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Republic Wireless Relay+ Review 2021

This talkie can really walk. Republic Wireless’s Relay+ ($99) is a distance-friendly alternative to enterprise walkie-talkie systems, delivering strictly controlled one-button communication with the range of a mobile phone. If you manage workgroups across a big campus and you’ve been frustrated by walkie-talkie range or channel manageability, this is a slick solution.


The Relay+ is an enterprise-friendly version of the Republic Wireless Relay, which we reviewed in 2018. The hardware is largely the same, though the Relay’s bright, friendly colors have been replaced by sober gray. It’s a palm-sized, silicone-covered lozenge with one large button in the center, volume buttons and a channel-change button on one side, and a USB-C port on the other. It’s 2.67 inches square and 0.67 inch thick, and weighs 2.5 ounces.

Volume buttons and a channel-change button are on one side of the Relay+.

The little Relay+ is covered in silicone, but it’s not ultra-rugged. It’s IPX8-rated and can safely be dunked in 4 feet of water for 30 minutes. Multiple drops to a tile floor didn’t bug our test unit. But it probably would not survive, say, being driven over with a golf cart. (I opted not to test this.)

The Relay+ works with USB-C and Bluetooth headsets as well as single-ear swivel, D-ring, acoustic tube, and ear hook earpieces, all of which run around $40 with the needed adapter. A $10 belt clip keeps it handy.

Two Relays, one showing the USB-C portThe USB-C port is used for charging as well as headphone connection.

Add up all the accessories and it’s still less expensive than a phone, though it’s more expensive than cheap two-way radios. And, as with a phone, you’ll pay for a connectivity plan. The base plan ($10/month or $100/year) includes unlimited channels. An advanced plan ($15/month or $150/year) adds support for Bluetooth location beacons, location and message histories, message transcription and text replies, and one-to-one calling between Relay devices. It’s hard to find cell phone plans with that low a monthly fee. If you’re weighing the option of buying everyone on your team a work phone, the Relay+ is a very affordable alternative.


A Critical Dashboard

Republic includes its web-based fleet management dashboard in the cost of the Relay+, and that’s a fantastic bargain that more than offsets the cost of the service plan. By comparison, enterprise software for managing two-way radios, such as Motorola’s MotoTrbo, starts at around $6,000 plus a charge for every seat.

The dashboard is a big part of what makes the Relay+ both different from the older family-oriented Relay model and better than analog walkies. An administrator can manage an unlimited number of Relay+ devices, which includes monitoring their status, arranging their groups and channels, and turning features on and off.

I’m impressed by the quality of management options here. You can keep an eye on Relays’ battery levels and locations, forcibly switch their channels or set their volumes, and broadcast to some or many devices.

Republic Relay+ dashboard screenshotThe Relay+ dashboard is packed with handy features.

Using the dashboard, you can set up an unlimited number of group channels and one-to-one chats on the devices. You really don’t want to have more than about four on each device, though, because changing channels is slow: You tap the side button to slowly rotate through them one by one. You can also add a translate channel, which translates one-way between 17 different languages using Google’s translation software. You can only do one unidirectional language pair on each Relay—for example, Spanish to English or English to Spanish, but not both.

One-to-one chat channels also have the ability to store and forward messages—basically, leaving a message for someone—but group channels don’t.

High-end, enterprise two-way radio management systems provide better logging and recording of past locations, events, messages and status changes. But for a cost of $0, what the Relay+ Dashboard does is very impressive.


Making the Call

Underneath the hood, the Relay+ is a mobile phone on Republic Wireless’ network, using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 chipset and 4G LTE or Wi-Fi calling. The Relay+ connects to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi; you set up a list of approved networks in the management dashboard, and the device will choose Wi-Fi over cellular when it’s available.

Republic Wireless currently has the option to operate on the AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint networks. Ours came set to use AT&T. The company will choose one based on what it knows about coverage in your area, and will change the network for you if you have problems. As I was handing in this piece, the company also sent out a notice that it would soon push a software update to let devices automatically fall back from one cellular network to another if the first had no coverage.

Chatting is simple: hold down the button and talk. There’s a slight setup time, so you want to start holding the button about a half-second before you speak, and let go a half-second after. Sound is harsh but quite loud.

A person pressing the call button on a Relay+ on a belt clipOne button to call them all.

Channels are half-duplex. Only one person can talk at a time, and if you try to talk over someone, you’ll get a “someone else is talking!” message. They also aren’t entirely synchronous: There’s a slight delay between when you’re actually talking and when it comes out the other end.

In our tests, calls were reliable except in one circumstance: at the edge of a Wi-Fi network where the device couldn’t figure out whether to transition onto cellular or not. (The upcoming software update will help with that as well, Republic said.) Otherwise, the Relays will work most places that have LTE service; the device supports frequency bands 5, 12, and 25 for rural areas but not the newer band 71. RF reception can be enhanced with an in-car cellular booster to get additional range if you’re driving around. If you have a campus with known cellular dead zones, you can fill them in with Wi-Fi.

The battery is not swappable or removable, and lasts for about two days on a single charge. The Relay+ charges via MicroUSB or on Qi wireless charging pads (Republic sells one for $25).

Location awareness is a feature, but I didn’t find it reliable in testing. Using the dashboard, you can set geofences and get notifications if a device enters or exits the fence. But in testing I found the Relays to have a 5-10 minute delay on the geofence notifications. Conceivably, they could be used to determine if a team member accidentally takes one home, but they couldn’t be used to immediately respond if someone leaves a safe zone.

Location tracking defaults to the usual cell-phone level of precision: what building you’re in, but not generally where in the building, and with a short delay. For more precise indoor location tracking, Republic sells sets of Bluetooth beacons, but the company didn’t provide us with pricing or review units.

A person holding a walkie-talkie and a Relay+The Relay+ can be a great alternative to a walkie-talkie.


A True Team Player

The Relay+ competes against commercial-grade walkie-talkies and smartphones. For a campus team solution, it has better range than walkie-talkies and is more easily managed than a smartphone. That said, phones are more flexible, especially if you need custom apps, and walkie-talkies tend to be more durable and have bigger batteries.

The dashboard seals the deal for us. When you’re managing a bunch of devices and team members, it really helps to be able to keep an eye on all of them. Republic lets you do that without needing to go to the sort of complex, IT-supported dispatch software that’s frequently associated with Motorola or similar two-way radios. That makes the Relay+ a good middle ground for smaller enterprises, as long as you’re confident of the cellular and Wi-Fi coverage on your campus.

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