|Intro, Service, and the Handset|
|When something sounds too good to be true, we’re as skeptical as anyone, which is why we raised an eyebrow at Republic Wireless last year when the company pledged to offer unlimited mobile service--that’s unlimited talk, text, and data, mind you--for just $19 a month, without any contracts. Compare that number to current wireless offerings and Republic Wireless' proposed $19 plan seems like a total impossibility.
However, Republic Wireless held to its promise, announcing two large-scale rounds of beta testing last year and finally offering its absurdly low-priced plans to all late last fall.
Republic Wireless pulls off this feat by leveraging WiFi; whenever your phone is connected to a hotspot (i.e., your home or work networks), it will make calls and surf the Web via WiFi instead of using more expensive 3G networks. When it’s not connected via WiFi, it will fall back on Sprint’s mobile network.
That approach makes a lot of sense. Most of us spend quite a bit of time near a secure WiFi network at home or at work, so why not use it automatically, even for phone calls? And to bridge the gap more smoothly, Republic Wireless easily and smoothly switches between WiFi and 3G networks by adding WiFi Hybrid Calling Technology to its handset, the Motorola DEFY XT.
Ah yes, the “handset”--singular, not plural. This is the only catch to Republic Wireless’ service: Users are limited to just a single phone option, and because there’s no service contract with Republic Wireless, there’s no discount on the Motorola DEFY XT. The phone isn't cheap, either; it will run you $249 in addition to a $10 startup fee.
That means no iPhones, Samsung Galaxies, HTC Ones, or Nokia Windows Phones. For some people, that tradeoff is a deal breaker, but for others, the Motorola DEFY XT may not be a bad option.
This is a midrange phone running an older version of Android with a single core processor, a small amount of RAM, and limited onboard storage--in other words, by today's standards, the DEFY XT is a starter smartphone. However, the DEFY XT is a rugged device, which is a big plus; it’s water- and dust-resistant, and the back of the phone has a rubberized grip to help users avoid dropping it. The MotoSwitch UI allows you to switch the phone back and forth between work and personal modes to keep your work and personal life separate, and the DEFY XT has FM radio capabilities, too.
Of course, users have access to the Google Play Store, but Republic Wireless preloads the device with plenty of apps. There are the usual suspects such as Gmail, a calendar, phone, email, YouTube, a Web browser, a notepad, a calculator, camera, and image gallery, but we counted nearly four dozen preloaded apps (including setup and settings-type apps). Republic Wireless included everything from a simple flashlight app to QuickOffice.
|Testing and Final Thoughts|
|We wanted to look at both the service and the hardware to get as clear a picture as possible of the value that Republic Wireless is offering. To start things off, we put the DEFY XT through a couple of benchmark tests to see what the hardware is capable of. Bear in mind that we compared this phone to older handsets sporting similar specs; newer phones will blow most of these scores out of the water.
As you can see, performance is mostly middling, although the battery life is excellent. Note that we usually run the battery test on mobile phones with WiFi turned off, but in this case that doesn’t make any sense because the DEFY XT relies on WiFi for calls and general connectivity, so that score is all the more impressive.
We were curious if we’d be able to detect a difference in call quality when talking over WiFi versus out and about on Sprint’s network, and in fact, we could not. That said, we found that there was a noticeable, but slight amount of crackling on all calls, no matter when or where we chatted. Otherwise, the call quality was clear with solid audibility.
As you might expect, the Motorola DEFY XT’s hardware performance isn’t anything to get too excited about, but then again nobody is claiming that this is anything but a midrange phone. And for as much as I love having a larger display on my phone, there’s something to be said for toting around a device with a smaller footprint. The DEFY XT t’s so small that you forget that it’s in your pocket. The ruggedized features of the device are a plus, too.
In terms of usability, we didn’t find that making calls over WiFi was an issue at all, and in any case, handsets jump connections between towers and networks (eg, 3G to 2G) all the time, so the WiFi-to-cell tower handoff isn’t a big deal. And even if the WiFi is acting screwy, you can just disable the WiFi calling and fall back on the Sprint network anyway.
It hurts a bit to imagine forking over $249 for this phone, but the unreal savings you can get from paying so little per month makes up for the initial sticker shock. Consider this: If you pay $75 per month for an individual “unlimited” phone plan and get the phone free with a 2-year contract, you’ll be paying about $1,800 for 24 months of service; if you roll with Republic Wireless, you’d be paying for the phone and $19 per month, which works out to $705 for the same time period. That’s a savings of nearly $1,100. Spread out over two years, that’s actually more than $45 per month back in your pocket.
Republic Wireless recently unveiled a plan that reduces the initial cost of the handset and ups the monthly fee somewhat, so you can get a DEFY XT for $99 and pay $29 per month instead of $19. (Over two years, that works out to $795.)
The company says that there are plans in the works to add more phones to the service at both higher and lower tiers, so those hoping for a better phone and those more interested in less expensive options will both be pleased. That said, Republic Wireless was mum on exactly which phones those might be and when they might be available.
If you’re as particular about your phone as most of us are around here, this service and its lone handset option may not be for you. But make no mistake, Republic Wireless is for real, and it offers an excellent value. In other words, it’s not too good to be true.