So I've been looking around to get a 3G USB dongle. Basically you get a subscription at a phone provider and they give you a USB stick that you can plug into your laptop to have internet anywhere in Japan. Sounds simple, right? Well, it isn't.
First of all, there's a lot of different providers, and each provider usually offers several different types of contract. Things that differ are the minimum cost each month, the maximum cost each month, the way the cost increases with your usage and the amount it costs to buy off your contract before it finishes. All the offers I've found so far require you to sign a contract for 2 years, which, in my opinion, is way too long.
So far I've found that Au offers a rather crappy service that nobody recommends. There's emobile which seems to be rather pricy, and so far I've found that NTT Docomo provides the best deal yet, with a minimum monthly fee of 1000 yen, and max of 6000 yen.
So why didn't I already get the Docomo deal and post about my happiness from the rooftop with my new wireless internet? The reason is this: if you sign a contract for this wireless internet (Docomo or emobile, maybe other providers too), you basically get a free netbook. That's right. A free netbook. Fairly sweet deal. Except there are lots of different netbooks.
This adds a whole bunch of other variables into the mix. I'll list them here. The choice of netbook brand and type is different for each phone provider and for each store. Some phone stores only offer contracts for a specific provider, and they only have one or two different netbook models available. Other stores have multiple providers but the same limited choice of netbooks. Then there's the big electronics stores like Yodobashi camera, that basically have a larger range of netbooks and contracts available. I think it's probably best to get it from Yodobashi, BIC camera or Yamada denki if you're interested in getting a netbook+internet deal. Note that the more expensive laptops are not free, but you can get a discount if you buy a wireless internet subscription at the same time. Within this provider+store-limited range you have to weigh price, amount of discount, battery life, size, weight, etc. etc.
Learning all of this has been rather confusing for me. Basically a store servant told me that I get a laptop for free, and he gave me pamphlet that clearly stated that I have a choice of four laptops, including the ridiculously expensive Sony Vaio X series (which looks awesome by the way). After researching a bit more I went back to the store and I asked if they had the Vaio available, but they didn't have it and they couldn't even order it. That's how I found out that each store only offers a choice of netbooks that are on display at that moment. Which is not much if you're living in a minor city like Atsugi. I did visit the Yodobashi store before that, and in retrospect I should have gotten a contract there at that moment. They didn't have any of the netbooks on my wishlist though.
I'm looking for a netbook with the best battery life, and if possible a way to install an English version of XP. The Asus Eee PCs seem great for this. They're meant to tinker with. On the other hand, a true beauty like the Sony X series, which is extremely light and small, and has an SSD, is pretty much a lost cause if you want to customize it. It comes preinstalled with Windows 7, and the Japanese version at that. Even if I could reinstall WinXP I'd spend hours and hours finding the right drivers (if they even exist for XP). Another argument against the Vaio is the battery. While I've read online that the X series is supposed to come with two batteries, a small and pretty one that lasts about 3 hours and a huge and bulky one that last up to 9 hours, it seems that in Japan they only sell the X series with one battery, and the salesman couldn't tell me which one. I'd say it's likely that it's the small one though. And don't even think about buying an extra battery from Sony, because they will rip you off and spit you out. Like a guppy.
So the Asus seems like a good choice. There's plenty of drivers and resources online, so it should be easy to reinstall the OS. There's also some topics online of people who swapped the internal harddisk for a solid state disk, which should increase the already long battery life even more (though I didn't read any statements about that yet). And since it's Asus and the Eee series is quite popular, it shouldn't be that difficult to find an extra battery, if I do decide that I need more battery life. Asus is very consumer-friendly, I think.
Well, not sure if that will help anyone, but at least I sorted out my thoughts. I think I'll go back to Yodobashi camera one of these days and get a wireless internet contract and a netbook, most likely an Asus. If you think otherwise, I'd be glad to hear it of course.