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Cheap Unlimited Smart Phone Plan = $19/month at Republic Wireless

by retirebyforty on September 6, 2013 · 38 comments

in expenditure, frugality

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*Update* Republic Wireless has a much nicer phone now. Read my Republic Wireless’ Moto X review.  

I must have been one of the last bloggers who have been holding out on getting a smart phone. I’m a cheap guy at heart and I would hate to pay $60+/month for the privilege of checking emails on the go. Well, it’s over now.  I chucked my dumb phone and joined the smart phone revolution.  Now that I’ve had a taste of a smart phone, I don’t think I can go back to a dumb phone anymore.

Dumb Phone

We have been using Tracfone for probably 10 years now. It’s cheap and the cellphones work just fine for us. We spend about $20 every 3 months each and the price was right. We are not heavy users and only occasionally use the phone for voice calling and texting. The only time I wished I had a smart phone was when we went on road trips. It would have been helpful to check Google maps for directions and to find good places to eat with Yelp.

Mrs. RB40 is going to stick with her Tracfone for a while longer. She’s even cheaper than me and she doesn’t even want a smart phone. I will miss the $20 every 3 months bill, but we all have to move on some time.

Republic Wireless

Sure, I have been itching to try out a smart phone, but the cost was a huge deterrent.  I found out about Republic Wireless a while back and they were the leading candidate for a cheapo like me. Even I can’t complain too much about the $19/month for unlimited talk, text, and data service with no contract. I was still putting it off though, because I rarely need a smart phone and was still reluctant to upgrade. I knew I couldn’t go back once I upgraded. That’s the downside of lifestyle inflation… Also, the phone is pretty expensive.

Currently, Republic Wireless only has one phone to choose from, the Motorola Defy XT. *Update* The new Moto X will be available in November. It will cost $299 and there are a few plans you can choose from. The price has gone up to $25 for unlimited service with 3G, but you can also choose the $5 and $10 options. Read my Republic Wireless’ Moto X review.

Lower price:  Pay $99 for the Motorola Defy XT and $19/month for service.

The plan for the new phone is a bit more expensive so I think I’ll just stay with the Moto Defy. The new Moto X has 4G, but you’ll have to pay $40 for unlimited 4G.

Luckily, I made contact with a marketing representative and they sent me a phone to review. From what I understand, the Motorola Defy XT is a bit dated and is running on an older version of Android. This didn’t mean much to me because by comparison, my previous phone was a 1,000X worse. Let’s go over how this phone performed for me over the last 2 months.  Keep in mind that I’m coming from a dumb phone.

The Motorola Defy XT

Physical dimension – The Motorola XT is 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.5 inches and weighs just 4 ounces. The 3.7 inch screen is quite small compared to other smart phones. It’s the perfect size for me. I always carry my cell phone in my pants pocket and the size is just right. I don’t want to lug a brick around in my shorts; it’ll screw up my stride alignment and I’ll have to go see a chiropractor! (Sour grapes???)

Ruggedness – The XT is dustproof and water resistant.  There are rubber plugs to protect the ports and it shouldn’t mind a little splash here and there. This is a great feature for me because RB40 Jr. dragged me to a bunch of splash fountains every week. The phone got splashed a few times, but it hasn’t been submerged yet. The screen is also made with gorilla glass and should hold up pretty well with a crazy 2 year old around.

Performance – From what I read online, the phone is quite sluggish. It hasn’t made a big difference to me, though. It seems to work well enough — another advantage of coming from a dumb phone.  It’s running on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) which is a few generations behind the current Jelly Bean (4.1).  Again, this means nothing to me.

RB40 Jr. spent 15 minutes peeling the bark from this stick while I enjoyed the free concert. BEST 15 minutes EVER!

Camera – Camera works pretty well. I even sent an email to Mrs. RB40 with a picture attachment from the phone. Wow, that’s smart.

Real World Usage

You might wonder how Republic Wireless can offer such an inexpensive unlimited plan. The secret is the XT will switch to Wi-Fi whenever it can. Most of us spend a lot of time at home and the office which usually have pretty solid Wi-Fi coverage. If you’re not connected to the internet, then your calls and data are routed through the Sprint network. How does this perform in RB40’s real world? Check it out.

Voice calling – The voice quality over my router at home is mediocre. My Ooma VOIP system sounds much better when I’m at home so I usually just use that anyway. On the street, the voice quality is fine. If you started off using Wi-Fi and moved out of range, the phone will hang up and redial with cellular. I haven’t experienced this because my calls are short and I don’t move around that much.

Apps – The XT comes with a bunch of Apps – Gmail, Google maps, Google calendar, YouTube, and more. Gmail, calendar, and maps are particular useful. I can set up appointments in Google Calendar on my laptop and the reminders will show up on the phone. Nice!

I installed a total of 2 apps since I got the phone.

  • Twitter – This was extremely useful during WDS. I was able to meet up with people and shared snap shots on the phone. If I didn’t have the XT, I’d have to lug the laptop around everywhere.  I uninstalled Twitter later because the phone was constantly beeping. It’s useful when there is an event, but I don’t really need to check Twitter every few minutes…
  • Star Wars Angry Birds – Recently, I have been addicted to Star Wars Angry Birds on Facebook. It’s a lot of fun and it’s free. Can’t beat that. The Android version has more levels and it’s a fun way to kill time when I’m waiting for the streetcar. The screen is a bit too small and it’s much more difficult to get good scores compared to playing on the laptop. Anyway, I’m done with it now and will probably delete it soon.

Battery life – During WDS, I checked the phone constantly and the battery couldn’t last the whole day. Now that I’m just occasionally using it, it’s a bit better and I only need to recharge once a day. Coming from a dumb phone, I think the battery life really should be much better. I only needed to recharge every few days with my old phone. I guess that’s the price you have to pay with a phone that’s constantly syncing.

Pretty good deal

All in all, I’m very happy with Republic Wireless. It enables me to keep a tab on Retire by 40 and find my way around if I get lost. Mrs. RB40 asked why I keep looking at the phone though. That’s another downside to having a smart phone. I was always annoyed when my friends kept glancing at their phones when we’re talking. I guess that’s modern life. It’s kind of sad.

Anyway, if you have been itching to upgrade from a dumb phone, check out Republic Wireless. It’s also a good option if you are tired of paying a ton of money every month for a cell phone plan. You can use this link to sign up with Republic Wireless: $19/month Unlimited Data, Talk & Text. I heard there are more options available for cheapskates like me, though. I’ll have to keep an eye out for the new affordable plans from their competitors.

How much are you paying for your cell phone usage?  Is it worth it?  Are there better (cheaper) plans out there?

Disclosure: I get a small commission if you sign up for services through the links on this page.

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

moneystepper September 6, 2013 at 1:25 am

I’m currently in the old fashioned world of normal old mobile phones on good old “pay as you go”! Probably spend the same as you at £10-£20 every few months. Like you, I think that smart phones would only really help me when I haven’t planned for something properly!

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:26 am

You’re mostly right. It’s helpful to keep a tab on Retire By 40 when I’m out and about though.

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Maverick September 6, 2013 at 4:07 am

Joe: Just curious…how many minutes a month / texts a month do/did each of you consume while on Tracfone? My wife and I share a Verizon plan with 500 mins, plus free nights/wknds, etc. for under $60/mo. I value the quality of the voice call, and I must say that Verizon has not dropped a call of mine in years. I’m just wondering if I can cut costs further with pay as you go.

Also, have you hear about the RingPlus beta plan of no call charges (whereby the caller hears ads while the call is ringing)?

Thanks in advance!

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:29 am

We didn’t use the phone much at all. Maybe 100 minutes every 3 months each. Text cost .33 minute. At this level of usage, it’s probably better to find a tier system. I’ll search around for something. The voice quality was fine for us.
I haven’t heard about RingPlus. I will check it out.

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Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle September 6, 2013 at 5:40 am

I still have a little flip phone. $100 plus tax each year. It is only for emergencies and for when I get lost and have to call for directions.

I do not feel the need to always be connected. Want to reach me? Send an email and I will get back to you when I can. If it is an emergency I can be reached at home or work or you can call my parents or my friends and they will be able to tell you where I am.

My electricity, water, gas and property taxes are all going up in the next year so I don’t need any extra expenses.

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:30 am

That’s how we felt. Mrs. RB40 still feels that way. I just want to be able to check Retire by 40 when I’m out and about. The site is getting bigger and if it goes down, it’s a big impact. You’re right about the extra expense…

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Mom @ Three is Plenty September 6, 2013 at 5:51 am

We pay ~$140/mth for two iphones on AT&T’s shared family plan (unlimited talk and text, and 1GB shared data). I also get an 8% discount through work (whoohoo!) The reason I haven’t jumped ship yet is twofold: 1) Straight Talk (one of the few that would take our existing phones – no way I’m buying another one), doesn’t really support MMS, and I send MMS *all* the time and 2) no international roaming. When I was on Sprint, I used to have a second phone that I’d use while traveling internationally, and I don’t want to go back to that mode – most of the time when I’m traveling overseas, it’s for work, and I need to be able to give my cell number to folks. The saving grace is that I can expense the international plan and data when I enable it.

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:31 am

Whoa. That’s expensive. I’m not willing to pay that much…

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No Waste September 6, 2013 at 10:34 am

I could have written the same paragraph – including the monthly bill but minus the international roaming.

It’s a luxury, but I really want the MMS – two young kids make it a necessity!

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Holly@ClubThrifty September 6, 2013 at 6:24 am

I have Republic Wireless as well and it works good for my needs. I rarely talk and mostly text. The web surfing is nice when I need it!

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:31 am

That’s great! I use it for talk mostly and just a few text. Data is really nice when I’m out and about.

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aB September 6, 2013 at 7:41 am

In Canada so slightly different, but found a way for me.
Using a Nexus 4 (only got it because my Nexus S died), so no contracts.
Was bouncing between Wind and Mobilicity for the new user deals (~$20-30/month), until I realized how I use my phone. Rarely actually use the voice option, mostly information look up/email, so data required.
Now using a tiered tablet plan from Fido (they input a dummy IMEI number for the SIM). $10 = 150 megs, if I go over, they charge $25 up to 1 gig, then $35 for 6 gigs. First month, paid $11+tax because I accidentally answered the phone (wrong number cost me a dollar..).
For when I do need to make a call (or receive) I use Dell Voice (a free VOIP app, would use Google voice, but the Goog said no to Canada), as a plus it has voice mail. Messaging through Google Hangouts.

I’ve been at $11.30 for 2-3 months now.

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:33 am

$11/month is great! I need to figure out how much bandwidth I actually use. It’s not much and a tier plan probably is a better option for me.

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UrbanSaltLake September 6, 2013 at 8:31 am

I’ve been using Republic Wireless since December. There are still some minor bugs they still need to fix (IMO), but to the most part, it works great. The price is what I love about it. I’m always connected and it hardly put a dent on my pocket book. I was in Europe for three weeks back in May. I was connected to wi-fi most of the time and was able to text/talk to my family anytime I want without any issues. Best part, again, is that since I’m connect to wi-fi, all the text/talk were free.

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:34 am

What kind of bugs have you seen? Being able to connect through wi-fi is great for international travel. How was the call quality when you were in Europe?

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UrbanSaltLake September 6, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I’ve had issues where the network drops and I can’t receive text/calls. They have a blog on their website that I usually log in and read about any issues…usually, someone has already contact their support. They are somewhat in beta testing, so the blog was created to provide feedback to them quickly. I’ve also have received someone else’s texts where I have confirmed with them that they did not texted my number. Not a lot, but enough to be annoyed about it. Regarding the wifi in Europe, it was great. There was no lag in response time (ever slightly like any other cell services). The one draw back with this phone is that eventhough you can make wifi calls to anyone back in the states, you still cannot make international calls regardless of where you are. It is a USA calls only phone.

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Maverick September 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Yep, this is the lack of connection quality that I’m concerned about. QOS – Quality Of Service…the call must go through properly or I’m not a customer. :)

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Martin September 6, 2013 at 9:30 am

You’re not cheap. You’re just married. A single guy needs a smartphone to stay on top of business lol.

I recently reduced my plan. The damn iPhone plan is a rip off. I now pay $39/month and have unlimited long distance texting/calling. This is key for me.

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:54 am

Hahaha, yeah that’s a big part of it. I would be checking my phone all the time if I was single. :)
$39/month is not too bad, but cheaper is better…

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Martin September 8, 2013 at 10:19 am

Oh I’m glued to my phone!

On a positive note, I now have an app for books and I have Duolingo (for my Spanish lessons). I can read a book a week off my phone. I also bust out a Spanish lesson any time I’m in any line.

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Insourcelife September 6, 2013 at 11:56 am

$10 per month plan from Airvoice combined with free WiFi from FreedomPop is what I have and it works great. I bought a used Android phone for $50 which has better specs than the one that Republic offers.

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Hey, that’s a pretty good deal. I’ll keep them in mind.

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Heather September 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

This is great there is no Freedom Pop or Karma where I live. The 10$ discount is not showing up for the phone.

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:51 pm

I will try to find out why the $10 off is not working. Thanks for letting me know.

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davidmichael September 6, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Timely topic indeed!
After many years of using dumb phones I bit the bullet and purchased an I-Phone 5 from Apple/Verizon two months ago. $100 for the phone and $60 a month. I have a Mac Laptop plus I Pod, both of which I love! So the I Phone was a logical next step. So much easier for me to operate in this system since everything is related. Granted, some Androids may be better some times or not. I’ve got my hands full with this apple phone.

My costs fall under a Verizon Loyalty program which costs $60 a month that includes unlimited texting/voice/and two GB data. My wife has an Iphone on a Verizon family plan with her daughter’s family so that takes care of her costs. So far I’ve never used up my 2 GB of data.

I hated my dumb phone…I love my smart phone…ala I Phone. As we now know it’s like carrying a minicomputer around and I do use it for lots of programs as a full time RVer…including: GPS, Weather, Tide Tables, Google Maps, Biking Maps, Calendar, Photos, Stocks, Movies (Fandango), Craigslist, Credit Card accounts, banking acct., business scan cards, zillow real estate, Washington Post and NY Times, National Park Guidelines, Campground Selections, Topo maps, Yelp, Expedia, U Tube, Pandora, Facebook, etc. I could list a dozen more apps that I have downloaded and use. One of the most useful on the road is Gas Buddy. Now I have ESPN and Yahoo Sports for the football season. All free apps! It’s easy to be in contact with family (with 11 grandkids) and friends.

The amazing thing is that these apps are often better and easier to use on the Iphone than on my computer. Frankly, I am blown away by the whole thing. What’s next? (besides the smart watch and robots) Yeah! I know I am paying more than the majority on this blog, but we no longer watch TV, except Duck Football–U Oregon, so I figure I save there on time and resources. The other thing I appreciate is the excellent service from Verizon. I have had other phone systems where the service center often got back to me two days later from India, Costa Rica, or whereever. At age 76, I’m willing to pay extra to have instant service from Verizon in the USA. So, I feel late to the party but enjoying this whole tech revolution in spades! OK! Gotta go and read one of my 1400 books downloaded on my Kindle Fire. Caio!

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:53 pm

GasBuddy sounds useful. :)

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krantcents September 6, 2013 at 4:20 pm

I am the last person with a dumb phone! I am seriously thinking about a smartphone in March when my contract is up. How is the coverage with Republic? I am with Verizon and it is the only carrier that I can use from inside my home. Do you know which service they use?

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:54 pm

They use Sprint. It works pretty well for me, but I’m downtown most of the time.

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Leigh September 6, 2013 at 7:20 pm

If you don’t have much usage, Ting might be cheaper. Last month, I paid $17+taxes ($21.19 total) for up to 100 minutes, up to 1,000 texts, and up to 100 MB of data. That’s less than your $19/month! So you could get 100 minutes, 100 texts, and 100 MB of data for $15/month. If you spread that low usage across two phones, it would be $21/month, so it’s kind of cool for sharing too. (It’s just me on my plan though.) And then with Ting, you’re not subject to the iffy wi-fi calling. I mostly use Google Hangouts now with data versus texting because otherwise I would be hitting over 2,000 texts/month easily.

I wrote a review about them about 5 months after I had switched from Sprint: http://leightpf.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/ting-from-sprint-5-months-in/

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retirebyforty September 6, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Ting sounds good too. I will keep them on my short list if Republic Wireless doesn’t work out. Thanks!

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Mrs. Waste Not September 8, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Hubby just switched a few months ago from AT&T and iPhone to RW. You get what you pay for. But just like going from a BMW to a used 2000 corolla, you still get from place to place just fine! He still texts, calls, surfs the web and uses gps but without nice pictures or long betters life. For $19 as opposed to iPhone prices it is worth it for us.

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retirebyforty September 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm

That’s why I made sure everyone understand I upgraded from a dumb phone. That’s like going from a bicycle to a used Corolla. :)

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Mike December 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Did you check T-Mobile? Since both AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM you could just switch the SIM and be back to using your iPhone. 35orless.com LIVE Plan guarantees an aggressive rate evety month

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Don September 9, 2013 at 5:54 am

I jumped on the Republic Wireless bandwagon back in Oct of 2011, and I’m been happy.

I was part of the beta program, and as part of being in that wave, I get the single band Defy XT instead of the dual band. It’s not a big deal where I live though, but it’s a minor disappointment since my reception will not be as good ad the dual band ones that are offered today (the single band has been discontinued).

Like you I didn’t want to pay for an expensive “smart” phone, so until this option became available, I just used my company cell phone.

In addition to email access, I really have found the “google NAV” app has been great when I’m not sure how to get somewhere. It’s not as fluid as my old Garmin stuff, but still pretty good all the same.

Enjoy! :)

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retirebyforty September 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I’ll try google NAV. Thanks for the tip.
I’m pretty with RW for now too. :)

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Bill in NC September 10, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Textnow now offers phones using the Sprint network.

They offer two phones – for my oldest kid I bought the Samsung Galaxy II for $120 and chose the cheapest plan (“Tall”) w/ 750 roll-over minutes, unlimited texts, 500MB data for $19/month – easy to monitor his texts @ textnow’s website.

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Tricia December 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I’m very interested to hear what you think of the quality of calls with Republic. I currently have an old LG Optima S (so think the Defy would be a step up), but am nervous about quality of calls. I’m currently on a sprint unlimited plan, out of contract, at $65 a month, which is just ridiculous. Issue is I work from home and am on the phone a lot. I don’t have many apps, really just check email when away and use Pandora, occasional GPS usage. I don’t want to get a land line as everyone knows my cell number and I am planning to move again in the next 12 months. I do have wifi in my home office, so it seems logical that this would be a good choice, but I can’t have echoey calls and dropped calls. Can you share any issues you’ve had?

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retirebyforty December 15, 2013 at 10:53 pm

The quality of calls are pretty good with my wifi. I don’t use it much at home because I have an Ooma and that’s more comfortable for me. Ooma works really well for us. I don’t like having the cell phone next to my brain too often. I guess I’m getting paranoid.
They do have a 30 day money back guarantee so you could try it out.
Here are some issues – MMS messaging (?). There are some limitation and you need to do something extra to get around that. There are instructions on the forum.
Random calls – I think the underlying number change so I got a bunch of random calls when I first switched.
Sound quality is like pretty good for me.

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