Hands-on with Republic Wireless, one month later

The company's Moto X phone and dirt-cheap service plans seem too good to be true. Are they?

The Republic Wireless Moto X has some issues with Wi-Fi/cell handoffs, but with a little tweaking it can be a terrific phone.
The Republic Wireless Moto X has some issues with Wi-Fi/cell handoffs, but with a little tweaking it can be a terrific phone. Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

Few posts I've written have generated as much interest as the one about the Republic Wireless Moto X, and I'm not surprised: For $299 you get one of the most celebrated phones of 2013, with no-contract service plans starting at an impossible $5 per month.

The key question on everyone's mind: How is it? Does Republic's version of the Moto deliver the same awesome experience as the mainstream model? Or is this deal too good to be true? (CNET's Maggie Reardon tackled that very question back in January, but I'm here to expand on it with some personal experiences.)

Then and now
Back in November, I had the chance to test-drive a preproduction version of the phone, though my aforementioned post reflected only a weekend's worth of use. That wasn't intended to be a full review, but more an overview with some quick-take impressions.

Last month, I pulled the trigger and made the Moto X my primary phone. Now I use it all day every day, including a recent week-long trip to Mexico. I feel I've lived with it long enough to render a more decisive verdict. Should you buy this phone?

Yes, but with a few caveats. The first, and biggest, relates to call quality. As you may know, Republic modified the Moto X so that phone calls are routed over Wi-Fi. Only if there's no Wi-Fi network available does it tap Sprint's cellular network.

In theory, that's ingenious. In fact, during my aforementioned trip to Mexico, I was able to make and take calls via my condo's free Wi-Fi. No roaming, no crazy overseas rates, and no shopping for local SIM cards -- just easy, seamless calling using my own number. The couple of calls I made sounded great.

At home, however, my experiences were mixed at best. Though I have a robust Wi-Fi signal throughout my house, I'd say many -- if not most -- of the Wi-Fi calls I placed or received suffered from garbled and/or clipped audio.

After some troubleshooting, I determined the reason: Despite the strong Wi-Fi signal, the Moto X was quickly (and inexplicably) handing off my calls to Sprint's cell network -- and coverage inside my house is poor at best. Republic's tech support couldn't give me a good reason why this was happening, but at least there was an easy fix: disabling the handoff feature for my home network. Now I'm enjoying very good audio quality, though if I ever need to leave while on a call, I'll have to manually switch the phone from Wi-Fi to cellular. That's no big deal for me, as it rarely comes up.

Other thoughts
I do have some other complaints, though mostly they're with Android. As a longtime iPhone user, it's been hard to make this adjustment. (See the five ways I survived the switch.)

Battery life continues to be my chief hardware disappointment; I suspect Republic's internal tweaks cause the battery to drain more rapidly when the phone is idle. There are other possibilities, but the easiest remedy has been to keep the phone in airplane mode (with Wi-Fi on, of course) until I leave the house. Small hassle, but it definitely improves battery life.

On the flipside, I'm loving the Moto's bigger screen and Swype keyboard, and I'm especially loving paying $25 per month for virtually unlimited service. (That's for 3G; the phone is capable of 4G, but I really don't need it -- and don't want to step up to the $40/month plan to get it.) Not so long ago I was paying AT&T $80 for the same thing.

The one thing I'd advise potential buyers is to peruse Republic's user forums, just to get an idea for issues other users have encountered -- and the solutions they've found, if any. This is, after all, a modified Moto, and glitches can arise (as I already discovered).

Overall, I find the Republic/Moto package to be an excellent value for a fine phone backed by an impressive service. After a month, I have no qualms about recommending it.

 

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