I got my Japanese cell phone today. I was all ready to write a blog post about how advanced Japanese phones are. I was all set to confirm that rumor in the US that the Japanese have the latest electronic gadgets 3 to 5 years before we do. I even told one of my students how great the phones seemed to be.
I now wish to take that back!
All day long, I was soooo happy about my new phone. I waited for nearly a month to have one, and finally was able to get it without any help from my Japanese speaking coworkers. So proud of myself, I was, for my self-sufficiency. I was also very happy that I made the frugal choice, and passed on the shiny, tempting smart phones for the cheapest, simplest of the phones they offered – a very basic Sony Ericsson flip phone. I want to spend my money on experiences in Japan, not on things, I told myself.
Since I still do not have any internet at home, and I am at least a good 2 weeks away from getting it installed, I was ecstatic to now have a cell phone with which I could do some basic internet functions. Web pages on this phone are pretty much text only and devoid of any imagery, which is totally fine. The screen is small, and not touchable. Cool with me. i was really quite pleased that I could at least check my email now. Oh how quickly joy can turn to sorrow. I managed to pull up an email and got ready to respond, when I realized to my abject horror that all I have is a numerical keyboard. This means that when I type my email, I have to keep pressing each number until the correct letter appears on the screen….once for A, twice for B, three times for C, and so on. It took me over 20 minutes to draft a 3 sentence email. Completely unacceptable! I immediately dug the sim card out of my flip phone and jammed it into my US iPhone in the desperate hope that it would work. No dice.
Japanese cell phones are no better than American ones, and depending on the particular features you want (and the language you speak), you may even find them to be worse. The top of the line phones here are all the same ones that lead the market in the US…the iPhone, and the various Android phones, and then a few other smart phones by local competitors. All of which are hideously expensive. (around $700 or more USD and not really discounted much with a 2 year contract).
Then at the bottom end of the spectrum (in both countries), you have cheap looking flip phones with very basic screens that can take pictures and play games, and surf a very stripped down version of the internet, but not much else. But in Japan, there is a huge chasm between the bottom of the line and the top. In the US, you can get some nifty little phones that have full qwerty keyboards, and access the internet in html. They want to be smart phones, but they can’t handle apps and don’t usually have touch screens and so forth. This middle grade of cell phone seems to be completely absent from the range of Japanese phones that are available. Here, as you increase in price from 0 yen, the only thing that seems to improve is your camera. I have a suspicion as to why…qwerty keyboards are perhaps not particularly useful to Japanese people. Though computers here seem to have them, I would imagine this is due to a need for world-wide standardization, and they also include a number of function keys that allow you to create Japanese characters and kanji with them. So, if, as a Japanese person, you already have to use a bunch of extra key combinations to create words with a qwerty keyboard, how is that really any better than having to do it with numbers instead?
There are a few services available here that have not yet made it to the US to my knowledge: My little flip phone allows me to watch tv channels that are broadcast over the air. Also, I can transmit contact information between my phone and any other cell phone using an infrared port. Cool and all, but not as good as a qwerty keyboard. My phone has a pedometer. Interesting, but still not a keyboard. My flip phone’s camera has a flash, which my iPhone 3GS doesn’t even have. Good as a keyboard? Nope, ‘fraid not.
So now, I return to the quest to get my us iPhone working. My next move is to hit the internet cafe and search online to figure out how to unlock it (remove the restrictions in place on the phone that force you to stay with a particular carrier). Barring that, I’m going to see if I can find a used smart phone from someone who was using my carrier.
To be continued….