Paying $70 to $100 or more a month for smartphone service is the norm if you're signed up with one of the Big Four U.S. carriers. But it doesn't have to be that way. Republic Wireless is offering unlimited 4G LTE, voice and text for $40 a month with the purchase of a Motorola Moto X for $299. The catch? The carrier wants you to use Wi-Fi for most of your data and voice needs, but you can tap into Sprint's growing LTE network at any time. For those looking to enjoy cutting-edge smartphone features for a low monthly price, the Moto X for Republic Wireless is a no-contract steal.
Republic Wireless Service
Republic Wireless' strategy is to offer customers low-cost contract-free smartphones at a cheaper monthly rate than the Big Four U.S. carriers. To do that, the company takes advantage of the ubiquity of Wi-Fi connectivity available across the country, offloading data and voice calling from cellular to a Wi-Fi connection whenever one is available.
If you make a call over Wi-Fi and move out of range of the hotspot, the Moto X will automatically transition you to Republic Wireless' cellular network (it uses Sprint for the backbone) without interruption. Users can tell if they are using Wi-Fi calling by looking at the green Republic Wireless icon in the Moto X's status bar. When you move to cellular, the icon will turn gray.
Republic Wireless offers four different monthly plans. The first, a Wi-Fi-only option, allows you to make calls and access the Web via Wi-Fi, but offers no cellular service for $5 per month. A second plan provides unlimited cellular voice and text and Wi-Fi-only data for $10 per month. If you need a data connection, Republic Wireless offers unlimited 3G, voice and text for $25. Need a faster data connection? Step up to the $40 plan, which features unlimited 4G LTE, voice and text.
Republic Wireless will throttle users who go over 5GB of data for three consecutive months from 4G LTE to 2G. Just keep in mind that Sprint's 4G LTE footprint is the smallest among the Big Four U.S. carriers, covering roughly 230 markets.
Key to Republic Wireless' value proposition is that transitioning between a Wi-Fi connection to a cellular connection during a voice call is supposed to be seamless. When we originally tested Republic Wireless in 2012, we noted that calls would go silent before our phone automatically called back the person on the other line. It was a major annoyance, and a reason not to use its service.
With the Moto X, however, we didn't encounter any such issues. We made a call to a person on a landline while on Wi-Fi, then walked away from our router to transition to cellular and didn't notice any disruptions. That said, audio quality was much better over cellular than Wi-Fi, which sounded a bit tinny. Wi-Fi calling also resulted in a slight delay, which caused us to occasionally talk over our caller.
While users can transition from Wi-Fi to cellular during a call, the reverse is not possible. So if you make a call away from a Wi-Fi connection but eventually move within range of one, you won't be able to connect to it until you hang up.
Web speeds over Sprint's LTE network proved unstable during our testing, with downloads bouncing between 2 Mbps and 6.5 Mbps and uploads ranging from 500 Kbps to 2.3 Mbps. ESPN.com's mobile site loaded in 6.4 seconds, while NYTimes.com's mobile site loaded in 5.5 seconds. The image-heavy Laptopmag.com took a bit longer, loading in 11 seconds.
Unlike the Big Four U.S. carriers, Republic Wireless doesn't offer Motorola's Moto Maker service, which means you can't customize the look of your Moto X. Instead, your only color options are black and white. Despite that slight letdown, the Moto X is still a gorgeous handset. The sleek edge-to-edge glass covering its face and three-dimensional weave pattern on its black soft-touch back panel lend the Moto X an elegantly understated look.
On the handset's right edge are its incredibly thin and short volume rocker and power button. The left side is home to the phone's SIM card slot, while the top edge is where you'll find its 3.5mm headphone jack. A microUSB card slot sits along the phone's bottom edge. On the handset's rear panel is its 10-megapixel camera, below which is its flash and a Motorola "M" logo.
While most smartphones continue to grow ever larger, stretching pockets to their breaking point, Motorola gave the Moto X a smaller, though refined look. Measuring 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches and weighing 4.8 ounces, the Moto X is both smaller and lighter than the similarly sized all-aluminum HTC One, which measures 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches and weighs 5 ounces. Samsung's 5-inch Galaxy S4 measures 5.3 x 2.7 x 0.26 inches and weighs a slight 4.6 ounces.
The Moto X's 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 resolution AMOLED display may not offer the crispness of the HTC One or Galaxy S4 (both of which have 1080p screens), but it's still absolutely stunning. Like the Motorola Droid Ultra, the Moto X uses an RGB subpixel structure, which means each pixel gets its own blue, green and red subpixels. The result is a vibrant display that looks gorgeous, whether you're watching a movie, flipping through photos or playing a game.
Icons on the Moto X's home screen looked as though they were floating on a sheet of glass, while the yellows on the Laptopmag.com home page seemed to pop off of the screen. Despite the display's relatively low resolution, text on sites such as NYTimes.com looked razor-sharp.
When viewing a trailer for "X-Men: Days of Future Past," colors looked outstanding, but details were slightly blurry when compared with the HTC One and Galaxy S4. That said, the Moto X offered more saturated hues than the S4. The HTC One provided the best image overall.
The Moto X registered an impressive 472 lux on our light meter. That's far brighter than the smartphone category average of 399 lux. The Galaxy S4 registered a solid 446 lux, while the HTC One came in at 459 lux.
The Moto X's rear-mounted speaker pumped out quality audio. While listening to Pusha T's "Nosestalgia," the Moto X's speaker offered deep bass and sharp treble. There was no noticeable distortion while listening to TV on the Radio's "Will Do," either. Overall, the Moto X's audio quality was better than the Samsung Galaxy S4's, which sounded tinny, but not as good as the HTC One's.
Despite sounding slightly soft, the Moto X registered 81 decibels on our LAPTOP Audio Test. That's higher than the 80-dB smartphone category average, and even with the Galaxy S4 and HTC One.
OS and Interface
Not interested in Android skins like Samsung's TouchWiz or HTC's Sense? Then you'll love the Moto X's clean build of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Everything from the lock screen and app menu to the notification drawer is pure Android.
Swiping down from the top of the screen with one finger reveals the notification drawer, while using two fingers provides instant access to various settings shortcuts. These include Brightness, Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Data Usage, Battery Status and Bluetooth. You can also drill down further into other settings.
Out of the box, you get five home screens that automatically populate with apps as you download them, and three persistent software buttons at the bottom of the screen, including Back, Home and Recent Apps.
The Moto X includes Google's latest keyboard, which features gesture typing, auto-correct and next-word prediction. You can also add your own words to the keyboard's personal library.
Sticking with a pure Android experience does have its trade-offs, though. For example, you can't launch apps from the Moto X's lockscreen as you can with Galaxy S4 or HTC One. Accessing quick settings is also much easier on Samsung's handset, as they are available directly from the notifications bar.
Touchless Voice Control
The Moto X's Touchless Control feature is one of the best mobile innovations of the year. Thanks to the handset's X8 Mobile Computing System's natural language processor, you can wake the handset from sleep by simply saying, "Okay, Google Now." Launching Apple's Siri requires you to long-press your device's home button.
Touchless Control proved extremely accurate during our testing. Even in a loud newsroom, the feature could understand us with the Moto X sitting on our desk. When we asked, "How tall is the Empire State Building?" the app quickly replied with the building's height in feet and meters, provided a picture of it and its location on a map.
Touchless Control also successfully provided us with the weather forecast for the coming week, as well as placed a phone call without ever having to touch the Moto X. There's a lot more you can do with this feature, including firing up your favorite music on Spotify or Google Play.
In addition to its natural language processor, the Moto X's X8 Mobile Computing System also includes a contextual processor. This processor allows the phone to detect when you move your phone from your pocket to your hand and immediately provides you with the data and time, as well as your most recent notifications.
Notifications are displayed on the Moto X's screen via app specific icons. Get a new Hangouts message, for example, and the notification will be in the shape of the Hangouts icon. Pressing a notification icon pulls up the message, while swiping the icon unlocks your phone to the notification's specific app.
Unfortunately, you can't view all of your notifications at once, as you can with the Galaxy S4. Instead, you can only see your latest message. Still, we like what Motorola has done with Active Display, and it's certainly more helpful than the standard blinking LED notification found on most smartphones.
Though it doesn't have the most powerful processor on the market, the Moto X's 1.7-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor proved exceptionally speedy during our real-world testing. Apps opened and closed in the blink of an eye. The Moto X launched the camera app in just 1.4 seconds, faster than the HTC One's 1.7 seconds and the Galaxy S4's 2 seconds.
It took the Moto X 12 seconds to load the game "N.O.V.A. 3." That's faster than the Samsung quad-core Snapdragon 600-powered Galaxy S4, which took 15 seconds. The HTC One, which also packs a Snapdragon 600 processor, took one second longer, loading the app in 16 seconds. The iPhone 5s and its 64-bit A7 processor loaded the app in a blistering 4 seconds.
It took the Moto X 6 minutes and 41 seconds to complete our video transcode test, which involves transcoding a 204MB 1080p video file to 480p using the VidTrim app. That's better than the Samsung Galaxy S4 (7:25) as well as the HTC One (7:33).
Things were a bit different when we ran the Moto X through some synthetic benchmarks. On the Geekbench 3 test, the Moto X scored 1,256. That's lower than the category average of 1,585, as well as the Galaxy S4's score of 1,838. The HTC One scored an impressive 1,972.
On the Quadrant test, a synthetic benchmark that measures a device's overall performance, the Moto X scored 9,054. While that's higher than the category average of 7,312, it's lower than the Galaxy S4's score of 11,308. The HTC One once again came out on top with a score of 12,378.
On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, however, the Moto X scored an impressive 10,663. That's better than the category average of 9,700, as well as the HTC One's score of 10,325. The Galaxy S4 notched 10,393.
The Moto X's 10-megapixel camera stands out with its Quick Launch function, which allows you launch the app with just a quick flick of your wrist. Get the gesture right, and the app will launch almost instantly. It's a bit of a gimmick, but it's fun nonetheless.
Images captured with the Moto X were refreshingly crisp and offered plenty of detail. A shot of a busy New York City intersection was colorful and lacked any noticeable blurring or artifacts. A shot of the same setting captured with the Galaxy S4 was just as colorful, though details were a bit lacking, especially when we viewed the shot at its actual size. Our only complaint about the Moto X outdoors is that the sky looked slightly blown out.
Indoors, under low-light conditions, images captured using the Moto X's flash appeared a little more washed out than the S4.
A video 1080p video shot using the Moto X's rear camera was impressively sharp. Fine details, such as the individual pieces of gravel that make up a nearby sidewalk, were easily visible, and colors looked warm.
The Moto X is refreshingly free of bloatware. In addition to the standard array of Google apps -- Hangouts, Gmail, Play Store, etc. -- Motorola has thrown in some of its own rather handy software.
Motorola Assist, for example, will automate certain tasks, such as silencing your phone during certain hours or putting the handset into hands-free mode when it detects that you're driving. The included Motorola Migrate app easily helps you move data from your old phone to the Moto X, including system settings, text messages and call history.
Republic Wireless has thrown in its own Republic app. From here, you can view information on your voice and data plan, check your phone number, and search the Republic Wireless community forums for frequently asked questions. One of the app's most helpful features is the ability to change your monthly data plan.
When we ran our LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over LTE with the display brightness set to 40 percent, the Moto X was connected to Sprint's network. The handset ran a scant 5 hours and 52 minutes before calling it quits. The Moto X for Verizon Wireless ran for a longer 6:13, while the AT&T version hit 6:34. The Sprint iteration came in at 6:58. Republic Wireless says the fact that the Moto X's Wi-Fi radio always has to be turned on causes it to use more power, which explains why the handset's battery life is the shortest of the group.
The runtime of the Republic Wireless Moto X is about a half-hour shy of the smartphone category average of 6:35. The Samsung Galaxy S4 topped out at 5:49 in normal mode and 6:05 with Power-Saving Mode active. Similarly, the HTC One shut down after just 5:17 in normal mode, but soldiered on for an extra two hours in Power-Saving Mode. Apple's iPhone 5s ran for just 5:46 on AT&T's LTE network.
While you have to pay $299 up front for the Moto X on Republic Wireless, you'll save at least $600 over the course of two years versus another carrier with a standard contract. If you purchase the Moto X for Republic Wireless and opt for the unlimited 4G LTE plan, you'll pay roughly $1,260 over two years. Go through Sprint and you'll pay nothing for the phone up front, but $80 per month for unlimited data. That's a total of $1,920 over two years.
If you purchase the phone for $49 through AT&T with a 2GB monthly data plan at $95 per month, you'll end up forking over $2,329. If you're a Verizon customer, you'll pay $99 for the Moto X and $100 per month for 2GB of data and unlimited talk and text for a grand total of $2,499.
T-Mobile doesn't sell the Moto X, so you'll have to purchase it through Google for $499. Unlimited data, talk and text through T-Mobile will cost $70 per month for a total of $2,179.
When Republic Wireless first debuted its service, it was a less-than-satisfactory experience. Not only could you not easily transition from Wi-Fi to a cellular network, but the Motorola Defy phone offered by the provider was ancient. The new Moto X changes all that. Not only is this one of the more innovative handsets, but Republic Wireless has managed to make the handoff between Wi-Fi and LTE networks nearly seamless.
There are a few caveats. Sprint's LTE network doesn't have the reach of other carriers, and you don't get to customize your own handset. Nevertheless, smartphone shoppers on a budget who spend a good chunk of their time connected to Wi-Fi will find the Republic Wireless Moto X one of the best bargains in wireless.