So, this time in Japan I needed to have text message capabilities in order to keep in touch with my girlfriend who was also travelling in Asia (and not able to get to landline phones or a computer with internet access to check email very easily). With a little help from my friends in our Japan office, we discovered that NTT DoCoMo rents 3G GSM handsets that will work with the SIM card from my Cingular GSM phone, and they are pretty reasonable price-wise too, especially if you can book in advance using their online form.
The phone that they have is a Motorola A835. On the positive side, it worked in Japan, the screen is really good (and large) and the predictive text learns the words you use and auto-completes them in future. On the negative side, it is huge, has a really poor quality camera (well, two of them actually) and perhaps the world’s second worst user interface (e.g. the key to confirm an action will change from one confirmation to the next, even within the same application). It also kept dropping off of the NTT DoCoMo and either telling me it was on Vodafone or that it was in emergency call only mode (I don’t know how that came about since I assume it needs a network for that still). In many cases it would splash the list of networks on the screen and wait until I picked the one I wanted. Not useful when it was sitting in my pocket so I didn’t know it was needing my help. I am still not clear whether it was offline while this screen was displayed, or whether it auto-connected in the background and just didn’t have the smarts to take the question screen away.
That said, both calls and text messages worked to and from the phone using my US number while I was in Tokyo. Hopefully the next phone I get will be 3G capable (assuming the US networks get their act together sometime soon), then I won’t need to rent a brick to do this.