Early adopter story

November 27, 2013

I’ve mentioned previously that my family & I are subscribers to Republic Wireless‘ low-cost, no-commitment cellular service. Overall, it’s worked out well for us. Everyone got more service features and we cut our monthly bill in half. It’s been a great deal and I still recommend it.

In fact, four of my friends & extended family have bought Republic phones on my recommendation and they’re pretty happy with them.

But all that said, my experience with Republic hasn’t been without its vexations. It seems to be a universal truth that early adopters of anything will have their regrets as they learn the shortcomings of their adoptees.

The first wart I found was when I started the Republic enrollment process and read their Terms of Service. Yeah, I know… who does that? To be blunt, their Acceptable Use Policy scared me so much that I decided against enrolling. It took several days before I changed my mind and decided to sign up.

I had to agree to their ToS again recently and here’s the latest and greatest version, all 20 pages of it.

But what really bothers me — still — is Republic’s Acceptable Use Policy. It’s much worse than Sprint’s. Republic’s Use Policy is so open-ended that another subscriber can get your service terminated simply by complaining about harassment, inappropriate language, or similarly vague and poorly-defined matters. I know from experience with Google’s AdWords how that type of system works: the service provider will typically defend the complainer’s "Right Not To Be Offended" because that’s the easy way for the provider to deal with the problem.

Put another way, the squeaky wheel is very likely to get the grease regardless of the merits of the squeaking.

So read Republic’s Acceptable Use Policy carefully and think about how you’ll be using your phone. Republic will have the right to cancel your service if some Mrs. Grundy somewhere decides that your latest Facebook post, or Tweet, or e-mail is offensive.

Since I have other venues for my crazy and offensive ideas (hi, reader!) and since I never plan to publish those from my phone, I decided Republic’s A.U.P. wouldn’t affect me much.

The next pitfall was due to how we ordered our four Defy XTs. We ordered two at first, to check them out, and ordered two more later when we decided the first two worked OK.

But the wrinkle in this was that the first two phones we got were ‘single band’ phones, meaning that they could only use a single frequency range in Sprint’s cellular spectrum. (Sprint is the cellular carrier for Republic customers when the VoIP feature can’t be used.) The two phones we bought later were ‘dual band’ and could use two frequency ranges in Sprint’s spectrum.

The difference in coverage areas for these two types of phone is pretty striking. The dual-band phones work practically anywhere in the lower 48 states but that’s not true for the single-band phones. After getting my single-band Defy phone last year, I made a couple of trips to the Mississippi delta and as soon as I got about 25 miles south of Memphis, I had no signal. I didn’t even have roaming capability. The only way I could make a call was to find a hotspot in a hotel or restaurant where the phone could connect over WiFi.

"No problem," I thought. "I’ll just swap my single-band phone for one of the dual band phones." Then I discovered that Republic wouldn’t let me transfer my number to another phone, even though they were provisioning both phones.

Digging into it a little at Republic’s Community forum, I found that swapping number assignments on active phones wasn’t possible. Nice… very nice, guys.

I should add that Republic was upfront about the difference in coverage from the start, so I knew what I was getting into. I was just pushing my luck a little too far. What good is luck if you never push it?

As I said, overall it’s been a good deal and I’m a happy customer despite the drawbacks. Last week, Republic started selling the Moto X, running Android 4.2.2 (almost the latest version), and I upgraded. The Moto X is much nicer than the Defy XT and I’m liking it.

Upsides to the new deal:

  • Republic now supports call hand-off between media. That is, a call that originates on WiFi can now be switched to the cellular network when you walk out of WiFi range. With the Defy XT, when you walked away from the WiFi hotspot your VoIP call was simply dropped. That sort of sucked if your weren’t prepared for it or when you forgot about it. (T-Mobile used to offer this media-switching feature a few years ago, I’ve learned.)
  • The Moto X supports MMS; the Defy XT was limited to SMS only.
  • The hands-free control feature works better than I expected and is actually useful. It’ll do arithmetic by voice command.
    I’ve never used Siri, so I can’t compare the two but I like what I’ve seen on the Moto X so far.
  • The Moto X’s weight and thickness are the same as the Defy XT’s but the Moto X’s display is 25% larger and has a higher pixel density, so it’s much easier to read and type on. For me it’s the difference between needing my glasses or not. Huzzah! for more pixels.
  • Republic offers variable service plans for the Moto X. They’ll sell me text/voice/4G (LTE) data service for $40/month. Or they’ll sell me text/voice/data over WiFi only for $5/month. Or they offer other plans between those extremes. At the moment I have text/voice/3G data service at $25/month because the 4G coverage isn’t great in my area. (C’mon, Sprint! Git-R-Done!)
  • Republic sells the Moto X at a great price: $300 with a $100 rebate for Defy XT returns (mine’s already on its way back to Motorola). That’s not bad at all — but my Moto X is not an unlocked phone.

Downsides to the new deal (so far):

  • The Moto X battery can’t be removed. The Moto X seems to go easier on its battery than the Defy XT, but I can’t always charge the phone’s battery overnight. I kept spare batteries for my Defy XT so I could swap them when needed. Since I can’t do that with the Moto X, I bought an external battery pack.
    Luckily, those battery packs are fairly cheap on eBay and, better yet, I think they’ll charge an iPad too.
  • Since the Moto X has Republic’s proprietary VoIP code on its ROM, the phone is locked to Republic’s service. You can walk away from Republic’s service agreement at any time but you can’t get your Moto X provisioned by another carrier unless you want to root the phone.
  • There’s no place for a microSD card. Like the battery deal, this isn’t something Republic can change. Still, SD storage sure would be nice. The phone comes with 50GB at Google’s Drive (cloud storage) and that’s free for 2 years. If you don’t mind relying on a network connection for your data, that’s an alternative. Personally, I’ll get some local USB storage before I’ll gamble on always having a high-speed connection to cloud storage.
  • The internal memory on Republic’s Moto Xs is limited to 16GB. I’ll spare you the old-timer stories about what we used to run in only 512KB and just say that 16GB is too little by today’s standards. 32GB ought to be standard and 64GB ought to be an option.
  • Finally, Motorola offers a wide variety of colors for the Moto X (including a funky wood grain finish). But your only color choices from Republic are black and white.

In short, I like the Republic deal and it’s definitely improving. But, as always, your mileage may vary.

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