Using GCash in Japan, ‘Star Trek’ translators on the Samsung Galaxy series

Like many Filipinos, I recently took a trip to Japan over the Holy Week. Not to see the cherry blossoms’ first bloom, but to dwell into an irony that many travelers have observed in their sojourns to the Land of the Rising Sun. That is, as high-tech and quirky the Japanese can be with robots, high speed trains, and fast Internet, they seem to be struggling with cashless payments. Unlike the Philippines where mass adoption of QR payments and cashless e-wallets from GCash, Maya, GoTyme, and the like are so ubiquitous, it isn’t as prevalent in Japan. To be clear, Japan does have ewallet payment options such as Rakuten Pay and PayPay but as a tourist landing in Narita Airport, you will soon realize how big of a cash dump it will be when you start buying tickets for the train. The purchase of a Suica card for public transport will set you back 3000 JP¥ and the Narita Express to Tokyo will set you back around 5,000 JP¥ – all in cash from the JR office.

If you are a Filipino traveling to Japan, it’s no secret that the accumulation of Yen can start more than a week from the day of travel as a lot of money changers run out of the Japanese currency quite fast, especially during the Holy Week and the weekend of Halloween – two long weekends for Filipinos who choose Japan as a travel destination. To save your cash for smaller establishments like your hole in the wall izakaya, you can opt to use your GCash e-wallet for purchases. I spoke to Renren Reyes, CEO of G-Xchange, Inc and he told us that because of their partnership with AliPay+, Filipinos can make use of GCash to make purchases in several popular tourist destinations. What I found delightful was that the exchange rate was better than using a credit card or debit card, as many establishments implement a transaction fee (usually around 300 JP¥ for debit card usage, or a percent charge for credit cards). GCash via AliPay+ does not. I was able to test this out in many popular establishments including 7-Eleven, Family Mart, drugstores and most shopping malls around the Asakusa, Ginza, and Shibuya areas.

Traveling to Japan? You can get better rates by paying with AliPay+ through GCash. Rates are much better than using credit cards or debit cards. #Alipay #Japan #japantraveltips

? ??? – SHISE

For those unfamiliar, the AliPay+ button appears when you open the QR code scanner. You just need to click on the rectangle below the scanner with the AliPay+ logo and it will proceed to generate a barcode. In the Philippines, we are used to scanning QR codes. In Japan, it’s the other way around – cashiers will scan you. I asked Reyes about some impediments using the app, such as faulty Internet connections and delays in generating the barcode, “Yes sometimes it does take a little long to generate the QR code, but we are improving this already (and) by May should be able to generate within 10 seconds.” I asked if one could generate the barcode beforehand and print it out or keep a copy on the phone for easier transactions, but it seems unlike QR codes, the barcode is generated per transaction and printing it out will deem it invalid. From experience I was able to make use of AliPay+ most of the time. Those times I was not able to generate a barcode, I simply used the GCash VISA debit card and the exchange rate was actually quite similar to the listed rate in GCash (be aware that some establishments may have small debit card fees, but again, it still beats using up your cash).

I’ve been wanting to make practical use of the AI Translator app on my Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra. If you’re using previous Galaxy models, Samsung recently opened the floodgates to the AI apps with the new One UI 6.1 firmware that will work for the Galaxy S23 Series, Galaxy S23 FE, Galaxy Z Flip5, Galaxy Z Fold5, and Galaxy Tab S9 series.

Because the Interpreter app is a language pack, it means that I can use it offline. Before my trip, I downloaded the Japanese language pack and … that was it. No additional set up necessary! Before, I used to get by with basic hand signals and a lot of pointing in stores. Now, I can indulge in some nuances with the Interpreter, as it enables me to speak phrases which are then translated into Japanese (both text and voice). For common phrases that have easy answers, I just screenshot the app and show it to the storekeepers.

This post originally appeared in my PhilSTAR Tech column.


WiFi 7 ready TP-Link Archer BE230 router is only P5,990

I’ve learned the hard way that setting up your home WiFi system might be a little trickier than expected. In fact, the only time you know that everything works perfectly is when you don’t notice it’s working well: your movies are streaming, your downloads are working, your games have great ping. But once your connection chokes, it’s as if you’re on a bus and the driver makes a sudden stop, hurling you into one big inconvenience.


Remy Martin turns 300

Born in 1724, the House of Rémy Martin will celebrate 300 years of exceptional cognac-making this year. To mark its tricentenary, the House will connect past, present, and future with a year of special activities around the theme ‘We Dream Forward’ and the release of an exceptional cognac, the 300th Anniversary Coupe. For three centuries the House has combined craft and innovation, passing it forward to build sustainable exceptions for the future.

Mostly Everything

Pure bliss: HUAWEI Pura 70 Pro

As a tech journalist I have had a long career following HUAWEI and the products it has launched in the country. I remember how they made the first LTE dongle for SMART when it debuted 4G in the Philippines back in 2011. I was there when they released the most affordable Windows Mobile phone ‘Ascend‘ for less than P10,000 in 2013. In 2018 I got to experience HUAWEI’s Innovation Lab summit which also coincided with the launch of the P20 series. I got that phone for myself that same year and it has lasted me through the pandemic. The P20 was amazing because this was the time when phone manufacturers were fiddling with improved night mode photography and the P20 was at least one year ahead of the competition with impressive low-noise night shots. 


Huawei Watch 4 boasts eSIM and future support for GCash

This post originally appeared in Philippine STAR’s Tech section.

The first Huawei smartwatch I bought for myself was the green GT4 last year from Abenson. I was enamored by the fact that it didn’t look like a typical smart watch, and that it had a round bezel (the main reason why I’m not a fan of the Apple Watch). My fascination for the Huawei GT4 has officially extended to the Huawei Watch 4 (yes the nomenclature can be confusing), which is essentially the same device but with support for eSiM, WiFi, and ewallets.

The Watch 4 is presented with a 46mm bezel, available only in one color, which is black. The straps are compatible with any 20mm watch strap you can find in the market. By default, the stock strap is black rubber. Unlike the GT4, it comes with a 530mAh removable battery.

One feature being paraded by Huawei is the promise of GCash integration to the Watch 4, which comes with a wallet feature that I can only assume allows you to integrate with different ewallets from around the world, subject to support. Similar to scanning a QR code on your phone, Huawei has a ‘quick pay’ feature that links your ewallet to your phone screen. This allows vendors to scan barcodes on the watch without having to use your phone. Again, I have yet to try this feature in real life, but we are hoping the GCash compatibility with ‘quick pay’ happens soon.

Revisiting the Huawei Health App

As a regular user of the fitness tracker, I will have to say that the Watch 4 performs similarly with no hitches. Since the time I have written about it last year, Huawei has stabilized compatibility with Strava sync, allowing me to synchronize Strava exercises (both with and without GPS). I’ve been using the Watch 4 on my weekend bike trips and I have no complaints.

The ease of eSIM

If you have been using smart watches in the past, integrating an eSIM makes the most sense as it allows the watch to be truly independent (to an extent) from your smartphone. Essentially, adding an eSIM turns your watch into its own phone, allowing notifications, calls, and SMS to be sent and received without intervention from the Bluetooth connectivity from your smartphone. But this also implies that having data and cellular connectivity on a watch greatly reduces battery life. From the usual lifespan of more than a week, the Watch 4, on mobile data, brought me about a day’s worth of battery. This isn’t a point against the watch per se. It’s just the nature of the beast.

Linking an eSIM to the Watch 4 was a breeze. I simply had to scan the QR code from the Huawei Health app on the phone, and it immediately linked the Globe prepaid number. You’ll know everything went well if you start seeing a mobile phone and data signal on the watch face.

The Huawei Health app has several options to help preserve data and battery life on the watch. For instance, it can pause mobile data when the watch connects to the phone via Bluetooth. And just like a phone, it has options to help preserve battery life, like simply turning off data.

Who is this for?

There’s no denying that smart watches and fitness bands are ubiquitous. But the Huawei Watch 4 stands out for two reasons – eSIM support and the promise of GCash ewallet integration.

The Huawei Watch 4 is now available for P23,999.