I’ve had Google’s new cell phone service, called Project Fi, for just over a year now, and I’ve had a chance to get a good feel for it, as well as what I used to pay, and what various people pay now. So, is Google’s Project Fi a good deal, or is it not worth it?
Google Project Fi Service
The service you get from Google’s Project Fi cellphone service is a blend. First, in order to use the service, you have to use specific devices like a Nexus 5x, a Nexus 6P, or the new Google Pixel phones. If you buy them direct from Google and the Project Fi store, then your customer service comes from Google. This is a good thing. If not, your service comes from wherever you bought your phone.
I’ve had a couple of chances to use Google’s customer service on the Project Fi platform. First, I dropped my phone and cracked the screen. (I firmly believe that the first phone company to produce a high-end phone with a user replaceable screen will own the market until everyone else catches up.) I have the device protection plan through Project Fi (more on that later), so I called up Google to get a replacement. The procedure was quick and painless. They sent me a new (refurbished) Nexus 5X, with a shipping label to send the old, cracked phone, back within 14 days. This is nice because while I was setting up the new one, I still got to keep using the old one until I was ready. The deductible was a very reasonable $79. Compare that to the deductibles for similar phones on other companies (typically $149 or so).
The next chance to use service came because that replacement phone had a glitch where the screen would not come back on once you took the phone from your face. This time, I used the online chat support, and once again, was very satisfied when the tech had me try a few things, then offered to send me a replacement. This time, I got a new one, and it has worked fine ever since.
Google Project Fi Phone and Data Service
The actual connection for Google Fi comes from a combination of Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. The ides is that your phone will check to see whoever has the “best” signal and use that network to make calls or connect for data. Theoretically, this would be much better than using any one of those carriers, and I suppose it is. However, these are still the second-tier carrier networks. I know the commercials all say that the networks are similar, or in Sprint’s case, within 1%, but that just isn’t the reality. Just because Sprint claims it has service, or coverage, in a specific area doesn’t meant that coverage is as good or strong as another carrier.
I am frequently out somewhere where my Verizon toting friends have fast connections, and I’m sitting there waiting for a minute or more for a simple web page, or Yelp map, to load (this happens a lot on golf courses, and bike trails). This map shows complete 4G coverage, but my phone frequently shows 3G in various pockets around town. Oh, and that little 2G pocket in the upper right corner? Near a popular mall and theater complex. For most practical applications, anywhere you see 2G on the map means voice only. On a recent road trip from Denver to Mount Rushmore, we had zero data coverage from north of Cheyenne all the way up and into South Dakota. This makes it hard to use your phone to pass the time, and more importantly, means you need to plan ahead and download your Google Maps data, or you could end up missing an exit!
That being said, if you live in a city with decent coverage, you probably won’t have too much to complain about. However, it can be marginally frustrating some times, especially when you are trying to look something up quickly, and the pages just won’t load. Don’t be surprised when your friends with Verizon or AT&T whip out their phones and get the same thing you were looking for before your phone gets around to loading.
Google Project Fi and Public WiFi
One of Google’s big selling points on Project Fi is that your phone will automatically connect to “public” WiFi hotspots and use those for data connectivity and even making calls. This sounds amazing, but in reality doesn’t work very often.
The reason is that most WiFi networks don’t meet Google’s definition of public. McDonald’s free WiFi, for example, requires that you click a button to accept terms and conditions before connecting. This means the network is technically not public. So, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, and the like, will not be used unless you connect to them manually, like any other cell phone. Here in Denver, there are actually very few networks that Project Fi ever connects to without user intervention required.
The one really great thing that Project Fi does do is use it’s own VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt your data over the WiFi networks you do connect to, even those semi-public ones like at Starbucks.
One problem I have had with Project Fi is that it does try to use some sketchy WiFi connectivity when making or answering phone calls. For example, at my house, I get great WiFi on the upper floors, not so much in the basement. Nonetheless, my phone will often try and answer calls using the WiFi connectivity when I’m downstairs, which means I can’t hear callers, or the call drops. Generally, I have to get up and move fast up the stairs so that the signal will get stronger so I can stay connected and finish the call.
Credit Karma reviews are in.
Project Fi Pricing Good Deal or Bad Deal?
The pricing for Project Fi is likely make or break for you, depending upon how you use data.
I use mostly WiFi data. Typically, I’m at home, or at an office, or a business with WiFi. I use that whenever I can. I don’t commute via public transportation, and I don’t watch much video on my tiny phone screen. I do listen to a fair amount of Amazon Prime Music, but only in the car, or on runs. The rest of the time, it’s probably connected via WiFi.
Add that all up and I use right about 2 GB of data per month, my wife uses a similar amount, but sometimes, we’ll use more. This makes Project Fi’s pricing PERFECT for someone like me.
A lot of the other carriers seem to have competitive pricing, but only if you have four lines. My kids are too young for cell phones, so there is just two of us. So, on Verizon, I can get a plan for $50/mo (data only) that gives us 4 GB. That’s not quite enough to safely stay under. So, we’d have to move all the way up to 8 GB per month, which is way more than I’ll ever use.
With Project Fi, I can pick my own number. I can pick 2 GB per month, or 3 GB per month. In my case, I pick 2 GB per month, because the really great thing about Project Fi, is that there are no punitive charges for going over. You just pay the extra at the same rate. So, last month, I used 2.149 GB. Instead of some penalty, or even being forced to pay for a higher tier, they just added $1.49 to my bill.
It’s these little things where other companies would take the opportunity to gouge you, and Project Fi doesn’t, that really makes it a good deal.
For example, a phone protection plan on Sprint was costing me $11 per month per phone. On Project Fi, it’s only $5 per month, and the deductible is lower too. There are also no phony fees, or fake taxes either.
Now, that being said, if you are a big data user, Project Fi probably isn’t so good for you.
That family of four plan on Verizon gives you 20 GB (5 GB per phone) for $60 per line ($40 data + $20 phone). That’s basically what I would pay, to get 4 GB per phone. Unfortunately, you can’t get that rate at Verizon with just two phones.
Also, the 16 GB plan on Verizon costs $110 ($90 data + $20 phone), would cost $180 on Project Fi ($160 data + $20 phone). So, it is important to understand how much data you are using. Basically, if you are watching video on a regular basis, or spending an hour using mobile data on a commute each day, you might be better off on another carrier.