in other countries.
Check out five smartphones that North Koreans have been using since 2013, and some they’re using now:
The “Pyongyang Touch”
Little is known about the “Pyongyang Touch,” which was released back in 2014. It’s unclear what kind of specs it had, but it did come in pink, navy blue, and white, according to NK News, citing a pro-North Korea website based in Japan called Choson Sinbo.
The “Pyongyang Touch” was supposedly popular with North Korea’s youth. It ran a modified version of Android that was “localized for North Korean purposes.” It was unable to call overseas and couldn’t connect to the internet.
The original “Arirang”
The “Pyongyang Touch” could have also been the “Arirang.” It’s truly unclear. It’s not like these phones or the companies that made them have accessible websites.
It was said that the original “Arirang” phone was actually some sort of clone or rebranded model of the Chinese-made Uniscope U1201 from 2014.
Based on the Uniscope U1201, the original Arirang had a 4.3-inch display, dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip running at 1.2GHz, an 8-megapixel camera, a dual-mode “dual-network” capability for GSM and CDMA networks. It also had a “3D stereo sound chamber design,” and a 1,900mAh battery.
The “Jindallae 3” — translated to the “Azalea 3”
One of the more recent smartphones that became available to North Koreans is the “Jindallae 3,” which translates to “Azalea 3,” which was released in June 2017. It was produced by North Korea’s very own Mangyongdae Information Technology Corporation, according to the North Korean state-run DPRK Today news outlet.
It’s unclear if there was a Jindallae 1 or 2, and the Jindallae 3’s specs aren’t immediately obvious. But it does look quite nice, and it was also available in black.
“We have solved all the elements of intelligent hand phone development such as the device circuit design of the main motherboard, the design of the operating system, and so on,” the North Korean outlet DPRKNews.com said in a translation into English by Google Translate.
“The study group improved the performance of hand phone battery by reflecting opinions of users who used existing intelligent hand phones, further improved the safety and activity of the system program, and added various kinds of apps needed for people’s business and life.”
The “Arirang 171”
The Arirang 171 of 2018 is supposedly the fifth Arirang smartphone model, according to NK News.
Spec-wise, the Arirang 171 has a 4.7-inch screen and sported a MediaTek6797 chip with 10 cores running at 2.6GHz, which isn’t a bad chip. The MediaTek chip is also used in several phones like China’s Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. It’s slightly more powerful than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 that were used in premium high end devices in 2016.
It also comes with 4GB of RAM, which is comparable to high end phones even today, as well as 32GB of storage. North Korean users could also use their fingerprints to unlock the device with a fingerprint sensor.
If you’re tempted by the Arirang 171, hop on over to Ryomyong Street in Pyongyang, where the Arirang IT Exchange Company supposedly has a store that sells the devices, according to NK News citing North Korean outlet “Dawn.” There’s also a location in Terminal 1 of Pyongyang’s Sunan Inernational Airport. Unfortunately, it’s unclear how much the Arirang 171 costs.
It’s always good to research before you buy, so here’s a video all about the Arirang 171:
The “Phurun Hanul H-1” — or “Blue Sky”
Made by the Phurun Hanul Corporation, the Phurun Hanul H-1 has a 5.5-inch display with “high resolution,” a fingerprint sensor and “fast processing speed.” It also supposedly has a massive 6,000mAh battery that allows users to charge the phone with other phones and electronics products.
The chip, specifically is a MediaTek MT6753 with eight cores running at 1.3GHz, which is slightly more powerful than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip that was used in high-end smartphones from 2017. That means the Phurun Hanul is probably a good performer. It also comes with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 16-megapixel rear camera and an 8-megapixel selfie camera.
I have my reservations about the 6,000mAh battery, as it would mean the phone would have to be twice as thick as it looks, and at least twice as thick as current devices you can find everywhere else around the world, which can have 3,000mAh batteries.
North Koreans have to buy apps from a physical store.
Most of the smartphones in North Korea can’t connect to the internet. Instead, they connect to the country’s internal, state-run intranet.
Despite having connection to an intranet, North Korean smartphone users have to download apps at physical store locations where they can get apps approved by the North Korean government.