Japan Communications Inc. unveiled on Thursday a new smartphone designed in collaboration with Vaio Corp. to energize the market for SIM-free smartphones in Japan.

The Vaio Phone will debut March 20, according to the Tokyo-based mobile virtual network operator that borrows mobile communication networks from NTT Docomo Inc. and provides budget SIM cards.

Vaio is the brand name Sony used for its personal computer business and is famous for high-spec devices with sleek designs. Nagano-based Vaio Corp. still manufactures computers under the brand.

The black Vaio Phone uses the Android 5.0 operating system and has a 13 megapixel rear camera and 5 megapixel front camera. It weighs 130 grams.

Japan Communications Chief Operating Officer Naohisa Fukuda said numerous firms from different fields are now providing budget SIM cards for smartphones, but “when you look at the market for SIM-free handsets,we haven’t seen real competition yet.”

Consumers have few choices in SIM-free smartphones and are limited to either very cheap models or expensive older units made by Japanese firms, said Fukuda.

“The center of the strike zone is wide open, so we’ve decided to focus on this zone,” Fukuda said.

Some reporters pointed out during a question-and-answer session that the specifications of the Vaio Phone don’t match those of other makers’ premium models and won’t meet the expectations of Vaio fans.

But Fukuda stressed that the phone will have a variety of software features, including strong security, and the monthly cost will be ¥2,980 including the handset price and 1 gigabyte of data usage. If users want to pay the handset fee up front, it will be ¥51,000.

Asked if Vaio will offer competition for Sony’s smartphones, Vaio President Takayuki Sekitori said the firm has no such intention, and that Sony’s handsets are mainly for customers of major carriers.

Vaio was launched last July after Sony sold the computer business to Japan Industrial Partners Inc.

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