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Republic Wireless: 'Unlimited' Android phone for $19 per month

Too good to be true? There's definitely a catch, but it's one most people can probably live with.

What's the catch? You'll need to do most of your calling and downloading over Wi-Fi networks.
What's the catch? You'll need to do most of your calling and downloading over Wi-Fi networks.
Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Looking for a no-contract Android phone with low monthly rates? Until now, your best bet was Virgin Mobile, which has plans starting at $35 per month.

Newcomer Republic Wireless just blew that out of the water. The company offers an Android phone for just $19 per month, including unlimited voice, data, and text. No contract, no early termination fees, no overage charges.

I think I'm in love.

I think. There is, as you might expect, a catch. To help minimize costs, Republic Wireless relies on Hybrid Calling technology, meaning your phone automatically taps Wi-Fi networks--rather than cellular ones--whenever possible.

No Wi-Fi? No problem. You'll still get plain old cell service (via Sprint), but if your non-Wi-Fi usage gets too high, the company might give you the boot. Seriously.

That would happen only after numerous warnings and "tips for reducing your cellular footprint." But I find it interesting that Republic calls it customers "members" and its service a "community," and reserves the right to revoke your membership if you "cross the community's fair use threshold."

What constitutes crossing the threshold? Republic allots you 550 voice minutes, 150 texts, and 300MB of data. But remember, that's cellular usage; if you're connected to a Wi-Fi network, like at home or the office, there are no limitations.

The only phone Republic offers at the moment is the LG Optimus S, an entry-level Android phone, to be sure, but one of the better ones. It's compact, reasonably speedy, and powered by Android 2.3 (aka Gingerbread). To my thinking, it's a fine choice for kids, first-time smartphone owners, or anyone with fairly minimal needs. The phone costs $199, including your first month of service, and there's a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Republic currently classifies itself as "in beta," and says a limited number of memberships are available.

Watch this space for some hands-on coverage of Republic's phone and service. In the meantime, hit the comments and tell me what you think of this intriguing offer.

My initial reaction is that it's a home run for my daughter, who's been begging for a phone--but doesn't need anything super-fancy. And $19 per month sounds a lot more attractive to the guy who'll be footing at least some of the bill.