Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DoCoMo "Android" HT-03A a viable alternative to the iPhone

EDIT: Sorry for the misleading information about OTA app downloads with the iPhone.  A friend had told us that you cannot access the iTunes Store over 3G.  He was referring to the MUSIC store.  We figured he meant the entire iTunes Store.  Thanks to Francois for pointing this out.

We'll start with the highlights, beginning with the carriers. The credit check/"examination" (審査) of DoCoMo is less strict and more transparent than Softbank's procedure. Softbank's network sucks. DoCoMo's doesn't. DoCoMo allows apps to be downloaded over the 3G network. Softbank doesn't too. The Softbank "iPhone for everybody campaign has been extended until January 31, 2010, so the iPhone data plan is about ¥1,500 cheaper per month.

Carrier Comparison (Please see notes).
Android Phone
iPhone (1)
Total Handset Price (2)
<¥14000 (3)

¥0-23,040 (4)
Min. monthly price (5)
¥7,280 (6)
¥5,705-6,665 (7)
Robust 3G network?
Contract required?
Required ID
ARC only
Required min. time remaining on visa
91 days
27 months
Payment options
Bank draft or CC (user preference)
Bank draft or CC (softbank preference)
Credit check (審査) required?
Reasonable credit check?
No (8)
Reasons for credit
check failure expalined?
Yes (9)
Download apps via 3G Network?
No Yes
  1. iPhone 3G 8GB; 3G(S) 16 GB; and 3G (S) 32 GB
  2. Total price to be paid over the life of a new 2-year contract.
  3. The price for the DoCoMo HT-03A varies depending on purchase location. Best price is to be found at a large electronics store such as Yodobashi Camera.
  4. effective total cost during "iPhone for Everybody" campaign: 3G 8GB = ¥0; 3G (S) = ¥11,520; 3G (S) = ¥23,040. Up front cost for iPhones are: 3G 8GB = ¥30,720; 3G (S) = ¥57,600; 3G (S) = ¥69,120. Discounts are then applied to monthly bill over 24 months: 3G 8GB = -¥1,280; 3G (S) = -¥1920; 3G (S) = -¥1920
  5. This is not the actual minimum price. It is a reasonable estimate of the minimum price that assumes you are going to not go over the number of minutes in your plan but max out the data usage. Maximum fee for Softbank data usage is ¥4,410/month during the campaign (¥5,985 normal price). DoCoMo max data fee is ¥5,985
  6. This assumes the price of the phone is paid upfront in one installment
  7. This assumes the price of the phone is paid in 24 installments for reasons listed in Note 4 (that is, it is very expensive to pay up front, even though the total cost evens out over 24 months. Basically, softbank is assuming all its customers are potential criminals who will do a runner with the phone.)
  8. This is based on the sheer amount of chatter on the Japanese and English interwebs complaining about failing the credit check but having no idea why.
  9. According to the DoCoMo staff that processed our application, we would be informed the reason for being declined. Furthermore, he expressed that there was only an infinitesimal chance this would happen. Further-furthermore, they let us open up the packing and flip through the manual before transmitting our credit application.
Next, we'll move to the actual hardware. At this point in time, the only Android phone available in Japan is the elegantly-named HT-03A (aka HTC Magic), but because the Android OS is open source, there is nothing preventing other makers from using it. Indeed, other makers are using it, just not yet in Japan.

There are basically three large differences between these two phones: 1) the iPhone has massively more internal memory but no micro SD card slot and user-changable battery, while the HT-03A has 2) a micro SD card slot and 3) a user-changeable battery. In fact, the HT-03A comes with TWO batteries with a neoprene sleeve/carrying case for the extra battery. It seems that battery life is equivalent between these two phones. We've been using wi-fi, GPS, the compass, the music player and have made it through each day without a charge (barely).

While the HT-03A is officially said to be limited to a 4GB SD, there are reports of 16 GB SD cards working here and here. Apparently, a class 6 card is required. We have read recommendations for This card, which only costs ¥6,500. (We plan to delay purchase of any new micro SD cards until the 32 GB versions become available.) For those that decide to "root" their phones, overclocking is possible, as well as running applications off the SD card (Google prevents this for security reasons).

Hardware Comparison (for un-hacked phones)

Open source allowing you to do whatever you want with it?
Optional insurance to replace user damaged/lost/stolen phone
Yes (1)
User-changeable battery
Micro SD card slot
Free extra battery included?
2 GB SD card included?
Maximum memory
16GB (2) (or max SD size)
32 GB
Install apps from any source?
3.2 Mp
3.0 Mp
Video capture
355x288 ~19fps H.263
640x480 ~30fps H.264
3.2" 320x480 touch
3.5" 320x480 multitouch
Video codecs (playback)
MPEG4 SP, H.264, H.263
MPEG4 SP, H.264
Audio codecs
AAC, Protected AAC, MP3, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV
Variable bit rate audio?
Trackball with button
b/g 54 Mbps
b/g 54 Mbps
Proximity sensor
Ambient light sensor
Large developer community?
No (not yet?)
Well-organized app store?
No (3) (not yet?)
  1. Yes, you read that correctly. Even if the phone is lost, stolen, dropped in a toilet, it can be replaced if you pay a small monthly fee. The fee is partially refundable after 1 year if you haven't made a claim.
  2. Maximum micro SD card size is officially limited to 4 GB, but users report that 16 GB (the largest currently available) will work if it is Class 6.
  3. The Android Marketplace has been reorganized in the soon-to-be-released-in-Japan version 1.6 "Donut".


  1. umm,In fact you can download apps to the iphone OTA via softbanks 3G network.

  2. how can you say "Download apps via 3G Network? NO"?

  3. If we are mistaken on that part, I'll fix it. I think we are correct on the rest of the comparison. I was told by someone who has one that he always receives a message to access the itunes store from wifi if he tries to connect via 3G. Can links be provided that confirm OTA DL is allowed?

  4. you can download APPS that are less then 10MB over 3G (meaning almost everything except big 3D games)

    however you cannot go to iTunes MUSIC Store over 3G, it's restricted to WiFi access

  5. OK. I will change that. The person who told us this was the same person who told us that the the iPhone can run on AU, so we should have been a little suspicious.

  6. Your hardware comparison comes down to three things: memory, memory and battery. I think the battery life of the iPhone is a 'little' shorter than my previous phones (docomo, au) but not that much. And considering it is continuously receiving the email from my regular computer email account, including all of the junk (I set it up that way, I should change it) I think that may be partially responsible. As for the memory, who the fuck would want to rely on MicroSD if you don't have to?? The cheapest iPhone now available (free! actually) is 16 GB. 16GB!!! I have had 3 micro SD's in cell phones, and TWO of them have failed. Lost all that data. Which is actually OK because it was mostly my ex-girlfriend in the nude, and she pretty much wanted me to lose it. But still, who would want to rely on a shitty microSD?? They suck. Also, you are totally fucked up on the total credit/softbank thing. You are a gaijin moron in Japan. You have no idea how to live here. The cell companies are all the same. In fact, softbank is the most gaijin friendly as it took over a company that was originally started by an English teacher! Check it out.

  7. It's the same anonymous fanboy from 4:24 in the am, still trolling my comments section. Awesome!

    You do realize that Micro SD is nand flash, right? You also do realize that the iPod uses... nand flash right? But only morons that don't backup their data lose it to a hardware failure ;-)

    I don't know what you're talking about with English teachers. Are you perhaps referring to Bill Morrow and Vodafone? You do realize that softbank has been passed around like you ex-girlfriend right? japan telecom (digital phone) -> tu-ka -> j-Phone (I used to be a customer) -> vodafone -> and (finally) softbank.

    Check it out! (if you are literate)ソフトバンクモバイル#.E4.BA.8B.E6.A5.AD.E5.B1.95.E9.96.8B.E6.A6.82.E8.AA.AC

  8. LOL! how does softbank executives deciding to buy a company (if they acually did or not i don't know) relate to how they treat their customers?

    I have 2 experiences with softbank, one was outright insultingly rude, the other (thanks to persistance & my asking the staff the same question 3 times) partially successful. What part of that is "gaijin friendly"?

    ..and i don't know what you were doing with your phones to destroy 2 micro sd cards? Maybe you should stop buying stuff from bargain bins...

  9. The minimum time remaining on visa requirement for Softbank is not true. Well, at least I can claim that it doesn't apply to all foreigners. Come on, the maximum length of working visa we can get is 36 months.

    When I got my iPhone 3G in 2008, my visa only had 15 months left. Then I got my iPhone 3GS in June 2009, with only 3 months left. Yes, I am paying my iPhone in 24 installments, both of them. All the documents I need to provide were my Japanese insurance document and my Japanese credit card.

    No, I am not a Softbank fan, but I have no choice cause au/DoCoMo don't sell iPhone. I am stucked with Softbank, just like those poor Americans stucked with AT&T.

    Now, if DoCoMo really can provide their SIM card only for people with unlocked iPhones with similar data plan as Android, I will sign up asap.

  10. I'm experiencing the same thing here, over-excited guy at Yamada-denki tells me that my gaijin card is valid until 2013 and that even though my visa is only valid for 15 months it will be OK. I decided to go to the Softbank shop where I know the manager from previous acct. setup, and I was all set to get an iPhone, and then it failed - she assumed it was because of the visa issue.

    My question is this - I went to Docomo to ask about the ht-03a, and they pretty much painted this picture for me: You can pay the 12,000yen upfront and not pay monthly installments, but you still have to sign up for a contract. Same as the iPhone/SB, if you cancel outside of the exact 24th month you get nailed with a 9,000yen cancellation fee. How did you get away with no contract? Something as big is that is not likely to be changed suddenly, or at least I would imagine so.

  11. km,

    To clarify, I did indeed enter a contract. I was pointing out above that you aren't require to enter a contract if you 1) pay up front for the full price of the phone (about 60,000 yen) and 2) Don't sign up for any of the discount plans.

    If you sign up for either the ひとりでも割50 or the ファミ割りMAX50 plans, the you will have a 9,500 yen cancel fee if you cancel before 2 years.

    Another thing, if you are getting the phone for 12,000 yen, then you entered the 端末購入サポート program (handset purchase support). This is a subsidy plan. If you cancel before 24 months, you pay back the amount you were subsidized. This decreases each month. If you cancel after one month, you pay 30,240 yen. If you cancel after 12 months, you pay 16,380 yen. If you cancel after 24 months, you pay 1,260 yen.

    So, if you pay ~ 12,000 yen for the phone and enter the ひとりでも割50 and cancel after 12 months you'd pay:

    9500 yen (plus tax)
    16,380 yen (tax included)

    If you pay ~ 60,000 yen for the phone and don't enter any discount plans and cancel after 12 months you'd pay:

    0 yen

    At least, this is how I understood it at the time I got my phone. Of course, not entering any discount programs is pretty expensive for monthly charges.

  12. "The minimum time remaining on visa requirement for Softbank is not true. Well, at least I can claim that it doesn't apply to all foreigners. Come on, the maximum length of working visa we can get is 36 months."

    The minimum time remaining on visa requirement is indeed true and does indeed apply to all foreigners if and only if you show your passport and ARC as ID. If you do not show these things, then as you discovered, the visa requirement is a non-issue, which makes it a completely stupid rule in the first place.

    "I decided to go to the Softbank shop where I know the manager from previous acct. setup, and I was all set to get an iPhone, and then it failed - she assumed it was because of the visa issue."

    This is the reason I started this blog. It is absolutely ridiculous that store managers have to assume reasons rather being able to explicitly state what the problem is.

    I actually doubt it was because of your visa status because many people report getting an iphone with less time on their visa because, like JK, they didn't use the ARC and passport. In fact, I don't see how softbank would have any way of knowing what your visa status is unless you disclose that information.