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Today's "The Toon-Box"

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Apple Korea's iPhone 6 price is ridiculous

Apple Korea's prices for unlocked iPhone 6 Plus

Today, just one week before official Korean launch, Apple Korea has begun accepting orders for unlocked iPhone 6 series. The price (including VAT, in KRW) goes like this:

iPhone 6: 16GB 850,000 / 64GB 980,000 / 128GB 1,110,000
iPhone 6 Plus: 16GB 980,000 / 64GB 1,110,000 / 128GB 1,240,000

The nominal exchange rate is about KRW 1060 / US$ as of this writing, so the 6 Plus 128GB is about $1170 after taxes (or $1060 before). That's quite more expensive than the USA, where it's $949 before taxes. It turns out that Apple Korea is applying an exchange rate of KRW 1190 / US$, or KRW 130 (12.3%) more every dollar.

$649 x 1190 x 1.1 ~= KRW 849,500 (actual: 850,000)
$949 x 1190 x 1.1 ~= KRW 1,242,000 (actual: 1,240,000)

The baseline price that the mobile carriers have decided upon for selling the devices by themselves is only slightly cheaper by about KRW 30,000 50,000 to 60,000 (updated, see below). Yes, in Korea, even if you're entering a 2-year contract, the most expensive iPhone 6 Plus is more than twice as expensive as the US$499 that the people in the US is supposed to pay. Cheapest iPhone 6 should be about four times as expensive.

Apple Japan's prices for unlocked iPhone 6 Plus

To see how ridiculous this is, let's look at the next-door country, Japan. Apple Japan's prices (excluding tax, in JPY) are:

iPhone 6: 16GB 67,800 / 64GB 79,800 / 128GB 89,800
iPhone 6 Plus: 16GB 79,800 / 64GB 89,800 / 128GB 99,800

The applied exchange rate is about JPY 105 / US$, even though the nominal rate is higher at JPY 108 / US$. This means that Apple Japan is actually selling the iPhone 6 cheaper than compared to Apple USA.

$649 x 105 ~= JPY 68,100 (actual: 67,800)
$949 x 105 ~= JPY 99,600 (actual: 99,800)

To put this in context, let's say a Korean tourist decides to buy an iPhone 6 Plus 128GB or an iPhone 6 16GB in Japan and bring it back home. The person buying it in cash or credit card will have an exchange rate of KRW 9.98 / JPY as of this writing. Therefore:

JPY 99,800 x 9.98 ~= KRW 996,000
JPY 67,800 x 9.98 ~= KRW 676,000

That is considerably cheaper. Plus, the 8% sales tax is waived because of the tourist status, so the person doesn't pay more at the store. Once the person returns to Korea, the customs will impose the 10% VAT on the device for values exceeding US$600.

((99,800 / 108) - US$600) x 0.1 = US$32.40 = KRW 35,000
((67,800 / 108) - US$600) x 0.1 = US$2.78 = KRW 3,000

So how much cheaper would it be in the end?

iPhone 6 Plus 128GB: 1,240,000 - 996,000 - 35,000 = KRW 209,000
iPhone 6 16GB: 850,000 - 676,000 - 3,000 = KRW 171,000

Given that low-cost airline fares for a round trip between Korea and Japan costs around KRW 200,000 or less, the person buying an iPhone 6 (Plus) in Japan will essentially be getting a free trip to Japan for the cost of buying one in Korea. The only major issue with this is that the device will not be eligible for official repairs or refurbishments within Korea.

So if you're a Korean who likes traveling and wants to buy an iPhone, and don't mind going to 3rd party repair shops, then reserve a phone at an Apple Store in Japan and book your flight to pick it up. All this thanks to the outrageous price-gouging by Apple Korea.

Update (16:30): I've taken a look at the prices for LGU+ (3rd largest mobile carrier in Korea) and this is how it goes:

iPhone 6: 16GB 799,000 / 64GB 920,000 / 128GB 1,041,000
iPhone 6 Plus: 16GB 920,000 / 64GB 1,041,000 / 128GB 1,162,000

It's slightly cheaper than what the iPhones traditionally cost from mobile carriers in Korea. It might be because this is the first time LGU+ is able to sell iPhones and it wanted a bit of price advantage.

Update (2014-10-31 10:20): There have been some adjustments and the three carriers have finalized the prices as follows:

iPhone 6: 16GB 789,800 / 64GB 924,000 / 128GB 1,056,000
iPhone 6 Plus: 16GB 924,000 / 64GB 1,056,000 / 128GB 1,188,000

It seems the carriers are trying to boost the total iPhone 6 sales overall by making the cheapest look cheaper. But the other models have increased in price to be just about KRW 50,000 less expensive than the Apple Store price across the board. But since the carriers will charge interest for the monthly installments during the contract period of two years, the total cost should be about the same in the end.
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Summary of iPhone 6 Plus reviews

For nearly a month, I've been using my iPhone 6 Plus every day. As one of the first users of such device in Korea, I decided to take an in-depth look at its improvements and functions whenever I can, to show what the Korean users are going to get soon. Now all the hard work is done, and I present to you the summary of all the reviews I wrote about it.

iPhone 6 series will finally launch in Korea officially on October 31, 2014, according to Apple's official announcement, and carriers are preparing to accept pre-orders about a week before that. I hope these reviews will help you decide if iPhone 6 Plus is right for you.

Preview Summary
0. One of the first iPhone 6 Plus in Korea (2014-09-19)
Wesley gets his iPhone 6 Plus on the first launch day in Japan and brings it to Korea.
1. iPhone 6 Plus - Unboxing & First Look (2014-09-22)
The box containing the iPhone 6 Plus is opened up, and the phone is taken an all-around look. The bump caused by the camera lens is also examined.
2. Protecting my iPhone 6 Plus (2014-09-23)
Front and back side protection films are applied to the iPhone 6 Plus. Then, it is put inside a belt case intended for Galaxy Note series. Apple's own leather case is also tried out.
3. Sizing up the shape & size of iPhone 6 Plus (2014-09-23)
The size, thickness, and shape of the iPhone 6 Plus gets compared to other devices. It is first compared to other iPhones and iPads, then to a comparatively-sized Android smartphone.
4. iPhone 6 Plus - LTE Compatibility & Speed (2014-09-24)
Unlocked iPhone 6 Plus bought overseas is found to have LTE working on Korea's SKT & KT networks automatically. Also, real life LTE speed comparison is made between the 6 Plus and the 5S.
5. iPhone 6 Plus - VoLTE Compatibility (2014-09-25)
Initially, all calls were made in 3G mode despite changing the settings to allow VoLTE. To have the VoLTE actually working, a visit to an SKT branch office and a device registration process was needed.
6. Testing iPhone 6 Plus battery w/o bending (2014-09-29)
Real-life battery discharging and charging tests are performed simultaneously on iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 5S to see the difference. Belt cases made sure the phones didn't bend.
7. iPhone 6 Plus - General Performance (2014-10-01)
Performance comparison across multiple apps are made between iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 5S. This included 3DMark, Geekbench, and various JavaScript tests.
8. iPhone 6 Plus - Camera's Quality (2014-10-01)
Compared to iPhone 5S, the camera on the iPhone 6 Plus has improved dynamic range and enhanced night time photography performance. Image stabilization works well, too.
9. iPhone 6 Plus - Camera's Speed (2014-10-04)
The focusing performance of the iPhone 6 Plus is noticeably more advanced than iPhone 5S. Burst mode shooting and slow-motion video recording also saw improvements.
10. iPhone 6 Plus - M8 Motion Co-processor (2014-10-08)
The M8 motion co-processor and its new barometer are tested out by walking up the stairs and seeing how many floors are registered. Other uses are also taken a look at.
11. How far does iPhone 6+ & SKT's VoLTE go? (2014-10-13)
How the SK Telecom's network treats the attempts to make a VoLTE call from iPhone 6 Plus varies by how the person at the other end is connecting. All the possibilities are tested.
12. Thoughts on a month of iPhone 6 Plus use (2014-10-14)
Using the iPhone 6 Plus one-handed is not as convenient as Apple would hope. However, the big screen that caused this also offers many benefits that maybe considered as worthy trade-offs.

How far does iPhone 6+ & SKT's VoLTE go?

As I mentioned in the previous VoLTE post, all three major mobile carriers in Korea have been supporting VoLTE for quite some time now. One glaring problem, though, is that cross-carrier VoLTE still hasn't been realized, despite years of negotiations. This seem to have introduced some confusion. The truth is that a device can always request a VoLTE call, but it's up to the network to decide to go with it, and if so, fully or just on the surface.

In the case of LGU+, the carrier's aging "2G" CDMA network had been a weak point, so it worked hard to have everything done on LTE, even voice. That's why it'll accept a phone that can do VoLTE even if it doesn't support the needed CDMA frequency band - namely, the iPhone 6 series. ( One caveat is that they are not accepted for registration on the network yet until official Korean debut. This is largely a decision of policy, not technicality. ) If you have such a phone, all calls will be connected as VoLTE no matter what.

But in case of SK Telecom (SKT) or KT, their "3G" WCDMA networks are still widely used. So they don't have the urge to go fully LTE. A call could still be made on either 3G or LTE, depending on the situation. No handsets on these networks get to make all of its calls on VoLTE.

Since I'm on SKT, I made calls to various phone numbers on my VoLTE phone, iPhone 6 Plus, to see how they end up connecting, and what quality they were.

Case Caller 1 Caller 2 Connect 1 Connect 2 Quality
1 SKT VoLTE SKT VoLTE LTE LTE HD Voice
2 SKT VoLTE SKT 3G (AMR-WB) LTE 3G HD Voice
3 SKT VoLTE SKT 2G/3G LTE 2G/3G Normal
4 SKT VoLTE KT / LGU+ VoLTE LTE LTE Normal
5 SKT VoLTE KT / LGU+ 2G/3G LTE 2G/3G Normal
6 SKT VoLTE Landline (02 ~ 064) LTE Landline Normal
7 SKT VoLTE Toll Free (080) LTE Landline Normal
8 SKT VoLTE Special (15xx, 3-digit) 3G Landline Normal
9 SKT VoLTE VoIP (070) 3G Internet Normal

As of this writing, two types of phones on the SKT network, the VoLTE-enabled phones (case 1) and the AMR-WB supported phones without VoLTE (case 2), can make end-to-end HD Voice-quality calls to and from iPhone 6 Plus. AMR-WB codec is the same codec used by VoLTE, but some phones support this only on 3G at a lower bitrate, e.g. iPhone 5 and Xperia Ray.

As mentioned earlier, cross-carrier VoLTE agreements are not yet in place, so calling VoLTE phones on other networks (case 4) ends up degrading quality. I'm hoping this clears up soon because there's no technical reason to be like this.

Meanwhile, most calls connect via LTE, with the exception of special numbers such as the three-digit numbers (including emergency) and the 15xx, 16xx numbers that companies use (case 8), as well as the VoIP numbers with the 070 area code (case 9). I understand that these numbers don't connect with high-quality codecs so LTE connection isn't necessary, but it doesn't explain why regular landline connections do connect via LTE.

iPhone 6 Plus - VoLTE Compatibility

iPhone 6 Plus falling back to 3G for voice calls

Cellular communications have traditionally used separate voice and data channels. But with the advent of smartphones, bulk of the communications now happen on the data channel. It's no coincidence that only the data channel remained by the 4th generation (4G) technology. To carry voice, though, a fallback to 3G or older technology's voice channel was initially needed. But VoLTE (Voice over LTE) came onto the scene to do away with this by letting the data channel handle voice as well.

As with many technologies, Korea was a forerunner in adopting VoLTE. World's first commercial VoLTE service was launched more than two years ago by two of the three major Korean carriers, SK Telecom and LG U+. The remaining one, KT, joined mere two months later. Worldwide adoption didn't really take off until earlier this year, however. About a dozen carriers around the globe now have it. Noting this trend, Apple has decided to enable the capability in the iPhone 6 series.

So naturally, I wanted to see VoLTE on my iPhone 6 Plus in action. It can be enabled in the Settings app by going to Cellular and selecting "Voice and Data" option for LTE. The previous 5/5C/5S models simply have toggle switch for LTE instead, even with iOS 8.0 update. After that, I made voice calls to a lot of different lines, including a VoLTE-enabled phone on the same carrier. But every time, the connection indicator turned from LTE to 3G, showing that VoLTE wasn't working.

iPhone 6 Plus seen as "OMD Default Handset"

I checked to see how the network recognized my iPhone 6 Plus. It was being listed as an OMD Default Handset, the same name that my iPhone 5S was given when it was brought in from the US. In other words, a generic device that it doesn't recognize. Perhaps the network couldn't tell whether the device had a VoLTE capability, so it simply ignored its attempts. It was time to visit my carrier's branch office to get to the bottom of this.
Continue reading "iPhone 6 Plus - VoLTE Compatibility"

Copyright (C) 1996-2018 Wesley Woo-Duk Hwang-Chung. All rights reserved.