While living in Tokyo a couple of years ago, I used an Apple iPhone on a day-to-day basis and encountered very few difficulties using that device and the iOS operating system. Last year when I returned for a holiday with a Lumia 920 Windows Phone running Windows Phone 8 however, things didn’t run as smoothly. While Microsoft’s solution worked well as a camera, the HERE Maps app contained no data for Japan whatsoever and the Internet Explorer app couldn’t load Google Maps without crashing, freezing, or causing the phone to reset. In the end I wound up using my old iPhone.
A year later, and I’m back in Japan again, this time with a Lumia 950 phone running the newer Windows 10 Mobile operating system. Overall, my experience this year has been much better than previously but there are still some very serious issues that Microsoft needs to address if it ever hopes to market its products to the Japanese market or non-Japanese who do business in this region.
The Lumia 950 GPS Doesn’t Work
For the entirety of my trip, my Lumia 950’s GPS continued to malfunction. It would detect my real location around half of the time but more often than not would jump back to previous locations like Melbourne, Australia or other random parts of Tokyo, Japan. This occurred in the Maps, 6tin, and Facebook apps with no apparent reason for the glitches. Logging out and logging back into 6tin fixed the location but within an hour or so it would jump back to Australia. This could be caused by the device being off the regular phone network (it was using WiFi during my stay in Tokyo) but it’s hard to tell.
Windows 10 Mobile and Time Zones
Speaking of Australia, the “Set time zone automatically” setting failed to function properly once I arrived in Japan. It took several hours to show the correct Tokyo time and, like the GPS, quickly began thinking the device was once again in Australia. After the Lumia 950 changed its time four times in one day, I disabled the automatic setting and resorted to manually setting it.
Better Maps but Still Room for Improvement
HERE Maps may have been good in Australia but the app was completely useless in Japan with no available data concerning business names, wards, or even train stations. The new Maps app in Windows 10 Mobile (powered by Bing Maps) is loads better than HERE (for Tokyo anyway) and contains a good dose of Tokyo public transport, walking routes, and buildings. Despite this improvement though, there are still a number of businesses missing (a search for “Starbucks” while standing right in front of a Starbucks pulls up the map location of a branch in London for example) and there’s a surprising inconsistency with which language and spelling is used for locations.
The map itself shows around 70% of locations with their English name while the remainder are in Japanese. There appears to be no rhyme or reason for this and it makes for a very confusing experience. Ideally, it would be good to have both the Japanese and English for each location; English to read and Japanese to identify the real-world Japanese signage. The current setup requires a lot of cross-referencing.
Another problem with the Maps app in Tokyo is that it doesn’t allow for spelling variations. A search for “Daikan-Yama Station” will correctly locate the station but another for “Daikanyama Station” (a popular alternate spelling which is more widely used on signs and I guidebooks) gets no results at all. Thankfully, Google Maps can be accessed in the Windows 10 Mobile version of Microsoft’s Edge browser and it works exceptionally well, sometimes better than the standalone Maps app.
Windows 10 Mobile and QR Codes
QR code functionality isn’t something that many Western smartphone owners think about on a daily basis but it’s very popular in Japan. This is something that I was reminded of when I was required to scan a QR code to gain access to a Wi-Fi hotspot in a Tokyo café. After 10 minutes of fiddling around with settings, I realized that current Windows phones can’t actually scan a QR code. This is a pretty basic feature that existed in the previous operating system but was removed for some unknown reason.
Afterwards, I discovered several third-party QR code apps in the Windows Store but downloading additional apps wasn’t something that was available to me when I needed them. It felt ridiculous saying to the café staff, “I’m sorry. I have a Windows phone. I can’t scan a QR code.” This is a huge oversight on Microsoft’s part.
Internet-Stealing Windows 10 Updates
One issue that turned out to be a big problem for me was Windows 10’s addiction to downloading updates automatically in the background. Normally this is fine when in a home environment with strong internet but when travelling with a limited portable Wi-Fi device, it becomes a feature that essentially bricks a device by downloading huge chunks of data without a user’s permission and brings productivity to a standstill. Within a few days, my internet limit had been reached and my speed reduced dramatically on all my devices. Disabling individual app updates was easy enough but even after finding the rarely used metered connection settings, the massive Windows 10 system updates continued to download. There was no way to turn them off.
With no way to cancel or pause update downloads, both my Lumia 950 and Surface Pro 4 continually downloaded data over my portable Wi-Fi connection, lowering the speed so much that I couldn’t play a YouTube video at 140p resolution. The metered connection settings are obviously supposed to prevent this from happening but they don’t work properly and even if they did, most users are unaware of this option due to its hidden nature. It would be a lot simpler if Microsoft simply added a “Pause Download” option to the update screen in a future update.
There’s no denying that Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mobile operating system and Maps app is an improvement for Windows phone users in Japan but there are still several areas which need to improve, particularly in regards to software and hardware.
Have you found Microsoft products lacking in similar areas during your travels? Are Windows phones a viable solution in your home region? Let us know in the comments below.