UNBELIEVABLE: THE $5.00 A MONTH SMARTPHONE

Let’s Be Honest. I’m a Tightwad.

THE SITUATION:  In the summer of 2013, I finally gave in and made the jump to the great, grand world of smartphone ownership.  I’d been lusting for at least a couple of years, stopping in the U.S. Cellular store once a month to salivate over all the magical things they could do.   Friends know I’ve always been a sucker for any new model of just about any kind of electronic do-dad, and every new iPhone reignited  the itch.   All the while, the old reliable flip phone had to hang in there, all because I was, and still am, too cheap to pay $80.00 and more per month per phone for U.S. Cellular’s service.   And to make matters worse, I’d be committing to a two year contract at that price.  That’s almost $2,000 over the life of the contract.

THE COMPANY:  Then I read another blogger’s review of Republic Wireless,  a cell phone company that charged only $19.00  per month per line.  You had to pay for the phone itself, a Motorola Defy XT, which was, to be entirely honest, kind of old technology, but you could get unlimited everything.  That included  talk, text, and data, for only $19.00 a month.  The phone is a kind of hybrid in that it normally uses available WiFi signals instead of the normal cell phone coverage.   If you are out of range of a good WiFi signal, they use the Sprint cell phone network.  The only drawback was that you had to spring $259.00 for the phone itself.   I stewed over the pluses and minuses of the deal for three months.  I knew the money saved would make up for the price of the phone in only four and a half months, but I was still reluctant to make the leap.

THE BAIT:  Then they ran a special where you could buy the phone for only $79.00 and get the service for $29.00 a month.   By that time I was really salivating for a smartphone, and it looked like a good way to try the service.   I’d still be paying $10.00 a month less than U.S. Cellular charged for the old flip phone, and the new smartphone would quickly pay for itself.

The new phone worked fine.   The worst I could say is that I did suffer some dropped calls, depending on where the call was initiated or received, but overall I was pleased.   I was a little reluctant to recommend it to friends because it was not without the occasional glitch, most of which could be fixed simply by turning off and restarting the phone.  But that could be inconvenient, and it  never hurt to be a little bit of a techie when carrying the Motorola DefyXT.

Then in November, Republic Wireless and Motorola came out with a new phone that was supposed to be light years ahead of the old model.   The MotoX  was going to cost $299.00 up front and have all the modern amenities.republic motox

After using it for approximately four months, I can honestly say that the MotoX has solved any and all problems that might have existed with my original phone and Republic Wireless.  It’s a $600.00 phone for $299.00, and it compares very favorably with the iPhone4 and Samsung Galaxy S4, two of my favorites.

It also sported a new pricing structure…  and that was not a notice of raised prices.  You now have a choice of four plans.RepublicPrices

THE PRICE:  The chart above was taken from a Republic advertisement, and I doubt they’ll mind my using it.  That $5.00 plan might not get a lot of takers, but I can imagine an older person in an assisted living facility getting a lot of mileage out of that unlimited WiFi … talk, text, and data usage.   The drawback, of course, is you would have no cell coverage, but as long as you can access a WiFi signal, all is well.  If you go to a restaurant, for example, with WiFi available, the service is every bit as good as the $80.00 competition.  And if you live in a city that provides free municipal WiFi, you are golden.   A very, very, almost unbelievably good deal.

The second plan, at $10.00, adds cell coverage for talk and text, but not for data.  The drawback is that while out shopping, you can’t use the internet to compare prices, unless you’re in a store with WiFi… and they are becoming more and more common.  Again, a very good deal.

The third plan, $25.00, is the one I chose.  It has unlimited everything, with the exception of 4G coverage.  The deciding factor was my own research into the availability of 4G coverage in eastern Iowa.  The nice people at Republic Wireless even advised me that it would be of very little advantage in our area.  Since that time, 4G is much more available here, but I haven’t seen the need.  Then they threw in a $100.00 rebate for the phone I had originally bought for $79.00.  I was sold.

If these low prices aren’t enough for you, consider also that all of these plans come with no commitment from you.  There is no two year contract.  If you don’t like the situation, and you insist on paying somebody else eighty dollars or more every month, you are free to go.  Try that with any of the other cell phone companies after you’ve signed that two year agreement.

And to top it all off,  members  can change their plans up to twice a month, no calling a representative to explain why.   You can do it through your phone in less than 10 seconds.  Pull down a menu, tap the new selection, and you’re done.  So, when I travel to a good 4G area and want to take advantage, I can do so and change back when I return home.   And pay only for the days it was actually in use.

In the interests of full disclosure, I also receive a lifetime 10% discount because I was considered a beta testing user during the early days— that time when I wasn’t really recommending the DefyXT except to slightly techie friends.  That means my monthly bill is only $22.50, plus the usual junk taxes that put it somewhere between $25-26.00.

How do they do it?  From my perspective, I see two big factors.  One is the fact that almost everybody has WiFi at home these days, and Republic phones use WiFi as a first choice.  In other words, any calls from home are free.   If you walk into a place that has WiFi, it will tell you and ask you to register there.  After that, every time you walk into that place, the phone just remembers and automatically makes the connection. That’s free.

A second big factor has to be the fact that Republic Wireless has no brick and mortar  presence.  If you can’t deal with on-line business, this may not be the company for you.  The better known cell companies have a store on every corner.  Republic has no stores.  And no expense for lights, heat, rent, or inventory.  There is no twenty-two year old clerk to yell at when you can’t make your phone work.   On the other hand, they do have a very well run on-line organization.  There are always discussions going on, as well as a list of common problems and their solutions.  I’ve never had any problems with the phone, but if you’d like to visit and get a feel for the level of service, their address is: https://community.republicwireless.com/welcome

THE REVIEWS:  I’m the last person who should judge the relative merits of one cell phone over another, but there are all kinds of people who do that professionally.  And most of them seem to think the MotoX is an excellent piece of technology.  I read plenty of them before putting down any money.  Below is a random selection.  I couldn’t find any negative reviews.

1. http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/03/moto-x-review-the-android-phone-for-everybody/

2. http://www.trustedreviews.com/motorola-moto-x_Mobile-Phone_review

3. http://www.anandtech.com/show/7235/moto-x-review

4. http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1801564

THE COMMUNITY:  An additional contributing factor for this company’s success may be the feeling of community that unites Republic users and keeps them from overusing the relatively expensive Sprint network when perfectly good WiFi is available.  Nobody tells you you’re using too much Sprint time, or threatens to take your phone away, but there is always the sense of community responsibility that tells you this good deal can’t last forever if people abuse it.   In other words, given the choice,  go with WiFi.   Otherwise don’t worry about it.

And if you run out of Sprint coverage, don’t worry.   The phone will switch over to Verizon without hesitation.  Don’t ask me how.  I don’t need to know.  It just makes the jump without involving me in whatever magic might be taking place.  Smooth and trouble free.  Just like cell phone service ought to be.

DO THE MATH:   If the cost of that $299.00 phone makes you hesitate, think of it as a really smart investment, and remember how much you will be saving.  If you are paying 85.00 for your cell phone today, and you switch to a plan that costs $25.00, you will have an extra $60.00 in your pocket each and every month.  There are no extra charges for overuse, too much data, anything.  In only five months, you will recoup your $299.00 investment, and the extra $60.00 is yours forever.  I’m thinking that even if your old phone company wants a couple of hundred dollars to let you out of the contract, it might just be worth it to be rid of them.

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