Prepaid wireless carrier Republic Wireless has been offering its $19 per month, unlimited everything, prepaid smartphone plan since about this time last year. At the time, though, there were a few catches; you had to buy a very low-end smartphone from them, you had to use its Hybrid Calling technology for most of your calls, and you could only get in if you were lucky enough to be accepted to an exclusive "beta wave."
Since then, Republic Wireless has upgraded to the slightly more modern Motorola Defy XT as its flagship smartphone model, and has changed to allow unlimited calling, texting, and data over Sprint's nationwide network, for the same $19/month price. Now the North Carolina-based startup is dropping its last restriction; the doors are open for anyone to preorder up to four Defy XT phones, "and they'll begin shipping in mid-December."
The Motorola Defy XT is designed to be dustproof and waterproof, with rubber bumpers covering each port and an unlocking switch keeping the back cover sealed. Its specs are decidedly last year's; powered by a 1 GHz, single-core processor, it often shows Kindle Fire-style lag when swiping between home screens on its 3.7 inch display. It runs 2010's Android 2.3 Gingerbread, with no OS upgrades announced, and it doesn't have much room to store games and apps, although it comes with a 2 GB microSD card.
Republic Wireless' low monthly fee is partly made possible by its Hybrid Calling technology, which is basically an app that loads on startup and lets you make calls and send texts over Wi-Fi. Call quality is generally good, although it depends on how good your Wi-Fi connection is and how many people are streaming video over it while you're trying to make your call. You can switch off Hybrid Calling by disabling Wi-Fi, if you want to make calls over Sprint's network instead; this happens automatically if your Wi-Fi signal drops, which has the effect of hanging up your call.
"Here at Republic," its Support page explains, "we believe in helping each other out as much as possible." What this translates to is that there's no number to call for questions or tech support. Instead, customers are directed to a community wiki and forums, for answers to their issues. If all else fails, you can contact Republic using an online form, and receive a response within 24 hours.
It costs close to $300 to begin using Republic Wireless' service; $249 for the phone, a $10 startup fee, and $19 for your first monthly fee, before any applicable taxes. That $19 is charged once your phone ships, and if Republic's difficulty keeping up with orders for its first beta waves is any indication, just because the phones "begin shipping in mid-December" doesn't necessarily mean that that's when you'll get yours.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.