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The best smartphone deal on the planet, period

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 8:53AM Thursday December 13, 2012
under Spotlight Deals

Let me guess: You're finally ready to make the move from your old flip-phone or BlackBerry to a more modern smartphone, but you can't stomach the $60-80 (or higher!) monthly fee that's going to come with it.

Or perhaps your teenager has been clamoring for a smartphone, but you're not willing to pay that same huge bill for something that's primarily going to be used for texting and Angry Birds. Surely there must be a more affordable option out there?

There is, finally. I've written about Republic Wireless a few times before, but there was always a waiting list while the company slowly rolled out service to small batches of customers. Now, thankfully, the deal is open to all. And what an amazing deal it is:

For $249, plus a $10 activation fee, you get a Motorola Defy XT, an Android-powered smartphone with a 3.7-inch screen, 5-megapixel camera, and high-capacity battery (which Motorola says is good for 9.5 hours of continuous usage).

It's a lower-end handset, yes, but more than sufficient for users with basic needs. And here's the coolest feature of all: Republic charges just $19 per month for unlimited talk, texting, and data. No fees, no taxes, no hidden charges, and, best of all, no contract. Amortized out over a couple years, there's no other smartphone package that's anywhere near as affordable.

How can Republic charge so little when other carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) hit you up for at least three times as much? By taking advantage of a little tech trickery: Whenever you make or take a phone call, the Defy connects to any available Wi-Fi network for that call. That connectivity doesn't cost Republic Wireless anything, so the savings are passed along to you.

Of course, if Wi-Fi isn't available, like when you're walking down the street or riding in a car, the phone hits up local cell towers, just like any ordinary handset. And all this network switching happens automatically and in the background, meaning it's more or less transparent to you.

This is so ingenious, I can't believe other carriers haven't embraced the idea. (Or maybe I can; then they couldn't charge you as much for service). Is it perfect? No. In my tests with the Defy, call quality on Wi-Fi networks wasn't always great. And the phone still can't auto-switch from Wi-Fi to cellular during a call, meaning if you leave a Wi-Fi hotspot while you're chatting with someone, you'll get cut off.

I think that's a small price to pay for such a small price to pay. Republic's phone and service won't impress folks who want cutting-edge technology, but they'll delight anyone who wants a complete smartphone experience without the insane smartphone bill. I'm a fan.

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and, and also writes for PC World and Wired.