I’m one of the fortunate few who get to call Vail, Colorado home. For those that ski or snowboard, you know exactly where I live and either A) will not read the rest of this review (but I hope you do) or B) hate me and my life (don’t judge).
For those of who don’t ski or snowboard, let me explain a little bit about Vail, specifically Vail Resort. Vail has 5,288 skiable acres, making it the second largest ski resort in the United States. Simply put, it is huge. To get from the front side of the mountain to the famous Blue Sky Basin, you have to ski/ride nearly an hour with at least 4 lifts to get you there. Yeah, it’s huge.
The challenge with such a large place is keeping in contact with friends or family while you are on the mountain. Because of the sheer size of Vail, you can easily get separated and end up, literally, miles apart from each other. That’s where the Republic Wireless Relay can come in handy. Running both on WiFi and LTE, the Relay was originally aimed at being a device you could give a child and they could quickly contact their parents. You can still do that of course but for skiers, the Relay is a waterproof, easy-to-use device that can keep you connected in a walkie-talkie fashion with your friends and family. Recently, the team over at Republic Wireless sent Gear Diary two of their Relay devices to review. Having used them the past few weeks, I have to say it is a handy and quick way to get in contact with someone without having to pull out your iPhone.
The Relay is not a phone in the traditional form factor sense. Nor is it a walkie-talkie in the traditional form factor sense. The squircle Relay measures 2.68″ on each side and weighing just 2.5 ounces.
On the top of the squircle is a large button that is pressed to talk to others that are tied to your account. It is made of matte plastic and available in blue, black, and white. Surrounding the talk button is an LED ring. That ring turns green when you press it to talk to someone. Other times, it is blue when it is turned on and ready to communicate. When the Relay is charging, it is a pulsing or solid red depending on if it is charging or is charged.
The top of the Relay is also where you will find the speaker for the device. It surrounds the talk button while you will find volume controls on the top edge. The volume control is one button that you repeatedly press the volume button to turn it up before it goes back down to the minimum volume level. The LED ring around the talk button will light up in continual segments to let you know that the volume is higher. Next to the volume button is the power button which you hold for a few seconds to power on or off the Relay.
Using the Relay is simple. To talk, just press and hold the talk button. You will get an audible tone to let you know it is ready to communicate and you simply talk into the device while continuing to hold down the button. When you are done, release the button. When you are receiving a message, your Relay will vibrate slightly and you will hear the other person talking through your device. Keep in mind that this is near real-time communication, so if you happen to miss a message, you’ll have to ask that person to repeat it.
One of the big benefits of the Relay is the battery life. In my testing for this review, I was able to use the devices for three days on the mountain with chatter back and forth with a friend and my wife before I had to charge them. That’s a big deal as you don’t have to worry about charging it each night like you do your iPhone. When you do have to charge the Relay, it is done by a proprietary four-pin USB cable that magnetically stays in place. It takes several hours to fully charge the device so overnight is best. The one criticism I have is the non-standard cable. It would be great to see an update to the Relay with a USB-C connector (which can easily be made water-resistant). Having to carry another dedicated cable may not sound like a big deal but if you happen to forget it at home when you leave for your ski holiday, you will be out of power in a few days.
Functionally, the Relay is great. In my testing, I was able to use it several miles apart on Vail mountain and at various elevations (me at base and my wife at the top of the mountain, for example). We only had one time when a communication did not go through, which was during a known dead-air spot on one of the gondolas. Otherwise, communications were clear and easy to understand.
Finally, if you have a family member who you want to be in the conversation but they don’t have a physical Relay device, that’s not a problem. The Relay app is available for both iPhone and Android, and it gives you the same ability to talk to a Relay device.
If you are looking for a quick and easy way to stay in contact with friends and family while on the slopes, give the Republic Wireless Relay a serious consideration. With outstanding battery life, a compact design, and a simple-to-use device, it is hard to go wrong, especially for the price. The Relay is priced at $49 and there is a $9.99 per month data fee; you can learn more about it or purchase it here. Given that you can leverage the Republic Wireless network from anywhere in the country where they have coverage, it’s not a bad deal at all.
Source: Republic Wireless provided two Relay units for review
What I like: Size, battery life, and overall performance
What Needs Improving: Would be great to see USB-C (or even Micro-USB) charging instead of the proprietary power cable