It is nice when the answers for frugal and efficient living become simple and obvious, so as to free your mind for more complex and worthwhile pursuits. For example, when investing in stocks, Vanguard index funds is all you need to know. For cars, a compact hatchback like a Honda Fit will almost always suffice. The ultimate cable TV package is quite obviously no TV service at all at $0 per month. And for US mobile phone service, Republic Wireless has become my default answer for anyone who asks because it just plain works and the $5/$10/$25 unlimited pricing plan reigns supreme in value. I simply love how boring the mobile phone world has become for me: my phone works great, I never pay attention to usage, they never pull any stunts on me, and the monthly bill is a constant, negligible amount. Republic is becoming the Vanguard of mobile phones in my mind.
I am hesitant to write about something so boring when it has already been covered on this blog before, but a new release from the company warrants this one last update. Republic has released a new phone that costs half as much as the previous new one, and readers have been asking me to review it here. So here we go!
Until this month, you had to buy a $299 Motorola X running their customized software in order to use the company’s hybrid calling network. While the math still worked out in your favor and you’d save money, it still hurts some of us to fork over $300 for a depreciating smartphone, as beautiful as it is when you first open the box.
But very recently, they released a new phone called the Motorola G, which is priced at $149. I assumed that it would be about half as good, and being a gadgety former engineer that I would be disappointed by the step down. Still, I dutifully requested that the company send me a review version so I could do some in-person evaluation for the benefit of curious Mustachaians.
To make a long story short, The Motorola G is almost exactly the same as the Moto X, which is to say an amazing smartphone, which means you really aren’t missing out much by saving the 150 bucks. Let’s start with a quick comparison of the tech specs:
Although some of those numbers look bigger in the right column, the “Display” section is what matters most. The phones have virtually identical screens that run at exactly the same resolution. In practice, what that means is this:
This Identical Twins experience continues as you pick up both phones to tap on some stuff, swipe back and forth between various screens, take some pictures and videos, play music, and make some calls. For typical use, there is no noticeable difference between these phones.
Both are incredibly useful due to the full Google integration that allows you to talk to the phone in natural language: “Ok Google, when is my flight to Portland?”, brings up a futuristic summary with full details and realtime flight status, based solely on an old Southwest Airlines email receipt from a ticket purchased weeks ago. “Navigate to the Shiner Brewery in Texas” brings up full directions to the Spoetzl brewery, a 16 hour drive from here. The GPS fires up, 3-D satellite imagery loads and shows a bird’s eye view of my current location with a line showing the way, and we could be on a roadtrip within minutes.
About that Network
If you’re new to the whole idea of this mobile operator, you might wonder if it will actually provide coverage for you. After almost a year with the company, I can say the answer is probably yes, for these reasons:
- Republic service uses the Sprint network when available, which blankets the US pretty well (voice and 3G data almost everywhere and 4G data in the cities).
- But if you don’t have Sprint coverage, the phone will automatically roam to the nearest Verizon tower for unlimited voice (plus up to 25Mb/month of roaming data) – seamlessly and at no cost to you. So it is really like having both Sprint and Verizon accounts.
- If you’re connected to Wi-fi, the phone uses that (and thus the Internet) for all its calling and data needs. This means buildings and basements which were formerly outside of cell range are now great places to make a call. It also means the phone works internationally at no cost whenever you have good Wi-Fi. You can make and receive calls exactly as if you were still in the US – your friends will never know. I tested this feature successfully in Ecuador last year.
So what’s the difference?
The Camera: The Moto X has a better camera. While “megapixels” don’t really mean anything in modern marketing, the X takes sharper images and has a wider lens angle as well. Here’s a comparison of an identical indoor shot with each phone :
Futuristic Gee Whiz Features:
The Moto X has a few things that I have grown to like, which are absent on the G:
Active Display is a periodic update where the phone gently fades in stuff like the time, date, and your calendar/SMS/email/twitter status even when the phone is sleeping. It also does so immediately when you pick it up. Sort of convenient, since it saves you from unlocking the phone.
Touchless Control means the Moto X is always listening to you. You can give out commands even when the phone is in your pocket. It also detects when you’re driving or biking, and can do things like automatically answering (or telling the caller you cannot answer because you are driving). I had a neat experience where I was riding down the bike path, and my phone said “Incoming call from WIFEY, do you want to answer?”
“Yes”, I said, somewhat off guard. It answered, and I had a surreal speakerphone conversation with Mrs. Money Mustache while riding my bike with the phone in the pocket of my jeans.
The X also has a nifty feature where you simply twist your sleeping phone back and forth along its vertical axis a couple of times to immediately activate the camera. Better for catching short-lived moments and looking less dorky doing so since the twisting motion can be done subtly with the phone at your side and then Boom, you take the picture before anyone notices.
Even with these things missing, the Moto G is an amazing and intuitive piece of technology, and is a good choice for those of us who are not online media extremists for whom tiny details* make a big difference. So Republic wireless service just became drastically cheaper**, and I welcome the new option.
Republic has now added a third, even less costly phone called the Moto E. Smaller specs in exchange for a $99 price tag. While it won’t be the choice of most 20-something software engineers, this simpler smartphone may be a great choice for people who have no need for gadgetry, or families who want to give phones to their kids and relatives.
If you’re still paying over $25 for your mobile phone service, you can remedy that situation with this link.
* So which one would I buy? In my pre-blog life, it would have been the G, hands-down. Now that I use a phone so much for this gig, especially taking pictures that people actually look at sometimes, I’d have to suppress my natural cheapness and spend the extra for the X. It’s the usual tool-vs-toy calculation. Just remember that within a year or two, even better phones will cost even less than these ones, so weigh the steep depreciation on a per-photo (or per gee-whiz) basis.
** you can also now buy a used phone from another Republic member if you can find one and re-activate it on a new account, a further increase in frugality.