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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

TECH_JAPAN

GADGETS

DoCoMo shuns iPhone, pushes Android options


DoCoMo last week unveiled its new lineup of mobile phones at a press conference in Tokyo. The most notable was the brand-new Samsung Galaxy S III, the headliner of the DoCoMo NEXT series of high-end smartphones.

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Samsung's Galaxy S III

The handset's predecessors, the Galaxy and Galaxy II have been perhaps the biggest rival for Apple's iPhone in the smartphone space.

Samsung initially unveiled the Galaxy S III earlier this month in London, but the Japanese variant is a little different from the international version. This one will run on a 1.5GHz Snapdragon dual-core processor, and will feature 2 gigabytes of RAM which is a big surprise. The screen is an expansive 4.8-inch HD display with 720 × 1280 pixel resolution. Like all of DoCoMo's new smartphone offerings, it will run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). It has an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, and a 1.9 megapixel front-facing one.

The Galaxy S III is expected to hit stores in June or July. Of course DoCoMo, which is still the only major carrier without Apple's iPhone, hopes its customers will be more than satisfied with the Galaxy experience in comparison to the many services they could get with an iPhone. For Japan, DoCoMo's Shabette Concier voice assistance is its answer to Apple's Siri, and the company says the service will be getting an upgrade this summer as well. In addition, the company also announced flat-rate mobile services for music and anime content for users who pay a monthly fee of ¥315 and ¥420 respectively for smartphone and tablet users on Android 2.3 or better.

DoCoMo's President and CEO, Ryuji Yamada, explained at last week's press conference that "under the current situation, the introduction of the iPhone could be quite difficult." So for DoCoMo subscribers hoping for an iPhone 5, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

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Fujitsu's Raku-Raku

But perhaps even more fascinating than the Galaxy III, at least to me, is what DoCoMo is doing with the simplest smartphone offering in its lineup. The company is rolling out its Raku-Raku F-12D, a smartphone upgrade of its Raku-Raku phone for seniors, made by Fujitsu. With an emphasis on simplicity and accessibility, the Raku-Raku (which means "easily" in Japanese) smartphone will run Android 4.0 but with a very basic user interface, with larger buttons for common, frequently used functions — such as making calls, email, camera, alarm, and support.

As for hardware, the phone is powered by a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon processor, sports a 4.0-inch WVGA, TFT LCD display with 480 × 800 pixel resolution. It has an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, and a front-facing camera that's just over 0.3 megapixels.

Yamada noted on stage at the press conference last week that the company has been paying attention to senior shoppers in its retail stores, and surprisingly, the first section they visit is the smartphone corner. He says that so far there are 10 million users of previous versions of the Raku-Raku, so DoCoMo wants to encourage them to migrate to smartphones.

The phone comes with a fairly meagre data plan with a 500 MB threshold for ¥2,890 per month, but the company points out that average usage is about 200 MB and it hopes this plan will cover the majority of users with basic needs. And given that the carrier did not roll out any feature phones, this will likely be the most popular solution for the many Japanese seniors in need of a simple handset.

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Kyocera's Urbano Progresso

Meanwhile over on the KDDI network, there's also a new lineup of handsets, including a couple of offerings from domestic phone-maker Kyocera. The company's Urbano Progresso handset will be the first smartphone in the world to use new technology that actually transmits voice through vibrations in the phone's screen instead of via a traditional speaker. Kyocera says that this results in higher sound quality when in noisy environments. The "smart sonic receiver" uses something called a piezo-electric actuator to create vibrations in the 4.0-inch OLED screen, covering a wider area so users can hear a little more clearly.

As for the other specifications, it will run Android 4.0 with a 1.4 GHz processor under the hood, it has 4 gigabytes of onboard storage but is expandable via microSD cards should you need more. The rear-facing camera is 8 megapixels, with 0.3 megapixels around the front.

Like DoCoMo though, KDDI and Kyocera also have a simplified offering available in the K012, which makes use of the new smart sonic receiver technology. Again the focus is on enhanced audibility, but with this handset there is also a simple keypad design with color coordinated keys that match onscreen options. It's also equipped with a pedometer for those who enjoy keeping tabs on their walks, as well as a 5-megapixel camera.

Phones from KDDI's new handset lineup will start to go on sale at the end of May

Rick Martin is an editor at TechInAsia.com. Read more of his work at 1rick.com.


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