Home / News & Analysis / Republic Wireless Hardware Channels ‘Stranger Things’

Republic Wireless Hardware Channels ‘Stranger Things’

If you've watched Stranger Things, you might wonder if the walkie-talkie and home phone are coming back. Republic Wireless is making it so with devices that aren't just retro novelties.

Republic is best known as a widely liked virtual network operator, which uses the Sprint and T-Mobile physical networks; it did cheap Wi-Fi calling before most other people did. Now it's branching out into hardware with the handsome Republic Anywhere HQ and Republic Relay devices. Republic's CEO, Chris Chuang, gave us some hands-on time with non-functioning prototypes before the launch.

"We think the smartphone is now dominating your life and your attention too much," said Chuang. "We're looking at the return of voice, and the emergence of voice-first devices."

Walking and Talking

Chuang wants us to think of the Republic Relay as the new walkie-talkie, but it's much more diverse than that. The Relay is a soft-touch square—about the size of a coaster—that works as a walkie-talkie, GPS tracker, Google Assistant device, and music player. It has one big button in the middle, a headphone jack, and no screen.

You set it up in an associated smartphone app to connect on "channels" with specific other Relay devices or phones running the app. There's no phone book, just a set of channels for different contact groups. It'll come in two-packs for $149 or three-packs for $199.

"You'd initially have a handful of channels: a family channel, a kids/friends channel, configured by the app," Chuang said. You can also "bump" devices together to add them to a channel.

The idea is that you send it off with your kid, and if you need to reach her, you buzz her through the app; if she wants to talk back, she presses the button. There's no public-facing phone number, and it can only "call" other Relay devices or apps you've set up, so it's relatively secure. Adults can use it as a GPS-enabled runner's MP3 player, as it stores 10 hours of music loaded via USB. Both kids and adults can get questions answered through Google Assistant, although parents can turn that feature off.

For fun kids' features, Chuang also threw out some ideas like a voice-changer and a fart-noise maker, which we've seen before on devices like Verizon's GizmoGadget. To prevent the little squares from getting lost, they'll have lanyard, belt, and arm clips available

Carriers have sold kids' safety phones for years now, but the category never quite takes off. I suspect that's because of a combination of service prices and awkward ergonomics. Republic is betting that low service prices—$6.99 for unlimited use—and a fun, single-duplex, push-to-talk walkie-talkie-like calling method are the way to go. The two advantages are connected; as the Relay is pushing small voice-over-IP packets rather than full-scale calls, the networks see it as a data-only device and probably charge Republic less.

I mentioned it to my 11-year-old daughter, and she surprised me with her Stranger Things-fueled enthusiasm about walkie-talking with her friends—even though she has her own phone. Since the Relay works over Wi-Fi or LTE (it'll borrow a Wi-Fi authentication list from a parent's phone), it has a lot more range than those old-school walkie talkies. But then again, all her friends would need to own Relays, too. Obviously, that's what Chuang is hoping for.

Your Home Phone Is a Speaker Now

The Anywhere HQ, meanwhile, initially looks like a handsome, gray Google Assistant speaker on a solid base. It is; that's true. Pick it up off its base, though, and it's a hefty home-phone-like handset with a textured fabric color and a traditional 9-pad. So it's a smart speaker and a quasi-home phone; it's also a cell phone, of course, able to make calls over LTE and Wi-Fi.

The idea here is a home phone for homes that have stopped their copper phone-line service, but who want a "voice focused" device. Republic is adding its own voice assistant to handle calling tasks that Google Assistant currently can't do: saying "hey Republic" will let you make calls with the phone as a speakerphone, and the phone will receive calls on its assigned number. Or, you can just pick it up off the dock and dial a number.

Republic is still working on the feature set here. For instance, it can't handle multiple Google accounts yet, for assistant tasks and phone books, but that's "on the roadmap," and Republic is "in talks with music providers" beyond what Google Assistant offers, Chuang said. The company is also working on multi-room audio and the ability to hand off calls between Anywhere HQ and your smartphone.

Why "anywhere?" A home phone is a state of mind; since this is actually a cell/Wi-Fi phone, you can plant it anywhere you go. That said, this isn't a traditional land line, so it won't work with faxes or home security systems. You'd use it more like a VoIP system, like Ooma or MagicJack. But you'd also use it more often, because you'd also be using it as a speaker.


The unit Republic showed me didn't work, but I got an idea of the design. It's solid and handsome-looking, big enough to supply some, if not a lot of bass. Held in the hand as a home phone, the fabric cover is textured and cozy, and the handset has some nice heft to it.

Republic says it will be beta-testing the Anywhere HQ through the first quarter of next year and "it will, in Republic style, not be expensive." We'll do both previews and reviews of both devices when they become available.

Read more

Check Also

Sharecuts is creating a community for sharing Siri Shortcuts

With the upcoming release of iOS 12, Apple is introducing a new app called Shortcuts that will allow users to build custom voice commands for Siri that can be used to kick off a variety of actions in apps. While some apps will directly prompt users to add a Shortcut to Siri, the new Shortcuts app will offer more shortcut suggestions to try, plus the ability to create your own shortcuts and workflows. Now, there’s a new resource for shortcut fans, too – Sharecuts, a directory of shortcuts created and shared by the community. The site is still very much in the early stages. Plus, iOS 12 is still in beta testing itself, and the Shortcuts app can only be installed by developers who request access via an invite. But by the time iOS 12 releases to the public later this fall, Sharecuts’ directory will be filled out and a lot more functional. The premise, explains Sharecuts’ creator Guilherme Rambo, was to make an easily accessible place where people could share their shortcuts with one another, discover those others have shared, and suggest improvements to existing shortcuts. “I was talking to a friend [Patrick Balestra] about how cool shortcuts are, and how it should be easier for people to share and discover shortcuts,” says Guilherme. “He mentioned he wanted to build a website for that – he even had the idea for the name Sharecuts – but he was on vacation without a good internet connection so I decided to just build it myself in one day,” he says. The site is currently a bare bones, black-and-white page with cards for each shortcut, but an update will bring a more colorful style (see below) and features that will allow users to filter the shortcuts by tags, vote on favorites, among other things. Above: current site Guilherme says while the backend is being built to support a larger number of users, only a few people have been invited to upload for the time being. But in the upcoming release, the site will offer a “featured” selection of shortcuts chosen by some well-known members of the Apple community who will serve as curators. The uploads to the site will also be moderated in the future, to prevent malicious shortcuts and spam from being included in the directory. The site itself isn’t a new business or startup, Guilherme says, just a side project for now. It’s written in Swift and open-sourced on GitHub so others can contribute. The page already has a list of ideas for improvements to the Sharecuts site, including the new design, plus more ways to refine, sort, and organize the shortcuts. It remains to be seen how popular Siri Shortcuts will be with the mainstream iPhone user base. With iOS 12, Apple is turning its iPhone into an “A.I. phone,” but I believe the Shortcuts app and workflows will remain a power user feature for some time. Mainstream users will gradually warm up to the idea of customizing their Siri interactions by getting prompted to create voice commands by their favorite apps. (E.g. Your coffee shop’s mobile ordering app may push you to add a “Coffee time!” shortcut to Siri.) Over time, that may lead them to iOS 12’s Shortcuts app to do even more. But in the near-term, power users will be busy taking advantage of the new Shortcuts app and Siri features to test the powers of Shortcuts. And with Sharecuts, all the other shortcuts enthusiasts can benefit from their enthusiasm and activity, too. If you already have the beta Shortcuts app installed, you can try out some of the shortcuts featured on Sharecuts today. A couple of the interesting picks include the Siri News Reader which will read you headlines from an RSS feed, the Bitcoin Price checkers, and an always useful tip calculator. Turn Siri into a personalized news reader with Shortcuts – here’s how I can listen to headlines from @macstoriesnet and @9to5mac via Siri (Also: thanks @_inside for letting me upload this shortcut to his @sharecutsapp directory. You can find it here: https://t.co/1hBmLB3qhb) pic.twitter.com/PZolKQlKrg — Federico Viticci (@viticci) July 9, 2018 Above: The news reader shortcut, from Federico Viticci Those interested in contributing to Sharecuts in the future can register here for an invite.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer: Trading in bitcoins or other digital currencies carries a high level of risk and can result in the total loss of the invested capital. theonlinetech.org does not provide investment advice, but only reflects its own opinion. Please ensure that if you trade or invest in bitcoins or other digital currencies (for example, investing in cloud mining services) you fully understand the risks involved! Please also note that some external links are affiliate links.