The Internet in Asia: Locals vs. Tourists

And Expensive
And Expensive...

For all the bitching and moaning about expensive Internet access in this country — mostly by yours truly — things can get exponentially worse in a hurry when Canadians travel abroad.

Consider the in-room Internet I had at my Hong Kong hotel, offered by DoCoMo interTouch and, unsurprisingly, not included in my daily rate. Unlimited access set me back $160 HKD per day, or about $25 CAD. At this price you might think I’d be tempted to leave my laptop packed and use my phone exclusively, but even with Opera Mini paring down the average full web page to a paltry 50K or so I would still pay 5¢/kB in data roaming charges — or in other words, for the same cost per day I’d only be able to pull down a mere 10 web pages on my phone!

For an extra $40 HKD/day ($6.25 CAD) I could supposedly access the hotel-wide WiFi via my phone — a great idea for reading the morning news over breakfast in the restaurant, except that interTouch uses some kind of stupid web redirect to log in to their network, likely designed with laptops only in mind. Thankfully I only signed up for this “value-added feature” for one day…

Meanwhile, for less than $40 CAD/month a local can get 30 — that’s right, thirty — Megabits per second of uncapped broadband Internet piped into their home, and for an extra $3 CAD/month can get 100 minutes of WiFi service anywhere in Hong Kong, including the airport!

As for the mobile Internet, one local carrier offers 600 MB of data per month for $38 HKD, or just under $6 CAD. The same amount on Fido costs at least four times as much.

What can Canadian travellers learn from this?

  1. Don’t use data on your phone when abroad;
  2. Try to book a hotel that includes free Internet access;
  3. If you want cheaper access on your phone or computer, move to Asia!

(absolutely not a) Pre-MacWorld Leak! New iPhone, iPod Spotted in Hong Kong…

If you can’t wait to see the new gear that Apple will be revealing at the MacWorld Keynote Tuesday morning, I can at least show you two products they probably won’t be announcing…

iPhone Mini!
iPhone Mini

First up is the iPhone Mini, which I found on Apliu Street in Kowloon’s Sham Shui Po district. At about $100 CAD this little number doesn’t have 3G or WiFi, but it does sport an FM radio, apparently powered by Windows Media Player…?

iPod Shuffle with Screen!
iPod Shuffle with screen

And in the famous Temple Street Night Market I spotted these new iPod Shuffles, with screens! Code-named “MP3”, a 2GB model will only set you back about $15 CAD and comes in 5 colours and 2 screen orientations, apparently…

All kidding aside, that iPhone knock-off beats Apple’s official product with one killer feature — it’s 100% unlocked. While it’s technically true that Apple’s iPhone 3G is sold unlocked here, to actually buy one you need to meet the following criteria:

  1. You must provide proof of Hong Kong citizenship;
  2. You must be willing to sign up for a two-year contract with 3, the only carrier that sells it.

With such restrictions, I can’t really fault the local pirates for giving consumers an alternative, albeit an illegal one. And of course, you get what you pay for…

Nokia’s Hong Kong Flagship Store Review

Nokia Flagship Store in Hong Kong
Nokia Flagship Store, as seen from my E71

Nokia must really hate Canada — as far as I know Nokia Messaging and Ovi Sync still won’t work through my carrier here. Likewise, we have no Nokia Flagship Store to call our own.

So it was with great interest that I took the famous Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island to visit Nokia’s official retail presence in Causeway Bay. What follows are both my impresssions of the store and the mobiles therein — many of which are reportedly on their way to Fido and Rogers in 2009.

First, the store itself… Unlike the stark whiteness of your typical Apple Store, this Nokia Flagship was festooned with alternating plum and purple. And just like an Apple Store Nokia had all it’s wares out on display for prospective customers to get their grubby hands all over — actually two models of each handset in most cases, one set to Chinese language display and the other set to English. But without SIM cards or available WiFi it seemed to me that any network features of Nokia’s products were off the table — kind of a shame.

Nonetheless, here’s a sneak preview of Nokia’s latest and greatest…

5800 XpressMusic – This is the handset that Nokia is currently pushing in Hong Kong, and pushing hard. I believe it was actually released in this market first because touch-screen devices are strongly favoured here for Chinese character input.

The 5800 certainly seems like a solid little unit, and the full-screen virtual QWERTY keypad puts the iPhone to shame. But I couldn’t for the life of me find the option to turn on the haptic feedback — or in English, “the deal where the phone vibrates when you press a key on the screen”…

N79 – Being a fan of monoblock/candy bar/no moving parts designs I had high hopes for the N79 as a travel phone, since my E71 won’t work in Korea or Japan. Unfortunately, while Nokia’s trademarked Xpress-on rear covers are a great idea, the rest of the handset feels disappointingly cheap.

N85 – I almost gave up on QWERTY to buy this phone, sight unseen. It’s perhaps a good thing I didn’t. The OLED display is fantastic (indoors, anyway — they wouldn’t let me take it outside for some reason) but the keypad is merely average, and I still don’t get the black & brown colour scheme.

N96 – The biggest surprise for me, considering how extensively the N96 has been slagged online. The screen is huge, the keypad feels great and the whole package is surprisingly light — possibly because at least parts of the faux-metal trim may be actually painted plastic.

Whatever the case may be, the N96 looks every bit the part of flagship device for Nokia, at least until the N97 comes out!

10,000 Buddhas, in 2 Tries

If nothing else, let this be a lesson to all you Buddhist Monks out there about proper signage…

Yesterday I used my brand-new Octopus Card to venture out into The New Territories — specifically to Sha Tin and the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Here’s a photo essay on how it went down:

A Sign
A Sign

Though I could see the monastery from the Sha Tin East Rail Station, this was the only actual sign for it (in English, anyway), on the ground beside a parking lot.

Easiest 400 Steps EVAR!!1!
Easiest 400 Steps EVAR!!1!

At the end of the lot was this escalator, which I assumed was the way up there, despite what I had read about some 400 steps I had to climb.

Start Again
Start Again

It was only after I went up another couple of escalators and then a bunch of stairs that I realized I was actually at a mausoleum — the monastery was just beyond, but entirely out of reach. So I had to go back down to the parking lot and start again. This is more or less how I felt about it…

Happy 2009 from Hong Kong!

If you find this video a little lacking consider also that it cost me about four thousand bucks to shoot!

It’s my own fault, really… I should have secured myself a better viewing spot for the famous Hong Kong Harbour fireworks show  much earlier in the evening. As it happened, I walked out of my hotel at around 11:45pm and could only get about ten steps towards the water before a sea of other revellers stopped me dead in my tracks. Here’s as far as I got, courtesy of Nokia Maps:

Fireworks Vantage Point
Fireworks Vantage Point

Of course I’m not just here to ring in 2009 some thirteen hours before my friends back in Toronto… More posts are on the way — in the meantime, check in on my dedicated Flickr set for the story so far.