Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Train Search Part 2: Goo Browser-Based Search


DIRECT URL:  http://mobile.goo.ne.jp/transit/

PROS:  Departure, arrival, last train, and connecting station (経由駅).  Option to retrieve train schedule. Option for train advisories. Allows English without requiring "station" to be written. Option to change departure/arrival time by present amount (for example 5 minutes). Advanced/detailed settings can be accessed from the top page with one click.

CONS:  No ability to retrieve schedule for stations at which you change trains. Train schedules are static - they cannot be browsed to get detailed information about the stops/times of a particular train. The top page is typical of many Japanese websites in that it contains "PR" links and whatnot that are of no direct use to searching for a train schedule.

DROIDS: three-point-five (out of five)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
The Goo browser-based search site provides better functionality than Google's site for train route searches.  The backend database is limited to train stations only, so it does not get confused when the word "tokyo" is entered as opposed to "tokyo station." The detailed settings, such as prioritizing by either number of connections, total price of the fare, or the total time required for the trip, are more quickly and easily accessed from the goo site. This probably reflects Google's simplistic approach to  organization (no irrelevant links to other sites/services



The first items below the site title are links to Goo's new map page, Goo's search widget (which is linked to a i-mode site not accessible from an Android phone, nor renderable on a PC), and a mailing list signup.  These extra pixels make page just long enough that all of the relevant information cannot be displayed on our screen without scrolling.


Below the fields for entering the starting and ending station names, are (in this order) 1) search now, 2) detailed search (includes adding connecting stations, changing the date/time, and prioritizing price, speed, number of connections), 3) search by station name, 4) search last train departure, 5) train schedule, and 6) train advisories.  Everything further below is completely irrelevant.



Clicking the detailed settings brings up this menu.  In between the departure and arrival station is an option for a single connection.  Below time and date, (from left to right) options to select departure time, arrival time, or last train.  The next line down contains buttons to select to prioritize by speed (blue background kanji), price (yellow background), or "fun" (pink).  Below this are an option for including express trains that require an additional charge and an option for selecting reserved seat.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sony Ericsson Android phone coming to Japan early next year

Nikkei is reporting that NTT DoCoMo will begin selling a Sony Ericsson Android phone (yay!), along with a Samsung Windows Mobile phone (boo!) the beginning of next year.

Here is the text of the article (bold is the part about the Android phone):


NTTドコモ、スマートフォン拡充 「グーグル携帯」など

NTTドコモは携帯電話機世界第2位の韓国サムスン電子と同5位の英ソニー・エリクソンからパソコンに近い性能を持つスマートフォン(高機能携帯電話)を調達する。現在は東芝など4社から調達しているが、来年初めにも2社の製品を1機種ずつ発売する。2008年度の国内の携帯電話出荷台数は前年度比で3割減ったが、スマートフォンは5割増。成長分野の品ぞろえを強化し、シェア拡大と収益力向上を目指す。

サムスンから調達するのは、米マイクロソフトの携帯向け基本ソフト(OS)「ウィンドウズモバイル」を搭載した機種。サムスンはソフトバンクモバイルに現在、通常の携帯電話5機種を供給しているが、海外で30機種以上販売するスマートフォンを日本市場に投入するのは初めて。ソニー・エリクソンからは米グーグルが開発した携帯向け無償OS「アンドロイド」を搭載した「グーグル携帯」を調達する。(07:00)
The Sony Ericsson phone features the Rachael UI on top of Android.  According to BGR, the android phone with be the XPERIA X3.  Check out a purported video the Rachael UI.  Oh yeah, it appears that this phone will have the snapdragon processor.

Android v. 1.6 arrives in Japan



UPDATE 10/28/2009: We received the update last night via wireless LAN.  It is how we expected.  We are now running Google Maps v. 3.1.2.

Docomo has announced that version 1.6 will be automatically downloaded OTA to all users of the HT-03A within the next week.  The update is 16 MB and will take approximately 5 minutes to download.  The download would cost you approximately ¥25,000 worth of data packets if a phone is not properly connected to the biz-hodai access point.  (According to DoCoMo, a phone connected to the wrong access point is now prevented from sending and receiving data, so there is no worry about an expensive data bill).

It is apparently possible to download via wireless LAN, but there is no way to guarantee that the update is downloaded this way.  If your phone gets the update while you are connected to 3G, you'll get the download over 3G (and max your data plan).

DoCoMo recommends to backup the phone's contacts and data before installing the update, just incase.

Major Features

  • Global search of the phone contents and internet from the home screen.
  • Ability to see battery usage by process.
  • Better navigation of the Market and YouTube.
  • One click to switch between camera and video.
  • Paid applications are now available in Japan.
  • Google latitude (we assume this means the new version of the Google Maps app.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Train Search Part 1: Google Browser-Based Search

Google has two different frontends (interfaces) for getting train directions from the Google database.

  • "Nori-kae annai" (乗換案内) has the same functionality as the updated mobile Map app, that is not yet available in Japan, with options for auto, walking, and train directions and is located at maps.google.co.jp
  • "Transit" (トランジット) is a simple mobile interface for getting train directions only and is located at google.co.jp

In theory, both should produce the same result, but as you will see, this is not the case.  We encountered some of the same issues we detailed here, though this time they happened even though we have the phone set to a Japanese environment.  It is becoming more clear that these problems are on the "maps" side of google.

Additionally, there appears to be no link to Transit on the google mobile home page (but there really is). The link to Transit is actually called Nori-kae annai.  The link to Nori-kae annai is also called, you guessed it, Nori-kae annai.  Depending on where you click on the google home page, you are sent to a different frontend.

Nori-kae annai

DIRECT URL: http://maps.google.co.jp/maps/m?mode=transit&source=mog&hl=ja&gl=jp

PROS:  Departure, arrival, last train option.  Allows English input if appended with "station." (Tokyo station, for example, must be typed.) Option to change departure/arrival time by present amount (for example 5 minutes).  Shows route map.  Allows choice between walking, auto or train.  Uses location aware services.  Mimics function of Maps app that is not yet official available in Japan.  Provides for free much of the same functionality as Navitime's paid service.  Has the potential to provide a useable work around for searching for station names from a phone set to English by forming the URL and bookmarking it.

CONS:  Not available from google.com English page.  Cannot specify connecting stations (経由駅). Gives same bad results as searching from a phone set to English.  Heavy to startup; don't use it if you want to know quickly when the next train is departing.  No option for retrieving train schedules.  No option for train advisories.  No option for first train.  No option for saving favorites or history (because browser based).  Not always available.

DROIDS: two (out of five)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
We like that this has the same functionality as the updated map app, but we find it pretty much unusable because it has a very long load time, probably due to heavy ajax scripting (but we are just speculating).  In addition, search results are inconsistent.  We did our favorite Tokyo to Shinagawa search and were completely surprised to see that the result that pops up is…  the same result as when performing this search from maps.google.com!  Even though we are set to a Japanese environment!  See here for more details.  Searching from a PC, however, works.  There is no link to this on the google.co.jp Japanese page.

To use Nori-kae annai:

From the google home page select "more" (その他) and click on "nori-kae annai" (乗換案内).



Next, you get to stare at this screen for a long while, even if you are using wi-fi.



The app will try and guess your location based on GPS or wifi and suggest this as a start point.  (We have location awareness turned off.)  We entered Tokyo (東京) to Shingawa (品川).  As you can see, the results seem dubious.



Again, we are starting at our favorite rental mansion in (Palace Mell) in Fuchu City.



But you can get a nice map of the route, which shows our location, though it is completely wrong (since we have turned off location awareness).  Probably appending 駅 (station) to the station name, would fix this problem, but no other Japanese train search engine requires this.




Transit

DIRECT URL:  http://www.google.co.jp/transit?source=mobileproducts&source=mog&dc=gorganic

PROS:  Light with a quick load time. Accurate results. Departure, arrival, last train option. Allows English input if appended with "station." (Tokyo station, for example, must be typed.)

CONS:  Not available from google.com English page.  Cannot specify connecting stations (経由駅). No option for retrieving train schedules.  No option for train advisories.  No option for saving favorites or history (because browser based). No option for first train.  No option to change departure/arrival time by a preset time (1 minute ahead for example).

DROIDS: three (out of five)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
This is the typical interface for getting train directions that most users (who don't pay for Navitime) are probably accustomed to using.  It could be improved by adding the ability to quickly adjust departure/arrival time, and by also adding the option for a first train departure.  A quick link to train schedules and advisories would be useful as well.

To use Transit:

On the google.co.jp Japanese home page, click the "more" (その他) and the "even more" (サービス−覧).



From here, choose 乗換案内 (Nori-kae annai).  You'd think you are accessing the same service detailed above, but you are not.



Now you are at the typical mobile interface for getting train directions from google, into which we entered our favorite search.



And out comes proper results.



Scrolling down give the option to modify the search


Options for Train Directions (乗換案内) Reviewed

Over the next few days, we will be presenting our thoughts on available options for getting train directions (乗換案内) on an android phone.

Here is the list of the applications/web sites we'll be reviewing.  As far as we know, these are the only ones available.  Of course there exist more options on the web, such as yahoo, but we have an irrational dislike of yahoo.
  • Browser based search
    • Google
      • Google Nori-kae annai 乗換案内
      • Google Transit トランジット
    • Goo
  • Application-based search
    • Google maps (not officially available in Japan)
    • TransitEX application (frontend to Google Transit) 乗換案内 
    • Jorudan application (frontend to Jorudan database) ジョルダン 乗換案内
    • Rosen driod application (frontend to either Google Transit or Goo database) 路線ドロイド
    • Navitime (frontend to Navitime database)
We'll cut to the chase and say that none of these apps are quite there yet, either because of flaws in the backend database server (ahem, google), or lack of options for saving frequently used stations (Jorudan), or accessing history (rosen droid), or because the interface is the butt-fugliest thing we have ever seen even thinking back to the state of Japanese websites circa 1999 (TransitEX), or because the application just dosen't fucking work (Navitime - you should see the comments on the app:  Is this a joke? Is this a beta version? GIVE ME MY MONEY BACK [OK, you can't write Kanji in all caps, but if you could, these comments would be]).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Open source: it's all about peace, love...and capitalism

For years, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM have used Linux to lower the cost of their hardware and software-based solutions, while keeping profit margins fat and healthy. Google, ever the quick learner, is now doing the same with Android.

The mobile market will never be the same.

Just as Google and others are using open-source software to lower barriers to adoption of their proprietary cloud offerings, so, too, is Google using open source to reduce the cost of mobile computing in order to drive uptake of its proprietary search-related advertising business in mobile.

Keep reading at Matt Asay's article entitled Google Android: More than just a cheap date

Gmail notifications are fixed. Paid apps and v 1.6 on the horizon?

We had noticed that there seemed to no longer be a problem with receiving push notifications for Gmail.  Just ran into a press released from a few days ago saying that the problem has been fixed and it was basically Google's problem, not NTT DoCoMo's.
2009/10/16HT-03Aをご利用のお客様へお知らせ
平素はNTTドコモのサービス・商品をご利用いただき、誠にありがとうございます。GoogleサーバとmoperaUを結ぶ一部のインターネット回線に問題が発生しておりましたが、Google社にて障害が発生しているインターネット回線を通らないように通信経路を変更しました。10月15日現在、本事象の改善を確認しております。
※今回の事象はGoogleサーバ、moperaUには問題はありません
お客様にはご迷惑をおかけしましたが、何卒ご理解賜りますようよろしくお願い申しあげます。
As for v. 1.6, there is still no official word from DoCoMo. There is apparently a flyer (チラシ) being distributed to DoCoMo Shops indicating that 1.6 is soon to be available in Japan, but the two images are 404 (file not found).  It appears the update will be 60 MB and delivered OTA.  It is also said to include Latitude for Maps, so this likely means that we will officially be getting the latest version of Google maps.

The google Japan blog states that Japanese developers (who can read English) have the ability now to publish paid apps for purchase outside of Japan.  Google states that they are working to bring paid apps to the Japanese market.
日本のデベロッパーの皆さんは、Android マーケットを通じてエンドユーザーがアプリケーションを入手できる国であればどこでも、有料/無料のアプリを公開できるようになりました。ただし、日本のユーザーが入手できるのは無料のアプリケーションのみです。有料のアプリケーションもご利用いただけるよう改善に努めていますので、しばらくお待ちください

Monday, October 19, 2009

iDon't, Droid Does



US carrier Verizon has what most are calling a very effective add for a soon to be released Android phone. This will be Verizon's first Android phone.  Perhaps indeed the Android army is mobilizing for explosive growth.

The Verizon phone appears to be the Motorola Sholes.  According to the Washington post, this phone is the real deal compared to the iPhone.  Be interesting to see if it hits Japan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First Impression of Android in Japan

Our impressions of this phone are typically positive.  We are happy we purchased it.  Because there are some annoyances, however, we felt obliged to share.  So enjoy and feel free to flame away.

We've been playing with both our new 64 GB iPod Touch, which we got a couple of weeks ago on an employee discount :-), and the HT-03a running Android 1.5 "cupcake".  As we expected, the Android OS is not yet as refined as the iPhone OS 3.1 running on the Touch.

Android version 1.6 "Donut" will add several improvements, including global search (equivalent to Apple's spotlight), a much-needed task manager (which is unnecessary on the iPhone OS), and a redesigned Android market.

Overall, we are happy with the performance of the phone.  We like the notification system, which displays everything in the task bar.  The task bar can be swiped down like a windowshade to see details, such as previews of SMS, email notifications, and what song is playing.  The ability to install apps from anywhere is just! fricken! awesome!  Widgets are also very useful because they add soft buttons to the desktop to perform common tasks such as toggling wifi or the ringer (see below)
Screenshot of  the three panes of Android's extendable desktop with app shortcuts, a folder, and various widgets for toggling wifi (center left) or ringer (center right), displaying weather info, and killing running apps or displaying memory usage (top right).  Notifications at upper left of taskbar.

There are, however some caveats that we will list, in no particular order, below.  Some of these are problems we were aware of prior to purchasing.  Some of these are general problems with Google services.  But, most of these probably come with the territory of a relatively immature operating system and are things that we expect to see resolved in time.
  • Mail is not up to what is expected in Japan.
    • It is PC mail, so you will need to be whitelisted by people with strict filtering.
    • There is currently no emoji.
    • Google and Docomo have a bug in their push system which can (but not always) delay push notification.  A work around is to manually check with the browser-based version of Gmail that is optimized for Android.  There is no reported time frame for resolution, meaning neither Google nor Docomo has a clue about what is broken or how to fix it.
  • Integration with Google services is not as tight as we expected.  The iPhone OS Google Maps app is better integrated than the Android app.
  • There are several issues with language localization that are not related to the Android OS per se, but rather with Google's seemingly haphazard approach to localization.
  • Navigation in Android is not as "snappy" as in the iPhone OS.  This may be due to the iPod Touch/iPhone's slightly speedier processor or better code optimization in the more mature iPhone OS.  Or both.
  • The Android market is truly a mess.  Paid apps are not available in the Japanese market.  A reasonably usable version of Google Maps (for someone in Tokyo) is also not available in the Japanese market (though we know where to find and install it).
  • Closing apps is a bit confusing because of the way Android allows background user processes to run and its built-in resource management.  Hitting the home key may or may not actually kill the app; 3rd-party taskmanager is recommended.
  • Many commonly performed tasks require navigating the settings menu.  There is no quick way to enable what we commonly consider "manner mode".  The "silent mode" function is truly silent, killing the vibrator as well.  3rd-party widgets provide these functions.
  • Plugging in the headphones (through the included USB adapter - no headphone out on this hardware) does not necessarily kill the external speakers.  It does on a case by case basis.  Doom 3 even started playing sounds when the phone was in full silent mode.
  • USB headphone adapter has what we call the "bimyou button" because we aren't quite sure exactly what it does.  Pushing it once toggles play and pause.  A long push does one of three things: 1) nothing, 2) skip to next song, 3) open the music player app.
  • Taking screenshots (like the ones in this post) requires rooting your phone (which we did not do) or 1) installing the SDK, 2) a Java development environment like eclipse, 3) enabling debugging on the phone, and 4) connecting by USB (all of which we did do).  Neither are viable options for those who are not comfortable with a command line.  (It gets even more fun if you are running a 64 bit OS because the SDK requires a 32 bit version of SWT.  But as you can see it can be done with some changes to the code and to Mac OS 10.6 snow leopard's Java prefs.)
Killing Apps

From what we understand, Android automatically kills tasks and restarts them as resources are needed.  Developers of individual apps may or may not code in a quit function.  The typical way of closing an app seems to be simply returning to the home screen.  But this does not always immediately kill the app.  In fact, we can find no discernible pattern of behavior.  Probably, if system resources are largely unused, the app is allowed to continue running.  This is why a task manager is needed.  We have been trying out both Advanced Task Killer (icon in task bar in above screen shot) and TasKiller (widget in upper right).  Apple is probably right when they say that background apps eat battery power.

Google services integration

There are times when we wonder if we are supposed to use the dedicated app or the browser-based service to access Gmail or to get train directions.  In the case of Gmail, we are at times forced to use the browser-based version due to push issues.  With maps and directions, things get even murkier.  First of all, there are currently two separate Google Map apps, Google Maps and My Maps Editor.  Google Maps gives you directions, but does not allow you to place markers or view "my maps".  Google Maps Editor lets you place markers and view my maps but does not give you directions.  No one has any idea why these two apps are not combined into one.  The only plausible explanation we can think of is that the memory footprint would be too large and cause other background services to be shut down (like the notification service for example).

For getting directions, the Google Map app available to Japanese users only provides driving directions, which is of no use to many that live in large cities.  There is no way to get train or walking directions.  To get this, the browser-based version must be used.  However, there is a new mobile app available outside of Japan, v. 3.1.2.  This app adds access to train, car, and/or walking directions.  And It works in Japan (if you can download/find it).  Japanese users reported that switching the system to English, removing the sim card, and connecting to the market over wifi, enabled finding and downloading the app.  This no longer works (may work with a US proxy).  If you are an android user looking for it, from your phone search for

com.google.android.apps.maps.apk

And v 3.1.0 should be the first hit.  This version has the improved functionality I mentioned.  (DISCLAIMER: we don't know the checksum for the app on the market, so download at your own risk since you cannot verify it has no malware payload - it seems to come from a trustable source, but you never know.  The MD5 sum for the app we downloaded is 50a394656d92b85d7671ea13e2a5b8aa)  After downloading, click to install (you may need to allow installation from untrusted sources)

Google language localization

Maps

There are annoyances that anyone who has their phone set to an English environment will experience while using the Maps app to search Japan.  This is not a problem with android itself but with Google.  Compare the results for these two searches.  In each one, 東京 (Tokyo) and 品川 (Shinagawa) were input.

search of google.co.jp and search of google.com

If we search from google.com, we start out in Fukuchu City (on the other side of Suginami Ward, in western Tokyo) from the parking lot of a rental mansion called Palace Mell (or was that Palace Smell).  We end up at Shinagawa Station.  In the Android example below, we started out at the Tokyo Prefectural Government building and ended up at Shinagawa Ward Hall.



Two work arounds exist, 1) setting your Android system language to Japanese, or 2) appending the kanji for station - eki 駅 - to the station name.  The former always works.  The later sometime picks up names of stores that contain "eki-mae" (駅前).  Perhaps a savvy developer and write a nice piece of code that will force maps to access google.co.jp?

Gmail Contacts

Gmail has a bug that causes names in Kanji to be ordered randomly.  There is no fix for viewing properly ordered contacts on the PC version - even if you set your Gmail language to Japanese, the order will be wrong.  (interestingly, though, the order changes but is still wrong.)  This problem occurs in spite of having correctly entered phonetic readings - furigana 振り仮名.  Google serves up this incorrect order to any device synced with it, including Apple Address Book.  In the case of Apple Address Book, the phonetic readings are not received, which is probably why Address Book cannot properly sort the contacts.  In the case of Android, the phonetic readings are indeed served to the phone, but if you system language is set to English, the order is random.  Setting your system language to Japanese on the phone WILL fix the problem.  Otherwise, you'll need to live with it or perhaps create a listed of starred contacts that you frequently call.

Friday, October 9, 2009

C|Net: The Google Android party has begun


SAN DIEGO--After two years of waiting, Google Android phones are finally hitting the market en masse.
In the past couple of months, nine devices using Google's mobile operating system have been announced, including the Motorola Cliq, which goes on sale in November, and the new Samsung Moment, which was announced Wednesday at the CTIA Fall 2009 trade show here. The pipeline is full of more Android devices, some of which have been confirmed and some that are still rumored to be in development.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in Android here," Kim Titus, a spokesman for Samsung, said Wednesday at theCTIA trade show, where the company is showing off its two Google Android handsets--the Samsung Moment and the Samsung Behold II. "I think these devices have an opportunity to become strong cross-over devices appealing both to business customers as well as to consumers and prosumers."
U.S. wireless operators are also jumping on the Google Android bandwagon. So far, T-Mobile USA, the smallest of the four nationwide carriers, has been the only U.S. wireless operator to offer Android devices. Once the Motorola Cliq and the Samsung Bold II launch, T-Mobile will be offering four different Google Android devices on its network.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

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)
Carrier
DoCoMo
Softbank
Robust 3G network?
Yes
No
Contract required?
No
Yes
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?
Yes
Yes
Reasonable credit check?
Yes
No (8)
Reasons for credit
check failure expalined?
Yes (9)
No
Download apps via 3G Network?
Yes
No Yes
Notes:
  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)

HT-03A
iPhone
Open source allowing you to do whatever you want with it?
Yes
No
Optional insurance to replace user damaged/lost/stolen phone
Yes (1)
No
User-changeable battery
Yes
No
Micro SD card slot
Yes
No
Free extra battery included?
Yes
No
2 GB SD card included?
Yes
N/A
Maximum memory
16GB (2) (or max SD size)
32 GB
Install apps from any source?
Yes
No
Multitasking
Yes
No
Camera
3.2 Mp
3.0 Mp
Video capture
355x288 ~19fps H.263
640x480 ~30fps H.264
Screen
3.2" 320x480 touch
3.5" 320x480 multitouch
Video codecs (playback)
MPEG4 SP, H.264, H.263
MPEG4 SP, H.264
Audio codecs
AAC, AAC+, AMR-NB, MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC-LC, MIDI, OGG
AAC, Protected AAC, MP3, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV
Variable bit rate audio?
Yes
Yes
Trackball with button
Yes
No
Accelerometer
Yes
Yes
GPS
Yes
Yes
Compass
Yes
Yes
Wi-fi
b/g 54 Mbps
b/g 54 Mbps
Proximity sensor
No
Yes
Ambient light sensor
No
Yes
Large developer community?
No (not yet?)
Yes
Well-organized app store?
No (3) (not yet?)
Yes
  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".

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Template and Mascot

In an impromptu, unanimous vote, the Softbank Sucks team has decided to incorporate the android into the our logo. We think the android is cuter than a talking dog anyways.

We now have an Android phone!


One member of the softbank sucks team nearly destroyed a DoCoMo phone by rolling over it with an office chair (exact words were: 内蔵が出ています). This prompted a visit to the DoCoMo Shop, where we had the opportunity to try out the HTC-03A (aka HTC Magic, Google Phone, or Android Phone).

We were impressed. So we got one.

In case you don't know, Android is a smartphone OS created by Google that runs the linux kernel. Linux is typically referred to as a UNIX-like operating system, and some popular desktop examples are Ubuntu and Red Hat. Mac OS 10 and the iPhone OS are also, at the core, derived from UNIX.

While at a very low level, which is not apparent to the user, there are a number of similarities between the Android OS and the iPhone OS, these two phone operating systems are actually quite different in implementation. The iPhone OS runs only on Apple-branded hardware and is a locked-down, closed environment to which Apple is the gatekeeper. The only way to install applications (without violating the iPhones EULA) is to download approved apps through iTunes.

Android, on the other hand, is an open-source OS that is available to any cellphone maker and already is preinstalled on several phones. Apps can be downloaded and installed from anywhere. For example, we've already found and installed the Last.fm streaming app which is supposed to be only available to people in the US and UK.

We will post our impressions of the phone after we have time to play with it a bit more, but so far we can say that the Android OS can certainly become a serious competitor to the iPhone OS. Unfortunately, it is still relatively immature and lacks the large developer community of the iPhone... For now (we hope).

For now, we'll leave you with a summary of the buying experience and a few bullet points.

It took about an hour to get all the paperwork done. The credit examination also took about an hour. We were given a number and a time to check back with the store. About an hour before we were supposed to come back, our AU phone vibrated and announced to us that it no longer had a phone number (due to MNP). This was our indication that we had passed the credit check and our new DoCoMo phone was active. So we headed back to the store and sure enough, the phone was ready.

Some important points:
  • The phone is about ¥30,000 with a new 2-year contract at a standard DoCoMo shop.
  • The phone is only about ¥15,000 (or less) if purchased from a large electronics store with a 2-year contract. (we got ours at our favorite Yodobashi Camera.)
  • A contract is not required.
  • The price of the phone may be paid in 12 or 24 or 1 installment. We just paid upfront the entire amount, which was less than ¥15,000.
  • Only identification required is your foreign registration card.
  • You only need a minimum of 90 days remaining on your visa.
  • Conbini-barai is NOT an option for new contracts.
  • You may choose to pay monthly by either bank draft or credit card, whichever you prefer (as opposed to the other way around like at some phone companies that suck).
  • Our sales person claimed DoCoMo discloses the reasons for credit rejection with the applicant (!)
  • Data and voice plan prices are similar to the those of the iPhone.