L5 roaming in Japan

Hi all,

I traveled to Japan during January and this was the first time using my L5 in a different country. I thought I’d just post some info about my experience and hopefully also get feedback from others on how they work around some of the challenges.

Firstly, I should point out that while I only had the L5, I was traveling with a group of people that had Android phones, so we did often fallback on these.

For this trip I paid for a roaming package through my local provider. This worked generally well, except that there was a 5-10 minute initialization period from turning the modem on, to having a working modem (some sort of roaming registration?). Unfortunately, I occasionally lose data connectivity (as is reported by others - I believe there is already an issue for this), but normally I can just reset the the modem via the kill-switch to get my internet connectivity back. My issue here was that resetting the modem re-incurred the same 5-10 minute timeout before anything worked again.
Other than that, the data connection worked fine, as did sending and receiving calls and SMS.

This is obviously a big topic and a difficult one for L5 users, since Google maps offers so many useful functions here. I used Pure maps, and OSM scout server and pre-downloaded maps of Japan. The GPS was very difficult to get a first fix amongst the buildings in Tokyo and it really requires finding a park, or somewhere that is not occluded. After the first fix, the GPS was definitely much easier to get fixes with, but I preferred to run the test_gnss script at the same time so that I could see when the GPS was being used versus other forms of localisation.
Finding places to eat using OSM maps is fairly difficult, especially with the language difference. I have never liked the fact that holiday locations are often dictated by G Maps or some other site, but at the same time I don’t really have better suggestions. We used a mix of G Maps on the Android phone, duck duck go maps (which I think is apple maps), trip adviser and other blogs (which often had the best spots actually). Actually working out what the addresses were though (the sites are obviously in Japanese) and finding that location in pure maps is challenging. The ability in G Maps to show places to eat close to where you are with ratings is difficult to replace though.
Another major difficulty in Japan is routing on public transport. Again G Maps does this seamlessly, can work out the most efficient transfers between train lines, and uses live train data in its decisions. I found another website japantravel.navitime.com/en/ that supports train routing, and with some effort (setting display to 100%) could be used on the L5.

I have a Nexdock (also purchased from Purism), which i used as my only laptop on the trip. It was workable, but the connectivity is still really buggy. I need to change the primary display to the nexdock everytime it is plugged in. The display sometimes doesn’t show, or sometimes the phone crashes altogether. When using the nexdock, my VPN and a USB wireless mouse at the same time, often sudo itself segfaults and a bunch of system processes hang, breaking gnome settings, and even preventing a reboot (the phone hangs). I have often had to use the power button to force the phone off.
The phone constantly overheats in this mode, such that it stops charging. It often crashes when disconnecting from the Nexdock (especially if i try to use it in single display mode).

Other apps
A key app for traveling in Japan as an English-speaker is Google translate. We used it on the Android phones and it helped us multiple times (translating menus, using a laundromat, navigating ATMs, using kiosks). There are a couple of other websites (Yandex was one I saw) that have some capability to do this, but G Translate is the only one I’ve seen that takes real-time video and translates in place. This results in a much faster understanding, and when you have a line of impatient people behind you, you want to be as fast as possible. Also the other sites I tried were not as accurate.
We did the Shibuya sky-view, which I booked on the L5. Thankfully the tickets came as an emailed set of PNGs, which worked really well with the L5.

I didn’t really use the L5 to take pictures during the trip (we did use the Android phones for this). Whenever I tried to take a picture, the lighting was challenging and nothing came out that well. I was able to use the QR reader though, which was very handy for ordering at some places. I’ll probably think about buying a dedicated camera for traveling, because I think that should produce better pictures than any of the phones we had.

Final thoughts
I don’t want this post to come across too negative - I like my L5 and the experience of using is much better than the Pinephone. When traveling, however, there really are a lot of features built-in to Android or G Apps that make your life easier.
I hope that a couple of the issues I had (modem data connectivity, convergence issues) are eventually fixable which would make the experience slightly better.
I am keen to hear other’s experiences in traveling and whether they were able to make use of additional services / applications that I’m not using currently.


I still mostly use Lockdown Mode abroad; otherwise I only permit Wi-Fi. Later on, I either forget the network or reflash a new image.

Instead of navigation apps, I rely on people traveling with me who already know the area well. I also buy my own groceries “locally” instead of dining outdoors.

No convergence experience yet.

Instead of Google Translate, I use SimplyTranslate. I also do not care about how long it takes to perform the task at hand, only that I perform it well. In Japan, you should automatically be granted the “foreigner’s pass” in tourist areas.

I do not use cameras.

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There’s nothing wrong with L5 camera - works well even in Japan. Here’s Osaka castle:


Thanks for sharing, that is great!

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Just curious, as you didn’t say, which modem variant is in your L5?

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Probably Asia, as they mentioned about Australia in their other thread.

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Yes, I just saw that thread now.

Good report, @scottt and thanks.

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Thanks for the responses.

@FranklyFlawless - slightly different use cases to me, as I still needed to be contactable.
Unfortunately there was no local knowledge in our group, we were all visiting Japan for the first time.
I had a look at SimplyTranslate now - thanks for the suggestion.
It doesn’t look like it supports image translation though? I guess entering Kanji into a text box on the L5 is possible?
I get that people are usually friendly and accommodating, but there is still pressure if you’re e.g., trying to order food using a kiosk (as was somewhat common) and there’s only one, there’s a queue of people behind you, and the restaurant staff are getting irritated because you’re currently losing them money.

@JR-Fi that picture is very nice. I probably need to experiment with the camera a little more - generally photography is not something that I have gotten into, so often the times I tried to take pictures the lighting conditions were challenging (and maybe would’ve caused issues for any phone).

@amarok - the modem is the T1 variant
I guess that’s an interesting point that in my case I probably had the best modem for the trip, whereas getting stable connections might be more challenging in the US or Europe with this modem.


It does not, but you can use the service without JavaScript, so it works great with the Tor Browser.

No, but Kana is fine.

Maybe in that situation, it would have been a good idea to just ask “Do you speak-a my language?:wink:


I think I have encountered that bug. I think that if using single display mode with a lapdock (as I do), it is best to switch the primary display back before disconnecting the lapdock.

Thanks for posting your experience.

Most likely, yes.

Likely yes. I just hope that one day a “global modem” that is drop-in compatible is produced by Broadmobi. Then we can forget about the three modem variants.

For an actual overseas holiday, yes, I would bring along a digital camera, which can do things like optical zoom.

Where I really want a workable (not great) camera on a mobile phone is for very much incidental photography, taking an unplanned photograph when I am out and about, having my phone with me but not having a digital camera with me.

On the other hand, I guess some people swear by selfie-sticks, and that probably doesn’t work well with a digital camera. :wink:


Whereas many swear at selfie -sticks. :wink:


It would be great if the L5’s camera could someday - with user authorization - operate while it’s locked, as many smartphones can. Then it would be possible to capture the unexpected, fleeting moment, e.g. nature snaps, a hit-and-run, etc.


This gets off track but, my wish would be to have a physical button for that. Maybe the volume button (if there is no sound/music playing)…?


Someone correct me if I’m wrong( @FranklyFlawless )… but I think that with Crimson, Phosh allows you to launch apps from the lockscreen.

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