Relay Review: An LTE Walkie-Talkie For Kids (Of All Ages)


– In a world of smartphones
that do everything, it’s refreshing to try a
gadget that does one thing. I’m Mr. Mobile, and the closest thing I’ve got to a kid is
Jibo, the social robot. But if I had any human offspring, I might just buy them one of these. (upbeat music) This is Relay, which was built by the people at Republic Wireless. Sascha Segan at PC Mag called it the Anti-Smartphone for Kids. And I have yet to hear a better summation. Essentially, it’s a walkie talkie that works over cellular
and wifi networks. Remember those AT&T Push-to-Talk
phones I covered last year? Or even the old Nextel phones
from the dustbin of history? Relay works much the same way, it just can’t make phone calls. And it comes in a kid-friendly,
water-resistant package. Here’s how it works, you
buy Relay in a pack of two and once you set ’em up they
share a virtual channel. Push the button on one, say your message, release the button, and
it’ll come through on the other Relay speaker phone. Maneuvering con, cavitate, cavitate. Cavitate, cavitate. There is a headphone jack as
well for a measure of privacy but the size of the speaker
phone makes it pretty clear that these are meant to be used out loud. There’s a volume control and a power key and a notification ring light. And that’s the extent
of the user interface. Relay was built to be
dead simple to operate. And it is. Of course, there’s an app for iPhone and Android, which opens
up a bunch of features. Parents can see where any
Relay is at any given time. Or check its signal
strength and battery level. When the app is open, the
phone essentially acts like another Relay. You push the virtual PTT button to talk and listen to the replies through your phone’s speaker phone. If the app isn’t open,
conversations between the Relays don’t automatically get copied to the phone but kids can alert the parent to pick up by pressing and
holding the volume button. And if the Relays are having
connectivity problems, parents can use the app to see if there are any Wi-Fi hotspots near the Relays and then the parents can sign in to those Wi-Fi hotspots remotely. That’s not a situation I expect to be very common, I just think it’s cool from a geeky standpoint. The batteries inside
each Relay aren’t huge. I was getting about a
day of intermittent use out of them between charges. I could see myself running one dry pretty easily with heavy use. Charging is accomplished with the proprietary magnetic cable. Kind of a bummer if you
leave the cable at home and need to charge with a quickness. Testing Relay over the course
of about a week in Boston, they mostly did what they promised. I say mostly because I did
run in to connectivity issues where the Relays just wouldn’t
reliably deliver messages. And, frankly, that was pretty frustrating. When I reached out to
Republic about this though, they offered to swap out my review models for Relays with T-Mobile sim cards. See, Republic Wireless is what’s called an MVNO, or Mobile
Virtual Network Operator. All it means is that Republic
doesn’t own its own network. It leases space on both
Sprint and T-Mobile. Apparently my review
devices were on Sprint, which isn’t very good
in my part of Boston. I reached out to Phil Nickinson, aka ModernDad down in
Pensacola, Florida though and he had no such problems
on his Sprint-powered Relay. – [Phil] Yeah, I’m
watching the soccer game. – [Mr Mobile] Ditto Russell
Holly of Android Central on his T-Mobile-powered Relay. All’s well down in Baltimore. Republic is dealing with
these issues correctly. It’s offering to swap
Relays for another set on a different carrier
when customers complain about coverage problems. And that’s great. On the other hand, I
know it sounds so simple. Walkie talkies, right? But IP-based push-to-talk is
not an easy thing to make work. I’ve been following the
drama for the past 15 years as every US carrier has tried to implement a data-based
walkie talkie product in the style of Nextel and nothing has ever been as reliable or as fast as that old Nextel network. So the frustration I felt
when Relay wasn’t working was all too familiar. If I did indeed have
kids depending on these for communication, well, I’d want a more thorough assurance of
reliability before committing. Like I say, Relay has promised
to send me replacement units and also I will say that I was operating on pre-released software on at least one of my models. And this is just the beginning for Relay. Right now the only additional feature is an echo distortion function. (muffled blabbering) There’s a lot more on the horizon with Google Assistant
integration, music, trivia games, live language translation,
all of those promised for the future and more. Once those features go
through their kid-friendliness testing and eventually get rolled out, I feel like Relay will have an easier time justifying its price point. Even right now though, it’s still cheaper than most smart phones. And the underlying notion, that of a straight-forward
communications tool for parents who are concerned
about their kids’ screen time, it makes a lot of sense. And it should do quite well assuming it can deliver the reliability that such a device needs to guarantee. Folks at press time, we’re
coming up on Amazon Prime Day. Don’t forget to visit
my sponsor, Thrifter.com for all the greatest
deals on that Prime Day. Relay is probably too new a product to be featured there but
keep an eye on it anyway. If you wanna learn more about Relay from the perspective of an actual father, well, Russell Holly’s
review at AndroidCentral is quite good and the
aforementioned Modern Dad will be covering these as well. I’ll drop links to those gentlemen in the description below. Until next time, thanks for watching and stay mobile, my friends.

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