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Japanese Market Phones
I always viewed Japan as a far and enigmatic land. Its traditions and everyday life became relevant for me in 2002 when I received my first Japanese mobile phone NEC N21i. As you know phones in Japan, as in many other countries, are sold under the brand names of local carriers. Nothing has changed since then. Models from Sharp, NEC, Panasonic, Fujitsu or Sony Ericsson aimed at the Japanese market are still rare outside the country.
Cellular phones in Japan follow the local fashion. Some say their development is far in front of other countries. It could be true. All new technologies are implemented in Japan first: high speed i-Mode, 3G, 4G and LTE standards, digital TV, NFC (labeled Felica in Japan), mobile mail with add-ons, which replace SMS, etc. Many Japanese companies promote these technologies in the US together with Chinese and Korean counterparts. USA is the best test area for global experiments due to economic and technical parameters. For example, Verizon already boasts several models under G'zOne brand from Casio: Ravine, Brigade and Rock.
Nevertheless, Japan is not ready to share all its advantages. People in question are extremely loyal to their companies and have a cautious approach to the outside world. Some things remain unchanged even after several centuries.
In terms of technologies Japan stays apart from other nations. The superiority in many areas makes it impossible to use numerous advantages in old-fashioned GSM networks. If you travel to let's say Russia a 3G only model from Japan will not work. An ordinary GSM phone with a local SIM will be indispensable. GSM models will enable calls and SMS, but all Japanese services will not be accessible. According to agreements with carriers you cannot use other SIM cards with lower tariffs. Any handset is closely tied to the local network. In 2010 many people who use their phones in the roaming voiced substantial concern and the Japanese government issued a decree to unlock phones. Starting with June phones will be sold in two versions: cheap (often free) and expensive (with the full price charged by a manufacturer).This approach was initiated by Vodafone (earlier known as J-Phone). This rule applies to entry level and flagship handsets alike.
At the moment three main carriers - Docomo, Softbank and AU KDDI offer only locked models. The only exception is iPhone 3GS and 4G from Softbank.
I am sure many of you have paid attention to many colors used to describe Japan in books, pictures and art works. Look at the night views of Tokyo and you will understand that this country does not come in black and white, but offers a myriad of hues. This motley carpet influences the phones too. They are offered in all possible colors!
The number of colors is no less than three at all times. There are several models with one color available, but it is made for a reason. The list contains Docomo P-05A, Docomo SH-06A Nerv Evangelion, Docomo SH-09C, Softbank 945SH G and Touch Wood SH-08C. Such models have target audience in mind: business people or fans of Japanese cartoons series, etc.
Ideally carriers put forward the following strict requirements for all manufacturers:
Other features are determined by a manufacturer. Models are labeled differently in Japan as you cannot find the name of the carrier on the phone's body. iPhone remains the only exception, while other brands are considered redundant:
The lion's share of models is shipped by Japanese companies: NEC, Sharp, Fujitsu and Panasonic. You can also find handsets from LG, Toshiba, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Kyocera, Hitachi and Sanyo. Pantech, Dell, Apple, HTC and ZTE represent new kids on the block. There are models represented either by one carrier or several companies offer one handset each.
Many ask why Japanese people prefer clamshells. Frankly speaking I could not find the answer no matter how hard I tried. There may be some psychological explanation.
Twice a year all companies unveil new models. Phones are advertised in summer-autumn and winter-spring ranges and hit the shelves during an appropriate half of the year. Occasionally one company may unveil a stylistically redesigned model near the end of the season. For example, Sharp acted this way with its Docomo SH-09C Baccarat model and NEC/Casio offering an ultra thin (7.7 mm) touchscreen Android phone Docomo N-04C Medias.
On average each company comes up with at least three models a season. At times one phone can be available from different carriers at a time. A good example is Regza phone from Toshiba and Lumix phone from Panasonic.
Press releases of three carriers unanimously agree that 2011 will be a year of Android. Indeed, in winter-spring 2010-2011 all carriers unveiled several Android models.
According to Docomo and Softbank these companies have high hopes for this OS. My friends from Japan say that their countrymen are not crazy about Android. Touchscreen models are not that popular as well.
Japanese people are quite conservative and do not want to implement dramatic changes. Phones without hardware keypads do not attract attention. The country needs more time for change. Japanese consumers still discuss the convenience of iPhone. It is like changing the location of a steering wheel on a car. Softbank is trying hard to sell the all conquering product in Japan. Local customers were quite disinterested due to high subscription fee, limited features, weak camera, ugly design and foreign style throughout.
The major feature of Japanese models during the last 2 years was the interrelation with social services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and popular Japanese websites. Consumers are attached to Twitter, which they view as an ideal communication tool. An ordinary user would rather send a message than call a friend. Flickr has a massive following among those who like to take pictures of foods.
Let's look at the current lineup of the leading carrier Docomo. We have to mention that almost all companies pay attention to photo features in their phones: Lumix phone from Panasonic, Aqua Shot series from Sharp and L-03C from LG, which engineers just inserted a phone module into a camera without altering the design. Each model looks unique and surely stands out from the crowd.
Panasonic Lumix phone (Docomo P-03C) utilizes a slider form factor, which is not a traditional Japanese approach. By the way, the market share of sliders and candybars constitutes a mere 5% combined. This model looks like a point-and-shoot camera indeed.
Characteristics of Docomo P-03C Lumix phone::
Courtesy of technical features the camera provides decent shots, but you need to work with camera settings to achieve the best results. Image processor VenusEngine and a 13 MP CMOS sensor give the following quality from the box:
Docomo SH-01C (Sharp) is a standard clamshell with the rotating screen. The construction of the joint where the screen is located allows the clockwise swing of up to180 degrees. This mechanism is also used by models from Fujitsu, NEC and Panasonic. By folding down the phone users have access to all typical camera controls: a widescreen as viewfinder, useful shutter for focusing and taking shots despite compact dimensions. This transformer boasts a 14.1 MP ÑCD sensor to offer decent photos and fullHD video recording. Besides, Sharp has a waterproof body for underwater shots.
Characteristics of Docomo SH-01C:
Sample camera shots:
The only direct rival of Sharp in this segment except Panasonic is Docomo F-01C from Fujitsu. This model has similar characteristics, but looks more like a brick.
Docomo F-01C specifications:
I am not really impressed by the quality of photos.
Docomo F-01C sample photos:
LG made an even simpler decision – they just added a cell phone to a regular camera. Why not? They are so much alike today. The result is Docomo L-03C. The telescopic optics is by Pentax, 12.1 MP, x3 optic zoom. This novelty is not very popular since it contradicts every view of a Japanese.
Docomo L-03C technical specifications:
Docomo L-03C sample photos:
Practically all new phones have a water resistant body. It is rather a fashion trend than pragmatism, however, my tests have showed that the phones easily resist submersion.
Shockproof and water resistant Docomo N-03C has become a result of the merger of three cell phone manufacturers: NEC, Casio and Hitachi. The phone features special rubber bumpers along its entire perimeter that will, hypothetically, protect the phone against impacts. All the plugs on the phone have silicone sealant that protects the phone against water. For the first time a Japanese phone now features support for MP3. Before you could only listen to WMA or SD Audio. To transfer music to your phone toy had to sync it with Windows Media Player first.
Docomo N-03C technical specifications:
Together with Burton, a company specializing in apparel and accessories for extreme sports fans, NEC/Casio released a limited series of Docomo N-03C Burton featuring the company's colors. The specs of this phone are the same as of a regular Docomo N-03C.
Another breakthrough for Japanese phones is Wi-Fi in phones. Until recently phones in Japan did not have a Wi-Fi module. Starting from March 2011 Docomo launches a project to install Wi-Fi hotspots in Tokyo taxi cabs to raise the level of service and provide Internet access for travelers. Generally, as it turns out, very few users are aware of what their cell phones are capable of. Some of my Japanese acquaintance never knew that their phones can use Wi-Fi networks. Digital mobile TV that practically every Japanese phone can receive is also not very popular. Many consumers use it for only a couple of days and then forget about it.
I can tell you a curious story. One of my friends, a Russian, who has been living in Japan for 15 years decided to move in Tokyo. He started complaining about the bad quality of reception in his new apartment in the downtown. In some spots the phone could not connect to the network. I should make a note here and say that houses in Japan, including multistory buildings, due to frequent earthquakes are built using specific technologies. The walls are not usual to us concrete and bricks – they are basically frames covered with cardboard. Neighbors usually can hear each other perfectly. Minimalism is everywhere. It is rather cold in the winter – there is no central heating – they use air conditioners or electric and gas heaters. It gets even worse in private households – in the morning you can see your breath. I was shocked that this was possible in the technological center of the planet.
Now let's get back on our tracks.
Another NEC novelty – Docomo N-02C. The design is simple and minimalistic but stil the phone is packed with every possible option in Japan.
Docomo N-02C technical specifications:
This new Sharp phone is available in interesting colors – Docomo SH-02C.
I suppose you would like to know what messages on air are. There is a bunch of tiny diodes near the outer screen or on the screen itself. In the special menu toy enter your message e.g. "HELLO". Now if you swing your phone from side to side the diodes will leave light traces in the air forming your message - a nice feature that can help your companion to find his way when it is dark.
For those who appreciate ascetic style Fujitsu has released Docomo F-03C. The phone is available in four colors: varnished brown wood grain, violet, stark white and charcoal. These phones heavily resemble Apple products. The front panel features invisible sensor buttons under the 2" screen. You can control the music player, phone book, SMS and camera without opening the phone.
Docomo F-03C technical specifications:
I would like to elaborate upon this button of automatic opening of the phone. I had never imagined that such a tiny button could make so much difference. The idea is simple – you can open the phone in just one click. Having used this perk for a few days I am now certain that every flip phone must have this feature. It is really convenient. If you use a regular flip phone afterwards you cannot recall the moves you need to open it. The sensations are similar to those you have after going for automatic gearbox after a manual.
I must make a note that only Fujitsu and Panasonic phones have this feature.
Following Fujitsu Panasonic created a phone for style geeks – Docomo P-01C is only 10.4 mm thick when closed. Panasonic also added the automatic open button to the phone. The screen part of the phone is about 4.5 mm thick. When you hold the phone for the first time you feel uncertain about the sturdiness of the construction. But rest assured, the phone is assembled really Japanese sturdy. There is no creaking or crackling.
Docomo P-01C technical specifications:
Amazing, but despite the size of Docomo P-01C it has a rather speedy and good camera:
Probably the most womanly flip phone presented by Sharp this season – Docomo SH-04C. The phone looks like a biscuit and available in two colors: dark and white chocolate. Despite its "delicious" design the phone has some serious specs.
Docomo SH-04C technical specifications:
Among the new phones a few Androids are noteworthy: Toshiba Regza phone (Docomo T-01C) and Sharp LYNX 3D (Docomo SH-03C). the former features a 1GHZ processor and operates under Android 2.1. the water resistant body is available in two colors: black and pink.
Regza phone technical specifications:
LYNX 3D (Docomo SH-03C) by Sharp, as you can guess by its name, is capable of displaying 3D content without special glasses. The only drawback is – there is no GSM module, which makes it impossible to use in our networks.
In due time these phones will be more available outside Japan, especially after their official unlock from the carriers' SIMs. I do not think that they will be able to compete with the GSM phone already present on our market since their price is rather high. Blackberry and Sonim are more frequent than Panasonic or Fujitsu. Japanese phones are an exclusive option for those who have seen it all. I suppose this article is an introduction into the world of the Japanese phones. So, if you are interested in getting more info on a particular phone and the prospects of the Japanese market I will be glad to share my thoughts and experience.
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Published 07 April 2011
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