Last year, a startup called Republic Wireless debuted with unlimited web, voice minutes, and texting for $19 a month. It worked using Republic's proprietary Hybrid Calling technology, which routes voice calls and text messages over Wi-Fi whenever it's available. At the time, "unlimited" meant Republic would "work with you" if you used too much cellular data, but it has since removed that restriction and now offers true unlimited everything.
Republic Wireless had to close its beta service to new customers for a little while, but is now taking new signups for "waves" of beta customers. Instead of the $199 LG Optimus S smartphone that Republic Wireless debuted with, they are now offering the more powerful $249 Motorola Defy XT. Existing beta customers received a $100 credit towards the purchase of a new Motorola Defy XT; and while it's not mentioned in the company's official blog post, a mailing sent out to existing customers said that Republic Wireless is giving them completely free service until the end of the year or they upgrade their phones, whichever comes first.
Republic Wireless' debut phone, the LG Optimus S, was an extremely basic Android smartphone with low-end specs and without a front-facing camera. It ran a "clean" version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread, though, which was based on the popular CyanogenMod firmware and had no add-on software preinstalled except for Google's apps and Republic's Hybrid Calling.
The new Motorola Defy XT is much more powerful, with a 3.7 inch screen, 1 GHz processor, and VGA front-facing camera. It's still a low-end to midrange smartphone, and runs Gingerbread instead of the more modern Ice Cream Sandwich, but is more up to date than the Optimus S and is substantially more durable, with a Corning Gorilla Glass display and "an IP67 Rating for solid particle and water resistance."
Like prepaid carriers Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, Republic Wireless uses Sprint's nationwide network of cellular towers. Instead of non-uninstallable carrier "crapware," Republic's debut phone shipped with the Hybrid Calling app, which is turned on by default and automatically uses Wi-Fi to make phone calls and send text messages. The phone does not force you to use Wi-Fi, however; it's possible to turn off Wi-Fi in the settings menu, and use the cellular network for everything.
Since Republic Wireless is still in beta, there are some technical issues with the company's service. It has acknowledged by email that there is a "known issue" where using Google Maps causes the original LG Optimus S to crash, for instance, as well as another issue which may cause the phone to stop being able to send text messages. Republic Wireless' tech support is currently instructing its beta customers to back up their text messages using a third-party app and then delete all the texts on their phones, in order to "clear a messaging database that may be corrupted."
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
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