When we rounded up the best that the Japanese had to offer in 2014, we started the piece by contrasting the state of Japan's recently struggling tech industry to what it used to be just a decade ago: a leader. Indeed, this also showed with smartphones which, with very few exceptions, were actually behind on adopting the latest technologies that mainstream makers had been pushing for a while already, and delivered practical, but not wow!-worthy handsets.
This year, however, we're noticing a change in pace. For one, all of the devices on the list below, save one, offer some pretty exceptional hardware to local buyers and adventurous customers from beyond the pond. Who are they, and what do they offer? Let's find out!
Sharp Aquos Crystal 2
Let's start off small: the 5.2-inch, Softbank-bound Sharp Aquos Crystal 2. Yes, the successor to that Aquos Crystal — the super-compact (77.20% screen-to-body ratio), so the specs are naturally worthy of 'just' a mid-ranger. The resolution reads 720 x 1280, the processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 (quad-core), and the RAM: 2GB. On the back, we're looking at an 8-megapixel main camera, with a 2-megapixel selfie snapper on selfie patrol up front, along with 16GB of expandable storage, and a 2,030 mAh juicebox. As can be expected at this point, the Crystal 2 is powered by Android 5.0 Lollipop, and, like any self-respecting Japanese smartphone, is water- and dust-resistant (IP67).
The Crystal 2 is nice device and all, but it doesn't hold a candle to its bigger sibling, the Aquos Xx.
Also available exclusively through Softbank, the Xx is a true flagship — true enough to get us to highlight it in our fortnightly Monsters from Asia column, where you can read more about it. In the meantime, the summary goes like this: a 5.7-incher with 1080 x 1920 resolution, an octa-core, 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor with Adreno 430 GPU and 3 gigs of RAM, a 13.1-megapixel main camera (2.1-megapixels up front) with optical stabilization, and a 3,000 mAh battery. Of course, the Xx is also water- and dust-resistant, with an IP67 certification.
While we haven't covered Fujitsu's 2015 Arrows NX F-04G in our Monsters from Asia column yet, we certainly took a shine to its predecessor, the F-02G. An octagonal-shaped phone, the F-02G is quite different in terms of looks from its successor, which is also packed to the brim with bleeding edge specs.
We start off with a 5.2-inch IPS LCD display packing a Quad HD (1440 x 2560) pixel resolution, good for 565 pixels per inch. Beyond that, we're looking at an octa-core, 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor with Adreno 430 graphics, 3GB of RAM, a 20.7-megapixel main camera (likely courtesy of Sony), 32GB of storage expandable through microSD, and a hearty, 3,120 mAh battery. The phone is also IP68-certified, so locals don't have to freak out every time they spill something over it. Oh, did we mention that the NX F-04G also features an iris scanner capable of recognizing you and giving you instant access to your phone, no lock screens or nothing? Yep.
Fujitsu Arrows NX F-04G
LG isai vivid LGV32
Yes, yes, LG is not a Japanese company. We know. But the isai vivid LGV32 is a device exclusively available to au KDDI customers in Japan, so we have no qualms about calling it a Japanese phone, especially since the carrier has previously meddled with product design of previous isai series devices.
With that out of the way, here's what LG's is offering Japanese locals: a 5.5-incher (IPS LCD), with a Quad HD (1440 x 2560) pixel resolution, hexa-core, 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor with Adreno 418 GPU, 3 gigs of RAM, 32GB of internal memory that can be expanded, and a 16-megapixel main camera with a 2.1-megapixel selfie sidekick up front. The battery sits at 3,000 mAh capacity, and the Android OS on board is the 5.1 Lollipop build. So, in other words, an LG G4 for Japan, right? Well, as mentioned, the selfie snapper on the isai vivid is less impressive than the G4's, but at the same the device is actually IP67-certified, so it offers water- and dust-resistance on top of the G4 that we know in the rest of the world.
Another unlikely candidate for a list of Japanese devices, the au KDDI-bound HTC J Butterfly HTV31 is also a regional phenomenon. It also happens to be one of HTC's most decked-out devices to date.
Here's what we've got: a 5.2-inch IPS LCD display with a Quad HD (1440 x 2560) resolution delivering a pixel density of 565, an octa-core, 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor with Adreno 430 GPU, 3GB of RAM, a 20-megapixel, optically stabilized Duo Camera at the rear, and a 13-megapixel selfie snapper with flash up front. The phone also offers 32GB of storage that you can expand upon, a 2,700 mAh juicer, Android 5.0 Lollipop, and IP57 certification.
Another member of the Monsters from Asia club, the Sharp Aqusos ZETA SH-03G, like the rest of the devices on the list, is well-deserving of being dubbed one of the best Japanese devices of 2015. We start with a 5.5-inch IGZO display with 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution, and then move onto an octa-core, 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 3 gigs of RAM, a 13-megapixel snapper with optical stabilization (2.1-megapixel cam for selfies), and a fingerprint scanner. The IP57-certified Zeta is powered by a 3,000 mAh battery and Android 5.0 Lollipop. And by the way, with a body-to-screen ratio of 78%, this is among the most compact devices relative to its screen size.
As the Sony faithful will know, before there was talk of Xperia Z3+ and Z4v, it was all about the Xperia Z4. That one turned out to be a Japanese exclusive, however, and serves as the platform on which the Xperia Z3+ (completely identical) and the Z4v (larger battery, Quad HD display) were built on.
The Xperia Z4, then, is the Xperia Z3+, but in a regional flavor with no actual differences in the specs sheet. So we have a 5.2-inch display with 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution, an octa-core, 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 3 gigs of RAM, a 20.7-megapixel main camera, and 2,930 mAh battery. There's also a 32GB memory chip within, IP68 certification, and Android 5.0 Lollipop to be found on board.
At 7-inches (1080p), the Sharp Aquos PAD SH-05G is more of a tablet than smartphone, but the fact that it can do calls puts in that odd area between the two form factors. So we thought we'd mention it, as well.
The tablet offers an octa-core, 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 2GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel main camera with a 2.1-megapixel selfie sidekick, 32GB of expandable storage, and a 3,900 mAh battery. The tablet is also IP67-certified and rocks Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Last but not least on our list, we have yet another Sharp device. But unlike the rest, the Aquos Serie SHV32 is thesmallest of the bunch, with 'just' a 5-inch, 1080 x 1920 IGZO display.
Despite its relatively compact for factor, the SHV32 is no joke. It packs an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor (yes, it's 64-bit in case you were worried), 3 gigs of RAM, 32GB of expandable storage, a 13.1-megapixel main camera (2.1-megapixels up front), and a 2,600 mAh cell. The phone runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop is IPX7-certified, meaning it's resistant to water.