Republic Wireless

Republic Wireless has been kicking around in beta form for about a year now, and they have recently allowed me to spend some time with their phone and their service. I'll admit, I went into it all a bit skeptical. I understand the phone choice (the lowly Motorola Defy XT) is far from ideal for an Android power user, but that's not what had me scrutinizing things so closely. It was the whole idea of unlimited calls, texts, and data for just 20 bucks a month using a Wifi connection when available, and how well things would work when one wasn't.

Republic is doing something that I love to see -- shaking up the status quo that the carriers in the United States have worked so hard to build. Delivering something different is important, and if it turns out to be more consumer friendly then we all win. I really wanted this to be a worthwhile service that provides an alternative for the value conscious smart phone buyer. Hit the break and see what I think.

The Phone

Motorola Defy XT

Here's the part that most folks reading Android Central won't like. Because Republic uses special software, you can only use their approved phones on the service. Right now, the only approved phone is the Motorola Defy XT. It's far from a powerhouse. It wasn't a powerhouse when it first hit the scene last year, and it was never supposed to be a powerhouse.

What the Defy XT is, is a rugged (literally -- it's water resistant, dust-proof and scratch-proof) low-end smart phone that will take the beating of riding around in your pocket and not complain about it. You don't have the latest version of Android, and you never will. 

Defy XT

I'm not going to review the phone itself, but I will give a quick overview. A look at the specs:

  • 3.7-inch LCD at 480 x 854 resolution
  • Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
  • Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon (MSM7227A)
  • Adreno 200 GPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 1GB internal storage
  • SD card slot
  • 1650 mAh battery
  • 5MP rear camera with LED flash

Everything on the phone works as you would expect it to. Calls (more on that later), GPS, Bluetooth, etc. etc. When you move into Google Play and start to try and push the envelope, you'll certainly find yourself in situations where things get slow and laggy. My ultimate benchmark -- Riptide GP -- actually played fairly well on the little Defy XT, but this thing wasn't designed to play immersive 3D games..

Battery life was very much dependent on how I was using the phone. Sitting in my office and on Wifi the battery was excellent (as expected) because it's never looking for a cellular signal, and not connected via a cell radio for voice calling. On 3G things weren't quite as rosy. General use as a communications device -- email, phone calls, messaging -- will leave you with a dead battery by evening. 

You shouldn't be choosing your service provider by the hardware they offer, and the lure of using Republic isn't the phone. Having said that, Republic has indicated that they will be releasing more compelling phones soon. 

The service

Republic Wireless

This is the important part. There are two ways to get started. You can pay $249 up front for the phone, and pay $19 monthly for completely unlimited service. Alternatively, you can buy in at $99 for the phone and pay $29 monthly for your service. There no hidden fees, no contracts, and no surprises. In addition, Motorola is offering $50 in Google Play credit with the purchase of the Defy XT on Republic Wireless. Either option sounds like a fine choice, as it will take you 20 months of service for the cheaper priced plan to give a savings over the more expensive one.

The phone acts just like any other Android phone. You sign into your Wifi access point and it drops the 3G data connection to use it. We're all used to how that works. But in this case, it also drops voice service and uses Republic's VoIP service for calls. When you're not in range of a Wifi access point, the phone uses Sprint's service for voice and 3G data. If you're in the middle of a call and leave Wifi range, the call drops, you connect to cellular, and the phone automatically redials. Because you can use Wifi for calling, you'll want to. It's better on the battery, offers better voice service, and you know where the dead spots are at home or work. Republic counts on users utilizing Wifi, and that's what keeps costs down. 

Wifi Calls  Xellular Calls

To the end-user, the experience is mostly seamless. You use the same dialer to make calls whether you're on Wifi or 3G. The calls were nice and clear, but there is a slight echo sometimes, just like you'll hear with T-Mobile's Wifi calling. The receiving party doesn't hear it, and it's not horrible -- but it's there. Text messages are done the same way, and with the latest update from Republic, are now able to be sent and received on Wifi. One big possible drawback is the lack of MMS messages. There's no way to attach a picture to a text, and when someone sends you one you'll never receive it. That's not a big deal if everyone you know uses a smart phone, but makes sharing images with folks not using a smart phone a bit difficult. 

MMS

I tested the phone in the country where I live, in the suburbs of Harrisburg, PA, and around the DC metro area. I couldn't find anything wrong with the service. Inside a home or business where I could use Wifi things were great, away from an access point things were as I would expect from Sprint -- decent in some places and spotty in others.

It's been mentioned around the web that Republic offers little in the way of customer service. The word of a reviewer means little here. I have a contact who is quick to answer any questions when I'm reviewing a device, and that isn't anything like the customer service you or I get from our carrier or device manufacturer. I can't speak to the customer service of Republic wireless, but I know from experience that no-contract plans usually get you very little of it. Maybe the folks complaining online are wrong, and Republic will offer you excellent customer care. All I know for sure is that it's worth mentioning -- and worth you mulling it over if you're thinking of trying out Republic or any other pre-paid service.

The verdict

If you just looked at the pictures then jumped to the end, you need to go back and read the rest this time. This isn't a normal review of a phone, it's about a new way of thinking in the world of wireless carriers.

If you need the best smart phone, or depend on your phone for Internet, watching movies, and gaming, Republic isn't going to work for you right now. The Defy XT is plenty capable as a phone and communication device, but you don't want to make it your sole access to the Internet. You should keep an eye on the service though, because things could get interesting if they release more phones over the summer. This service on a phone like the Galaxy S II would be a whole different animal.

If you're not the type who is dependent on your Android phone for all your entertainment needs, and especially if you're using a Sprint MVNO like Boost or Virgin Mobile right now, you should have a long look at what Republic has to offer. The service is actually better than any of the Sprint based pre-paid carriers with the inclusion of using Wifi for calls, and the price makes it a no-brainer. I could easily see someone who uses a tablet for their Android fix using this as their phone, and being completely happy saving about $50 a month doing it. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and recommend just that for folks on a budget.

 

Reader comments

Republic Wireless offers unlimited everything for $19 a month, but is it too good to be true?

52 Comments

Anyone use republic wireless here? Anyone at all? I think maybe log in and comment if you have Republic Wireless and give your approx. location see if this might be a good deal for some of us. I mean. 19 bucks a month. If I took my verizon bill which is only 4gb data and has a 19% off for gov't employees (thank you new york) My bill for my wife and myself is about 162.00 average. Say Republic wireless was 50.00 after fees etc. That's about 112.00 a month savings. NICE.

After signing up for their beta program 1 year ago, my spot came up in October. I signed up, bought the phone and paid $20.00 per month until I cancelled last month. Not being tech savvy, I didn't understand what it meant to not have SMS and MMS. So I kept my Verizon account just in case this didn't work out. I had no issues with connectivity or voice quality and everything was great... until I realized that I would not be able to text, receive texts, or be able to send / receive pictures. I spent those few months on the Republic community blog asking about work-arounds and to see what others thought. The only work around is to download a text app, which works just fine. But the problem is that the person you're sending to has to have the same app. Even worse is when someone sends you a message or picture because they have to know that you can only receive the message if they use that app. This makes no sense. I would have to contact everyone I know, ask them to download that app and to remember to use it when they text me. This did not go over well with the handful of people that I asked. When I asked Republic about it, they said that SMS & MMS are in decline so they had no incentive to make it an option. The 'decline' they are referring to is a single percent decrease, but regardless, that doesn't mean SMS & MMS are obsolete. It's still the default way people text each other. I told them they lost my business because of this and everyone else that has asked me about Republic wont sign up because of this. They are missing out on millions of customers and it's a shame because I love their concept and of course the price. There must be another reason that they are not disclosing because I cannot believe the technology is not available for them to make SMS & MMS an option. The other users that I blogged with said they don't care because they don't text, but they're missing the point: If anyone ever DOES send them a text or picture, they wont receive it and the sender wont know they didn't receive it. So I cancelled my service for my contact's sake, not mine. I'm now back to getting ripped of by Verizon. I will keep an eye on Republic and rejoin if they ever fix this problem or maybe a competitor will capitalize on Republic's missed opportunity. It's a shame and makes no sense to me.

Google Voice works perfectly as a texting substitute! I currently have AT&T and was not willing to pay $20/month JUST for unlimited texting. I use Google Voice that is completely free (uses wifi) to text and call.

Republic Wireless seems like a great deal if you bundle it with an app like Google Voice or Viber.

Your bill WITH the employee discount is $160? That doesn't sound right. Take a look at your my verizon account and let me know how many minutes, text, and data each of you use and I can help you get that down. Also see if you are paying for any extra features like insurance, ring back tones, or vz navigator.

The only issue I can see here (aside from the device itself) is the fact that WiFi doesn't have seamless pass-off like mobile towers. Once you move between different APs (even if it's part of the same network), it'll cause the device to disconnect and reconnect. This will be an issue if you work at a company or on a campus and you're talking on the phone while on the move. Calls will constantly disconnect and reconnect. Even for someone like me would cause problems since my house has 3 APs, one for each floor (incl. basement) to ensure that I don't have any dead spots in the house.

I think the industry should push for seamless hand-off technology to the IEEE 802.11 standard in future revisions to make this technology viable to replace traditional cell towers.

So I guess these phones always have wifi on? Is that what you mean? They are constantly searching for a wifi signal and you cannot turn this feature off?
I don't get it. Maybe I will do some research. :)

I use RW and love it. I left Verizon for something cheaper and ended up at RW. The low end phone was hard for me to get use to but it helped me start using my other devices more and when they come out with a higher end phone it wont be an issue any more.

I have used my RW service all over Arizona and it has worked great very where I have gone.

To end my comment in my opinion the money I am saving each month out weighs any negative I could find with RW.

LOL Ooo k... In all seriousness, I have no reason to feel that way at all as I get great service where I live and travel and am surrounded by fast LTE with grandfathered unlimited data, so no need for Wi-Fi ever. Sure I could save a few bucks with something else, but it'd be cutting my nose to spite my face so to speak. Some things are not worth the purported cost savings. :)

Save a few bucks? I am already saving almost $1,000 a year on one phone over Verizon. That is an odd definition of a few bucks. Of course if you feel Verizon needs your money I can understand.

I did the math and I could save almost $500 a year by switching to Republic. Sounds like a lot, but it's only about $40/month. To save that a month, I'd have to give up my power house Note 2 phone, the excellent cell coverage I mentioned including fast LTE everywhere, as well as grandfathered unlimited data. Then I'd have to deal with a sub-par phone and having to rely on Wi-Fi for calls and data. That's NOT worth it to me! I'm very frugal overall and like to save money, but like I said some things just aren't worth the cost savings for what you have to give up. If it works for others great, it's not for me. :)

I just read the website's own forum and there seem to be a lot of unhappy people with sms problems and people trying to quit service and having a hard time getting their numbers to port back to new service. Sounds like they have some kinks to work out before I even think about this service.

Smart.

The SMS problems were fixed for me with the latest update, but I know exactly what you're talking about. And customer service is said to be shaky, but like I mentioned I can't assess that with a review unit.

Jerry- How were the SMS problems fixed for you? I cancelled my account because of the lack of SMS & MMS. Using a secondary app makes no sense to me because my contacts need to have that same app to receive my textxs and pics, but even worse is that my contacts need to remember to use that app when communicating to me. This a huge inconvenience to my contacts. So did you receive a legit fix option?
Thank you for any helpful info as I would re-join immediately if this was fixed.

From what I understand, they still have problems with SMS over wifi (as of Feb 16th, 2013 - last week) The program is still in Open Beta, meaning you can sign up for the phone and use the service, with the understanding you're in their guinea pig program till they feel comfortable with an "official" launch. Also, the NTY article claims they have some higher end phones in the pipeline due by year's end.

Seeing that review is still covering a phone/service that is still in beta, I wouldn't ultimately make a decision about the phone/service till later.

Very observant. The website is full of unhappy people. Republic Wireless is about the only company I know that uses a public forum as it's only customer service and complaints department. It is also the only company with the courage to make it all public. What other company would dare? That alone should tell you what you need to know. I have been using RW for 7 months and I can tell you that it has worked perfectly for me and my family. Stay away only if you can't afford it.

The function of the RW Community is to complain or critique. What you are seeing is the entirety of the trouble or criticism. I am a RW user and have only posted in there to offer assistance. Here I will tell you that RW works great for me. I have no complaints. I was with TMobile and was a fan of their wifi calling feature for the 2 previous years. For me RW is just saving me $30 a month and giving me true unlimited data. TMobile has not figured out how to hand off from wifi to cell or transact MMS at this point either. It is certainly not for everybody, but I would have a hard time thinking that everybody at RW is unhappy. I would say the opposite. I assume the majority are happy like me.

I cancelled my RW account because of the lack of MMS & SMS. Are you saying that it works for you? The community blog is great and appreciated user's feedback, but I never found a solution to the lack of SMS & MMS capabilities. I would rejoin immediately if I could receive & send texts and pics. Downloading apps doesn't make sense for my contacts, so are you saying there is a legit way to text with the Defy now?
Thanks for any assistance.

Use Google Voice! You can text anyone with a US phone number, the receiver doesn't need to have Google Voice as well to send you texts or receive your messages. The only difference between GV and normal texting is that GV uses the internet and not a phone carrier.

If only Republic Wireless had better phones and used a better Network for their MVNO service. A GSM / LTE network comes to mind.. AT&T would be the optimal choice IMHO. Sprint has awful coverage and with their abysmal CDMA 3G You're lucky to hit 512K down and or up. Just awful.

Keep in mind that not all WiFi will support text and calling. The one where I work has all non-web ports blocked on WiFi. Same thing at Uno's restaurant and many other places.

Sounds interesting, but probably also doesn't include roaming either (most prepaids do NOT include roaming), which makes it very unsuitable for any traveling. A single low-end phone doesn't help matters.

Sorry, but Republic Wireless includes Roaming, and is completely unlimited. And a "single low end phone" is a phone. Go for it.

I actually was looking for a Sprint-based emergency phone for the house last year after a freak storm at the end of June took out every network locally except Sprint, and I got into the RW beta. I ended up going with Ting, which usually costs me $6/month and I paid $90 for a pristine NS4G from Cowboom. Ting's customer service is a sight to behold - utterly amazing.

If I needed a Sprint-based or CDMA phone as my daily driver, however, I can see RW being an appealing option. My daily driver is a N4 with the $30 T-Mobile plan and I used GrooveIP for most calls when I get past 50min used (which is rare). Slightly more hassle, as I have to choose to route all calls through GVIP manually, but I'm out $36/month for two lines. Totally acceptable.

I've been with Republic Wireless for over a year now. There are some drawbacks as pointed out in the article: calls will be cut off when switching between Wifi and Cell, no MMS, and phones not all that good.

However, for me it has been an overall good experience. I live in the Baltimore area and I travel up and down the east coast and sometimes across the south into Texas and I've never had a problem with service. My house is practical in a cell dead zone and it's not uncommon to see people standing out in their yards trying to use their phones, but mine works great even in the basement thanks to it being on wifi. Of course it could be better, but for $19 a month it's good enough.

What I'd like to see is a RW ROM!

This is theoretically possible, right? I'd like to flash RW on my old VZW Incredible 2. I am very intrigued by RW as I make almost all of my calls from my house or car. I could use GV for texting, which would work over wifi or cell.

My VZW bill is $252/month. I could save close to $190/month with RW, and that is significant.

Sprint has a huge network with lots of coverage and perfectly fine voice. The data can be a bit slow in places, however. The current upgrades are working on fixing that, though.

Sprint has a huge network with lots of coverage and perfectly fine voice. The data can be a bit slow in places, however. The current upgrades are working on fixing that, though.

Honestly, a Nexus 4 on T-Mobile's $30 5GB/100 minute prepaid plan with a VoIP solution is a much better deal. There are countless ways of reliably using VoIP with Android and Google Voice as a provider. Check out http://enjoytechnology.com for more information. Regardless, Republic wireless seems like a good idea. I hope it continues to grow.

This seems like it would be a very practicle solution for people on a tight budget or for others (Like one commentor mentioned) live in Cellular Dead Zones...but personally for me, this wouldnt work too well I dont think. I often have to talk calls while walking in Loop in Chicago, where your phone goes ballistic picking up dozens of wifi signals every few feet. Seems like it is best used while being stationary. I was thinking perhaps this could be a cheap alternative for a home phone service, but it appears that at 19.99 a month, it would be comprable to other VoIP services. Except of course for magicjack which just seems insanely cheap.

I used it for a month when I was awaiting the delivery of my Nexus 4, thanks to a friend who let me borrow it--I use Google Voice, so it is easy to switch carriers on a whim.

Anyway, I would not be quick to dismiss the call drop-and-redial when switching between WiFi and cellular networks. This is very annoying and inefficient when using the phone to talk to call centers such as airline reservations, or cable customer support, as the redial literally puts one at the beginning of the menu navigation and hold process; in other words, the other party gets hung-up on, not simply put on hold awaiting one's return after the redial. Imagine leaving the office while on the phone with the bank and the call drops as a matter of fact and not accident.

Sure the price sounds good but I'm grandfathered into Verizon w/Unlimited Data, I think I'll hang onto that instead. My D3 is still working great & after trying the new ( iPhone 5 & Galaxy Note II) I think so far nothing really worth buying has arrived. Sad to say these 'big' things are made for pocketbooks not cases, so how the heck are you going to carry them around? geesh.

a nice idea on a phone nobody could love.
if they could move a little faster and
add a higher end option they might
have something

Great article, and an interesting concept - as there are 330+ Million phones in the USA and the majority of users pay MORE than $70 per month, upwards of $200!

However, Solavei is already ahead of the wave, offering Unlimited talk, text, data on a Nationwide 4G network for only $49 per month, no contract, no credit check!

Bring your own phone, port your existing number, and even use the iPhone! By referring a few people you can earn more than your phone costs you.

When's the last time your cellphone paid YOU? Solavei, let's talk:
www.Your4Gincome.com

~ Bud, Founding Member.

I have used Republic Wireless and the Defy XT for 7 months now. The phone works perfectly, the tech support is first rate and the community support is even better. I would recommend both to anyone, and I now have family members in it as a result. If you have a desperate need to call someone for tech support, you'll have to hire someone. But if you can read and write there is no problem here at all. Go for it now.

I decided to give RW a try. This is only my second smart phone (last was a BlackBerry) and I have been happy with it. I had trouble with calls when on cellular but RW support was able to help with that (they did something and I had to restart my phone). I had problems with Wi-Fi calls and they told me I had to dial the area code first and that helped. Support has been good for me. I have a new problem recently with calls being dropped while on the Wi-Fi at work. They said I need to check with the IT department to make sure some setting are set right for proper access.

I am using RW and I love it. I live in Bethel Island, Northern California delta area and for whatever reason the major cell carriers have left it a huge black hole with major spots with out coverage. I have had every service there for the last 20 years. ATT has the best voice coverage in our area. But since data has become such an important part of the phone, no one offers coverage out here. I had an iphone on ATT until about 2 years ago and got sick of it not working and the battery draining in 3 hrs hunting for a data signal. I stumbled onto TMobile and was amazed with the wifi calling feature. I could use my phone anywhere on the island that had wifi, not only use it but relax and use it like a phone. Most cell calls are completed outside standing on one leg or somewhere in view of the southwest where cell signals approach the island. When I heard of RW last year I signed up immediately. Their plan made perfect sense to me. I could not be happier at this point. I feel sorry for the people stuck on just cell. I will agree the phone and sprint coverage are less than I have experienced when I am every where else, but I have a Galaxy Nexus on Verizon provided by my employer and it is a brick at home. The fact that the wifi experience is superior to cell when in wifi range makes your cell handset like a cordless landline from my experience. I don't care where you live the wifi calling is the best. Since the OTA update with the wifi texting, I have noticed it is blazing fast also. For those that have a hard time with no MMS, you can select email addresses when sending instead of entering a phone number, the phone takes care of the rest. It isn't any more difficult once you figure it out.

I have not contacted RW for customer service, I do subscribe to the community and follow the discussions enough to understand there are people that are not happy occasionally but I would also say everything is discussed openly at RW. The process is public, this is not the case with the big carriers. Try having a public discussion with ATT & Verizon. Won't happen, I have complained to both those companies about their lack of service for years. They don't care or do anything about it. They way I see it TMobile and RW have figured out a solution and who needs those guys. RW Rules!

For this price I don't understand why they force you to use that pos phone the nexus 4 is $299 they should work out a deal with Google to only use nexus phones.

I'm sorry, why are you taveling and talking on the phone at the same time, that is dangerous, you should be in one spot and have a conversation only. If you get a call on the move, call back when you get to your destination, what the hells the problem? Turn off the phone on the road and save battery power.

I would just want to have access to data on the road, for maps, nav, or searches. And just refer phone calls as a home phone on the go, I dont need to have 100% connections with people 100% of the time. This seams ideal to me.

I have just get my RW phone and service. For me this is my answer to having my cell phone work when I am overseas. The phone will connect to wifi anywhere in the world. No one on the other end needs to know where I am.

I have just get my RW phone and service. For me this is my answer to having my cell phone work when I am overseas. The phone will connect to wifi anywhere in the world. No one on the other end needs to know where I am.

Update this article. The RW phone is now on sale and there is also a link for a months free service. You just won't let me post it here.