When you go home tonight, you might notice some new ads starring Matushita Nao (松下奈緒) for a cool looking PDA. But contrary to popular belief, this is not Softbank’s X01HT which has been receiving a lot of bandwidth in the comments section of stippy.com. Nor is it part of DoCoMo’s half-arsed attempt at marketing the blackberry in Japan , nor is it a rechurned ad for Wilcom’s hugely successful PDA of 2006, W-Zero 3. E-mobile (Japan’s youngest mobile phone carrier) has finally unveiled their virgin products for the Japanese market.
As the newest player on the street, E-mobile is still rapidly rolling out their service area and so initial service will be purely for data only (voice to start in Mar ’08) and basically only in the Tokyo and Osaka regions. Due to the obvious disadvantages of not being able to roll out voice, e-mobile have been clear about their strategy and focused on the high-end data only users. At first glance it appears as though E-mobile have surprised most market participants with the slickness of both their new datacard (D01NE by NEC) and PDA (Em-One by Sharp).
But just as Son-san was trying to do at the end of last year with his Yosoguy-wari, it seems as though E-Mobile have realized that they are not going to win market-share without being substantially cheaper than the competition. E-mobile’s package is relatively simple. First year users pay a flat fee of 5,980 per month and that entitles you to unlimited use of data on their latest technology 3.5G network (HSDPA) at speeds of up to 3.6 Mbps. If you sign up for a minimum of a year then that price falls to 4,980 yen and if you sign up for a two year contract then they’ll throw in a free ADSL service to your home for nothing. To put that in perspective, up until now the “standard” for the data market (both card or PDA) was Willcom’s generous offer of 12,915 yen per month for unlimited data usage on their 408Kbps network. All I can say is look out Willy!
The disadvantages of E-Mobile are obvious. Area coverage, area coverage and area coverage. With only 1,000 base stations (and only half of those in Tokyo) they have a long way to go before they can match any of their competitors. Obviously not having voice capability might frustrate some users (after all I use my blackberry for voice as well as data) but at least for data-card users (said to be about 1.5 million in Japan) then it is a seriously attractive proposal. Make sure you are very happy with the service though because they will charge you a cancellation fee of 2,000 yen per month of unused contract if you want to get out of the 2 year (“にねん”) plan earlier than you planned. Oh, and before you sign up in order to get the free ADSL package, you should be aware that it is for a 10Mbps speed connection (not the standard 50 Mbps connection available at Bic Camera) but hey, who’s gonna look a gift-horse in the mouth!
To me what really appeals about E-mobile’s new service is actually the PDA. Especially as I’ve been particularly frustrated with service quality on my new blackberry, I’ve been spending a lot of time checking out the other alternatives on the market. My conclusion so far had been Softbank’s sleek handset from HTC (X01HT) although it seems as though the phone-like-look of Sharp’s PDA (W-Zero3[es]) that Willcom offers has been more popular amongst Japanese people. E-mobile have clearly done their homework as they seem to have combined the best of both phones into their new Em-One (even if the name is a little boring – “EM”: “E-Mobile”). I’m sure it is no coincidence that they asked Sharp to design their first phone.
Just like the X01HT it has Bluetooth functionality and a cool hideaway keyboard but it also has the resolution quality of the W-Zero3 but on a much larger screen (4.1″) . At 4 hours, battery life is not that wonderful vs. the W-Zero 3 (4hr vs. 7hr), nor is the inbuilt camera quality as good as the X01HT (1.3M vs. 2.0M) and at 250g it is slightly heavier than the other two (both 175g). For me, there is one very cool feature that won me over that neither of the other two have – One-Seg. Although the RRP of 39,800 yen might sound a little steep, even if you cancel your contract you are still set for life with a free TV! (albeit only on a 4.1″ screen). But it is also that screen that saves you when operating the PDA every day. All three models operate on Windows Mobile 5.0 but it is just that much easier on the Em-one screen. Better yet, the high connection speeds that you get from HDSPA means that your internet connection feels as fast as it does at home for most applications.
Here at stippy.com, we’re still saving up our cash to buy one but please let us know if you are lucky enough to get your hot little hands on one before we do. They are set to hit the shops on Mar 1 with an expected “サービスイン” (start date) of April 1.