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I need more than just a product brochure
March 25, 2010 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Help me decide whether to buy a Nexus One. Unusual questions about switching service providers, SIMs, and international options inside.

I'm considering buying a smart phone, and the Nexus One is a forerunner. I've read up a lot on the different plans and advantages/disadvantages of the various providers and phones, and I like that the Nexus One is fast, more open than the iPhone, and can be purchased unlocked. If I bought a Nexus One, I would probably pay full price and then get the contractless plan from T-Mobile. The plan prices are well documented a bunch of different places on the web. However, I am wondering about certain things that don't seem to be discussed in the news coverage and forums that I've seen:
  • Switching Carriers - My understanding is that when you buy an unlocked phone, you can buy a plan from T-Mobile (and maybe other carriers) using menus on the phone itself. Is this correct? If so, can I cancel my plan with one carrier and sign up with another carrier the same way?
  • Number Portability - If I sign up for a 2-year contract when I buy the phone, I can provide my old phone number and transfer the phone number to my new service. If I buy the phone without a contract, is this option still available?
  • Micro SIM - My understanding is that the Nexus One uses a Micro SIM card that is not popular right now. But... does anyone use it (even internationally)? Could I theoretically switch the SIM card for another provider's at some point in the future?
  • International Service - Related to the above, a big "nice to have" with my phone would be the ability to use it in Japan for cheap. I know T-Mobile can provide GSM service in Japan via their partners, but it costs a fortune. A better option would be to buy a SIM card from a Japanese provider and swap it into the phone while I'm there. Of course, as I noted above, the odd SIM card format Google/HTC chose may make this difficult. Is something like this possible?
  • International Calling - Can I add some kind of "international rates package" to a T-Mobile plan? How about with the other carriers? Currently I'm with Sprint and I pay $4 per month to get rates of $0.07 per minute to land lines in Japan. It looks like T-Mobile might offer this, but is that option available to Nexus One users (I'd heard that the Nexus One can only be used with certain plans/options)? I imagine I could use Skype on an Android phone if this isn't an option, but it'd still be nice to get good international rates.
  • Japanese Keyboard - It looks like there's no Japanese keyboard out of the box on the Nexus One. Is there some way around this when writing e-mails (third party app, perhaps?)
  • Verizon, Sprint - Supposedly Verizon and Sprint are getting Nexus Ones in the near future. If I got the T-Mobile version, would I be kicking myself later for not waiting? Aside from the fact that their network is larger, does Verizon have any huge advantage over T-Mobile?
  • What don't I know? - Is there any compelling reason I shouldn't buy a Nexus One that I'm not aware of? I'd be willing to consider the other smart phones - Droid, Palm Pre, Etc (but not the iPhone)
I realize that's a lot of subquestions, but I'm hoping someone can help me out. Maybe I'll get lucky and somebody will have a link to a 30-page review that covers this all in depth.

I have already searched through Nexus One and smartphone questions here on Metafilter, but I haven't seen my specific concerns addressed.

I will not buy an iPhone because I hate AT&T and I'm not too fond of Apple recently either.

Thanks in advance for any advice or info you can offer.
posted by Vorteks to Technology (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You can port your number no matter what you choose to do.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:09 PM on March 25, 2010


My understanding is that when you buy an unlocked phone, you can buy a plan from T-Mobile (and maybe other carriers) using menus on the phone itself.

Where did you hear this? As far as I know, if you buy the phone standalone, it doesn't include a SIM card. Presumably you could use a Wi-Fi connection to sign up for a plan through T-Mobile's website, just as you would on a computer, but you'd have to wait for them to mail you a SIM card.

My understanding is that the Nexus One uses a Micro SIM card that is not popular right now.

Nope, I'm fairly sure it uses a standard SIM. Perhaps you're thinking of the iPad, which does use a micro SIM?
posted by teraflop at 1:12 PM on March 25, 2010


Something to get you started.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 1:12 PM on March 25, 2010


@teraflop - You know what? Both the on-screen menus for plan selection and the Micro SIM card might have been iPad news that I'm mis-remembering. Too many new gadgets!
posted by Vorteks at 1:14 PM on March 25, 2010




A friend of mine recently went to Japan with a Nexus One. He mentions it in a blog post. The relevant parts:
Can I use my Nexus One in Japan? Yes, with my T-mobile SIM the phone'll roam to NTT DoCoMo just fine. Data roaming is mondo expensive, though ($15/MB versus flat-rate/unlimited in the US) so I've turned off data features. Can I acquire a local SIM that'll work with data? No; pre-paid SIMs are voice-only.
I don't know anything about if or when Sprint & Verizon Nexus Ones might come out, but if they do, they are unlikely to work at all internationally.

I do love my Palm Pre, but it's on Sprint and thus not GSM, so it can't do much internationally, and the hardware keyboard obviously won't switch between japanese and english for you. Without knowing what attracts you to the Nexus One it's hard to really make any kind of intelligent suggestion beyond "I like it".
posted by aubilenon at 1:24 PM on March 25, 2010


International Calling

I recommend getting Google Voice. The Android app is pretty seamless and the international rates are good. Japan is $0.02/min to landlines, $0.11/min to mobile. And, as far as I can tell, international SMS is free.

I wasn't all that impressed with Skype's Android app, tbh. There's also Fring, which will use Skype, too, but it was also unimpressive. Definitely get Google Voice if possible. If you don't have a Google Voice number yet apply for an invite or ask around for one.
posted by 6550 at 1:28 PM on March 25, 2010


I think you may be conflating news about the iPad and the Nexus One in a few places: The iPad uses a MicroSIM and has on-device menus to purchase a plan. The Nexus One uses a standard SIM, and you'll need to drop by a T-Mobile store to sign a contract and get a SIM, though you may be able to do that online these days. You should still be able to port your number to T-Mobile, even if you're bringing your own handset.

For international calling, you could always just use Google Voice for international calls. Its Current Rates are $0.02/minute for Japanese landlines and $0.11/minute for Japanese mobile phones. The Google Voice app has a nice option to automatically route all international calls over Google Voice, while using your normal number for domestic calls.

You can freely install other keyboards and switch between them easily. Two that I see in the market are OpenWnn Plus and Simeji.

Going with Sprint or Verizon would mean using a CDMA version of the phone, rather than a GSM one. This severely limits your ability to simply buy a SIM and use it when abroad, as most countries outside of the US operate on GSM. From what I understand, Japan used to be an exception to this rule, but according to GSM World, eMobile, NTT DoCoMo, and Softbank Mobile all operate GSM networks in Japan.
posted by SemiSophos at 1:28 PM on March 25, 2010


@aubilenon - I mainly like that the Nexus One gives the user the option of bucking the "subsidized phone with 2-year contract" trend, that it's got a well supported non-iTunes app store that is much more open about product submissions, that the touch screen is the second best among smart phones, and that it runs the Google apps better than anyone else. I basically run my life on Google.

Actually, not having data in Japan is OK. Knowing that a prepaid voice SIM might work is encouraging. Last time I was in Japan, I just bought a prepaid phone, but that was inconvenient and unnecessarily expensive.
posted by Vorteks at 1:29 PM on March 25, 2010


For Japanese call rates, you can probably set up a Google Voice account to use in conjunction with your Nexus One. The rates to Japan are $0.02:

https://www.google.com/voice/rates#J

Basically, you'd initiate the call through Google Voice. You'll get a call from Google on your Nexus One; once you pick that up, it'll start calling the Japanese number. Note that your charges will be against your Google account, not TMO, other than the cost of the incoming call.

My impression is that the Verizon network is significantly larger than the TMO one, especially outside major metropolitan areas. If this isn't a concern for you, TMO will be cheaper than VZW.
posted by chengjih at 1:29 PM on March 25, 2010


On preview: Oh, hi everyone up there. Nice to restate you.
posted by SemiSophos at 1:30 PM on March 25, 2010


And, as far as I can tell, international SMS is free.

Last I checked Google Voices' SMS was USA only. *checks again*
Google Voice SMS doesn't support sending and receiving SMS from international numbers at this time. You can only send and receive SMS to phone numbers in the U.S. Google Voice Help Page
I've found T-mobile's 3G coverage and capacity in the US is good in cities and most major interstates out in the country. It will drop down to EDGE the rest of the time. They announced an enhancement to their network that will give them "4G-like" speeds throughout their 3G footprint by the end of the year. I think the Nexus One supports HSPA+ so it would be mucho faster than the CDMA version.

As other above said, if you want to get your phone in Japan, you'll have to buy the GSM version.
posted by birdherder at 2:43 PM on March 25, 2010


Ars Technica just did an article on the Nexus One screen. It's interesting if not very complimentary.
posted by chairface at 3:16 PM on March 25, 2010


Last I checked Google Voices' SMS was USA only. *checks again*

Google Voice SMS doesn't support sending and receiving SMS from international numbers at this time. You can only send and receive SMS to phone numbers in the U.S. Google Voice Help Page
Right, you can't use Google Voice with an international number. You can use Google Voice with a US number to call internationally and to send SMS internationally. I have done both of those and, as far as I can tell, SMS to international numbers is free. Phone calls to international numbers are not.
posted by 6550 at 4:44 PM on March 25, 2010


Well WebOS (what runs the Pre) is significantly more open to developers than Android. The app catalog approval process is very liberal, but beyond that also it's trivial to load non-palm approved apps, and in fact the homebrew community has developed their own app catalog full of apps, UI patches, and other craziness.

Palm also does sell developer Pres, the only difference being that it doesn't have a contract (every pre can enter developer mode by typing out the konami code (!)), but I believe the early termination fee is less than the subsidies available, so any appeal would be mainly ideological. They still won't work internationally though, and there's no GSM Pre for sale in the US (O2 sells unlocked GSM Pres, they have QWERTZ keyboards since they're a german comapny).
posted by aubilenon at 5:05 PM on March 25, 2010


Thanks everyone. I decided to go for it. Just ordered an unlocked T-Mobile-compatible Nexus One from Google.
posted by Vorteks at 5:20 PM on March 25, 2010


Just to touch on usage in Japan: you can't get a prepaid USIM card or mobile phone unless you're a resident of Japan. (SoftBank and au are the only prepaid providers; DoCoMo got out of that business in 2005) Also, prepaid plans with SoftBank don't support international SMS/MMS or Yahoo! Keitai (mobile-oriented internet).
posted by armage at 7:16 PM on March 25, 2010


General android note: if you get, say, a japanese SIM, but it is voice only (as many prepaid sims are here and elsewhere), android works just fine if you don't have data. It won't shut you out or anything as the lying t-mobile rep told me. And you can still do data on wi-fi just fine.

oh! and memail me if you still need a google voice invite, as discussed extensively above. Though they opened it up considerably so you'd probably be on the waitlst for like a week.

Good choice buying it! You're gonna love it.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:49 PM on March 25, 2010


Fortunately I got into Google Voice back when they were still GrandCentral and Google hadn't bought them yet.

@armage - I got a Softbank prepaid phone when I visited in 2007. Wasn't a problem. I imagine I'd be able to again.

But as far as using a different SIM in Japan... my searches today have turned up a few "international SIM card" vendors, such as Celtrek. I wonder if their service is reputable? If it is, it might be a viable option to get a SIM from them and then pop it in my Nexus One right before my flight to Japan takes off. Looks like their voice prices for Japan-to-Japan calling start at $0.24/minute, which is much less than Softbank's. Anyone used them before?
posted by Vorteks at 9:49 PM on March 25, 2010


I got a Softbank prepaid phone when I visited in 2007. Wasn't a problem. I imagine I'd be able to again.

Technically, it's illegal for them to sell you either a phone or a SIM if you're only here for a short-term stay, so I wouldn't count on being able to get one. (You can get a rental phone, however.)

Looks like their voice prices for Japan-to-Japan calling start at $0.24/minute, which is much less than Softbank's.

One difference is that SoftBank doesn't charge you for incoming calls, while Celtrek apparently does. I've no idea about their reliability, however -- calling the US for support from Japan might be a pain.
posted by armage at 12:32 AM on March 26, 2010


@armage - Thanks for the help. I guess if I really want a Japanese prepaid SIM or phone, I could get a Japanese resident to buy one for me. But I'll probably go with one of these "international roaming" SIM cards. Of course, the apparent down side to that is that you don't get a Japan phone number, so who knows how much it costs Japanese people to call you. Celtrek apparently gives out Belgian numbers.
posted by Vorteks at 7:26 AM on March 26, 2010


Verizon and/or AT&T (both rumored to be next on the list for a nexus one) have better 2G and better 3G networks than T-mobile. This is always location specific however, and if Tmobile works in your area(s) (it does in mine) than it doesn't matter where it doesn't work.
posted by garlic at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2010


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