Republic Wireless is a little wireless carrier that’s been making some big waves lately. For the last year or so, people have been lining up to sign up for its service, simply because of the price: At its launch, $19 a month got you unlimited everything, on an Android smartphone. For real.
Besides a number of minor problems reported by Republic’s beta testers, though, the biggest issue once it opened its service to everyone was the up-front cost. Until just recently, you had to spend $249 on a mediocre Motorola Defy XT in order to use Republic’s service. (And no, you couldn’t just bring your own phone. It had to work with Republic’s Hybrid Calling software — more on that later.)
Now, Republic Wireless has changed its pricing model. You can still pay $249 up front and then $19 a month, if you want. But you also now have the option of paying only $99 for the same phone — a price that better reflects what it’s actually worth — and then paying $29 a month for the same unlimited everything service, a price that’s still much lower than you’d expect.
The question is, is it worth it? Let’s take a look at what you get for the price.
The Motorola Defy XT is decidedly midrange. It has a 4-inch screen, runs the Gingerbread version of Android, and stutters a bit on the unlock screen and when swiping through home pages, although installing a custom home screen like the free ADW Launcher helps. It’s worth about what you pay for it — if you pay $99. $249 is approaching Samsung Galaxy S II territory, and is pretty obviously meant to ensure Republic gets its cut whether you stay with the service or not.
Like most Android phones, it comes with the Google apps pre-installed in a way that you can’t remove them, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of “crapware” aside from that. Don’t expect to play the most modern games on it, but it’ll run Minecraft and Sonic the Hedgehog Episode 4 just fine.
Its ports are covered with rubber bumpers which make it a little waterproof, although depending on how much you use those ports I’m not sure how well they’ll stay put. They also make the back of the phone look not nearly as slick as the front, which is the part you see on Republic’s website.
The reason Republic’s prices are so low is because it routes your calls over Wi-Fi, using its Hybrid Calling technology. You can’t turn it off, but you can turn the Wi-Fi itself off, and it’ll automatically switch to using 3G for calls and wireless Internet. Yes, even if you’re right next to a Wi-Fi signal — nothing’s making you use it. It just tends to be faster and better for web browsing, and it’s surprisingly good for voice calls too (as Skype users may have already noticed).
So is it worth $29 a month? That depends. For about the same price, you can get “unlimited” Internet (with its speed throttled after the first few GB) from T-Mobile or Virgin Mobile. Plus, you can buy a much more powerful phone to go with it, like a Nexus 4.
With those plans, however, you get as few as a hundred talk minutes a month. So if you’re a heavy talker — and Sprint’s network, which Republic uses, has good coverage in your area — Republic’s service might be for you.