It's that time of year when Japanese carriers announce their lineups of new phones for the coming summer months. KDDI / au and NTT Docomo were first to make their announcements, with both companies heavily focusing on Android 4.0 devices. SoftBank is yet to show off its summer collection, but should be doing so before the month is out.
Jun 19, 2012Read Article >
When we first came across Sharp's Aquos Phone Serie back at AU/KDDI's summer lineup launch event last month, we were a little taken aback by the aggressively minimal Feel_UX skin that lay on top of Android 4.0. While manufacturers customizing their devices is hardly a new thing, Sharp's effort goes further than almost any other we've seen — it's nothing less than a top-to-bottom rethink of the entire Android user experience, and it'll be found on seven smartphones from the company this summer. Feel_UX is actually the work of Frog, a design firm with over four decades of history covering creations such as the NeXT Computer and Sony Trinitron TVs. Vice President of Creative, Software Innovation Paul Pugh was in Tokyo yesterday to mark the official launch of Sharp's lineup, and we caught up with him to find out why Sharp and Frog both felt the need for a radically new Android.
May 29, 2012
The radiation-detecting Pantone 5 isn't the only new device SoftBank unveiled today. It will be pitting a total of four new Android phones against much bigger lineups from competitors AU and Docomo this summer. All of the phones announced today run on SoftBank's newly-awarded "platinum" 900MHz band, which SoftBank will be introducing with a new advertising campaign in an effort to shake its reputation for poor signal strength.Read Article >
The other phone capable of 42Mbps downloads — Fujitsu’s Arrows A 101F — lacks the Tegra 3 processor of its cousin on AU and Docomo, but otherwise offers the same list of features including the 13-megapixel camera, fingerprint scanner, and water- and dust-proofing. The 101F is Fujitsu’s first phone for SoftBank, so it was a little surprising to see the company go with a 4.3-inch qHD AMOLED screen; a measurable drop from the 4.7-inch 720p AMOLED on the ISW13F. The thinner 9.9mm case felt more tightly designed and less hollow than its cousin's, however.
SoftBank's recently-launched AXGP 4G network is capable of speeds up to 110Mbps, but so far we've only seen the release of a 76Mbps mobile router. That's set to change at some point after September courtesy of the Ultra Wi-Fi 102HW, a Huawei-made router that SoftBank is calling the "fastest ever." It'll allow for theoretical maximum download speeds of 110Mbps and uploads of 10Mbps, and has a 3,000 mAh battery.Read Article >
Somewhat oddly, SoftBank seems to be content with restricting its new network to mobile routers for now. At today's event announcing the carrier's summer lineup of phones, CEO Masayoshi Son elected to emphasize the recent acquisition of 900Mhz "platinum band" spectrum with which all upcoming devices will be compatible. SoftBank announced two 42Mbps HSPA+ phones, the Fujitsu Arrows A and the Sharp Aquos Phone Xx, but with Docomo's summer lineup featuring eleven LTE devices Japan's third-placed carrier is looking a little behind the pace.
SoftBank's Pantone 5 107SH will make headlines in the global press for one reason and one reason only — it's the first phone in the world to come with a built-in radiation detector — but it'd be a big deal in Japan even without that headline feature. Indeed, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son introduced the Pantone 5 onstage today without even letting the audience know what that color-matched button was for, and showed off a new commercial that makes no mention of the functionality at all. The carrier's colorful range of Pantone phones has long been a hit in its home market, and a first smartphone entry for the series running Android 4.0 is almost guaranteed to make a splash.Read Article >
The Pantone 5 is a fairly middling device on paper, with an 3.7-inch 854 x 480 LCD, a 4-megapixel camera, and a 1.4GHz processor, along with the obligatory 1seg TV tuner, waterproofing, and infrared data port. While it's a fairly unimpressive 12mm thick, it feels well-built and the design is very much in line with the pleasingly chunky nature of other Pantone phones. You can take your pick from eight colors, with the purple and teal being particularly fetching. As for software, by default it's running the same Sharp skin that we saw on KDDI's Aquos Phone Serie. We still can't say we're fans of the iOS-style approach to Android 4.0, but it does at least look a little more attractive on a smaller screen.
May 29, 2012Read Article >
We know, it's cliché to say that Japan gets the weirdest and coolest phone features — but clichés get that way for a reason. The latest reason comes from SoftBank's summer 2012 lineup, the Sharp Pantone 5 107SH. The 107SH is a fairly bog-standard Android 4.0 smartphone, with the exception of one main feature: a radiation detector. Naturally neither Sharp nor SoftBank want users to actually depend on it in life threatening situations (and won't take responsibility if they do). As you might expect from the "Pantone" in the name, it will come in 8 different colors, including pink, blue, purple, and orange. Other specs include a 3.7-inch screen with 854 x 480 resolution, 4-megapixel camera, and as has become more common lately, it will also be water- and dust-proof. It should ship sometime in mid-July, but no word yet on pricing — we're hoping and assuming it won't be too steep.
The iPhone may be Japan's most popular smartphone, and NTT Docomo may be the nation's biggest carrier, but what would seem like a match made in heaven is unlikely to come to pass any time soon. That's the takeaway from comments made by Docomo president Ryuji Yamada yesterday, who expressed preference for Android devices due to the open nature of the platform. At yesterday's event announcing the company's summer lineup, Yamada told a crowd of reporters that it would be 'difficult' for Docomo to provide the same experience to iPhone customers because of Apple's strict regulations. The number two and three carriers in Japan, au / KDDI and SoftBank, both sell the iPhone in addition to Android devices.Read Article >
Docomo announced 16 new smartphones yesterday, all running Android 4.0 and loaded with many of the carrier's exclusive network services. Yamada gave the example of Shabette Concier, the carrier's proprietary voice control system said to be better than Siri (in Japanese, at least), and said that Docomo values the ability to put it on devices from Samsung's Galaxy series to Sony's Xperia handsets. The carrier's summer lineup certainly is diverse, including fairly traditional models like the Sony Xperia SX and Panasonic Eluga V, high-end Aquos Phones from Sharp, and curios such as the elderly-focused Raku Raku Smartphone F12-D and limited JoJo's Bizarre Adventure edition of the LG Optimus Vu.
It's no secret that Japan has an aging population, and that means that there's a sizable market of people who either won't learn the ins and outs of today's advanced smartphones or are unable to afford the latest devices. There are options for elderly customers in the country, such as Fujitsu's Raku Raku Phone series, but with the inevitable shift to smartphones means carriers risk leaving some behind. With that in mind, Fujitsu and Docomo are releasing the F12-D, which is the very first Raku Raku Smartphone. It's an Android 4.0 device with a 1.4GHz processor, a 4-inch 800 x 480 display, and an 8-megapixel camera, and it's quite unlike any Android phone you've seen before.Read Article >
"Raku raku" means "comfortable" or "easy" in Japanese, and it's clear from the moment you switch the screen on that the F12-D has been designed around those principles. There's a single home screen that scrolls from top to bottom, and all the most frequently accessed features are highlighted right at the top — the first thing you'll see is a big phone button, along with others for mail and contacts, and there's a simple weather widget right below. The home screen also includes a button to display your own phone number in a pinch, a shortcut to technical support for the device, and access to services such as 1seg TV and Docomo's Siri-esque Shabette Concier voice control app.
When we reviewed the Panasonic P–04D last month, some of our major gripes with the device were its lack of Android 4.0, laggy performance, Pentile screen, glossy plastic construction, and the poor placement of the sleep / wake button. Well, today Panasonic and NTT Docomo are announcing a new handset — the Eluga V P–06D — that fixes pretty much every complaint we had.Read Article >
First off, this isn't the 5-inch Eluga Power, although Docomo will be releasing that phone later this year as well. All of Docomo’s new Android devices are launching with Android 4.0, and the P–06D is no different. The combination of the new OS and faster 1.5GHz dual-core processor make the device's performance really stand out against the P–04D. The new phone also has a 4.6-inch 720p (1280 x 720) LCD display that looks much better than the qHD (960 x 540) Pentile AMOLED display on its older cousin. Additionally, the P–06D is Panasonic’s first phone to get the Eluga branding in Japan, which is featured prominently on the device’s pebbled plastic rear (no need to worry about fingerprints).
The Eluga line is Panasonic's attempt to break into the global mobile marketplace, but if its first tablet under the brand is anything to go by we can't see the worldwide push extending to larger screens. The only distinguishing feature of its Eluga Live tablet, coming out in August through NTT Docomo, is something that will only work in Japan — a pull-out antenna that lets you watch 1seg terrestrial TV broadcasts along with content from Docomo's new Nottv service. Panasonic already sells a lot of portable 1seg TVs, though, and while Nottv looks pretty good on phones it's not all that impressive on a 10.1-inch screen.Read Article >
The Eluga Live is competent in other areas without standing out much. There's a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor that powers Android 4.0, though you'll have to get past a generic Docomo Palette UI skin on top. Performance seemed solid enough to us, and the build quality felt better than many Android tablets of this size. Other specs of note include 1GB RAM, DLNA streaming support, and the total lack of a rear-facing camera. We're not yet sure if Panasonic has plans to release tablets around the world, but the current Eluga Live would be unlikely to stand out in a crowded Android market.
Today at NTT Docomo’s summer lineup event we finally saw the company take the wraps off a working version of its NERV edition SH–06D Android handset, inspired by (and designed alongside) the upcoming third film in the Rebuild of Evangelion franchise. After using it for a few minutes on the show floor today, we can safely assure you that there’s nothing on the market remotely like it.Read Article >
It’s impossible to pick the phone up without noticing the crazy skinning going on. Everything is colored orange, green, red, and black to match the readouts from the Magi computer system in the films. It definitely takes a minute to get used to, but once you know where to look for everything you’ll find a ton of glanceable information; everything from the weather, to the amount of memory your phone has available, to your latitude and logitude. The only unfortunate part is how the illusion shatters when you open your app drawer and take a look at your everyday icons.
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As with every other smartphone announced today as part of Docomo's summer lineup, the SX runs Android 4.0 and is all the better for it. While it has been skinned by Sony and Docomo, of course, it's pretty tastefully done and doesn't seem to slow the phone down much, if at all. Unlike the Xperia S, the SX has onscreen buttons, but otherwise the software effort bodes well for the Ice Cream Sandwich update coming to its bigger brother in the next few weeks. There's no word yet on whether the SX will make it beyond the shores of Japan in future, but we certainly hope so — it's the most impressive device yet to duck out of the Android screen size arms race.
We’ve been following Fujitsu’s quad-core Tegra 3 smartphone from Las Vegas to Barcelona, and today we’re finally getting a look at the finished project in Tokyo at AU’s summer launch event. Long story short, the Arrows Z ISW13F (as it will be known here) has a list of specs that handily makes it one of the most feature-packed devices we’ve seen in any market.Read Article >
Aside from the 1.5GHz processor, the Android 4.0 phone features a big 4.6-inch 720p (1280 x 720) LCD display, 16GB of onboard storage (expandable up to 48GB with a microSD card), and its rear-facing camera can take 13.1-megapixel stills and 1080p video. Adding to the list, the phone features Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI output through its MicroUSB port, dustproofing, and waterproofing — both from spraying water in any direction at up to 4.35 psi as well as complete immersion to a meter or more. And being a Japanese device it’s also equipped with infrared, Osaifu Keitai (wallet phone) for FeliCa-based payments, and a 1seg TV tuner.
Update: A rep from Kyocera contacted us to draw a distinction between the Smart Sonic Receiver and the kind of bone conduction that a cochlear implant provides. To be clear, the device's display conducts sound to your eardrum in two ways: through connective tissue, and through the air in your ear canal.Read Article >
First and foremost, the phone sounds great. As far as we can tell, the Smart Sonic Receiver is unchanged from when we saw it in January, and while we didn't have an opportunity to test it in really challenging conditions, it was easy to hear in the noisy hotel ballroom. Like all of AU’s new Android devices today, the Urbano Progresso is shipping with Android 4.0, which is an enormous improvement over the prototype we saw in January, both in terms of looks and performance. The dual-core Snapdragon MSM8655 is overclocked to 1.4GHz and feels nice and snappy when browsing and multitasking. Given that it’s designed for the domestic market the phone is fully decked out with Japanese features like a 1seg TV tuner, infrared, water- and dust-proofing, and Osaifu Keitai (wallet phone) for things like making purchases and using the phone as a train pass. On top of that, it also includes a second NFC chip, presumably for use with Android Beam. For storing the 8.1-megapixel still photos and 720p videos you take with the device's camera, the Urbano Progresso comes loaded with 4GB of space onboard, which is expandable with a microSD card that’s accessible from the battery compartment.
Japan has a lot of mobile users that aren't quite ready to make the move up to a smartphone — many see the touch controls as intimidating or difficult to use. As such, there's still a market for certain form factors that are all-but-dead in other parts of the world. Sharp has capitalized on this before with its Aquos Phone The Hybrid series of Android clamshells and sliders on SoftBank, and it's unveiled a similar product today as part of KDDI / au's summer 2012 lineup.Read Article >
The Aquos Phone SL IS15SH is a portrait-orientation slider with a 3.7-inch qHD LCD screen, a 1.4GHz Snapdragon S2 processor, and an 8-megapixel camera, along with standard issue Japanese features like water and dust resistance, infrared, and 1seg TV. It's 14.9mm thick due to the slide-out keypad, and while it does feel a little plasticky there's a satisfying snap to the sliding action. The SL runs Android 4.0, and the skin is pretty similar to the excellent implementation we saw on the Aquos Phone 104SH's, though KDDI hasn't been able to resist including more of its own software. There are some tiny on-screen buttons for use when the phone is closed, but you can access some of the same functionality with hardware buttons in the open position.
When we reviewed the Sharp Aquos Phone 104SH, we were struck by its Western feature set, sleek hardware, and attractively minimal Android 4.0 skin. The Aquos Phone Serie ISW16SH, announced at today's KDDI / au summer lineup launch event, could not be further away from those ideals — it's a hefty device with an array of Japan-specific features and Sharp's "Feel_UX," one of the most radical Ice Cream Sandwich skins we've ever seen.Read Article >
Feel_UX basically does away with the traditional home screen in favor of a permanent app drawer. There aren't any capacitive buttons, and no onscreen home button either until you actually jump into an app — pressing Home will then simply return you to the apps tray. Swiping left will bring you to a single scrolling page of widgets, with seemingly no way to combine the two, and there's yet another page filled with various shortcuts. It's conceptually simple, we'll give it that, but anyone into Android for the customization aspect would do well to stay away from this skin. The scrolling widget screen is somewhat reminiscent of the iida UI seen on au's Infobar phones, but it's nowhere near as attractive and hiding the widgets behind a permanent grid of apps seriously reduces the glanceability.
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Another difference is the UI, which eschews Sense 4.0 for a skin similar to that of the HTC Rhyme on Verizon and features transparent widgets — we were told that HTC's traditional clock design would obscure the wallpaper too much for Japanese customers, who apparently like to use family portraits as a home screen background. The phone does still run Android 4.0 underneath, though, and has features from Sense 4.0 such as the improved camera app. It comes in black, red, or white, and all models will have Beats earphones packed in.