Who doesn’t want to free themselves from the clutches of their wireless carrier? We all have at least one horror story about dropped calls, terrible service, unreasonable rate plans and prices, data dead zones, slow updates, bloatware, unavailable devices…the list goes on.
Is Google here to save you?
The answer is…
Before you cancel your contract to jump into Google’s arms, understand what you are getting into. Google definitely offers some competitive advantages.
Are they going to please everyone?
Probably not. But do find out if they work for you.
What is Project Fi?
If the existence of Google as an option for wireless service is news to you, you’re not alone. The program works through a partnership with both T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular to provide access to more 4G LTE, cell towers, and Wi-Fi hotspots easier and faster. This can improve not only accessibility and speed but also lower costs since you are not charged for data when Wi-Fi is available. You only pay for the data you actually use.
So why have you (perhaps) never heard of Project Fi?
Terms used to describe the service such as project (used by Google itself) and experiment are prevalent. Google is venturing into unexplored territory with Project Fi. The service only recently became available to everyone, whereas before it remained exclusive only to those with an invitation. And still, the number and types of devices on which Project Fi is offered is quite self-limiting. It is only available on the Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6.
Could this someday change? It’s possible. But right now these are the only smartphones that will support the Project Fi SIM card, which is mandatory to seamlessly switch between the networks and provide secure Wi-Fi connections.
And how exactly can a public Wi-Fi be safe?
Google routes it through its Virtual Private Network (VPN) so that the nosy guy sitting at the table across the room can’t see the data transmitted.
What Will Project Fi Cost Me Every Month?
Depending on usage, this could cost you way less than what you have been paying. Or it could be similar. The basic plan is $20 per month and includes unlimited domestic calls and texting, as many international texts as your fingers can crank out (coverage in over 120 countries), and you can turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot. So already, even the basic plan offers an advantage to those who frequent other countries, or who know people who like to hold texting conversations in those countries.
It’s $10 per gigabyte for data, and you get any unused data credited back toward your account at the end of each month. Therefore, if you only use .6 of that gigabyte, you will receive $4 back towards your account. Are you a heavier user and need closer to 9GB? Multiply those 9GB by $10 and you will need to budget $90 per month just for data.
How does Project Fi compare to other carriers?
Some offer similar plans, however, there can be a stark contrast in terms of the impact variable pricing can make versus this simple flat rate. For instance, additional off-network data through Sprint will cost you 25 cents per megabyte. Considering that there are 1024 megabytes in one gigabyte, that can run you $256 for one gigabyte. While this scenario is totally contingent upon your consumption and location; you may never ever see this cost, but it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility.
But if you don’t have a Nexus already, how much is this going to cost you?
You can buy the Nexus 5X with 16GB of storage for as little as $199 (and sometimes cheaper via special limited-time discounts) through Project Fi’s website, and you can also break that down into monthly payments. The Nexus 6P is bound to be a nicer phone, and can come with up to 128GB of storage, but in that case you are looking at spending $649.
Payments are spread over 24 months. There is no interest for the monthly payments, but you will have to pay taxes and shipping, and a credit check is required.
Earlier we mentioned that Wi-Fi is used whenever and wherever possible to supplement data. It is being mentioned here again because this feature helps you avoid pointless data consumption. This is like your phone automatically signing into your Wi-Fi as soon as you get home, but on a much broader scale, and you never have to think about it.
Also, you will probably find your statements to be as simple to read as the pricing model that they are based on.
Does Project Fi have Satisfactory Service?
24-7 technical support is available. You even get to talk to a real human being via email or by phone. You can have them call you back if you don’t want to wait on hold, and if you use email, you should get a prompt response—within one to four hours. Phones purchased through Project Fi come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.
If you are a fan of Google Voice, Project Fi can give you many of those same features. You can call and text anyone, on any device, as long as that device supports Google Hangouts is connected to your phone number. Call forwarding to other phones is available with your Project Fi number.
The recent addition of U.S. Cellular as a partner was definitely a win for Project Fi users, as the carrier offers 4G LTE coverage for at least 99% of users in the 23 states it services. To check network coverage in your area, visit fi.google.com/coverage.
If more than one carrier offers coverage in your location, Project Fi optimizes speed by switching automatically to the fastest network. International data is included at 3G speeds; whereas other carriers tend to utilize more 2G for this purpose, or charge more for higher speeds.
If you choose to purchase one of the eligible phones through Project Fi, you are under no obligation to continue to use the service thereafter. The Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X come unlocked. If you already possess one of these phones, you can simply have a free SIM card shipped to you.
The Best Solution for You
Are you a world traveler? If so, Project Fi is really hard to beat when it comes to cost. International data roaming can really wreak havoc on a phone bill. Do you have trouble staying within your data limit, and does your bill get out of control? Project Fi can probably help to alleviate this, given that data overages are charged at the same rate of $10 per gigabyte and applied to the next bill. You also receive fair warning when it’s about to happen.
Don’t want a Nexus? Don’t get Project Fi. The service is useless without a Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, or Nexus 6P. Do you already have Sprint, T-Mobile, or U.S. Cellular? With Project Fi you will undoubtedly get the same coverage you already have, but can also rely on the other networks to fill in gaps or to increase your speed.
Do you want unlimited data? There is no unlimited data plan through Project Fi. You will pay for what you use. Only for what you use, and only at the same consistent rate. You can certainly adjust your budgeted data as you go, but this will not be the total carefree data spree you can go on with unlimited data. There are no family plans either.
Even though coverage is growing, it still may not be as extensive as say, Verizon. Still, if coverage is growing, that may be a reason to hope that someday device selection may too grow more diverse.
Slowness of service is not a widespread complaint. In general, Project Fi reviews let on that many users seem pleasantly surprised at the speed and stability the service offers. There have been some complaints about the functionality of Wi-Fi calling. If there is a problem with Wi-Fi call quality, a solution is to toggle Wi-Fi calling to an OFF position within the phone app’s settings.
Project Fi may not make sense for everyone, but it certainly does for some. Ask yourself, will the prices, combined with the available networks and Wi-Fi yield adequate coverage at a better cost? If you are an international traveler, the answer is probably yes. If you can use Wi-Fi to help you cut data, or to prevent you from incurring nasty fees or variable pricing, then the answer may very well be yes. If T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular are spotty in your area, this probably isn’t the best choice for you.
Still want Project Fi but refuse to get one of the supported devices, or perhaps you need multiple phones? Mostly likely you will be able to enjoy some features of the service, but not all.
If you like your phone and you like your carrier, you probably don’t have a compelling reason to switch. If you are open to other possibilities, Nexus is not a sub-par manufacturer. These are actually decent phones.
What did you decide to do? Did you switch to Project Fi? If so, how are you liking it? What reasons are preventing you from switching? Send us your thoughts on all of these topics.