SoftBank & iPhone 4
I went to SoftBank to check out whether or not I should get an iPhone 4, and surprisingly, it looks like I will. My two-year contract & obligation to pay off the iPhone 3G has 4 months left to it, and I figured that I would have to wait until that was out before I could think of getting the next one, and maybe have to pay extra for it as I was not a new customer. However, it would appear that SoftBank is making it easier for existing customers to upgrade than I thought. If I understood what the clerk was saying, I can get an iPhone 4 now, and simply start paying for it subsequent to the previous contract running out.
In fact, the new iPhone will be even cheaper; two years ago, the iPhone 3G (the first iPhone to be released in Japan) was going for ¥960 ($10.50) per month for 24 months, for a total of ¥23,040 ($250) for the low-end 8GB model. This time, the low end iPhone 4 (16GB) is free with the 2-year contract if you get a new number with it.
Sounds great, but there are caveats. As I expected, existing customers do get hit, though not very much: if you continue to use the same phone number as before (as most existing customers will no doubt want), you have to pay ¥300 ($3.25) a month for the 16 GB iPhone, for a grand total of ¥7200 ($78.50) over two years. (As if it costs them that much to not change your phone number!) Still, less than eighty bucks for a new iPhone–not bad at all. A pretty good deal in fact–I did not expect SoftBank to run with such a low price immediately upon release.
Another caveat: SoftBank is offering two plans for the iPhone 4, the “Basic” and “Value” plans. For both plans, you get the whole package, but the Value plan gives you only the flat rate of ¥4410 ($48) per month for your data plan (the price seems a bit inflated mostly due to the current strong yen). In the Basic plan, you have a sliding scale where the data plan could cost as low as ¥1029 ($11.20) per month, and you max out at ¥4410 if you use too much data. In exchange, you have to add ¥480 a month, or about $125 over two years, to the price of the iPhone. The Basic plan sounds good–if you try, you can cut down your data usage to the minimum and save as much as $900 over two years, right?
Wrong. The Basic plan sounds cheaper, but SoftBank conveniently hides the relevant data. They do tell you that if you use no more than 12,250 packets, you just pay the eleven bucks a month for data. Cool! 12,250 is a lot! Um, actually not. You won’t find it on the same page which describes this plan, but SoftBank defines a “packet” as 128 bytes. 12,250 packets is a measly 1.6 MB–less than a single digital camera photo at full size. You reach the maximum rate of ¥4410 by using 52,500 packets, or 6.72 MB–something you will certainly do if you do normal stuff like check email and use the Maps app while out and about. Especially if you browse web pages–six megabytes can be used up pretty quick. Just as an example, in May, according to my SoftBank bill, I used over 750,000 packets. No way in hell I could go below the 52,000 limit, save for turning off data use under 3G except in emergencies.
In short, don’t fall for the “cheaper” Basic plan: you’ll only wind up paying an extra $125 over two years.
So, going for the “Value” plan makes sense, and for Japan, the whole schmeer is pretty reasonable–especially the iPhone 4 for just eighty bucks plus what you’d pay normally anyway. At first, I thought that SoftBank would sock it to people they already had on contract, making them pay full price or pay a penalty for early adoption, but it seems not. Again, unless my Japanese led me to misunderstand the clerk; I will be checking up tomorrow, seeing what is or isn’t possible. The SoftBank stores in Omote-Sando and Shibuya have English-speaking staff, and the iPhone 4 reservations begin at 5pm. One drawback: they’ll only have the model in black if you get it right away. That’s OK with me, the new phone looks goofy in white.
If I do get the new phone, then my 3G will be off the phone grid. In other words: Jailbreak time!