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Google Project Fi Long-term Review
The battle for your cellular business is heating up, and it has never been a better time to be a consumer. Everyone is going “unlimited” and even Verizon has jumped back into the ring to compete with the current offerings from T-mobile and Sprint. But how many users are actually taking advantage of that unlimited data? With Wi-Fi ubiquitous in many areas, some people are looking to avoid an expensive -- and often unnecessary -- “unlimited” phone plan.
That's where Google's cell service came in with the launch of Project Fi back in 2015. This hassle-free and affordable mobile option was initially invite-only, but the network is now open to all. So what better time for a Project Fi review to help you figure out if the service is worth it. We're here to help you find out what Project Fi is all about, and whether it may be a better option than those expensive unlimited plans.
What Is Project Fi?
Google’s Project Fi is all about data-efficiency. The service automatically switches between Wi-Fi and different 4G LTE data networks to intelligently handle your connectivity. While many service providers have developed similar systems, they still typically rely on a single 4G LTE network. Project Fi's data connection, on the other hand, is handled through a partnership with T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular.
As a result, a device on the Project Fi network automatically detects and connects to the strongest of the three network providers for improved reliability. Project Fi’s system also connects to trusted public Wi-Fi locations to minimize cellular data usage while out in the world.
Project Fi Pricing
Project Fi has "one simple plan for everyone," with a single line of basic service. Unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international texting, Wi-Fi hotspot, and 24/7 support costs $20 per month, plus $10 for each GB of data used. Therefore, a plan with 1GB of data will only cost you $30/month plus taxes and regulatory fees (about $2-$3 each month). Additionally, you only pay for the data you use. So if you use less than 1GB, your bill would even be less than $30.
You can add up to five additional people to your Project Fi plan for an additional $15/month per user, with data shared across all devices. This can be very cost effective for a large family -- six users sharing 6 GB of data comes down to $25.83/line per month (plus taxes and fees).
Google Offers "Unlimited Data" With Project Fi Bill Protection
Project Fi also has added Bill Protection to keep costs down on months when you need more data. With this update, someone on a single person plan only pays $10/GB of data up to 6GB. After that, you won't be charged for any additional data. No more worries of a $100+ bill because you streamed an entire movie instead of playing the downloaded copy. You'd simply pay the $20 standard line fee and then $60, for a total of $80.
Of course, there's always a catch. Data speeds are slowed after 15GB of data for the single user plan only. Additionally, the Bill Protection plan changes based on the number of users on your Group Plan. See the chart below for more information:
A Look Inside Google's Family Link
With the introduction of Google's Family Link, an app for children under 13 years old, Project Fi users can now add and manage plans for their kids on one account. Once Family Link is set up on the child's device, just add them to a Project Fi group plan and pay the normal $15/line. From there you can approve any apps your child tries to download, monitor screen time, and even remotely lock their device. With the ability to use a Project Fi data-only SIM, you can also utilize Project Fi shared data and Family Link with most tablet devices.
What Phones Can You Use With Project Fi?
Previously, Project Fi's phone selection was limited to only the Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, and Pixel devices. But criticism about the lack of choices has encouraged Google to add several new devices (though no Apple products, your options are distinctly Google cell phones). These include the Moto X4, Moto G6, and the LG G37 ThinQ and V35 ThinQ. With the addition of the Moto G6 and X4, you can now spend less than $300 to take advantage of the network.
All the new devices can be purchased from Google directly and financed interest-free as part of your plan. You can also purchase any of the currently supported devices used or unlocked from another retailer and use the "Bring Your Own Phone" program.
How Is Project Fi's Mobile App?
As you'd expect from Google, the Project Fi mobile application is intuitive and very user-friendly. You can quickly pause your service, add a new person to your plan, monitor data usage and get customer support 24/7. The phone support menu even shows the current estimated wait time.
With that said, there are downsides to not having a brick-and-mortar location. While Project Fi does warranty their devices, we've seen various complaints online about having to authorize a temporary credit card charge for a new replacement phone until the broken phone is mailed in. So while support over the phone and online chat are fast, the process for repairs or replacements can be more complicated and is something to consider before purchase.
Project Fi's International Service Benefits
International data costs the normal rate of $10/GB through Project Fi. Additionally, calls are unlimited on Wi-Fi and it's just 2 cents per minute for network calls. Finally, more than 170 countries are covered with the plan, which is a major benefit to anyone who travels regularly.
Does Project Fi Offer Unlimited Streaming For Google-Owned Media?
Many potential customers assume that Project Fi offers free streaming of Google-owned apps like Google Play Music or YouTube. Unfortunately, because Google utilizes the network and infrastructure of other providers, they aren't able to add that perk. Streaming from those services will still count toward your data usage.
Curious if YouTube Music Premium is right for you? Check out our review here.
Google Project Fi Phone Service Review
Initial setup is done online and I activated a used Nexus 6 by simply popping in a SIM card that Project Fi mailed to me. Based on my data usage with older plans, I set up my account with the 2GB plan for $40/month. However, your plan can be changed at any time, and even paused or canceled completely through the Project Fi app.
The first noticeable benefit of Project Fi was the crystal-clear Wi-Fi calling and improved service range. Most cellular providers have poor reception at my home, but Wi-Fi calling removed problems with dropped calls. Project Fi's automatic connection to trusted Wi-Fi networks is also very helpful. At a coffee shop or restaurant with an open Wi-Fi service, your device connects automatically and is secured through the Project Fi application, ultimately saving your data for when you really need it.
You may still want to rethink how you use that data, though. For example, instead of streaming, I will auto-download my podcasts and download albums locally through Google Play Music while on Wi-Fi. That way I only use my cellular data for things like getting directions, looking up restaurants, social media applications, etc.
Project Fi's 4G LTE network speed is competitive with most providers -- it's using their infrastructure, after all. On average, I see download speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 30Mbps. Upload speeds range from 1 Mbps to 6 Mbps. After several years of use on Project Fi, my average bill has only been around $43/month. The highest bill I’ve had was $53 and the lowest was $35.
Check out our review of the Moto X4 here!
I traded in my original Nexus 6 to Project Fi and purchased their new Moto X4. The trade-in process was simple and Project Fi gave an added value incentive for trading in my Nexus to them directly. I was also able to finance the cost of the phone as part of my bill, just like with other major carriers.
After years of service, I've had no problems with either the network reliability or customer service of Project Fi. The improvements in phone selection and added Bill Protection only help reassure my decision to switch from Republic Wireless.
Is Google's Project Fi Worth It?
Obviously, Google’s Project Fi isn’t going to work for every user. If you wanted a specific phone that's not covered by the service, you're basically out of luck. Additionally, the service may not be the best option if you're away from a Wi-Fi connection for most of the day. However, several of my friends and family members on more expensive “unlimited” plans reported that their average data consumption was less than 3GB per month, and it's likely Project Fi would be a more cost effective option for them. Plus, with Bill Protection, there's even less need to worry about an outrageous bill.
Ultimately, if you're simply going from your home Wi-Fi to your work Wi-Fi and back most days, Project Fi is definitely worth a look. You could get the same coverage as the big name providers on a variety of devices at a faction of the cost.
What would your cell phone bill look like if you switched to Project Fi? Do some quick math and place your results in the comments. It'll be interesting to see how many people really need unlimited data.
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