Thursday, January 6, 2011

Are Japanese Android smartphones crippled without a service contract?

EDIT2: Additional comments indicate that the crippling seems to be limited to the feature phones, though softbank at least is willing to uncripple the phone once it is fully paid off.

EDIT: confirmation in the comments section indicates that, once again, just about anything shop staff says should be disregarded.

The other day I had the rare need for a one seg TV tuner. I still have my old AU phone with one seg, so I pulled it out, plugged it in, turned it on, and fired up the TV tuner. Who knew that a service contract is required to receive terrestrial TV broadcasts? I didn't.

Oops. au ICカード(UIM)エラー ご利用出来ません. Of course I didn't expect to be able to use EZweb or any of AU's services since I'm no longer a customer, but I did expect to view freely available* television broadcasts. I also did not expect that the phone would paperweight itself simply because of no contract.

I expect too much.

I inquired at an AU Store. According to the shop staff, early one seg phones were able to receive one seg broadcasts without a valid service contract but all current models require a connection to EZweb and hence a working cellular connection, including the IS03 android smartphone. The staff actually described it as building in a wall, though we all know to take anything said by carrier shop staff with a healthy amount of skepticism.  Technically, there is no need to connect to EZweb, since programming guide and text information is included in the broadcast.

This begs the question of what other functionality is crippled once you end your contract with AU (or Docomo or Softbank). Unfortunately, the back plates of the display models are glued shut, so we weren't able to yank an IC card from an IS03 to confirm it would partially cripple itself, and the shop staff weren't about to  unbox a new one just to satisfy my curiosity.

The staff did however assure me that the one seg function of the IS03 would cease to function without service from AU. Owners of Japanese made android smartphones: Can you use all the functions of your phones (infrared, one seg, ketai osaifu, etc.) with the IC/SIM card removed?


* one seg is freely available but technically not free since Japanese law requires anyone who owns a television capable of receiving terrestrial broadcasts to pay for NHK. This includes owning a cell phone with a one seg tuner. (I've seen an NHK rep demand payment from a Japanese person whose only TV was their cell phone. It didn't end well... for the NHK rep.)


  1. What a bummer. A good way for them to make sure you don't get a subsidized phone just for the free functions like one seg.

  2. That makes perfect sense because:

    One seg went live on 4/1/2006 according to wikipedia. The first one seg phones cost significant money up front, so there was incentive not to cancel service just to get a free one seg tuner. My AU phone is a Kyocera W51K which (also according to wikipedia) came out on 2/2007, about a year later. I paid zero yen for this phone in 6/2007 with a new AU phone number and no contract, so there was nothing stopping me from canceling immediately and keeping the phone as a TV tuner.

    What makes no sense is crippling the one seg now because the MIC ended the zero-yen keitais in 2008.

    Of course you can still get a feature phone for next to nothing with subsidies, but I am pretty sure that you will owe money if you immediately cancel, which was not the case prior to 2008. So there is no way to get a phone for free and run away with it, making it is overtly shitty on the part of AU to still require a connection to EZweb to view one seg TV. It is also not at all surprising that AU is, according to shop staff, requiring paid service with AU to use one seg.

  3. I can verify these details for you. Either my IS03 is an exception, or the staff that you talked to was pulling your leg.

    I am currently watching One Seg tv on my IS03 without the au card inserted. I was also able to receive information via infrared. On that note, both of my au phones (I also have the Casio Exilim W63A) didn't have the au card inserted when I sent/received via IR. The Casio's One Seg needs the au card, but then again that's not a smartphone.

    I can't verify osaifu keitai because I have not set it up yet. I'll try to verify this soon.

    I can take a video or picture and send it to you if you want.

    On a related note, I'm pretty upset that I haven't been able to put this IS03 into any recovery or bootloader modes...I think Sharp/au blocked that ability (same as the IS01?)...want to inquire that for me? hehe I sent an email to au regarding recovery mode but they haven't replied...yet.

  4. Thanks for confirming that you have no problems. It is good to know that they really aren't doing such stupid stuff.

    I vote for the staff being full of it. You really can't trust anything someone says to you in one of the shops, which is just sad.

    No one has made any progress yet on the Japanese side. On the bright side it sounds like Sharp is going to release some of their products in the US, which means more developers will get their hands on them and there'll be a better chance of cracking the thing.

  5. That is very sad, indeed.

    So Sharp is sending stuff overseas: US, India, and China? Hmm, hopefully one of those devices will be similar to the IS03 then.

  6. Seems like before you only needed the SIM but now all the feature keitais require a live SIM with the carrier. My 941SH couldn't even use WiFi without subscribing to Softbank's WiFi lame. On the bright side, the English page for my new 003SH has the following:

    "Certain functions (For example, One Seg and the Camera) cannot be used if a valid USIM card is not inserted in the handset.However, if payment of the handset unit has been fully made, the functions can be enabled at a SoftBank shop."

  7. At least they'll unlock the functionality once it's paid off. Too bad they also won't SIM unlock it - for now at least.

  8. My SH-03C (LYNX 3D)'s functions all work without a SIM inserted. 1seg, osaifu-keitai, wifi, etc all works (except 3G obviously).

  9. I have an IS01 and I can see One-Seg without AU-sim.