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050 plus

050 plus is not a gadget, it's a service, but it is a service that is mainly applicable to Android and iOS devices.  There is a PC version available as well.  050 plus is similar to Skype, in that it is an IP telephony service that uses the internet to place and receive calls, but it is different than Skype in a few ways.
1. All calls to/from NTT 050 numbers are free. (Similar to how Skype-to-Skype calls are free, but 050 numbers might be OCN home IP phone numbers).
2. The rates for calls to Japanese cell phones are lower than Skype.
3. The basic monthly fee for Skype is free without an online number or subscription, but as soon as you want an incoming number, the basic fee costs around twice as much as 050 plus.  (Skype-In numbers in Japan are also 050 numbers).
4. Skype supports more devices, including Mylo, some TV sets, etc.  
5. Skype is more PC oriented, and also does things like video chat.  050 Plus is phone oriented and doesn't do chat at all.
6. Outgoing caller ID with Skype in Japan doesn't work well, meaning that callers will usually see no number, or an odd number, and ignore the call.
7. The quality of 050 plus is qualitatively better.  This is probably because 050 plus uses dedicated servers, where Skype relies on peer-to-peer connections.
8. Skype-in numbers are available around the world.  050 plus numbers are available in Japan.
9. Skype is easier to register if you don't live in Japan and/or don't read Japanese well.

The bottom line is that Skype is more flexible overall, but 050 plus makes a better phone replacement if you want to make a lot of incoming and outgoing calls in Japan with a proper Japanese number. 

Interesting things you can do with 050 plus:
1. Turn an iPod Touch, iPad, Sony Android Walkman, or (better) Android cell phone with no contract into a cordless home phone using your WiFi network.
2. Do the same as above, but turn your device into a cell phone by using a 3G mobile router.
3. Add a second number to your cell phone for business use.
4. Tune down your voice plan with your mobile phone carrier to a cheaper one, and use 050 plus for outgoing calls instead.
5. Use a data only SIM card with a smart phone and 050 plus to get voice without the cost.
6. Use the same number on multiple devices. (You can sign into the same account on multiple devices at once, though you will only receive incoming calls on one).
7. Use your friend or company's internet (or a rental hotspot or coffee shop connection) overseas instead of paying sky-high roaming charges.

Of course most of the above will also work with Skype, however 050 plus is marginally cheaper, and seems to have better call quality.  (Update: Call quality of 050+ has increased since this review was originally written.  While we wouldn't use the words "Crystal clear" now that services like VoLTE exist, it is much more consistent than Skype, and works even over low bandwidth.  In fact, it works over throttled 256k 3G/LTE service just fine).

Also, 050 plus on iOS has some of the same limitations as Skype and other VOIP tools.  That is, iOS doesn't allow close integration of VOIP functionality, so the applications can't use the native dialer, etc.  In particular, if the application is not running when an incoming call comes in, you may receive only a relatively un-noticeable pop-up notification instead of a constant ring or vibration.  (Although 050+ seems to appear ringing on iOS more often than Skype).  The Android version does not have these limitations.

To give an idea how much you could save, have a look at the graph below:

mobile phone service price comparison

A few things to note:
1. The graph above doesn't include data plans or "packs" with things like voicemail.  The amount shown is the basic monthly fee plus the per-minute fee.
  • Unless you really need voicemail when you are out of coverage area, we recommend you ditch the voicemail service and get a phone with a built in answering machine (dengon memo in Japanese).
2. Some plans have free calling to members on the same carrier during the daytime (Softbank, au), or all the time (e-mobile), we assume all calls are pay calls for the graph above.
3. With the newer kake-hodai (unlimited talk) plans from Docomo, you may spend more using 050 +, but only if you truly make a lot of outgoing calls.  Bear in mind that new plans are 2700 yen per month, not including data.
4. The rates used in the graph are the outgoing rate to Japanese cell phones (080 or 090 numbers).  PHS, land-line, and/or IP phone rates may be different.
5. Calls from 050+ to other 050 numbers are free, so costs may well be lower than shown above if your friends have 050+ or a similar application.
6. You can't make calls with only 050+, since you need an internet connection.  If you want to use 050+ to replace, for example, e-mobile free talk, then you will need an internet connection.
  • For using a cell phone with 050+, you can get a combo pack with OCN's data-only Mobile One internet SIM service.
  • Also note, that OCN now offers Voice Capable SIM cards, which have a higher monthly fee, but come with 050+ service included for free.
  • You can of course use other MVNOs, such as Sony's So-Net service, b-mobile, etc., but they will not come bundled with 050+, so you will have to pay full price for it separately.  
  • As a side note, If you have an AU phone you would like to use, you can still use an MVNO such as Mineo or UQ Mobile.  While we have not tried these products, Mineo also offers voice capable SIM cards, and also offers an application similar to 050+ called La La Call.
  • If you prefer to use a non-phone device (such as an iPod touch), or don't want to use a SIM card, you can simply use a 3G router, such as PocketWiFi, etc.  This is also a good 

To find out more about phone service in Japan, please check our related article: Phone Service in Japan

The Application:
Currrently, four version of the 050 plus application exist:
  1. iOS - This was the first version, and it works very well for outgoing calls.  There are some limitations for incoming calls due to iOS limitations as discussed above.  The iOS version supports iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
  2. Android - This version is more recent and smoother than the iOS version.  It runs in the background and integrates with the native dialer, etc.  Only certain Android devices are supported (mostly Japanese smart-phones), but it is possible to sign-in on an unsupported device, even though you can't do the initial registration on one.
  3. Windows - The Windows version is somewhat of an ugly duckling - but It does, however, work. Note that there is no Linux or Mac OS X version.  One has to wonder if the application internally uses SIP, or in fact is proprietary like Skype. (If it in fact uses SIP, it would be compatible with other software clients for both SmartPhones and Mac OS X, and it would also work with hardware IP Phones from the likes of Cisco and Juniper).
  4. Mac OS X - This is somewhat newer looking than the Windows version.  It handles calling, but not SMS.
Scary 050 Plus for Windows interface:
050 Plus for Windows

The registration process depends upon your device.  If you are using a supported Android device, you download and launch the app, and then you can register inside the application.  In the case of iOS devices, you have to register first online, and then download the application separately.  (This is probably due to Apple's in-app purchase policies).  A Japanese mobile phone number is required as part of of the registration process, but it doesn't have to be the same device you are installing the 050 app onto, so you can register any regular mobile phone if you are installing onto a non-phone device.  

You can visit NTT's site for more information here: