Republic Wireless is one of the latest no-contract cellular companies to pop up. But Republic Wireless is hardly your standard prepaid wireless company. That is because it’s also the nation’s first hybrid Wi-Fi and cell service. The concept is actually quite socialist in nature. Instead of working off of traditional cell phone towers alone, the Republic Wireless phone gets reception from roaming on multiple hotspots. Essentially, the way it works is that when there are no Wi-Fi networks available to connect to, the service defaults to Sprint’s network.
But forget the technology, the $19 for unlimited, talk, text and data, is what has garnered so much attention for this new start-up. Really, it doesn’t get cheaper than this.
Currently, Republic Wireless only offers a single handset choice – the Motorola Defy XT. This compact smartphone retails for $259, which is definitely a bit on the pricey side, even for a no-contract phone. The actual Motorola Defy XT is nothing to write home about, but it’s a capable smartphone. The phone packs in a pretty good 3.7″ display that happens to be scratch resistant and features a 854 x 480 resolution. The device itself is also dustproof and water-resistant, which should be appreciated by those clumsy types out there. Unfortunately, in an age where 4.7″+ smartphones are common-place, the Defy XT seems like it’s just a bit too small. The phone is also powered by a 1GHz single-core Qualcomm 7227a processor which is sluggish by today’s standards, and we often noticed its sluggishness even when performing basic tasks. Battery life is quite poor, as we got just about 5-6 hours of use on a charge with data on. Other specs include a 5MP rear-facing camera, which also happens to take mediocre shots. Finally, the phone is running Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread which is just too old.
We experienced average download speeds of 1632kbps and upload speeds of 847kbps when testing the Defy XT over 3G in midtown Manhattan. When it came to call quality, calls made on Sprint’s network mostly sounded loud and clear. We also had a consistently reliable 3G data connection while testing in New York City. When it came to Wi-Fi calling, the calling experience varied from hotspot to hotspot, but generally call quality was very good. We did notice however, that generally, the call quality experience is superior over cellular than over Wi-Fi.
“Connect to a Wi-Fi network. The more you connect, the bigger your hybrid network gets.”
And while Republic Wireless encourages users to use Wi-Fi as much as possible for making calls, the phone doesn’t force you to do so. You can easily toggle off Wi-Fi calling. An icon at the top of the handset turns green to indicate when Wi-Fi calling is enabled.
At $19.99 for unlimited everything, it doesn’t get cheaper than Republic Wireless. That said, the no-contract / prepaid wireless marketplace is getting more and more competitive. Competing companies like StraightTalk offer similar unlimited plans for $45, and these plans have the benefit of being able to bring your own phone – including the iPhone and other popular handsets. So while their rate plans aren’t as cheap as what Republic Wireless is offering, they still offer a lot on a budget, and they are growing more and more popular. So it remains to be seen if Republic Wireless can grow in such a competitive space, while having such a limited handset selection. Fortunately, the company plans to add new devices to the handset lineup this year. With all of that said, it really doesn’t get cheaper than this, and for what you pay for you’re still getting quite an unbeatable value – so there is lots of potential for Republic Wireless. We just think that their next move should be to offer a more enticing handset choice.
The Good: It doesn’t get cheaper than this! Unlimited text, talk and data. Good call quality over cellular. No contracts. Wi-Fi calling is easy to use.
The Bad: Limited to just one smartphone choice for now, and a mediocre one at that. No MMS support. Device is running the old Android Gingerbread. Phone is pricier than we would like. No 4G.
Update 2/18/13: Republic Wireless has released a software update that enhances the quality of Wi-Fi calling and more, as well as a new app Republic Wireless Wi-Fi+ available on the Google Play Store that makes it easier than ever to automatically connect to over 11 million public Wi-Fi hotspots as curated by Devicescape. The app also includes some widgets – including an onscreen widget that shows the strength of the Wi-Fi connection. Like any network, Wi-Fi signal strength is largely dependent on the number of users at a given time and what they are doing the network – so if you are at a busy Starbucks or McDonald’s it’s probably best to use the Sprint network. A second widget shows how much Wi-Fi versus cellular you are using … while there is no additional cost when you use the Sprint network, the spirit of Republic Wireless is Wi-Fi whenever you can.
Update 2/19/13: Republic Wireless has announced a new complementary rate plan to its offering that lowers the cost of entry for customers. Along with the existing $249 Motorola Defy XT with $19/month rate plan, Republic has added a plan where the phone is $99 and the rate plan $29/month. This addresses the concerns that some potential customers had about the high cost of entry.