If you’ve read this blog, you know that while I am a long time Apple user/supporter/fanatic, I am not a fan of iOS 7. My initial loathing has been somewhat tempered, but now that we are several months in to it’s release, I can finally admit that it’s just not my cup of tea. Somethings are a general improvement over previous iOS versions, but there are many, many steps backwards for usability, and especially the overall aesthetic.
So, with that, I’ve decided to give Android (yet) another chance. I’ve flirted with Android before, trying out the HTC One V for a few weeks, along with the Nexus 4 and 7. All those devices showed promise, but were not enough to lure me away from my iPhones and iPads.
I was waiting for the Nexus 5 to be announced when I saw a deal from new mobile carrier Republic Wireless. Republic Wireless is a MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator. That basically means they don’t own their own cell towers like AT&T or Verizon. Instead, they buy time on other carriers. In Republic Wirelesses case, that carrier would be Sprint. This is pretty common in the industry, as carriers like Virgin Mobile USA, Boost and Tracfone are all MVNOs.
Republic Wireless is unique among carriers in that they will always route a call over wifi when it is available on your device. What this means for you is that if you live in an area where your cell coverage is spotty, you won’t have to worry that you’ll miss calls at home. What it means for Republic Wireless is that they can route less traffic over the cell towers, which means lower costs for them, and lower rates for you.
How low? If you could get by with a wifi only plan, as low as $5 a month. Need a little bit more than wifi only? There’s a $10/month plan that gives you cell coverage for voice & text, but no data. For someone that has wifi at both home and work, and uses their device lightly, this is a great cost effective option. Need data on the go? There’s a $25/month plan that gives you unlimited voice, text and data (on 3G speeds). Let that sink in for a minute… There is a national carrier that now offers unlimited voice, text and data for $25/month. If you feel you need the speed of 4G, you can have unlimited voice, text and data on the 4G network for $40/month. Oh, and did I mention that there is no contract for Republic Wireless? And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet: You can switch your plans as frequently as twice a month.
Republic is pretty new to the scene. Their earlier entry used a Motorola beta phone, and it was known for having issues handing off from wifi to cell coverage. With the new Motorola Moto X phone (full review down below), I’ve had no such issues so far.
Of course, with any network, where you live, work and play is the big factor in how good your cell coverage will be. Here in Atlanta, Sprint’s network is pretty good. I have strong 4G in town and all the way out to my home in the suburbs. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Motorola Moto X
I’ve long held a soft spot in my heart for Motorola. My favorite non Apple device was, for the longest time, a Motorola Razr phone. I owned three iterations of that device, and only relinquished it when the original iPhone was released.
I’ve not been a fan of the Motorola Droid products though. For one thing, they are basically a Verizon branded product. And Verizon tends to load them up with crap ware. That’s gotten better in the last year or so, but it’s still a product built for and controller by big red.
Since Google acquired Motorola, I’ve been hoping that Motorola would build a Nexus phone. That hasn’t happened (yet), but the Motorola Moto X is pretty close.
The Republic Wireless version of the Moto X comes in only two colors – Black and White. There’s no Moto Maker version, unfortunately. To achieve it’s ‘wifi whenever available’ method of call routing, the Moto X on Republic Wireless is a custom build. So don’t go thinking you’ll buy the phone at Republic Wireless’ low rate and take it to another carrier.
Speaking of the low rate – how does $299 sound? The Moto X currently is running between $500-$600 off contract for T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T, so consider the handset pricing a coup for Republic.
The phone itself is a stunner. It features a 4.7 inch 1280×720 resolution screen. Coming from an iPhone, this device feels good in the hand, and can be used one handed for most operations. It’s not quite as one hand friendly as the iPhone, but I’ll trade a bit of one handed dexterity for a slightly wider screen.
I could careless what the phone is packing for a CPU and RAM. All I care about is whether the phone is speedy and can run multiple apps without stuttering or crashing. And the Moto X does.
Storage space for the Republic Wireless Moto X is capped at 16GB. That is less than what I’m used to, but it is somewhat tempered by Motorola’s offer of 50GB of Google Drive space for 2 years. If you stream your music from Google Music, store your docs on Google Drive (or Dropbox), 16GB should be plenty of space.
The Moto X features a 10 megapixel back camera with an LED flash. In good light, it takes OK pictures. Coming from the iPhone, I’m spoiled with the pictures it takes. I’ve yet to find any Android phone that even comes close to the iPhone in picture quality and camera utility. However, if you aren’t a heavy iPhoneographer, the Moto X camera is good enough.
The front facing camera is 2 megapixels, and video calls from the phone look good on the receiving end (tested using Skype).
The Moto X is running a nearly stock version of Android, save for a few Motorola specific tweaks.
One tweak is voice activated control. Your phone is always listening, and after being trained to recognize the phrase ‘OK Google Now’, you can ask the phone to do lots of things (anything Google Now can do basically) without actually touching the phone first. I love this feature, though it kind of breaks down if you use any sort of lock on your phone, because while you can ask the phone your query, it won’t answer until you unlock it.
The other nice tweak is the ability to see information at a glance without unlocking or waking your phone. As notifications come in, they are shown on the phone briefly on a black screen. If you want to see more, you just touch the phone for a moment, and it highlights a bit more information.
The third major tweak is the hand gesture for launching the camera. Twist the phone in your hand back and forth and the camera launches, whether your phone is locked or not. It’s a very handy way to get to taking pictures quickly.
Of course, the big question with any Android phone is “will my device ever see meaningful updates”? If I asked my Magic 8 Ball, the answer would probably be “the future is murky”. While Motorola is a Google subsidiary, and has promised updates for the Moto X to Android 4.4 on the major carriers, nothing has been mentioned yet for Republic Wireless. And since this version of the Moto X runs a customized version of Android to handle the wifi call routing, there’s a good chance it may be stuck on the OS version it is released with – Android 4.2. I hope it does see the upgrade to Android 4.4.1, as the camera upgrades in that release along would most assuredly greatly improve the Moto X’s shooting capabilities.
If Sprint has a good network presence in your area, and have access to wifi at work or at home, the Moto X on Republic Wireless is the best bargain available right now in the public arena. If you can go iPhone less and live within the Android ecosystem, why would you pay more money to the big 3 carriers?
Republic Wireless bold move to route calls over wifi when available seems like a pioneering step for the industry. It gives the user better call quality, and it saves the network from unnecessary traffic. I bet we will see the other major carriers move in this direction in the next 12-18 months. It seems like a no brainer.
Overall Rating: Highly Recommended
- Monthly plan pricing
- Wifi call quality is excellent
- Moto X is a stunner of a phone at $299
- No contract!
- Ability to change plans 2x a month
- Moto X Camera
- Cloudy future for OS upgrades
- Inability to use the Moto X on other networks
- Lack of colors and Motomaker options
Overall Rating: 8.5 stars (out of 10)