Wednesday, December 26, 2012

First Impressions: Republic Wireless Defy XT (Dual Band)

My 2 year old Nexus One had started getting a flakey power button, so I was going to have to buy a new phone. While I was very happy at my extremely low cost monthly cost for my pay-as-you-go T-mobile plan, I  was also somewhat jealous of XiaoQin's always-on Virgin Mobile Optimus V with the $25/month unlimited data with 300 minutes. Having relied on her phone while traveling for navigation and other such niceties, I decided that it was time to join the 21st century and look for a phone that would get me that functionality at a reasonably low cost monthly fee.

I had signed up for the Republic Wireless beta program ages ago, but never made it to the front of the queue before the beta was over and the company went live. There were lots of people complaining on-line about how obsolete the Motorola Defy XT was, but having seen how much nicer a phone with data was over a phone without, I came to the conclusion that I'd rather have a Motorola Defy XT with a $19/month unlimited data/voice/text plan than a latest model phone with a $50 (or more)plan.

When the phone arrived, I was surprised. First of all, it's a light phone. So light that for my first day of carrying around I constantly checked that it was still in my pocket because I just couldn't feel it. The 1GHz single-core processor is slow by today's standards, but it didn't feel like a downgrade from the Nexus One, and neither did the Gingerbread OS. The phone's exterior ports are all covered by rubber grommets, and the phone is IPX7 waterproof. Whether it stays that way over the course of a year is in question, since the charging port's cover will most likely be pried on and off too many times and wear out.

The biggest penalty of buying this phone instead of a later model one is the amount of on-board storage: it comes with 512MB, and after all the preloaded software, you're left with not much more than 220MB. That's not a lot, given the penchant for modern software to hook into Android's notification and therefore requiring to be installed on the on-board storage instead of being on the microSD card slot.

Call quality is reasonable: it's not as good as our Comcast voice-over-IP phone line, it's quite usable on our home wifi, and I've successfully made and received calls over random wifi hot spots. When not connected to a wifi zone, the phone falls back into the Sprint service, and it's every bit as good as the Optimus V was.

The data connection works well as well, whether on wifi or on the fall back Sprint connection. The GPS is a bit balky, and takes a while to lock on compared to the Optimus V. By far the biggest problem, which I didn't anticipate, is that the charging port is on the left side of the phone instead of the bottom. This is problem because the wide side of the phone gives you more surface area in which to get confused and become unable to locate the charging port in the dark. The smaller screen compared to the Nexus One turned out to be a non-issue.

All in all, I can recommend the phone. However, I myself am unlikely to keep it. My wife dropped her Optimus V into some water, which meant that it's now have to be retired. Buying another Virgin Mobile phone was out of the question, as Virgin refused to grandfather her $25/month plan. She decided that the Defy XT was an ugly phone, so we ended up ordering her a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 from Ting. Ting's not as cheap as Republic Wireless for a single user, but if you switched the entire family over and use the pooled data/minutes/text plan, it's actually not that bad. So depending on whether she's happy with the Galaxy Note 2, I will likely return the Republic Wireless phone and buy a Ting phone so we can all be on one shared data plan. Note that Republic Wireless has a 30-day money back plan (now extended to 30 days from January's OTA update), so trying out Republic Wireless is relatively low risk. Recommended.
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