Best Japanese Android smartphones of 2014


Ah, Japan! The mecca of tech – both ingenious and odd. Or at least that used to be the case many (but not that many) years ago. Japan is still among the leaders in tech, but the landscape sure has changed in the last few decades. 

With smartphones being arguably the most universally sought-after gadget currently in existence, you'd expect Japanese companies to hold a pretty strong position in the industry. That's not exactly the case, however, at least not world wide – Sony literally being the sole exception. Sure, smartphones from manufacturers such as Sharp and Panasonic still sometimes make an appearance outside of their homeland, but those sightings are sporadic at best.

But does that mean that Japan's finest have little to offer to consumers? We rummaged through our own records, Japanese telecom listings, and manufacturers' own web sites before arriving at about 30 great handsets, which we then further cut down to just the 17 models you'll find below. So go ahead and get to know Japan's best smartphones for 2014!

#17 Kyocera Urbano V01

Price: ~$568 total over 24 monthly payments

Kyocera, which started out in the ceramics business back at the end of the 50s, has since switched its focus to more than just that, and its portfolio now includes electronics – some of which we're sure you've heard of, even if you live in the States.

Unfortunately, the Kyocera Urbano V01 isn't available stateside, and that's too bad. It's very well designed, with metal navigation keys at the front, and it sports a 5-inch display with a resolution of 1080 x 1920, runs on a Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM, and has a 13-megapixel main camera. Packed at the back is a healthy, 3,000 mAh battery, and as any self-respecting Japanese device, it is IP58-certified –meaning water and dust resistant.


#16 Kyocera Urbano L03

Price: ~$361 total over 24 monthly payments

The Urbano L03, another great Kyocera device, isn't that different from the V01 we just took a look at.

Indeed, it adopts a very similar design, with physical navigation keys, but the overall shape of those and the entire phone is more arc-like. It's also cheaper, while offering the same kind of high level specs. Namely, we've got a 5-inch, 1080p display, a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel main camera, a 3,000 mAh juicer, and, of course, IP58-certified ability to withstand water and dust.


#15 Sharp Aquos Crystal

Price: $149 (Boost Mobile), $249 (Sprint)

The Sharp Aquos Crystal initially landed in the US as a Sprint-exclusive, but was eventually picked up by Boost Mobile, as well. The near bezel-less phone is quite odd-looking compared to what we're used to, but Sharp has actually been perfecting this 'headless' design for a while now.

The Aquos Crystal isn't a flagship phone, but at prices such as $149 and $249 with Sprint, it's impossible not to appreciate the value proposition here. For that kind of money, you're getting a 5-inch IGZO display with a 720 x 1280 pixel resolution, a quad-core Snapdragon 400, 1.5GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel main camera, and a 2040 mAh battery. And, yes, this is something unique you'll be carrying around, and that's also worth something.



#14 Kyocera Brigadier

Price: $0 with a 2-year contract, $399 full retail (Verizon)

The Kyocera Brigadier is yet another device that folks stateside may have heard about. The Japenese company created something truly rare – an Android phone with a sapphire glass-covered display. And if you thought that the 4.5-inch (720p) screen is the only thing that's tough about the Brigadier, you're wrong – it's also IP68-certified for its resistance to water and the fact that it's dust-proof, and MIL-STD-810-certified (shock, vibration, humidity, high temperature resistant). In other words, this thing is built like a tank.

Which is why its relatively humble specs (quad-core Snapdragon 400, 1GB RAM, 8MP camera, 3100 mAh battery) are not at all a let down – this phone isn't for everybody, but the niche it's after certainly benefited from Kyocera's work here.


#13 Sharp Aquos SHL25

Price: ~$405 equivalent with au KDDI (SIM locked)

The Aquos SHL25 is yet another typical Sharp phone, with the same top-heavy desgin and minimal bezels. Unlike the Aquos Crystal, however, the SHL25 is a high-end device. It packs a 5.2-inch IGZO display (1080 x 1920), a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 13.1-megapixel main camera, and a 3,150 mAh battery. As you likely expect by now, this phone, too, is water- and dust-resistant (IP57).


#12 Sharp Aquos Zeta SH-01G

Price: ~$725 total over 24 monthly payments

The Sharp Aquos Zeta is the first truly phablet-sized smartphone on our list, with its 5.5-inch, 1080 x 1920 resolution IGZO screen. Like the rest of Sharp's warriors on this list, the Zeta, too, features and extremely high screen-to-body ratio and its signature "Edgest" design.

The Zeta is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, 2GB of RAM, a large, 3,300 mAh battery, and a 13-megapixel camera capable of 4K UHD video recording. And, yes, the phone is dust- and water-resistant (IP57).


#11 Sharp Aquos Xx 304SH

Price: Between ~$331 and ~$475 depending on contract 

With a screen-to-body ratio of 79%, it's hard to complain about the unfortunately-named Aquos Xx 304SH (whose predecessor we looked at a while ago). When you're getting a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 2 gigs of RAM, a 13.1-megapixel camera with f/1.9 lens, an IR blaster, and a 2600 mAh battery, it's even harder.

The 5.2-inch 304SH, with its 1080 x 1920 resolution IGZO display truly is something, though we do realize that Sharp's design philosophy won't suite everybody. In any case, this Android 4.4 KitKat-touting, IP57-certified smartphone sure has our fancy.


#10 Sharp Aquos SH-04F

Price: About ~$730 contract-free

The Sharp Aquos SH-04F landed as an NTT DoCoMo exclusive in the summer of 2014, and we wasted no time covering it in our fortnightly Monsters from Asia column. Why? It's simple – if you thought the Sharp Aquos Xx 304SH was compact, then the IP57-certified Aquos SH-04F will blow your mind.

Indeed, the SH-04F is a 5.4-incher (1080 x 1920), which would suggest that it's plenty big, but with its extremely small bezels (an extraordinary, 81% screen-to-body ratio), it's actually considerably smaller than the 5.2-inch Sony Xperia Z2, for example (140 x 74 x 9.3 vs 146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm). What's more, Sharp has fitted a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor within, along with 2GB of RAM, a 13.1-megapixel camera, and a generous, 3,300 mAh battery. 


#9 Fujitsu Arrows NX F-05F

Price: $475 at Kyoex

Mostly known as an IT equipment supplier (it's the third largest in the world, actually, after IBM and HP), Fujitsu also invests in its own smartphones. The Arrows NX F-05F is proof that the company isn't just messing around.

Despite its overly-complicated, even odd, name, the specs sheet attached to the phone contains hardware that is quite familiar. We've got a 5-inch, 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution display, a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor from Qualcomm, 2 gigs of RAM, a Sony Exmor R 20.7-megapixel main camera, and a large, 3,200 mAh battery. The Fujitsu Arrows NX F-05F also sports a fingerprint scanner on its back, right underneath the camera lens, and though we haven't had the opportunity to play around with it, that is a pretty convenient spot for a security scanner like that.

#8 Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Price: $1,000 in the US (unlocked)

Panasonic says that the Lumix DMC-CM1 is a camera first, smartphone second, and that makes sense – that thing has got an enormous, 1", 20-megapixel sensor with f/2.8-f/11 Leica lens and LED flash. That's roughly 7 times larger than your average smartphone sensor. Add in the many, many manual controls the camera software offers, and it's easy to see why Panasonic chose to call it a cameraphone.

But that doesn't mean that the rest of the package is anything to sneeze at. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 has a 4.7-inch, 1080 x 1920 resolution display, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 2,600 mAh battery. The phone runs on Android 4.4 KitKat, and we're hopeful that an update to Lollipop will follow, even though we can't be certain.


#7 HTC J Butterfly

Price: ~$613 total over 24 monthly payments

Say what? An HTC phone exclusive to Japan? Correct.

Available through Japanese au KDDI, the HTC J Butterfly is something along the lines of a less stylish HTC One M8, but with a 13-megapixel Duo camera and a waterproof body (like all Japanese handsets, as you must be noticing). 

The J Butterfly also retains the two front-facing speakers, though these aren't of the BoomSound type, alongside a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, spacious 2 gigs of RAM, LTE-Advanced radio (downloads of up to 150 Mbps), and a slightly larger, 2,700 mAh battery. The J Butterfly hit the Japanese market in August.

Check out our review of the HTC Butterfly 2 – a variant of the J Butterfly.


#6 Sony Xperia Z2

Price: $480 through Sony US (unlocked)

Finally! A familiar name. Certainly, you didn't expect us to exclude Sony's excellent devices just because they don't quite mesh together with the rest on the list, right?

Anyways, most of you are well-acquainted with the Xperia Z2. Sony's ex-flagship is among the highest-rated smartphones we've reviewed, and for a good reason. It packs a 5.2-inch, 1080 x 1920 resolution display, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, a long-lasting, 3,200 mAh battery, and a potent, 20.7-megapixel main camera. Needless to say, Sony also went ahead and water- and dust-proofed the Xperia Z2.


#5 Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Price: $530 through Sony US (unlocked)

Yet another familiar face, the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact more than deserves its spot on our list. Without a doubt, the Z3 Compact is the only really high-end 'compact' device on the planet – it's got a very compact-for-its 4.6-inch (720p) display body, a powerful quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 2 gigs of RAM, and the same excellent, 20.7-megapixel Exmor R camera. Its 2,600 mAh battery is an insane marathoner, too, having managed the awesome 10 hours and 2 minutes on our custom battery benchmark.



#4 Sharp Aquos Crystal X

Price: Unknown

Yeah, yeah, we're suckers for Sharp's 'Edgest' design and the small bezels it has learned to work with. But the Aquos Crystal X – the larger brother of the Aquos Crystal – is well deserving of its high spot in this ranking.

Unlike the Aquos Crystal, the Aquos Crystal X is a high-end device, with a large, 5.5-inch 1080p display, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, 2GB of RAM, and a 13-megapixel camera. The handset also features Harman Kardon sound and a 2,610 mAh battery, but it's currently unknown if the device will be IP-certified for water- and dust-resistance (though it's likely).


#3 Fujitsu Arrows NX F-02G

Price: ~$895 at Kyoex

Fujitsu's current top-of-the-line model is no other than the octagonal Arrows NX F-02G that we covered just recently, and it taking the bronze is well deserved. While the device's design may not be everybody's cup of tea, the specs packed within certainly won't disappoint.

The IP58-certified Arrows NX F-02G sports a 5.2-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels, and is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and generous 3 gigs of RAM. Also on board is a Sony-made, Exmor R 1/2.3'' sensor with 20.7-megapixels and a giant, 3,500 mAh cell that the company claims is good for up to three days of usage. To round off the package, Fujitsu has also included a dedicated infrared blaster for control over home electronics and a swipe-type fingerprint scanner.


#2 Sony Xperia Z3

Price: $630 through Sony US (unlocked)

It felt like days only had passed when Sony reiterated on its flagship vision with the Xperia Z3, six short months after the Z2. The successor to the Z2 finally focused on a long-standing issue with Sony devices – size – and brought down the thickness to only 0.29 inches (7.3 mm), while sacrificing essentially nothing in terms of the hardware stack.

Like with the Z2, we again have a 5.2-inch, 1080 x 1920 resolution display, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM, an extraordinarily resilient, 3,100 mAh battery, and, of course, Sony's signature 20.7-megapixel shooter. Like every other device on this list, the Z3 is also IP68-certified, so it's quite resistant to both water and dust.



#1 LG Isai VL

Price: ~$667 total over 24 monthly payments

We'll admit that putting the LG Isai VL in the #1 spot wasn't an easy decision, what with Sony's Xperia Z3 lurking just around the corner, but, ultimately, we had to make one, and we just like the Isai more.

We first caught wind of the au KDDI-branded, LG-made Isai before the LG G3 was released, and speculation was heavy that this is how the G3 was bound to look like. Not only that, but the Isai's specs sheet read exactly like what we were expecting from the G3, so, naturally, it's got some pretty sick hardware on board, including a 5.5-inch, 1440 x 2560 resolution display, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, a 13.2-megapixel rear camera with a laser auto focus assist system in place, and a 3,000 mAh battery. The LG Isai VL, like the G3, also has its volume rocker on the back, but its power key is located on the right. Its rear shell actually looks a lot like the Asus Zenfone 2. Food for thought there.

See the Isai VL in the flesh!






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33 Comments

1. B-power

Posts: 258; Member since: Feb 22, 2014

A lot of sharp

2. Busyboy

Posts: 731; Member since: Jan 07, 2015

LG Isai beat the Z3? Lol alright

22. Tracy1988

Posts: 208; Member since: Dec 18, 2014

Why not? Look at the specs, Sony troll. Beside, LG IPS+ is way better than the crap Sony put on their phones. Sony Z1,2,3 series look very nice and designs are top notch but I haven't had any idea why they decided to use such sh1tty displays on their flagships. Those 2 Sony craps don't deserve to be on this list.

27. jaytai0106

Posts: 1888; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

A phone from Japan with no IP certification is no phone at all :P Beside... I thought this article was going to be phones from Japanese manufacturers.

31. RandomUsername

Posts: 808; Member since: Oct 29, 2013

The Z and Z1 displays suck, but the newer ones are actually pretty good.

33. Tracy1988

Posts: 208; Member since: Dec 18, 2014

NO. Newer ones suck too. Sony used the cheapest and crappiest IPS on the new ones. I have the Z3C. Every time I look at its display I'm f**king pissed. Stupid touch panel with annoying grids clearly visible. f**k Sony. I hope they go out of business.

24. LGisgood

Posts: 833; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

LG ruled.

3. halca

Posts: 14; Member since: Jan 01, 2015

these japanese phones are so much higher quality than the rest... i'm jealous. I want that zero bezel!

12. dimas

Posts: 3363; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Because Japanese have high standards when it comes to buying products. They don't care if it costs more than the average as long as it's of top build. That's one of the reasons why Mediatek phones are having a hard time passing their quality control.

13. techperson211

Posts: 1280; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

And why HTC is here? One thing is sure Japanese is really way ahead in terms of technology.

14. Mechanized

Posts: 13; Member since: May 31, 2014

How is Japan ahead in terms of technology? Many of these seem like fine devices, but I don't see anything special about them.

17. Suo.Eno

Posts: 556; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

Ahead at "meaningful" techs like:- 1. Ingress protection = water, dust, shock and life resistance/proofing. 2. More efficient display techs e.g IGZO. 3. Physical design from better screen to size ratio. Most older Sharp phones pushed for this 1st. 4. The friggin' country literally invented TV watching on phones since their clamshells alone can whoop any of Nokia's N series and I'm not talking about some crap buffering every 20secs kind of service either. 5. 1st country in the world to use NFC everywhere. 6. Above all look at the list again and notice that the majority of top phones are all w/ 3000mAh batt average.

19. techperson211

Posts: 1280; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

Thank you for elaborating "ahead" in terms of technology @suo.eno to @mechanized.

32. RandomUsername

Posts: 808; Member since: Oct 29, 2013

But I also have high standards :) Why can't they bring these to the West?

4. hellbread

Posts: 309; Member since: Nov 21, 2014

Those Sharp phones looks sexy!

5. hurrycanger

Posts: 1761; Member since: Dec 01, 2013

I didn't even know the LG Isai could be counted as a Japanese phone. Sure it was made for the Japanese market, but isn't LG Korean?

6. piggerz_b_piggin

Posts: 18; Member since: Jan 08, 2015

HTC is Taiwanese

15. hurrycanger

Posts: 1761; Member since: Dec 01, 2013

Yup. That too

9. CanYouSeeTheLight

Posts: 1122; Member since: Jul 05, 2012

It's a variant especially made for the Japanese market just like the J Butterfly, why wouldn't they include it?

16. hurrycanger

Posts: 1761; Member since: Dec 01, 2013

Because at the top of the article they mentioned Japanese companies and not phones made for Japan market? That's why I posted my comment in the first place.

18. hurrycanger

Posts: 1761; Member since: Dec 01, 2013

My bad there, man. I even read that part I mentioned wrong, lol. But anyway, it's about "best Japanese Android smartphones".

7. ziomalnik

Posts: 3; Member since: Jan 03, 2015

LG paid phonearena.com LG phones are on the top of rankings at phonearena :)

8. mokhtar

Posts: 405; Member since: Jan 06, 2014

This phone better than z3 ? Waaa hahahhahah. No Seriously phonearena u are making ur self a joke now

23. Tracy1988

Posts: 208; Member since: Dec 18, 2014

No, you and the Z3 are the jokes. I bet you don't even have a Sony phone. I have the Z3C and I had to change my desk lamp to white flourescent so I don't have to see those obnoxious grids of the Z3C touch panel.

30. ziomalnik

Posts: 3; Member since: Jan 03, 2015

Tracy1988 u r the joke :D

10. corporateJP

Posts: 2458; Member since: Nov 28, 2009

Title is misleading. Had me believing it was phones from Japanese manufacturers, but it is phones sold by companies to Japanese consumers. It's still confusing. You could just as well put the iPhone 6 on the list since Apple tends to sell a lot of phones in Japan. Kick the HTC and LG off the list and do it right...

20. JC557

Posts: 1919; Member since: Dec 07, 2011

The Japanese love their media consumption on the go so it makes sense to include the HTC (speakers) and LG (screen) and the iPhone 6 is available in many countries and not limited to the island of Japan.

11. faizan-sharif

Posts: 98; Member since: Jun 26, 2013

exactly what i wanted to say

21. clarkjeferson

Posts: 67; Member since: Dec 22, 2013

well, pepper your wallets! Time to order from KyoEx for these phones. Oh Octagon phone, I'd want you!

25. HSN87

Posts: 109; Member since: Jan 09, 2015

LG Ruled ;-) BTW, those Sharp phones are cool.

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