July 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
Motorola has been on a roll the last few years introducing great hardware at unheard of prices. Their Moto G and Moto E have redefined entry level phones with superb built quality, decent specs and superb contract-free pricing. When they improve on either of those values, their devices become impossible to ignore. With that being said, Amazon in having a sale on the Motorola Moto E, with the 3G version going for $89.99 and the LTE model for just $99.99. Click the links below to grab as many of these as you can.
June 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
In an expected move that will surely not sit well with Taylor Swift, Google Play Music will be adding a free tier to their service. Like Spotify and Pandora, this will be ad-supported and will presumably come with limited skips and other usual restrictions. To get people started, Google will also be featuring some curated playlists. Unfortunately, this is US only for now and will be rolling out gradually.
June 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Although it’s far from new, the original MotoX is still a great phone and will be getting Android 5.1….. soon. Even refurbished it is a great deal at under $100 with free shipping.
June 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
Seems like everyone is discounting the Nexus Player from Google today, with Amazon’s deal being the best. At just $58.96 this puts the awesome movie, music, media, game streamer at steep $40 discount, making this an easy impulse buy.
Click here to see the deal: Nexus Player from Google by ASUS
UPDATE: Looks like the deal is over and the current price is $70. Still discounted but now on par with Google Play.
May 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
The Twitter and Google partnership has returned. Searches performed through Google will now yield real-time content from Twitter. These results will appear as a stream of tweets above your results.
These are meant to add an instant news-like feed to the topics you are researching. Looking up your local team would show you tweets from people at the game for example. Looking up a show will yield reactions to a current episode. For now this is only available on Google.com in English in the Google app (on Android and iOS) and on mobile browsers, and will be rolling out gradually, expanding to other languages and platforms in time.
Now, let’s see how many “Google+ is Dead” articles this leads to.
May 11, 2015 § Leave a comment
I’m sitting here in my office staring at two phones. On the right is an HTC One M8 from Verizon; a phone I have been enjoying for over 10 months. To the left is a decidedly smaller MotoG, running on Republic Wireless. A month ago I had a plan. I wanted to see what Republic Wireless was all about. I had convinced myself that a company providing me with a $25/mo 3G only plan, running mostly on Sprint’s network, through a barely midspec, 4.5 inch budget Motorola phone stood no chance against my gorgeous, 5 inch metalclad powerhouse from HTC, backed by Verizon’s bulletproof LTE network. No contest. I would play with the plastic toy Republic sent me for a couple of weeks and then return it. Pay whatever fees, and never think of it again, until I had to write about their proud but futile effort. What a an original and clever idea. Clearly I am the cleverest cleverer that ever clevered. Thirty days later, I’m boxing up the HTC. Tomorrow I’m calling Verizon and telling them the bad news. Next week, I’m renewing my Republic Wireless plan. Is this going to be 2011 all over again?
Back in the early Spring of 2011, I finally decided it was time to say goodbye to T-Mobile. I liked them as a company but just couldn’t stand the coverage area. Before parting ways with a carrier I used for six years, I had to be satisfied with a replacement. I purchased an older Verizon phone, and took both on a couple of trips, spanning a total of 5000 miles and 7 states. After a couple of weeks, I saw the absence of any reasonable comparison. T-Mobile had let me down in more areas than I could count, while I had to (unsuccessfully) search out spots where my Verizon phone would lose the connection with the mothership. The only downside to going with Verizon would be the almost 30% hike in my bill. However I didn’t see any reason to pay less for a smartphone plan that failed constantly, instead of paying reasonably more for one that works all the time. I could either be wasting $70 or getting something worthwhile for $100. The choice made sense. And with a Galaxy Nexus on the horizon, the decision was sealed. It was a compromise of course, but with such limited choices, one had to be made.
Fast forward a bit and suddenly there was a new player on the field, not the least bit shy about what they were bringing to the game.
In the fall of 2011 Republic Wireless announced that they would be introducing an all inclusive plan for a double-take causing, jaw-dropping, $20/month. The idea was that many of us spend a solid chunk of our personal and professional life around a WiFi hotspots. Republic’s hybrid service would put calls, messages, and of course data through these whenever the phone was connected to a WiFi source. It would only use a cell network when Wifi was unavailable. Although everyone was paying attention, most, laughed at the proposal and gave Republic less than a year before their tents were folded, placed in their original boxes and send back to some commie wonderland. By 2014, Republic was still here and had come a long way. They had new plans, new phones, upgraded services, roaming partners and were going on a marketing push. As positive reviews piled up, this company demanded to be taken seriously. Their hybrid network, which relied on users offloading much of their daily smartphone use to WiFi, had matured and now worked smoothly.
April 2015 brought a major validation of Republic’s business model: Google announced Project Fi. The similarity in services did not go unnoticed. Project Fi is also built on the idea of a seamless data and voice handoff to a WiFi network when one is available. Unlike Republic however, Project Fi relies on Sprint and T-Mobile when a WiFi signal is not available. Google also mentioned that any unused data would be refunded to users. However, Project Fi’s prices ($30 for 1 Gb of 4G Data, $10/Gb going forward) can’t touch Republic’s and is only available on a relatively expensive unsubsidized Nexus 6. Although it should be noted that it is called a “Project” for a reason and will hopefully improve in all areas in the near future, right now, Republic Wireless is a much better option. It is also unclear whether Project Fi will also fall back on Verizon for roaming as part of their deal with Sprint, the way Republic does. Republic Wireless should feel nothing but pride seeing that a company of Google’s stature fully recognized their forward thinking approach to mobile.
It was time for me to take a look at what should be an important and welcome medler in the cell phone industry. So I jumped on board and got myself a brand new MotoG and a plan from Republic. The experiment was simple and not highly scientific. The focus was overall value. I was confident that Verizon would trounce Republic in cell/data service/coverage, and phone selection, but lose in the price category. The question was, could Republic Wireless provide enough at a lower cost to make someone think twice?
If Republic Wireless has one area in need of major improvement, it is the phone selection; or the lack thereof. You wouldn’t and shouldn’t even consider their old offerings which consisted of an LG Optimus and Motorola Defy XT (only available on resale sites). However in 2013, Motorola released their brilliant and affordable MotoX, later followed by an even better priced, albeit less powerful, MotoG. It was a match made in heaven. Republic followed up a year later with the second gen MotoX and added another quality budget Motorola phone, Moto E. A provider with a budget focused, but very competent network would now have a budget focused, but very competent smartphone family. Motorola’s offerings are indeed impressive, but they make up the entire lineup. Verizon and the other big 3, offer products from HTC, LG, Samsung, Asus, Apple, Nokia,Motorola and many others. They also offer choices of OSes and ecosystems. So if you prefer iOS or Windows phone, or you want a flagship Galaxy, Republic is not for you. Even other MVNOs like Ting and Cricket allow you to bring your own phones to their service. Republic can’t do this yet for a couple of reasons. The first is that they are limited to Sprint-only phones rely on the Big Yellow’s network. The second is the special software Republic has to create for all their phones. It is this software that allows Republic to function as hybrid network, allowing their users to jump from cell towers to Wifi to function. Eventually, I have no doubt they will add more hardware, but for now this is the reality.
Since I was mostly focusing on the network, I opted for the second cheapest Moto available: A black, 8Gb MotoG. The Moto E is a capable phone but is just far too lacking for my realistic daily use. I won’t do a full review of the phone since that has been done by various sites long ago, but a quick overview is well deserved. When I first opened the box, I was immediately surprised by how well built the MotoG was. For $150 ($180 for the 16Gb model) off contract I expected cheap plastic that flexed, creaked, squeaked and felt worthless in the hand. The MotoG is not any of those things. Well, it is plastic, but its matte finish on the back and glossy-but-solid-feeling plastic front shell fit together into something that felt great to hold, sturdy, and as someone that prefers a little heft on my devices, a perfect weight. Or as one of my favorite films put it:
The screen was curveball number two. It was bright, with solid blacks, and radiant colors. It may not be the best in the world, but it’s damn good, annihilating anything in it’s price range.
Performance was where reality began catching up a bit. Even with the 4 cores, a very competent Snapdragon 400, optimized software, and 1Gb of RAM, there is a reason Motorola can sell this thing for under $200 and still turn a profit. Everything just feels a little slower. Applications take an extra second to load. The homescreen often has to reload when exiting most modern apps, and the Android’s infamous multitasking feature becomes more of a “recent-app-switcher” as only a few programs were in the same place I left them when I returned. It is important to note though, that not once did the MotoG lag. Swiping and dragging felt fluid and natural, even after being spoiled by HTC’s superlative smoothness. I also experienced zero crashes, reboots or any stutter at all….. at all. It may not be the fastest phone, but it’s polished and reliable. Put it against phones that cost even more and the G holds its ground.
Storage is where I made a mistake. I thought 8Gbs would be enough. I was wrong. After the OS basics and Motorola’s software you are actually only left with 5.52Gb. After I put on only my core apps I was already down to 1.5 Gbs. This is was excluding any “fun” apps like Ingress and a couple of time wasting games. I was stuck with a phone that had my email, work apps, messaging and social apps. It couldn’t handle much more. With no external SD card, this simply is not enough, putting this particular model into the “good second phone” category for a lot of people. I should have at least sprung for the 16Gb model. Sadly Republic does not offer the 4G model with expandable storage, which would have made an even better option.
The other obvious problem with low storage, is that it limits the number of photos and videos you are able to take. Fortunately that will not be an issue, since the terrible camera will not spur the Ansel Adams or even Pecker in anyone. Yes this is where Motorola unequivocally saved a few bucks. The flash was of the usual smartphone caliber. It would either do nothing or completely blow out the foreground. I forced the 5MP camera to take a few reasonable shots under perfect circumstances but overall the examples below expose a pretty bleak experience. Videos… I’m not even going to post them. You would be better off with retelling stories through interpretive dance.
To end on a high note though, the battery life. 52 hours!!! Pardon me just jumping in there like that but, 52 HOURS!!!
That is how much I managed to squeeze out of the MotoG under a specific set of circumstances. Those included, very light use, mostly WiFi and data sync turned off overnight. Yes the case is extreme but still no less profound. My HTC One, managed to crank out 48 hours (a previous best) while spending that time being barely touched at all, entirely on WiFi and and with the data sync off at night. With regular use, relying heavily on the 3G towers and using navigation and music-apps while driving, the MotoG still held up a satisfying 26 hours. Everyone’s results will vary but feel confident in knowing that getting a MotoG means you are purchasing a phone with notable battery life. The only downside is that the 2070 mAh battery cannot be removed despite the phone having a removable rear cover.
In the end, all I can say is that the MotoG is neither a budget phone nor a top shelf device. It’s rests somewhere in between. However, aside from the abysmal camera, it is much closer to flagship status, than to the unusable afterthoughts that populate its price point. And to cement that a little more is the fact that Motorola has been really great with it’s software upgrades, keeping the X and the G up to date better than other OEMs have treated some of their top-shelf products.
The next step was choosing the right plan:
To understand how Republic can offer such a killer deal, you have to understand how it works. Here is an excerpt from the company:
“A truly smart smartphone should make a habit of using WiFi for everything. Surfing. Texting. Sharing. And, yes, even talking.
Where most of the smartphones on the market today spend a good portion of their time on WiFi—in homes, schools and offices—consumers don’t see the benefit of that “cellular data offload” on their monthly bills. And cell data is expensive.
Republic Wireless turns the traditional cellular model on its head. Our phones use WiFi first, with cellular as the backup network. That model saves Republic, and its members, a whole lot of money. We’re talking hundreds (and often thousands) off their annual “big carrier” smartphone bills.”
The company is betting that most of us spend a majority of our time connected to a WiFi signal. So while we are, we may as well be using it for…. everything. While connected, your data, calls, messages will all go through the WiFi signal. As soon as you walk away or lose the connection, your phone will switch to their mobile network. In theory, you won’t even notice the handoff going in either direction, even during an active call. As long as you can provide a single WiFi spot to setup, you are good to go. From that point forward Republic provides you with a few options you can see below.
I opted for the $25/mo plan. This included unlimited minutes, unlimited texting and unlimited 3G data. Now before you scream that this is not a fair comparison since my primary challenger is a 4G device on Verizon, you’re forgetting the original point: value. As nice as 4G speeds are on Verizon, and they are nice, I wanted to see if Republic’s price point could invalidate the 3G handicap. I also figured that if dependency on 3G would impress me enough, then Republic offers an unlimited* 4G plan that still undercuts the 2Gb Verizon plan by $20. Now it was time to use the two side by side for a while. So, off we go on some more road trips.
There were three things I was looking to test on the Republic phone:
- Phone calls while on the Republic network
- Phone calls while on various WiFi connections (private and public, strong and weak)
- The handoff of the call when switching from WiFi to cellular and vice versa.
I’m happy to report that in all three scenarios, the Republic phone performed very well. But as usual there were stronger and weaker points of the experience. I experienced no issues while on the cellular network and the calls were crisp and clear. There were no dropped calls and coverage was consistent throughout my use. Calls made while on WiFi were very good but there was a noticeable difference in quality in proportion to the strength of the WiFi signal. Truth be told though, even on the weakest WiFi signal I could find, the calls were completed without any interruption and were more than adequate in quality. There was no cutting in and out and the other party reported being able to hear me without any issues. The handoff is what had me concerned. Republic initially struggled to make this work seamlessly and reports of dropped calls were rampant. Users claimed that switching from WiFi to cellular, as you’re leaving the house for example, would always result in a disconnection. Republic has addressed the issue and you can now feel secure in knowing that your conversation will go on without the need to redial. There was only a small pause, lasting a second or two, while the phone jumped to a local tower, in each of my trials. Going the other way, and jumping unto a WiFi connection during a call initiated over the cellular network was unnoticeable in every test. Call quality either remained the same or got slightly better. No pauses or skips. In all my tests jumping between networks, no calls were lost and considering that the handoff situation won’t happen very often, there is no concern about making calls on Republic.
The hardest area to accurately review. We all spend our days very differently. I happen to be around WiFi almost 90% of the time. In order to get a real feel for the Republic experience, I tried spending significantly more time on mobile data. To make things a bit more fair, I also switched my HTC to 3G. Since Republic relies on Sprint, I was constantly getting between 1.3 – 2.2 Mbs down and about 0.75 – 2.1 Mbs up. The HTC on Verizon 3G was getting slightly faster speeds ranging from 1.6 – 3.1 Mbs down and 1.5 – 2.6 up. As far as coverage though, Republic turned in a solid performance. In some places where Sprint is not available, Republic falls back on Verizon, as part of their roaming agreement, greatly improving their footprint. There was only a handful of spaces where the HTC got a signal, with the Moto sitting in the deadzone. These spots were all well off the beaten path. However, comparing it to a T-Mobile Nexus 5 I had handy, really raised some eyebrows as the Moto consistently got coverage in nearly every area that T-Mobile completely cut out. In metropolitan areas, the Nexus ruled supreme, but once we hit the turnpike or secluded spots, the Nexus would constantly fall back on 2G or just become a pretty brick. Truth be told, if I was comparing Republic and T-Mobile, there would be no contest at all as the Green Network would wipe the floor with Magenta tears. But let’s focus back on the comparison with Verizon. What I learned is that even though the coverage areas were almost identical, Verizon 3G data was slightly faster.
The needs for LTE speeds will once again depend on use cases. For people planning on streaming video, upload hi-res images, or other massive files, 3G just won’t do. I however relied on my phone to check email, messages, some social apps like G+ and twitter, and some local review sites like Foursquare and Yelp. All worked without a problem. Even on 3G these apps are designed to load quickly and efficiently so having 4G speeds is really not a necessity for me. Navigation flowed smoothly with music streaming the entire time. Browsing was also acceptable with only the heaviest of pages taking a few more seconds longer I would like to load. Sufficient would be an understatement.
I would be doing Republic a disfavor if I didn’t mention some of the other benefits of joining the carrier. Customer service may not seem a huge selling point at first but as soon as you run into any issues you will hastily appreciate it. MVNOs often have bad reputations for theirs but Republic’s was downright fantastic. Any and all questions and issues were resolved immediately with none of the deferred sales tactics that I was used to getting from T-Mobile, Verizon and countless other companies. Forget jumping through a maze of automated prompts and reps. Another feature that I’m surprised Republic doesn’t pride themselves on more vocally is the effortless ability to switch your plan twice a month. Just open the Republic app on your phone, pick a different plan, reboot your phone and you’re all set.
There are a couple of reasons this is advantageous. One, is that you can switch to a lower tier plan for a part of the month if you know that you may not need much (or any) mobile data for a while. Once you need it again, just switch back instantly. The result is an even lower phone bill at the end of the month. My $25/mo plan actually turned out to be under $20. The other scenario benefits few friends that still rely on feature phones for whatever reason. They can now use Republic for a measly $10/month and, while having access to smartphone functionality on WiFi as needed, or jump on a data plan for a bit and switch back to the basic plan. I should also mention that the $10/mo Republic plan is less than any of them pay right now on a major network to use a simple flip phone. On top of all this, Republic is starting to test a project called Maestro. This will allow users to receive refunds for unused data at the end of the month.
Sitting down and writing all this out to put it perspective did nothing to change my mind. The decision to switch to Republic Wireless is a simple one for me. Quick summary of Pros and Cons:
- Value: Pricing models are cheaper than anything else out there.
- Customer Service
- Quality albeit limited family of phone models that range from low to higher end
- No contract
- Ability to switch plans mid-cycle (twice per billing cycle)
- Coverage: Not as good as Verizon but much better than T-Mobile, Sprint (ironically), and most other MVNOs
- Very solid built in WiFi calling features that work well and switch flawlessly between WiFi and the regular network.
- Upcoming Maestro project will give you back money for unused data, further adding to the value.
- Limited phone selection. If you want something outside what Motorola offers, look elsewhere.
- OS upgrades: due to custom software you may not get speedy updates, if at all. However, Republic’s own software is maintained, patched, and upgraded regularly.
- Relies mainly on Sprint: This was not as big of an issue as anticipated since it falls back on Verizon for roaming where Sprint is not available.
- No hotspot allowed.
SHOULD YOU SWITCH?
Yes…. yes you should. Or at least very seriously consider it. Ok, that’s oversimplifying it. I can only mention so many times that everyone uses their devices differently and Republic is certainly not for everyone. But here are some pretty solid cases where I believe they make sense as your provider. Keep in mind, I’m looking at these as a single user. Some family/group plans may offer better value.
- You’re not too picky specific about which smartphone Android OEM you use. The entire Moto family is filled with great phones so you’re hardly slumming it by using one.
- You use a feature phone. This is one is really a no-brainer unless you are specifically staying away from smartphones in general. The $10 plan is just too good to pass up.
- You are on T-Mobile. Sorry, but unless you spend all your time in one of Magenta’s coverage areas, Republic’s rates and coverage map make more sense. You are definitely giving up high speed data in some metropolitan areas and the lack of hotspot could be a dealbreaker but if it isn’t, switch now.
- You are on Sprint. Republic gives you better… everything. You again have to do without hotspot functionality and limited phone selection but besides that, I see no advantage to staying Sprint.
- You spend a lot of time on WiFi. By switching to Republic, you won’t really miss out on high speed data and you could significantly cut your bill down.
- You want a smartphone but have a tight budget. Simply put, you cannot get a cheaper smartphone plan right now.
- You want phones for the family but not everyone needs mobile data all the time. In this case, Republic would be a cheaper option than most of the “shared data” plans out there. Of course this means data on wifi only:
Four years after I switched carriers, prioritizing coverage and service over cost, I can happily report that Republic Wireless has eliminated the need for that compromise. Visiting the Republic Wireless forums, you will, not surprisingly, find an exultant and loyal customer base. Count me among them.
April 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
Great mid-range Android phones are becoming more prominent these days. Thank you Motorola! From now until 11:59 pm PDT on April 20th, two hundred bucks can get you a solid phone with some great specs. Head over to Amazon and give the ALCATEL ONETOUCH IDOL 3 (ok the branding is terrible, I admit) a serious look. Not a lot of money for an unlocked, contract-free phone that gives you all this:
– 5.5 Full HD Screen (443 ppi)
– Quad 1.5GHz + Quad 1GHz Snapdragon 615 (MSM8939)
– 16Gb Memory (10Gb Usable)
– Lollipop (5.02)
– 2Gb RAM
– 2910mAh Battery
– Dual front facing JBL speakers
– 13 Mpxl camera with autofocus (Sony Sensor)
– Works on:
- Straight Talk
- Walmart Family Mobile
- Many US GSM Regionals
Here is a video from PocketNow taking a closer look at the phone:
Get it here from Amazon: ALCATEL ONETOUCH IDOL 3