Is Google Project Fi Right For You?

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Everything you need to know about Google Project Fi to see if it's right for you.

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• Technology: Cell Phone • Technology: Hardware
• Technology: Review • Technology: Tips & Tricks

Matt Anderson's Take
You're reading an easy to understand guide to Google's Project Fi cellphone service. We'll cover the basics of what Project Fi is, what costs are involved, what the limitations are, and finally tell you if it's right for you.

What Is Google Project Fi?

In simple terms, Project Fi is a cellular phone carrier just like Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and any other phone company / service. Project Fi will, for a fee, provide you with cellular smartphone service like most other companies which will include talk, text, and high speed (4G) Internet access. They'll also sell you a phone to use as well.

What's So Special About Fi?


The special sauce that makes up Project Fi is based around low costs, large coverage areas, easy plan choices and monitoring, and customer service. The idea with Fi is to offer you a plan where you pay for what you use and get credited back for what you don't.

Gone are the days of paying for large data plans and only using half of that data. Gone are the days of ridiculously high base packages for talk and text, spotty coverage, and morons in brick and mortar stores. Google Fi does away with all of that nonsense. And when you do get stuck and need help, they've got you covered with 24/7 support via phone, chat, or email.

Costs


This is the big one everyone wants to know first, what does it cost? For a single line you'll pay $20 per month for unlimited talk and text. If you want to do a group / family plan then the first line is $20 (as mentioned) and each additional phone is $15 (giving you a $5 break on each additional line). Simple enough.

As for data costs, you'll pay $10 per Gb that you use but it's better than that because you'll also get money back for data you don't use. For example, say you're prepaying for 1Gb each month for $10. But you only use 0.5Gb (which is 500Mb since 1Gb = 1000Mb) in which case you'll get $5 back. On a single line you'd pay $20 for the talk/text and $10 for that 1Gb and you'll prepay $30 but then get a $5 credit back that will apply towards your next month. Pretty neat, huh?

This will happen for all lines on your plan, though separately. Meaning, you cannot share 1Gb between two phones. So if you have two phones you'll pay $35 for talk/text ($20 on the first, $15 on the second). Stick with 1Gb for each and your initial payment for the month is $55. If you each use half of your 1Gb you'll each get $5 back, $10 total back, leaving you with what was really a $45 bill for both phones.

Worried about overages? They don't exist. If you prepaid for 1Gb and then go over you'll simply keep paying at the same $10 per 1Gb rate. If you use 1.1Gb you'll pay $11 when all is said and done ($20 initially, then $9 back as a credit). But wait, there's more!

Free Data


One of the neatest features of Project Fi is all of the free data you get. That's right, free data! But how can that be if you're paying $10 per 1Gb? Simple, anytime your phone is in a "Google Approved" WiFi zone it will automatically latch onto the WiFi. It's seamless, you won't know it's happening unless you check. If you walk away it latches back onto cellular day automatically.

These WiFi hotspots are all over so it may be a Starbucks, airport, hotel, or anything else Google has deemed "stable and good". No password, no settings, it all just happens on its own. As for security, while you are using a WiFi hotspot you're doing so under a virtual private network (VPN) that is secured. Without getting technical, it's like browsing the web on an https/SSL secured website (one with the lock on it). So it's all private and secure.

This free data can lead to huge savings depending on your habits and where you're visiting with your phone. Google claims to be using over 1 million WiFi hotspots already.

Coverage


Sounds too good to be true so far so there must be a catch. Like maybe a sub-par cellular network with low speeds and dropped calls? Actually, no! The good news is that the Fi network doesn't use its own cell towers. Google is actually using 4G LTE cellular networks from T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular. So chances are good that you'll get better coverage with Fi than your current carrier.

You'll also find high-speed coverage in over 135 countries and territories around the globe. You won't have to worry about roaming charges at all, just pay your normal Fi prices of $10 per Gb.

Hardware & Limitations

If there was a "catch" to Project Fi this is it. Of course, it's not a real catch at all. Google's Project Fi only works with Google's own phones. These are the Nexus and Pixel branded phones which run the Android operating system (OS).

In plain English, this means your iPhone won't work. But considering over 85% of mobile devices globally are powered by Android, well, it's probably a better option anyhow. If you want the latest and greatest Project Fi smartphone that will best Apple's iPhone 7 then look into the Google Pixel smartphone. If you don't mind stepping back into the Nexus line that came out in 2015 then check out the Nexus 6P or it's smaller brother the Nexus 5X.

As of this writing, the Pixel starts at $650 while the Nexus 6P is $400 and the Nexus 5X is $200. Without a doubt, the Nexus 5X gives the most bang for your buck. This is a high end smartphone that's only a year old so it's still very powerful and packs a great 12MP camera on it along with a fingerprint scanner.

No other phones outside of the Nexus and Pixel brands will work with Fi, but once you use these phones you'll question why you paid so much money for other brands anyhow.

The only other limitation I've found is that I can't set a limit on data usage. I can get alerts if I'm about to hit my 1Gb limit (etc) but I can't tell it to simply cut data once I reach that amount. If I had kids on this plan I would really want the ability to limit their data usage since any Netflix binge session could be costly!

Is It Right For You?


This isn't a tough question for most people. In my case, I started with a plan that had two phones. It was originally with Verizon where my bill was over $150 per month. Insanity!

I wised up to T-Mobile two years ago and dropped my bill to around $95 which gave each phone 1Gb of high speed data and unlimited low speed 3G data. It was great until they decided to kill that plan. While I was grandfathered into it, if I changed my plan or phones I would lose my cheap plan.

Rather than letting that happen I switched to Project Fi. I dropped my bill to under $50 for 2 phones per month (it's technically $55 but we don't each use the full 1Gb). This is almost reasonable for a change. I also chose to upgrade our phones at this time with the Nexus 5X (coming from the even older Nexus 5) so that added $400 in upfront costs (you can pay monthly if you prefer but you shouldn't, see Living Below Your Means and Practicing Financial Wisdom).

In my case, I'm saving at least $45 per month over T-Mobile (less than 1/3 of my old Verizon bill). In nine months, the costs of the new phones will be paid with the savings and after that I'll have an extra $45 each month. Considering many of us upgrade phones every 2-3 years anyhow, this doesn't really have to be factored in but if you're being forced to buy a new phone you can see how it will pay off quickly.

So who isn't this right for? If you're a very heavy data user this may not be great for you. At $10 per 1Gb there are no quantity discounts. You might be better off bundling into a "family plan" at another carrier. But I think that scenario is more the exception than the rule here. Do the math, it's easy enough, and see if it makes sense to switch.
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