Save Money on Talk, Text, and Data in 2012 with Republic Wireless

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From now until 2013, we’re going to take a look at some New Year’s Resolutions and a Gear Diary way to help you keep them. First up…

New Year Resolution: Spend Less on Cellular in 2013

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republic wireless offers one single handset. If you want more choices you need to go somewhere else.

republic wireless offers a handset with just a 3.7″ screen. If you want something larger go somewhere else.

republic wireless offers a handset running Android 2.3 Gingerbread. If you want something newer go somewhere else.

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While it might seem that republic wireless is the worst cellular option available today, if you live in the US the company actually makes a compelling case for itself. Yes, there are actually some excellent reasons you might want to consider getting a republic wireless phone in the new year.

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republic has a wide variety of phones available from which to choose, so long as the phone you want is the Motorola DEFY XT. Yes, as noted in the introduction, republic wireless offers a single hardware choice. In fact, republic wireless offers a single mobile plan as well. You see, choice is not the republic wireless’ forte. What is? Saving people money.

republic is for people who are budget conscious or people who have simply grown tired of the ridiculous rates and whimsical policy changes we see with the major carriers. One way they streamline their approach is to currently offer just one single handset– the Motorola DEFY XT. This is also because of technological requirements that need to be baked into any phone the company offers; more on that in a bit.

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The Motorola DEFY XT is smaller than the iPhone 4, has a single core processor and has just 1GB of built-in storage. And that’s BEFORE taking the operating system into account. It is upgradable to 32GB, but the phone only ships with a 2GB microSD. Oh, and it only runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, an operating system first introduced in December of 2010 (that’s ancient by smartphone standards.) But here’s the really odd thing — this phone doesn’t suck.

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Seriously, while the DEFY XT is small and outdated, it actually handled everything I threw at it quite well. Better still, the small, dense phone feels quite nice in the hand.

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Features include:

  • Android operating system
  • 3.7 inch Corning Gorilla Glass display
  • Front facing VGA webcam, plus a 5 megapixel rear facing camera with autofocus, LED flash, and 4X digital zoom
  • Wi-Fi and Sprint 3G coverage with dual-band reception
  • Dust-proof, waterproof and scratch resistant.

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It’s surprising to me, someone who’s not a huge fan of Android in the first place, that a phone running a two-year-old version of Android could actually serve me just fine. Among the things that truly surprised me was the ability to do excellent voice recognition using Google’s voice to text transcription process. Not only has Google vastly improved the system, but the small phone clearly has a good enough microphone to be able to capture audio accurately enough for excellent quality transcription. I should know, since I’m writing this post using the DEFY XT!

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The screen isn’t all too impressive. It’s a 3.7 inch diagonal that has a resolution of 480 x 854. (By comparison, the iPhone 5 offers a 4″ diagonal screen at 1136-by-640.

It offers Bluetooth 3.0 (not the Bluetooth 4.0 we are currently seeing in many handsets) and USB 2.0. Wi-Fi comes as 802.11 B/G/N.

The front camera is passable; it won’t win any awards, but it will work in a pinch. The rear camera is functional as well. No, we aren’t talking about the high-quality photos you can take with the iPhone 5, the current crop of Android handsets, or the new Windows Phone 8 cameras from Nokia, but it certainly is good enough for casual photography.

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This isn’t a phone for anyone who wants the newest, biggest, or fastest phone. It is, however, a decent phone for the vast majority of people. It makes excellent phone calls, runs all of the apps you might need, and works just fine for email, texting and the like.

And while it is the smallest phone I have held in the past few years, I find it surprisingly comfortable to hold and use. I’m actually rather smitten with it. Perhaps the reason for this is that I carry my iPad Mini with me everywhere, so I rely on my iPhone and Windows Phone less and less as a pocket computer. The iPad Mini has taken over that job.

And there’s one more strike against this phone. While you can get the latest and greatest phones for as little as $99 on contract – sometimes even less – this phone will cost you $249 plus a $10 start up fee. That’s right, republic wireless offers no phone subsidies what-so-ever. Just think about that – you can get an iPhone 5 on contract for less than this phone will cost you.

Yes, on paper this phone should be a joke as 2013 approaches, but this phone is no joke. And there are hundreds of reasons you might want to consider switching to it.

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So let’s sum up what we know so far. republic wireless offers a single phone. That phone is unsubsidized and costs $249. There is an additional $10 start up fee for a total of $259 just to get the hardware. And the phone you’ll need to purchase for $259 has specs straight out of 2010. Ouch!

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Yet republic wireless is worth a look. Why? Because once you purchase the phone you will pay just $19 a month for unlimited talk, text and wireless data. There are no hidden fees, no overage charges, and no confusing plans from which to choose. One $19 a month plan, and it is truly unlimited.

The upfront $259 charge for the phone doesn’t look that bad now, does it?

Let’s break that down.

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My current AT&T wireless bill is just under $250 per month. For that, Elana and I have two iPhones and one iPad with unlimited talk and text and 10 GB of shared data. If we switched to republic wireless, we could have two smartphones for $40 plus tax. My iPad would have a separate data plan that would run somewhere between $30 and $50. Our maximum cost per month would be $100. Multiply by 12 months and you’re talking serious dollars.

With the cost differential being that significant, you might be wondering about hidden fees or other slight-of-hand tricks. The fact is, there aren’t any. republic is simply built around the ways in which people connect in 2012/2013, and it leverages the fact that WiFi has become increasingly ubiquitous.

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So while the major carriers began as voice companies who later added data connectivity, republic is leveraging the fact that people now spend 60% or more of their time in one Wi-Fi network or another. I know that in my case, my amount of time on a WiFi network is probably significantly higher, since the bulk of my time is either at home or at the office.

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The Motorola DEFY XT is specifically designed to choose a Wi-Fi network over and above any 3G connectivity for data, text AND voice calls. So, for example, when I’m at home, the phone uses my Wi-Fi network to go online but also uses WiFi to make Voice over IP (VOiP) calls. When I leave the house, the phone jumps onto Sprint’s 3G cellular network and uses it for the period of time that I don’t have access to Wi-Fi. Then, upon reaching my office, the phone jumps onto my work’s Wi-Fi network. All told, in this particular scenario, there is about a half hour when the phone is using Sprint’s cellular data. Best of all, the phone does all the transitions automatically without you ever knowing it is happening. It is because of this switching technology that anyone switching to republic is required to use a phone designed specifically for the company.

Here’s how the company explains it in the literature.

$19 a month for true unlimited talk, text and all you can use wireless data.

Yep, you read that right. The world of wireless billing for smartphones is set to change – republic wireless, the nation’s first Wi-Fi eccentric mobile operator, has launched its online store where anyone can sign up and start saving big on their next wireless smart phone bill.

At republic wireless we think a truly smart smart phone should make a habit of using Wi-Fi for everything. Surfing. Texting. Sharing. And yes, even talking. And you definitely shouldn’t have to download any special apps to get on the web instead of a cellular network. The beauty of republic wireless is hybrid calling, which allows you to harness the power of Wi-Fi for calls, texts and data. And when you don’t have Wi-Fi coverage – no worries. The hybrid calling on your republic wireless phone switches to Sprint cellular network so you are never without coverage.

And if you are still skeptical let’s look at two of the key points in the FAQ.

Can I bring my own phone?

No. The ultimate in smartphone freedom would be using the phone you want, on the network you want, whenever you want. We agree – and are working toward that ideal. There are some technical challenges we face to make this happen. For starters, we have a custom ROM for hybrid calling. ROM is “built in” computer memory containing the programming that allows your smartphone to be “booted up” or read generated each time you turn it on. Other challenges include phones that are locked by other carriers as well as TRL updates. For now, biggest sale makes the rules. However, android phones, Wi-Fi and the Web fuel our optimism that the future could look very different.

What’s the catch?

There is none – And we are so sure about that, that we are offering a risk free 30 day guarantee. Really, it’s easy to be a Wi-Fi person. Research shows that most people are around Wi-Fi networks 60% of the time, and growing. If that’s you, that all you have to do is set up your phone one time to access the Wi-Fi you have at home, work, and whatever else you spend time. Our technology takes care of the rest.

Personally I was skeptical at first. But once I set up the phone on my home wireless network it worked smoothly. Truth be told, I’m probably the best test customer for this approach, since my cell calls from home are already routed over my home data connection. I get no cell reception in my house and, instead, have all calls routed over an AT&T microcell.

All told I think this a fantastic idea that gets you a small, rugged — albeit outdated — phone that works well and saves significant dollars.

Of course you have to be willing to use the specific phone they currently support, but that shouldn’t be a huge deal for many people. For example, I showed the phone to my in-laws and, after explaining republic’s approach, they said that had they not just bought iPhones and committed to a two-year contract, this might have been something they wold have considered. So while republic wireless isn’t for me (because I want phone freedom) and it isn’t for my in-laws (because they are now both locked into two-year AT&T contracts), you might find it worth a look. Sure it will cost you a bit more up front, but the saving will start rolling in as soon as you make the switch. You can learn more at

MSRP: $249 for the phone, $10 startup fee, $19 a month plus tax for unlimited voice, text and data

What I Like: Solid, functional phone; Runs Android OS; Amazing price for unlimited talk, text and data; Uncomplicated plan that requires no long-term commitment

What Needs Improvement: Outdated phone; Requires you have WiFi; No choice in phone; Sprint coverage; You’ll need to buy the phone up front

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

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5 replies

  1. Cool review Dan!

    When I did the review just over a year ago of the ‘open beta’, there were three issues:

    – the initial phone DID kinda suck. The Defy XT is a much better phone … but then I have always been a Moto Droid junkie :)

    – The whole WiFi/Cell hand-off was terribly wonky. It has gotten much better according to folks I know – to the point of no longer being an issue.

    – Sprint coverage. This is *definitely* worth checking into … I would have given our kids smartphones a year ago if Sprint had *any* coverage out here.

    So if you can deal with a phone that performs below a Galaxy SII and have decent Sprint coverage … *definitely* check this out.

  2. Wow, they’re overcharging pretty hard for the Defy.

    I bought a Defy+ (slightly different design but same basic phone as offered by Republic) for AU$99 brand new from one of our local carriers as a backup for my iPhone.

    • Mitchell, I’m not really sure the price comparison holds. While $249 is steep it is for an unlocked phone that ALSO gives you access to a $19/month unlimited plan. Looking at the phone separate and apart from the network and THAT cost doesn’t yield the real pricing.

      • To be honest, I don’t really think that holds either.

        Obviously we are talking different markets, but here you could pickup a Defy for $99 (or something else half decent around the $100-150 range), and get on an unlimited calls/SMS + 6GB data prepaid deal for AU$29/mth.

        I see that Republic offer unlimited data, but since their whole premise is you use WiFi most of the time, I think the vast majority could last on 6GB cellular data and have their smartphone automatically pickup their WiFi for data (as with Republic) when available.

        That prepaid deal also doesn’t lock you into a single phone with a weird (but neat) WiFi/Cell system.

        • Well let’s look at my option here in the states (mind you, I’m NOT making the switch so this is all theoretical). AT&T’s Mobile Share plan will let Elana and me unlimited call and text and also share 4GB of data for $70/month. They also, however, charge $40 per phone that shares that data. That means $150 on ATT vs under $50. And IF we could get away with a 1GB plan it would STILL be $130 vs the sub $50 on Republic.