Review of the Republic Wireless Beta Phone (Moto Defy XT) & Service

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republicwireless_logowbg[1]Republic Wireless is a revolutionary (in the disruptive-innovation sense) new phone carrier. Currently it’s shipping the popular Why? They offload as much of your phone calls and data to WiFi, as possible. That means they can charge a fraction of the price of normal carriers, while still offering complete Sprint coverage/service when WiFi is not available. I have not yet used their service (though I hope to soon), but luckily a few people that I know, have. I thought I’d post their reviews of the beta phone/service (which is still available) for those interested in saving big on their phone bill.

Background

Republic Wireless has been around a few years. They launched a very limited alpha release, with an initial Android phone that was made by LG and was weak-sauce. They later did a larger beta program with the Motorola Defy XT. This phone was a huge improvement and includes features like being dust, water, and scratch resistant. The reviews that follow are based on this plan with it’s $19/month for unlimited talk, text, and 3G data.

Currently the Moto X is shipping from Republic. It’s their first non-beta phone. Republic is selling it subsidized (but contract/obligation free) for $299, when it’s normal off-contract price is around $600. Besides being a top-of-the-line smartphone, with great features like always-on voice commands, it also has seamless WiFi-to-cellular handoff (meaning no interuption in calls), which the Defy XT does not do. Plus it comes with 4 plan options ranging from $5/month for WiFi only, to $40/month for unlimited everything including 4G data. We’ll provide a review of the Moto X & it’s plans, once people have had a little more time using it, to give a thorough review.

motoroladefy_arc_hr[1]The Brief Version

Alison Southwick provided a brief version of her experience as a beta user with the Defy XT on Republic:

What I like:

The price. The company.

What I don’t like:

Random dropped calls or calls not going through in the first place. The phone isn’t able to hold more than a few good apps with it’s limited storage.

Overall:

I like it. I am thinking about updating to the newer phone and I think that would solve a lot of what I don’t like. But even as is, my phone works great for normal everyday use and I love the size of my monthly bill!

In-Depth Review + FreedomPop Comparison

Max Walker posted on Google+ about his experience with the Defy XT that he purchased recently for his son:

Having returned my FreedomPop phone within days of receiving it (see my review of that experience), I then took Republic Wireless up on its offer to try them out. I ordered their beta phone, $100, with $19/mo unlimited everything service.

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Now, remember: I’m a father of 5, so I need 6 phones. My phone is corporate, so I need phones for my wife and 5 children, of whom 2 are away at college. My driving force is to lower my absurd ~$250/mo Verizon Wireless phone bill, which they’ve not been too eager to help to reduce. Were I to move to Republic, with 5 beta phones (~$20/mo each) and 1 Moto X, on its $25/mo plan, then my Republic bill would be $125, exactly half of Verizon’s. Sure, there’s no 4G, but none of my family phones are 4G now. It would also upgrade my 3 feature phone users to Android smartphones, remove all usage barriers, and it would be friggin’ cheap.

DEVICE DELIVERY

FreedomPop did have free shipping, but it ended up taking almost a month to the day to get my phone delivered. Republic Wireless has you pay $10 for 2-day shipping. I ordered online at 11:00 P.M. on Tue 05 Nov. Obviously, it’s not going to ship until Wednesday, so I would have expected phone delivery on Friday. The tracking info said it did arrive in the valley early enough Friday morning to get on a truck, but was held back by Fedex with the note “not scheduled for delivery.” As a result, I didn’t get the phone until Monday, which is 6-day shipping (calendar days) or 4-day shipping (business days). I know, I know, it’s supposed to be 2-day shipping once it ships. But the order said 2-day, and I paid for 2-day, and I got 4-day. Regardless, 2-day would have been a Friday arrival — ship out Wednesday (as it did) and arrive Friday. Just sayin’. Still, it’s not 30 days, so I’ll back off for now.

The phone arrived neatly packaged, with simple activation instructions, and very community-oriented introductory communication. Read: friendly, cheerful, clear.

The phone was in in good shape, with about a 40% charge. I charged it to 90% before activating.

DEVICE ACTIVATION

Device activation was pretty smooth. It kept jumping from 3G to 1X for parts of it, and the first activation failed. I rebooted, and the 2nd activation succeeded. It then did a PRL update that, again, failed at first, but succeeded upon retry.

(The activation instructions were crystal clear about initiating an OTA update immediately after activation. The steps they gave didn’t seem to match the phone menus quite right, so right now, I’m assuming that the PRL update was the needed OTA update.)

CALL PERFORMANCE

Call performance so far seems to be very good over WiFi. Not at all the spotty performance of FreedomPop over WiFi. Republic showed no more delay on the phone than you get on a cellular network. Calls were clear. At one point, the call dropped as I walked into that dread dead zone in my kitchen, and RP dialed back and reconnected us, just as advertised.

TEXTING PERFORMANCE

Texting performance is equally as solid. I had my high schooler take it today, and we texted successfully all day. He’s struggling to text effectively on a touch screen device instead of his slide-out qwerty feature phone. Because I blocked the internet browser and such on the phone, the gain for him is only Facebook and Email access. As such, he’d really rather keep his feature phone, but I’m ultimately not going to give him the option, unless he wants to pay for his own VZN account. Lol!

We did not test MMS, because MMS is not supported on the beta phone. It’s a new feature for Moto X and the next-level phones from Republic. No big deal.

DATA PERFORMANCE

Data performance is just as one would expect on a 3G phone with the Sprint network. Data performance is also just as one would expect over WiFi.

BATTERY PERFORMANCE

While the battery did perform better than FreedomPop’s battery, the fully charged battery still failed during the afternoon at school. The only active use was a dozen or so text messages with me. He was on 3G; he doesn’t have WiFi at school.

He mentioned that once when he pulled it from his pocket, it felt quite warm. I’m thinking something was churning in the background and sucking battery life.

SUPPORT PERFORMANCE

This is yet to be seen. However, pre-sales activity by RP has been impressive here on Google+. I’ll see how they resolve the battery questions.

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OTHER COMMENTS

  • The phone is not rooted as was FreedomPop’s. Rooting would be a good thing.
  • I installed Avast mobile security with no problem. Also Facebook, LDS Gospel Library, and an App Locking app. I moved what I could to the SD card. So far, so good. Memory is shy, so moving to SD is a core strategy on this kind of phone.
  • Core calling and texting performance so far outshines FreedomPop, even wifi calling.

6-DAY UPDATE

My 13-year-old has been using it this week. He loves the phone, but remember he’s coming from a “feature phone.” Battery life has been OK, I think. Acceptable, not stunning. Certainly hasn’t been the 20-hour standby I read about on specs. But I changed the battery profile to “battery saving” mode instead of “Performance” mode, and that may help. More  input on that later.

He was downloading the LDS Gospel Library content during church on Sunday, and said the phone got REALLY hot while doing that (over 3G). That’s concerning.

CONCLUSION

I remain optimistic that within a couple of months, I can buy the $800 worth of phones from RP, and cut my monthly bill in half. Just gotta solve this battery thing first.

[button color="orange" link="http://goo.gl/PdtnYr" size="medium" target="_blank" font="arial" fontw="bold" align="center"]Republic Wireless[/button]

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Tevya Washburn

Website Creator at FiddlerStudios
Designer & creator of Mormon Life Hacker. Tevya keeps a personal blog, & another called Sacred Symbolic, about learning the Gospel through symbolism. Currently serving as: Exec Sec

3 comments on “Review of the Republic Wireless Beta Phone (Moto Defy XT) & Service

  1. Drew Withers says:

    In my experience the Defy XT was garbage, but got the job done. The Evo Design 4G on Freedompop is not nearly as bad but still pretty bad. Call performance on RW was OK, but at least their methods were reliable.

    Freedompop uses a custom version of CSipSimple for their SIP calls and that app is horribly unreliable on the Design 4G. We almost never have calls come through properly even when on Wifi and the background app service doesn’t stay connected or running like it should, so most of the time outbound calls don’t even initiate. When they do, the call quality is great over wifi and so-so over data. This is on two different Freedompop phones that we own.

    But ultimately free wins out over functionality in our household. We curse freedompop anytime we are trying to make or receive phone calls, but the rest of the tim we are happy to not be paying any monthly service fees.

  2. Ali says:

    I was wondering how you went about disabling the internet accesss on the defyxt. I am looking at this for my middle school age son and do not want internet availability but still want the unlimited text and calling. thank you for your review!!

    1. Max Walker says:

      Hi – Responding to Ali:

      Blocking internet access for my kids was a requirement for me before I considered moving them to smart phones. There are several App Locking applications available on the Google Play store. My preferred anti-virus package, Avast, also does app locking, but locking more than a couple of apps requires their paid premium version. I do pay the $15 annual subscription on my phone, but I’m not doing to do that on 3 additional phones.

      Instead, I settled on Smart AppLock Free by ThinkYeah as the application I am using on my Republic Wireless phone for my kids. It’s simple and straightforward enough to use. And, it allows itself to be installed as a system app, making it harder for clever youngsters to get around it.

      At the moment, I’m using a combination of Avast and Smart AppLock to lock things down. That is, Avast prevents apps from being uninstalled without a PIN, and that helps prevent Smart AppLock from being uninstalled. But since I subsequently installed Smart AppLock as a system admin app, this may no longer be needed. I haven’t chased it down; things work as I wish for now.

      The apps I lock are these: Play Store, YouTube, browsers. I give them email (gmail), facebook, and a few more things that let them do all the communication they want, without wide open internet access. And I can unlock anything for them with a simple PIN entry when they’re with me.

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