Republic Wireless has a great idea, but it isn’t followed up with a great phone. The new wireless carrier wants us to rely on Wi-Fi for our phone calls, and it’s willing to offer unlimited data usage for only $19 per month. That’s awesome! Unfortunately, it’s hung its hat on a single slow, unsatisfying phone with wobbly call quality. We love Republic’s plans, but we can’t recommend this device.
For the uninitiated, Republic Wireless is a new carrier which uses Sprint’s 3G network, but which also assumes its users will do most of their calling on Wi-Fi at their home and workplace. The carrier has been in “beta” for months, recently opening up subscriptions to the public. You can check out our recent interview with Republic’s CEO and our review of the carrier’s previous phone, the LG Optimus S.
The Motorola Defy XT
At the moment, the Motorola Defy XT is Republic’s only phone. Alex Colon reviewed this rugged Android phone in its U.S. Cellular incarnation earlier this year and gave it 2.5 stars for its short battery life and other issues. Read his review for a quick rundown of the phone. The slideshow below is from his review of the U.S. Cellular model; this model has the same hardware.
I’ll add some more complaints to Alex’s list. While the 3.7-inch, 800-by-480 screen is sharp, everything’s sluggish. Downloads are sluggish. Screen transitions are sluggish. Even the dialer is sluggish. Benchmarks show this version of the Defy XT as slightly faster than U.S. Cellular’s, but still in the pack of entry-level smartphones and with unusually slow graphics performance (which explains those slow screen transitions.)
Android 2.3.7 is now three full generations behind what Google is putting out as “current,” lacking lots of fancy features like Android 4.0′s updated interface, Android 4.1′s “Google Now” smart search, and Android 4.2′s multiple user capabilities. And no, the Defy XT isn’t getting an upgrade. Ever.
The Defy XT is limited to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, and in crowded wireless areas, when combined with the XT’s slow single-core 1GHz processor and old 2.3.7 version of Android, that means slow connections: I got 3-4Mbps down on Speedtest.net on a network with more than 30Mbps backhaul. Newer handsets feature 5GHz Wi-Fi, which I’ve found to be three times as fast here at PCMag. When Republic is saying “use Wi-Fi a lot!” you want a handset with impeccable Wi-Fi performance, and this isn’t it.
When you turn on the XT, it asks you to connect to a Wi-Fi network. When you’re connected to Wi-Fi, a green icon appears in your status bar showing that Wi-Fi calling is available. When you make a call, the screen shows whether that call is over Wi-Fi or cellular.
There are some confusing aspects of the UI here, though. The home screen has a tip on it that says “Connect to Wi-Fi networks in Settings to enable Wi-Fi calling.” That stays up whether or not you’re connected, making it unclear whether this is something you need to do, or something you’ve already done.
The phone doesn’t make it unusually easy to hook up to hotspots, either. That’ll come next year when Republic starts integrating Devicescape’s Wi-Fi client, which automatically senses and attaches to public Wi-Fi hotspots. That’ll be a big deal, and a big help.
Calls made over Wi-Fi also had some annoying audio artifacts that I didn’t hear when the phone was using Sprint’s 3G network. The edges of words were very noticeably clipped; I also heard some occasional pops and dropouts. The speakerphone, meanwhile, is so quiet as to be basically useless.
There’s currently no way to hand off calls between Wi-Fi and cellular. If you’re on a Wi-Fi call and leave the hotspot, the call drops. If you’re on a cellular call and enter a Wi-Fi hotspot, it stays on cellular.
Wi-Fi calls appeared to use a little more battery than cellular calls. We got 4 hours, 40 minutes of cellular talk time on the previous Defy XT model (which was using Sprint’s network at the time); I got 3 hours, 58 minutes of Wi-Fi talk time on this unit. Neither result is terrific.
Great Plans, Poor Phone
All this disappointment is extra-disappointing because Republic is thinking out of the box with its service plans. Republic charges $249 up-front for its phone, plus a $10 activation fee, and then $19/month for unlimited use. The company’s CEO said that Republic’s business model will only work if people spend most of their time on Wi-Fi, but it won’t penalize anyone for using “too much” cellular.
Republic says it’s hamstrung by trying to offer a phone at an affordable prepaid price, but we know of several better ones: MetroPCS’s $149 LG Motion 4G and Virgin’s $149 HTC EVO V 4G are both superior, for instance. Yes, most of the smartphones on prepaid carriers are still kicking around with slow processors and ancient versions of Android, but you don’t have to settle.
We suggest keeping a close eye on Republic Wireless. The company has a great idea, and it promises more features and more phones in 2013. But it takes hardware, software, and a service to make a great wireless solution. Republic has the service; now it needs to find a phone worthy of it.
More Cell Phone Reviews:
|Screen Details||854-by-480 LCD display|
|High-Speed Data||EVDO Rev A|
|Operating System||Android OS|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||3 hours 58 minutes|
|Processor Speed||1 GHz|
|Screen Size||3.7 inches|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon S1|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||92.16 MB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc