Sunday, October 16, 2011

Call me

However hard you think buying a phone is in Japan:

You're wrong.

It's harder than that. It's so hard it makes hard things look easy. Really hard things, like painting an elephant's toe nails or trying to reattach a wing of an aeroplane mid-flight.

The first problem is choice.

There are three major mobile phone companies in Japan; docomo, softbank and au. Docomo offers the best nation-wide signal, softbank offers the iPhone and au offers an android phone that runs on wimax (4G), rather than 3G. Each of these companies have a wide range of plans for their phones, depending on the handset you get and your usage. Amusingly, while all the smart phone plans have a sliding scale that caps out at a reasonable sum for unlimited data, you always pay for calls. In Japan, talking on your phone in many public places is considered rude, so email services run on even the most basic handsets.

Then there was the fact that Japan just doesn't do wifi hotspots. Not in stations, not in restaurants, not even in Starbucks. Nothing. Nowt. Yadda. Instead, people carry little pocket wifi routers that take a 3G signal and broadcast their own wireless hotspot that allows you to link up your laptop, tablet or any other device that has a hungering for internet anywhere where you are. These routers have similar contracts to mobile phones, although softbank were offering their own router in a special deal with their smart phones. On the other hand, an android phone from au would allow tethering to the wimax network which was a potentially faster connection with a single device. Tethering does wear down a battery though, so perhaps it would be better to have two devices and ...

It was hard, ok?

Add to that the iPhone 4S was due out in a week and would be offered by both softbank and au and I had a headache.

The second problem was all these options were in Japanese.

This meant that I had to glean what I could from the websites and then try and corner an assistant in one of the big electrical stores. In a large enough shop, there was a fighting chance that someone somewhere would speak some English. Sometimes my chosen captive had to be encouraged to go and find such an individual and sometimes they failed. Really, however it went down it was painful and I had to go back several times since it wasn't possible to answer all my questions in one go without putting the shop assistant in danger of cardiac arrest.

Ultimately though, I needed a phone. It was difficult to receive deliveries on the weekend, hard to catch up with what my friends were doing and the credit card company had point blank refused to issue a card to anyone who was too ridiculous to not own a mobile. I had to get this sorted and fast.

But I wanted to select the right option. The phone I would delight in using every day. A contract which would allow me to drink 101 pumpkin lattes in Starbucks while hooking up my laptop in a pretence of work. A miricle handset that would...

"Just get a god damn phone!"

That was a friend's comment on facebook after my 800th post on the subject.

... oh right. Bought the iPhone 4. Am delighted with it.

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