Road Test: Blackberry 8707g IN JAPAN!

8707g - so far the only Blackberry available in JapanAfter years of refusing to enable Blackberries to work in Japan, DoCoMo finally let the technology loose a couple of months ago. Although there is still only one model available, after reading Wasabi Green’s writeup on stippy.com I couldn’t resist but giving one a test-drive. So what is the verdict? Is it really worth lashing out a couple of men (万円の複数形, plural of “万”) to buy a blackberry? The short answer is “not yet”. Read on for Stippy.com’s field review of Japan’s blackberry friendliness.

For those of you who have lived in Japan so long that you haven’t seen a blackberry, let me take away some of the mystery. The blackberry, designed by a Canadian company called Research in Motion (RIM), enables you to access most of the mod cons of your office PC from your mobile. Not only can you check emails that arrive to your work address, you can also send emails using the same address. After a quick adjusting of the standard signature settings to delete the free ad for blackberry, no-one would even know that you weren’t in your office. You can also access your work calendar and address book, but better yet, any update you make to these is automatically saved on your work computer (including scheduling of events with other work colleagues).

Recently the blackberry has been equipped with a web browser (a few actually) which enables you to browse the web on your 3” LCD screen with relative ease. You can’t quite play final fantasy like you can on a DoCoMo handset, but there is a decent selection of games that you can download from the Blackberry website. My favorite so far is meteor crusher, but I’m quickly getting addicted to Ka-Blom! (Yes, I know, I’ve been in Japan too long). The great thing about the blackberry games is that you can send your high score into the blackberry database and see where you rank out of all of the global blackberry users who’ve played that game. I’m proud to say that I regularly rank in the top 10,000 or so. (#^o^#) More importantly, security is said to be extremely high quality at RIM and this is generally quoted as the reason that it has been so popular amongst US corporates (it seems that almost every senior manager in America uses one these days.)

namimailEquipped with a full QWERTY keyboard, the 8707g (the only model available in Japan) is very user friendly for the average gaijin. The entire operating system is in English which means you don’t have to press the “6” key five times to type the word “no”. The flipside of this is its ability to handle Japanese. While you can read Japanese that is written in emails (if you install the Japanese language font), and on homepages (if you install the right Internet broswer – the preinstalled “BlackBerry Browser” and “WAP Browser” are useless), the blackberry does not offer any support for inputting Japanese at all. A service called Namimail is available from Namikiteru, a subsidiary of DoCoMo USA (for a fee!) which enables you to input Japanese characters in a new email, but despite being difficult to use, Nameteruit doesn’t enable you to use Japanese when replying to or forwarding existing emails (let alone input on a webpage). Even when you are writing a new email, namimail takes over your address-book and makes searching for names near a very complicated process) I’ve been paying the monthly fee (US$35!!) for the last few months now but have used it about twice so am currently working out how to cancel my contract. I think DoCoMo made a mistake when they decided the name of this sub, I’m sure they meant to call it “Nameteru.”

More important than the user interface is mobile reception. Given that 3G has been in Japan for so long, I (and I think most other people) had assumed without a second thought that reception would be near perfect in central Tokyo – especially as my blackberry is set up to switch between the DoCoMo and Softbank networks as appropriate in order to guarantee the best possible reception. Amazingly, this turned out to be a huge leap of faith as quite often I struggled to get reception from either. Domestic FOMA users don’t notice as most phones these days are dual-chip (ie equipped with 2G and 3G chips) but the blackberry is only compatible with 3G in Japan so the naked truth hits home. Besides having trouble inside buildings, one of the most frustrating dead spaces was at Narita airport. While the concept of a blackberry is good, it doesn’t help much if you can’t call people! (This also makes it hard to download applications like games etc unless you stand still) For budding Yoso-guys out there out there, you’ll be pleased to hear that I was pleasantly surprised by the number of times that my little blackberry automatically switched over to the Softbank network for better reception.

Docomo Blackberry scanning the network:Docomo Blackberry scans network in Japan

Docomo Blackberry finds that Softbank has a better connection:Docomo Blackberry finds that Softbank has better line

One final tip before I go. If you are keen enough to try a blackberry without perfect reception (or you want to keep a separate phone for voice use anyway) there are a bunch of great applications out there that you can down load. My favorite at the moment is Gmail. For the first few weeks I was accessing Gmail via the blackberry web browser until I noticed some small words down at the bottom of the screen inviting me to optimize Gmail to my blackberry. Low and behold, the Gmail website detects that you have a blackberry and allows you to download a plugin that makes emailing as easy as accessing your regular outlook account. (You can even review a handful of old emails without reception as it remembers your most recent inbox for you.) If anybody else knows any interesting applications out there then we’d love to hear about them.

Even www.stippy.com has a mobile edition these days!Oh, and needless to say, you can view www.stippy.com without a problem on your blackberry. With thanks to our sleepless Webmaster, Stippy.com released its first mobile version last month. All you need to do is access the usual URL and it will recognize that you are accessing from a blackberry (or mobile phone, or any PDA for that matter!)

* Steve88, thanks for the comment on the Stippy Pols page. It was enough to motivate me to write this article.

35 thoughts on “Road Test: Blackberry 8707g IN JAPAN!”

  1. Seriously, how does Docomo sell any of these things in Japan at all if they can’t handle Japanese?? OK, fair enough, a gaijin buying one, ok.. But your average Japanese fushigi-chan!? I don’t think so. I just don’t get the logic?

  2. When did these come out?? I was waiting for a big media fuss, but havent heard anything!

    Definately strange about not being able to use Japanese. What were they thinking indeed.

  3. Great article! Ive been curious about this for a while now. good to hear direct from a user.
    I assume that Docomo is just trying to keep the international business fraternity quiet while they workout their own cunning plan for hitting the domestic market….perhaps George W was passing thru tokyo and couldnt use his spell check function again to spell W so Koizumi put in a call to NTT.

    Hows the battery life??

  4. I was in Shinkuku this morning, looked at every keitai shop for a Blackberry (theres lots of them!) Couldnt find one anywhere.

  5. you guys are completely right on the Japanese language side. I don’t know how many Japanese emails I’ve received while being out of the office and gotten frustrated by the fact that I can’t reply to them.

    As for battery life, given the huge size of the LCD screen and the amount I use it, I’m pretty pleasantly surprised. A heavy day of use will use the battery by the end of the day but during a quiet week it will last for about 3 days.

    That aside, the main point I really wanted to get across on the fuman side was reception. It really amazed me how poor coverage is if you have to depend only on 3G and don’t have the ability to bounce back on 2G as a back up.

  6. I live overseas and Japan has perpetually been my Achilles heel when it comes to mobile reception so I was quite excited when I found out that I could finally use my mobile/blackberry in Japan. I agree with red though. The reception is atrocious. Get this: I had a meeting in Sanno Park Tower the other day – yes the Global Headquarters of DoCoMo – and the reception was a joke. It was poor to say the least on the ground floor (at times) and in the Starbucks below I was without denpa for about 90 minutes. DoCoMo need to get their priorities straight.

  7. I was trying to make an international call yesterday from my keitai and got the following message:

    Tadaima kokusai denwa wa tsunagarinikuku natteimasu. Moushiwake gozaimasen ga mou shibaraku matte kara okakenaoshi kudasai

    what’s the story with that? has that happened to anyone else? I was able to make a local call I just wasn’t able to make an international call? How hard could that be? (Surely that is where Doke’s makes their real dosh so you’d think they’d be keen to connect me!)

  8. By the way, loved the “another episode of..” pic. It made me do one of those coffee-spray-out-of-nose laughs, as I took a sip of my morning coffee just as I saw it. Very appropriate for this disaster from Docomo.

    Oh well, I guess blackberry etc etc will be killed by the iPhone sooner or later anyway.

  9. I found this wierd article on reddit when search for other blackberry related stuff. Click here to read about a guy who got sued four million bucks for looking at his blackberry while driving. I wonder if it was the 8707g. More to the point does anyone know what software he was using?

  10. Yes HTC’s news smart phone is alive and well in Japan. Softbank released it late last year and it is quite an attractive option. Or at least it was until E-mobile unveiled their new service on Feb 20. We’ve put together a stippy.com style review of the HTC phone and E-mobile’s new smartphone from Sharp here.

    Please check it out.

  11. All,

    I can’t say that I agree with a majority of your comments. The service I receive is flawless on my device and the only time I do not have coverage is in the subway. As for dialing internantionally you simply have to put 009130010 in front of the number to dial out of the country. If you go into smart dialing on the phone you are able to add this and the problem is fixed. It is also my understanding that Japanese input is under development and will be a simple software update for the device when released.

  12. I have to disagree with some of what is written in this article. I have been a user of the 3G BB in japan since the 3G model was released in London and HK last year and now have a DoCoMo BB.

    Namimail does allow you to respond and forward e-mails. It is also a free service with DoCoMo BBs until the Japanes version comes out (planned for May or June) For those who have overseas 3G BBs, you can subscribe to Namimail for 8 USD a month. Interestingly enough, the difference in price of a HK BB with data only and a DOCoMo BB with Data only is approximately 8 USD.

    To answer some questions which were asked in the comments. The BB is not sold in Japan via shops. You can only purchase it direct. I believe it is only listed on their bizuness site, not their general retail site.

    The HTC devices are out. Both Softbank and DoCoMo released them last year but Softbank’s network was unable to support the e-mail synching function until February of this year (makes the phone rather pointless.)

    I tested both these HTC devices along with a Dopod from Singapore from HTC (very cool but big and expensive) The other windows based solutions are nice, but they are only domestic.

    In my opinion security you must stick with BBs. The HTC solution has a memory card slot which is not secure.

    The article is right. BB is still not mature in Japan, but I think it will come through in the end.

  13. Thanks for your update Jyuuzo. That was very helpful – especially on the HTC handsets which I’d played with but had never “used” before. Have you actually used Namimail? To be very honest, I’m quite disappointed. On BBmaster’s advice I had another look on the web and found that namimail had already released version 2.0. It is much, much better than version 1.0 but it is still eye-boggling slow.

    1) Every time that I try to write a Japanese email it asks me to wait for 3 minutes while it checks that my license is up to date. Rather than wait 3 minutes, I generally find myself giving up and writing in English or Romaji.

    2) The few times that I am patient enough to wait for the license check, I then get frustrated again when I try to use Kanji. It takes my BB about a minute to enable the Kanji dictionary. Admitedly this only happens the first time around but in a world where you can watch streaming video, I’m amazed that it takes so long to access namimail’s henkan machine.

    3) You guessed it – the henkan sucks. It is like the old Microsoft henkan quality from five years ago. Pretty standard words don’t come up. Try typing in “tandai” for example.

    4) This for me was the straw that broke the donkey’s back – even after you go to all of that trouble to type Japanese, most people can’t read it. People within my company can read the Japanese that I type with namimail, but for some reason most other people (friends, clients, etc) cannot. Even my friend with a DoCoMo keitai couldn’t read my email. What is the point in having Japanese input if noone can read it.

    Given the huge amounts of money that DoCoMo spends on R&D every year, it amazes me that they can’t do a better job. If anyone can give me some tips on how to improve the quality of my namimail, I’d be over the moon – please help!

  14. “Docomo – to launch Japanese language blackberry’s in Japan from June
    11.” (Today’s nikkei)

  15. so if i’m travelling to japan with my u.s. tmobile blackberry curve, would it be able to roam in japan?

  16. Tmobile curve, Do you have a 3G mobile? If you don’t then there is no chance. Even if you have one, I have heard of people coming to Japan and not having any love… although things have gotten better in the last few months. Best to check with your local carrier. While you’re at it you should ask who they roam with preferably (and hope it isn’t softbank).

  17. The Bold is not been released in Japan yet, so don’t know if it has been tested. Send me one and I will test it for you.

  18. Jyuuzo…
    I just sent 2 managers to Tokyo with 8707g’s from Cellhire. Everything worked great. Now, when my managers returned to US, they said all the people that they met from the US have the 8707g with At&t cards and International Calling Plan. Everything works like this. Of course, this does not address the Japan language barrier that DoKoMo is trying to do but it at least keeps them attached to their BES in the US.
    Thanks for the article…
    We are waiting for the Bold and to send them back in November 08 with the Bold to see if it will work.

    Regards;
    hmeister

  19. Why not get the smartphone (windows mobile) from Softbank? It handles Japanese fine and you don’t have to get some wierd service plan to get free calls to your mates (or anyone on softbank for that matter)

  20. JAson;
    We currently only support Corporation on BES – Blackberry. We are not going to windows mobile with any device nor can we manage these due to our security and corporate policies. Only BES. We have tested some Windows Mobile devices as we recently migrated from Lotus to Exchange but they will not be used. Thanks for the reply and I will do some homework on on what you suggested. I am not familiar to Softbank. Now that the BOLD will be out in a week or so, we are anticipating a shift in how AT&T will support Japan with the new phone.

    Regards;
    hmeister

  21. the reason they dont want to sell this kind of smart phone is because one people find out what real phones should do no one will want to buy the shite they sell to jap fuckwits

  22. Roaming into Japan with US based 3G Blackberry or cell phones is the pitts. Reception is unacceptable. I sit in my Tokyo office and am lucky if I can get one bar. When I get up to move or take a leak down the hall – forget it. I recommend using a Japan “based” NTT DoCoMo Blackberry 8707H model provided by JCR Corp (www.jcrcorp.com) who are the only ones I can find who rent this device. They provide unlimited data and “FREE” incoming calls and also plan to rent the Bold model as soon as the overheating issue is resolved. Rent this device and you’ll save on the roaming costs.

  23. looks like RIM has solved overheating handset problem.
    DoCoMo’s site says that sales of the Bold will resume from April 10.

  24. “MEN” is NOT the plural of “MAN” in japanese, idiot boy.
    no matter what amount, it’s alway MAN..
    pronounced “Mah-n”
    3 MAN

    5 Man

    10000000000000000000000000 MAN!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. It’s called a joke gbfg?

    I’m assuming this can IM with blackberries in other countries no problem?

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