Motorola Moto X (Republic Wireless) review

With the Motorola Moto X—and significant improvements in network performance—Republic becomes a legitimate alternative to traditional wireless carriers.
Photo of Motorola Moto X (Republic Wireless)

The problem with Republic Wireless has never been its concept—the hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi service and low-cost plans are laudable in theory, but ultimately flawed in practice thanks to sketchy performance and subpar hardware. To its credit, Republic Wireless listened to its critics and addresses both problems head on with its latest phone release. Customers can now access Republic’s unique service on the Motorola Moto X, a bona fide high-end Android smartphone, that the company is selling for $299 without any contract obligations. Republic has also made significant improvements to key areas like Wi-Fi-to-cellular call handoff and MMS support. The result is a surprisingly seamless, completely viable experience that’s an attractive alternative to more traditional, expensive plans.

We’ve already reviewed the Moto X on a variety of carriers, so head over to our review of the Verizon Wireless model for a full rundown on the phone’s design and features. The Republic Wireless model is physically identical, so we’ll focus on the differences in software and plans.

Note: The slideshow below is of the AT&T Moto X with Moto Maker customizations. It’s identical to the Republic Wireless model, except Moto Maker is not available on Republic Wireless.

Service, Plans, and Network Performance
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Republic Wireless or its hybrid service so I’ll start with a quick explainer. The carrier relies on the basic premise that most smartphone users will have readily available Wi-Fi networks at their disposal. You get a real phone with a real number, but whenever possible, calls, texts, and data all run through existing Wi-Fi Internet connections. And when not within range of a Wi-Fi network, Republic Wireless rides on Sprint’s nationwide mobile network. In many ways, it’s analogous to T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling feature, which is a nice fallback for times when coverage is weak. The company launched with the LG Optimus S and later offered the Motorola Defy XT, but both proved to be mediocre handsets and the company hadn’t worked out all of the service kinks.  

Despite a custom ROM, the Republic Wireless Moto X is largely identical from a software perspective, but there is one notable addition here. In the notification tray is a persistent icon that lets you access the Republic Dashboard. From there you can see your network status (either Wi-Fi or cellular), your phone number, and your current Republic plan. You can also change your plan or your billing information directly from the Dashboard, as well as transfer your number or get a new phone number.

There are four tiers of plans, ranging from as little as $5 per month to $40 a month based on what you think you’ll need. The $5 plan gets you unlimited talk, text, and data, but only on Wi-Fi networks. I don’t really get the value in this plan, as you can achieve similar functionality for free using, say, Google Voice and an iPod touch. The $10 plan gets you unlimited talk and text over Wi-Fi and cellular, but data is limited to Wi-Fi only. This is a good option for low-data consumers who really only use data when they’re connected to a wireless network at home. The $25 plan offers unlimited talk, text, and data over both Wi-Fi and cellular networks. The catch here is that data is limited to Sprint’s 3G network, which we found was woefully slow in our Fastest Mobile Networks survey. The final option is the $40/month plan that offers unlimited talk, text, and data over Wi-Fi and cellular, but also lets you access Sprint’s much faster 4G LTE network. Sprint’s LTE coverage is pretty sparse, but where it is available, it’s blazing fast, and Republic puts no caps on how much high-speed data you get a month.

To compare, Sprint’s “Unlimited, My Way” plan offers unlimited talk and text for $50/month, but then an additional $30 per month for unlimited data. Boost Mobile, which also runs on Sprint’s network, offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $55 per month, with decreased payments for paying on time. That bill can get down to as low as $40 a month, but there’s still a catch, as you’ll be limited to 2.5GB of 4G data, after which you’re throttled to 3G speeds. Metro PCS offers a comparable plan for $50, which gets you unlimited talk, text, and data, but you’re also limited to just 2.5GB of high-speed data. Republic Wireless beats all of the current lowest competitors, and on top of that, Boost and Metro PCS don’t offer a phone on the same caliber as the Moto X in the same price range. Boost’s best phone is the Galaxy S III for $399.99, while Metro PCS carries the Galaxy S4, but charges $549 for it. I should also note that while the Moto X for $299 off-contract seems like an incredible deal (most carriers charge upwards of $500), the custom firmware locks the phone into Republic Wireless’s service. You have no obligation to purchase plans from Republic, but you can’t take it to another carrier like you would a normal unlocked phone.

I tested the Republic Wireless Moto X in New York City on the $40 unlimited talk, text, and 4G data plan. There’s a lot to like here and it’s clear that Republic Wireless has made significant strides in its service. Call quality over Wi-Fi is good, but it was not without some issues in my tests. Transmissions through the mic were full and voices sounded very clear, but had a distinct robotic quality. I also noticed some random dropouts during calls, leading to missed or clipped words on both ends of the call. It wasn’t consistent enough to point out any obvious flaw and definitely tolerable, but still worth noting. Calls over cellular were basically indistinguishable from the Sprint Moto X.

One of the biggest shortcomings of Republic Wireless’s services in previous phones was the cellular to Wi-Fi handoff—it was completely non-existent, so when you moved from Wi-Fi to cellular, your call would drop. The Moto X handles this handoff with aplomb. In fact, callers on the other end of the line typically couldn’t discern any difference when I stepped into a Wi-Fi zone from a cellular coverage area or vice versa.

Conclusions
Paired with the right plan, everything you can do on a traditional carrier, you can do on Republic Wireless with the Moto X. And that’s to say nothing of the changing mobile landscape, where voice calls are in decline as smartphone users rely more on texts and data. I’m not sold on the $5-a-month plan, but provided you live in an area with Sprint coverage and typically find Wi-Fi readily available, the three other options are very attractive. With the Moto X, Republic Wireless finally steps up as a legitimate alternative for the cash strapped or contract averse that don’t want to settle for lower-end phones or limited plans on similarly priced carriers.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network CDMA, LTE
Screen Resolution 1280 x 720 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 5.09 x 2.57 x 0.42 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 1080p
Available Integrated Storage 10.99 GB
Processor Speed 1.7 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 Dual-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider Republic Wireless
Total Integrated Storage 16 GB
High-Speed Data LTE
Weight 4.76 oz
Screen Type Super AMOLED HD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.2.2
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 10 MP Rear
2 MP Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 312 ppi
Bands 800, 900, 1900
microSD Slot No
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4.7 inches
Bluetooth Version 4.0

Verdict
With the Motorola Moto X—and significant improvements in network performance—Republic becomes a legitimate alternative to traditional wireless carriers.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc