Jim Cloudman

Cheap & Cheerful: The Moto X on Republic Wireless

October 1, 2015 Permalink

If money were no object, I'd still have my iPhone that I had for the past few years. I think. A month ago I gave that up, and found myself needing a smartphone and a cheap phone bill. After weighing my options, I went with a Moto X on Republic Wireless.

The reason I went with that is pretty simple: my phone bill is around $15/month. Achieving this requires keeping your data usage around 500MB or so per month, but that's easy enough if you're careful. Verizon charges $50/month for their cheapest 1GB plan, so your phone bill is 70% cheaper on Republic. Over two years, you'll have an extra $840 to spend. Hard to pass that up!

The biggest catch is that Republic Wireless devices can only receive affordable data over Sprint's data network. However, they can call and text over not just other CDMA networks (Verizon mainly), but over WiFi too. Anywhere in the world that you have WiFi, you can receive calls as if you're at home. If you don't rely on data a lot, you may find the WiFi call feature is worth more to you.

Another catch? You can only choose from two phones that have Republic's custom cellular logic, required to make WiFi calling work. Fortunately the phones are two of the better phones out there: the Moto E and the Moto X. The E at $130 is much better than it has any right to be at that price, but I sprung for a 32GB Moto X for $400 all-in. 1

It's worth noting, by the way, that you can go with Ting if you're set on an iPhone. You'll pay about twice as much for the cell service as you do for Republic, but you can get almost any phone, and you'll still save money over a major carrier.

So what is the Moto X like? Design wise, I prefer it to the iPhone. The ergonomic shape with the thin aluminum frame around the edges make it somewhat easier to hold, and the optional leather back is grippy enough that I won't easily drop it. The phone size is in between that of the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus, which turns out to be ideal for my hands. With no hardware buttons to take up top/bottom space, the screen gets to be almost as large as that of the 6 Plus without being too awkward to hold.

That screen - with the same 1080p resolution as the 6 Plus - is an AMOLED display. Anandtech was disappointed with the color accuracy, but I don't notice that in most situations. What I do notice is the inherent lack of backlighting. Using this phone in the dark is a revelation - it's easier to read and you can dim it to crazy levels with the help of a screen filter app. If you're driving at night, you can keep the screen on without ruining your nightvision. I'm reluctant to ever go back to an iPhone on this basis alone; I love having an OLED screen.

The phone also has a nifty feature called Active Display, enabled with IR sensors around the display. Wave your hand over it, and it lights up with recent notification icons & the time. Tap them to get more details, or drag down to unlock your phone. I find myself using that feature all the time.

Android has come a long way since I last used it in 2011. The OS is very responsive in most places, a change from the constant stuttering of only a few years ago. It's also much more stable; I've had more reboots on my iPhone 6 Plus than on my Moto X.

The quality gap between the best Android apps and the best iOS apps is much narrower than I expected. They used to feel like they were barely adequate for the job and were designed as an afterthought. Now they have the quality I would expect from most iOS apps. I can find better iOS versions of most Android apps - but usually only a single app, and the difference is not that pronounced in most cases. An example would be Android's Press versus iOS's Reeder. Press is worse than Reeder, but only in that the design is a little less refined - and I do mean a little; Press is still a nicely designed app. Functionally, both work equally well.

The nature of Android also allows for features that iOS doesn't permit:

  • All my photos are automatically (over WiFi) uploaded to Amazon Cloud Drive. To sync photos on iOS the application must be manually opened.

  • I hate the icons on some apps, so I simply set their icons to new ones from a popular icon pack called Rondo.

  • One of my home screens features widgets providing detailed weather information from Forecast.io and speed dial buttons; a simple swipe takes me there and I don't have to wait for anything to load like with iOS's notification center.

  • When it gets dark, I use the Darker app to apply a filter to cut down on blue light - similar to the wonderful f.lux app on the desktop.

It's not all fun and games. Without badge notifications, it's too easy to remove all trace of a notification you received. On iOS, though, there's no meaningful persistence of notification banners & alerts at all - that badge is all you can depend on. I would call that a draw. Another annoyance is that playback of podcasts, at least from Pocket Casts, is very glitchy over Bluetooth. In addition, iOS allows extensions for Safari and content blocking; Chrome for Android has none of these. It's strange to see iOS have more extensibility than Android in that area.

Nor is the hardware perfect. Battery life is always Apple's trump card; the Moto X's battery is barely adequate - like most Android phones, depressingly. The camera is also not very good; I don't use it much but this is not the phone for an Instagram addict. No Touch ID should be very irritating, but Android's Trusted Devices & Trusted Locations features allow you to get around that. If you're at home or own a nearby Motorola Keylink, your phone will unlock itself, thus removing the need for it in most cases. Also, I'm no fan of Micro USB after being spoiled by Lightning. However, the included Micro USB cable tells you which way is up by feel, so the frustration is reduced.

I really don't know how I feel about this versus an iPhone. When I add everything together, I get very similar results. The higher-quality apps and hardware on the iPhone are counter-balanced by the affordability, more practical design, OLED screen and greater extensibility of the Moto X. If money is no object I think I'd go back to the iPhone, but as it is, the Moto X works wonderfully for me. I wouldn't blame you if you got one either.

However, you may want to hurry. This Moto X is going out the door soon; the next one, already on sale elsewhere, is a 6" device and has a traditional LCD display. Proof that newer is not always better in the Android world.

  1. For the love of God, don't buy a 16GB phone!