Is A $19/Month Smartphone Through Republic Wireless Right For You?

Yeah, the future is here, and everyone above the age of eight seems to be wandering around with smartphones in their pockets. Maybe you’ve put off joining the mobile-computing revolution because you didn’t want to spend $100 per month for a voice and data plan. How about $19 per month for a smartphone with unlimited voice, texting, and data? That’s what Republic Wireless offers, and many consumers find this intriguing. The problem is that you pretty much get what you pay for. Or is that an advantage?

Our lab-coated colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports tried out Republic’s phones and service in the real world. Any mobile carrier has advantages and disadvantages, but Republic’s are unique. The data and voice service use wi-fi connections whenever possible, and Sprint towers the rest of the time. This means that if you start a phone call on your way out the door, then walk down the sidewalk, that call will most likely drop as you walk away from your router’s coverage.

If you don’t mind voice-over-IP service or rarely make voice calls in the first place, that might not be a problem. Consumer Reports found that the voice call quality was okay over wi-fi and decent over the cellular network. If you don’t spend your day flitting between wi-fi zones, though, you may be in for some trouble. Republic reserves the right to cut customers off if they use the cellular network too much. How much is “too much”? Republic won’t say.

The only phone currently available from Republic Wireless is the Motorola Defy XT. It costs $249 up front. Compared to the fancier phones on the market now, it’s a trip back in time, running the Gingerbread version of Android and using a 3G connection, but it’s not bad either.

Is bargain-basement Republic Wireless phone service worth the cost? [Consumer Reports]