Using my Japan Softbank iPhone 7 Plus while traveling in the U.S. – America Houdai

At the end of March I will be making a two week visit to the U.S. for my mother’s 90th birthday. My mother and sister live in Boston.

Since I have an unlocked iPhone 7 Plus I thought of doing what I usually do – get an AT&T GoPhone SIM card and get a U.S. temporary account and phone number. They have plans for $45 per month which seem fairly reasonable, for unlimited talk and text within the U.S. and 4 GB of data at high speed, after which your speed is throttled.

But I ran into some problems, and it was starting to get expensive. For example, the GoPhone plans don’t allow tethering. I was surprised by that. So in order for me to do work on my computer I would need a separate mobile hotspot – more money for a new device, plus pretty expensive data plans with restrictive data limit caps. It was getting costly. I was looking at $45 for the GoPhone plan plus $119 for a mobile hotspot device + $75 or so for a hotspot data plan. All for a two week visit.

I had decided to go with AT&T anyway, because I do every year, but this morning got a notice that my online order had been canceled by AT&T because they “could not confirm my identity.” I don’t know why, since I have U.S. credit cards that match my U.S. address and have been using AT&T every year. But whatever…

While looking for an alternative a Facebook friend told me about Softbank’s “America Houdai” service. I happen to use Softbank for my carrier in Japan. The word “houdai” means “all you can.” For example, if a restaurant is “tabe houdai” (like the Sizzler salad bar) it is all you can eat. Some bars have happy hours which are “nomi houdai” – all you can drink. The Softbank America Houdai plan turns out to be quite a good plan:

  • There is no extra fee for using it. You just change certain settings on your iPhone to make sure you stay connected to the Sprint network in the U.S. because Softbank happens to own Sprint.
  • You get unlimited talk and text with calls made within the U.S. and also calls made to and from Japan. So people in Japan can continue to call me as usual.
  • The plan includes tethering. And currently there is no data cap. That’s unlimited 4G/LTE data for my iPhone and my computer.

The only drawback is that you don’t get a U.S. phone number. So when you make a call in the U.S., it looks to the person receiving the call like you are calling from Japan. And if they call or text you back at your Japan number, they end up making an international phone call. But for people calling me I can just tell them to use my Skype-in number, which is a Boston number, and avoid that problem.

It sounds like a good deal. No extra cost, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited data during my trip.

I think perhaps the AT&T network is better than the Sprint network. So I’ll report again how good the reception and speeds turn out to be. But it’s definitely worth trying if you are a Softbank person visiting the U.S. and have an eligible contract.

Followup on my new iPhone 7 Plus – and a cool photos sync feature I discovered

I just did a test with a friend’s AU SIM card to confirm that my new iPhone 7 Plus is not carrier locked. AU showed up right away and I was able to make a test phone call. (See screenshots)

 

Using a borrowed AU SIM card

Using a borrowed AU SIM card

Using my Softbank SIM card

Using my Softbank SIM card

While I have to admit to not being completely satisfied with the display (it isn’t as bright as Apple advertises), it does occur to me that the way it ended up is advantageous to me in the short and long run. In addition to the extra 9,000 yen refunded to me because of the price difference, the amount I will actually pay for the iPhone with the Softbank carrier discount is just a small fraction of list price  – just about 40,000 yen.

But even better, the phone I now have in hand is completely unrelated to the iPhone received from Softbank. So when a new model comes out, I should be able to sell this one at a good price since it is not carrier locked, and the iPhone itself is not under any contract. Plus it’s under AppleCare until February 2019.

If I sell it at some point, I can upgrade to another straight-from-Apple iPhone at my leisure, for net amounts that are like carrier discounts.

It seems like a reasonable way to go forward: no more phones from the carrier are needed, and I have freedom to move from carrier to carrier more easily.

I did casually look around over this last week at the latest Android models. The Samsung and Sony models are especially nice. But they are also pricey, and not attractive enough to lure me away yet. But the way I’m leaving it, I also leave myself open to being lured.

On the Apple ecosystem plus side, I discovered a new, cool thing about the iPhone today, if you also have a Mac. I went to sync photos from my iPhone to Mac Photos for backup (even though I mostly use Google Photos these days) and found they were already synced! It turns out that even if you don’t have iCloud Photo Library turned on, as long as you have My Photo Stream turned on everything gets put into your Mac Photos library until deleted there, making backups easier. You don’t have to physically connect to your Mac with a lightning cable anymore to do this. It’s all done via iCloud.

The final final result of dealing with the iPhone 7 Plus display brightness problem

A truly final note. I swear….

As mentioned in my last post, I decided to return the iPhone 7 Plus I got from my carrier (Softbank) to Apple and take them up on their offer for a full refund.

I ordered a new one direct from Apple, which arrived the next morning. Just now the delivery company picked up the original iPhone 7 Plus to send back to Apple, and now I’m left with a more sane two iPhones: the iPhone 6 Plus I want to give my sister, and my new iPhone 7 Plus.

The display is about the same (I think there is a manufacturing issue where there happens to be a lot of variation) but it’s fine. Looking at it you would say, “What a nice screen.” My objection all along has just been Apple stating “it’s 25% brighter” etc. But I’m just too stressed about it to obsess about it any more. This definitely falls under hashtag #FirstWorldProblems. But the screen is fine. Apple should fix their advertising though, because what they are saying isn’t true. And while I’m sticking with Apple, I’ll certainly be more hesitant before making any new Apple purchases – and make sure there is an easy return for anything I’m not satisfied with it. Dealing with Apple support can be very stressful. I’m glad the VP’s liaison stepped in to assist.

Anyway, the whole thing wasn’t a complete waste of time. I ended up with:

1. A newer iPhone 7 Plus and another full two years of AppleCare warranty.

2. I actually ended up with a net 9,000 yen discount off the final purchase because of a discrepancy between the Apple price and the carrier’s price.

3. And the new iPhone 7 Plus is unlocked immediately, which means I can use it when I’m in Boston next month (instead of having to wait the full 6 months before I could have unlocked the carrier’s iPhone).

So I’m going to reset the iPhone 6 Plus and send it to my sister and just not worry about it anymore.

The post-final result of my iPhone 7 Plus display problem with Apple

Well, I’m sure the main thing on most of my friends’ minds these days is, “I wonder what Doug decided to do about his iPhone 7 Plus?”

So as not to keep you in suspense, this is what I decided:

Since Apple agreed to buy back my iPhone 7 Plus at the full Softbank contract list price of 129,000 yen I decided to take them up on it.

And I ordered a new iPhone 7 Plus from the Apple site today, to be delivered tomorrow morning. That cost 120,000 yen.*

So, not only am I making 9,000 yen on the deal, I’m getting a new phone and two more years of AppleCare coverage.

Plus since I’m getting it directly from Apple, the new iPhone will be unlocked to start with and I can use it on my scheduled U.S. trip for my mother’s birthday in April.

Will it be “as bright” as the iPhone 6 Plus. Probably not. But at this point this deal seems like a no-brainer to do for now. And who knows, maybe it will be brighter.

Also getting it directly from Apple means there is a 14 day return policy if I change my mind.

And I’m sticking with Apple, which I feel relieved and comfortable about for now.

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* I don’t know why the Softbank list price (pre carrier discount for a two year contract) comes to 129,000 yen including tax and AppleCare, instead of the 120,000 yen you would pay when buying direct from Apple. That remains a mystery, but Apple is agreeable with paying the 129,000 list price on my Softbank contract. Probably to shut up a crackpot customer.