UPDATE: I ditched eMobile after about a year; this post explains why.
So I switched my mobile phone service to eMobile. This was really part of a much bigger jump over the weekend: I moved from a tiny furnished apartment in central Tokyo to a larger and very Japanese-style apartment on the edge of the metropolis. So far, I can’t say it’s been a bad change. There’s plenty of sunlight out the window, a proper bathroom (unit baths suck!) and enough room to accommodate my [laughable] writing, studying and musical efforts.
One problem I had to solve was staying connected to the outside world. All I wanted was an internet connection: I don’t need a home phone (Skype has me covered there) and I don’t need TV. My building isn’t wired for DSL, so the cheapness of broadband would be outweighed by the cost and hassle of installation.
After some head-scratching, I recalled that eMobile’s basic data plan offers unlimited use of mobile broadband at slow DSL speeds for about 5,000 yen a month. Then I realized that I could get one of their phones and plug it into my laptop’s USB port for unlimited internet access at slower-than-DSL speeds for about 7,500 yen a month, about the same as my average DoCoMo bill (basic plan plus “pake-hodai” and a couple of network services). So I went with eMobile’s basic “smart phone,” the S11HT “eMonster.” I bought it on Friday and have been using it constantly since then.
I am quite pleased so far. I wanted to get a phone with a keyboard for a while. I eyed Softbank’s offerings with interest last year, but was put off by advice from several people that the software sucked (I even heard this from a Softbank sales lady in Roppongi). A friend of mine then bought Softbank’s “Internet Machine,” which is packed with features (including television and GSM roaming) but costs more than my laptop did and, like most Japanese phones, has a unique operating system. Overall, the eMonster does a good job of balancing the sort of things that a fast-paced international digital individual (like yours truly) really needs in life.
- Internet is very fast, both on the handset and on a connected PC. I’m not sure whether I’m actually getting the full 3.7 mbps on this thing, but it sure feels responsive; faster, at least, than the heavily firewalled LAN connection at work.
- Can access any email account with a POP or IMAP server. I now get my Gmail messages straight to my phone. There is also third-party software which allows syncing with Google Calendar (which I also sync to my Outlook calendar at work) and Remember the Milk, meaning that I can have the same calendar and task list on my home computer, work computer and phone. Awesome.
- There are multiple input methods. In addition to the slide-out keyboard, there is a Palm Pilot/Pocket PC-style touchscreen with stylus (which you can use to handwrite characters or tap an on-screen keyboard), a Blackberry-style clicking scroll wheel in the corner, and a directional pad at the base of the phone. Although this encourages a lot of fiddling to find the easiest way to accomplish any given task, it also makes it easy to find a control method that “feels right.”
- Media integration is quite straightforward; just drag and drop folders of mp3s from the hard drive to the device, then Windows Media will pick up the files on a simple directory scan and catalog them appropriately.
- There is a lot of third party software available for Windows Mobile, like Pocket Dictionary and Pocket Mille Bornes (I hadn’t played that game since I was eleven, and I had forgotten how good it is). No more paying monthly fees or signing up to newsletters just to play downloaded games (as DoCoMo generally requires).
- I can run Skype on my phone to call people overseas for next to nothing, although so far I can’t get it to work through the phone’s earpiece–only through speaker or headset.
- eMobile’s network is not as strong as any of the big three providers. In Tokyo, the main place you notice this is on the subway and in basements, as there is never any signal underground (although you can get a good signal above ground anywhere in the 23 wards).
- No RFID chip for mobile payments. I was quite fond of the Suica chip in my DoCoMo phone, as I could charge it with my credit card and roam the city at will. Now I’m back to using a Pasmo card which I have to recharge with cash–bummer.
- The GPS seems more erratic than my Docomo phone’s. Usually it’s off by several blocks.
- Battery life isn’t great when the phone is on 3G and syncing data all day. It’s just about enough: I charged the phone overnight on Sunday and was down to my last bar of battery when I got home from work on Monday. If you plan on spending the night in an atypical location, you’ll need to bring a charger with you.
- Contact management is really complicated in comparison to most mobiles, since Windows Mobile uses a slightly simplified version of Outlook.
- No international roaming. Not a huge deal for me, since my DoCoMo phone could only roam in Europe and certain developed countries in Asia. The WiFi feature largely makes up for this anyway, especially since my family’s house in South Carolina has a good DSL connection and wireless router.