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Google Project Fi Long-term Review

In a world of "unlimited" data, this low-cost cell phone service is all about data-efficiency.

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 recently jumped back into the ring to compete with the current offerings from T-mobile and Sprint. But there may be some buyers who aren’t on data all day, live-streaming Twitch or Spotify. And for those users, there are other options to avoid an expensive — and often unnecessary — “unlimited” phone plan.

Google saw an opportunity and came to the market with a hassle-free and affordable mobile option back in 2015 named Project Fi. Initially, Project Fi was an invite-only service, but the network is now open to all, and we're here to help you find out if Project Fi is a better option than an unlimited plan.

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What is Project Fi?

Google’s Project Fi is all about data-efficiency — the service has the ability to automatically switch between Wi-Fi and different 4G LTE data networks to intelligently handle your calls and connectivity. Many service providers have since developed similar systems, but they still rely on a single 4G LTE network, whereas Project Fi's data connection is handled through a partnership with T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. As a result, a device on the Project Fi network will automatically detect the strongest of the three network providers and connect to that network for improved reliability. Project Fi’s system will also connect to trusted public Wi-Fi locations and make sure you have a secure connection 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 — costing $20 per month plus $10 for each GB of data used. Therefore, the cheapest plan available with 1GB of data will only cost you $30/month plus taxes and regulatory fees, which generally total around $2-$3 each month.

You only pay for the data you use, and a GB of data is always factored at $10/GB. For example: you have the 2GB plan and use only 1GB that month, you get $10 back on your next bill. If you have a 2GB plan and use 3GB in one month, you pay $10 more that month with no added penalty fees.

You can also add up to five additional people to your Project Fi plan for an additional $15/month per user, and data is shared across all devices. It can be really 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).

My Experience

Initial setup is done online and you can buy an eligible phone (Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, and Pixel) new or used. I went with a used Nexus 6 and activated it 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 at $40/month. The plan can be changed at any time and even paused or cancelled 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, and Wi-Fi calling has removed problems with dropped calls. Project Fi's automatic connection to trusted Wi-Fi networks is also very helpful. When at a coffee shop or restaurant with an open Wi-Fi service, you'll find your device connected and secured through the Project Fi application. The entire design of Project Fi serves to help save cellular data usage while keeping a strong call signal and data connection.

The drawback of not having unlimited data varies based on how one thinks about data. In a normal week, I’m only away from Wi-Fi for a 2-3 hour commute, where very little data is used. Instead of streaming, I will auto-download my podcasts and download albums locally through Google Play Music while on Wi-Fi. Therefore, my cellular data is only used for things like getting directions, looking up restaurants, streaming music on longer trips, and social media applications.

Project Fi's 4G LTE network speed is competitive with most providers — it's using their infrastructure, after all. This will of course vary depending on your location and which available signal Project Fi connects you to. On average, I will see download speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 30Mbps and upload speeds from 1 Mbps to 6 Mbps.

With one year of use on Project Fi, my average bill has only been around $43/month. The highest bill I’ve had is $53 (watched Youtube for an hour off Wi-Fi at home. D'oh!) and the lowest was $35.

Is Project Fi Right for You?

Obviously, Google’s Project Fi isn’t going to work for every user. The service may not be the best option for those who are away from a Wi-Fi connection for most of the day. However, I've checked the data usage of several friends and family members on more expensive “unlimited” plans to find that even the highest average data consumption only came in at less than 3 GB per month.

Additional benefits include a simple system for international use — international data is the same rate of $10/GB, calls are unlimited on Wi-Fi, and network calls only cost 2 cents per minute. You can also get free data-only SIM cards for up to nine additional devices if you have something like a tablet that you want to use on the plan. Project Fi also has 24/7 support via phone, instant chat, or email.

So while everyone else is pushing “unlimited” data plans, Project Fi may be a cheaper and better option for those with less strenuous data needs.

*****

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.

Pro-Tip: Manual Network Switching on Project Fi

Project Fi automatically selects the strongest network signal, but if you'd like to manually change which network it's using, simply enter the following codes into the phone dialer:

Switch to Sprint: *#*#34777#*#*

Switch to T-Mobile: *#*#34866#*#*

Switch to Next Carrier: *#*#346398#*#*

Turn On Auto Switch: *#*#342886#*#*

 



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Nolan Browning Contributor

Nolan is an avid automotive, electronic, and gadget enthusiast. If it has an engine or a processor, he can't keep his hands off it. He was introduced to Windows 3.1 in the early '90s and has been hooked ever since. Deal alerts include "mechanical keyboard," "smart watch," and "bulk candy."


51 Comments

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Our community has rated this post as helpful. If you agree, why not rep andrew_chen?
#2
I went from $78/month with T-Mobile to about $35/month with Project Fi. I'm always around Wi-Fi so the switch has been worth it!
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#3
Quote from andrew_chen View Post :
I went from $78/month with T-Mobile to about $35/month with Project Fi. I'm always around Wi-Fi so the switch has been worth it!
Same here. I never went over 500 megs a month until my work dropped the wifi. Still don't go over a gig. It's really nice that it hops on any open wifi connection. Some I have to click on a banner page, but overall it's been great. There's a lot of TWC/Spectrum wifi connections around me too. One thing I've noticed is in certain areas. If I initiate a call, it takes 10 seconds to hear a dial tone. Happy with my 6p though
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#4
Just for reference, you're only charged actual cellular data use, not for wifi-assisted service data use, right? Tmobile was the first to allow wifi-assisting but it still counted those as minutes. In fact, when I went on a cruise, there was wifi but tmobile still attempted to charge me for international phonecalls even though they were made on google voice.
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#5
I'm currently paying $106 per month on Sprint, and could see this getting me down to the 40s, but I like the idea of upgrading my iPhone anytime.
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#6
Same here, one of the things i hate is the very limited phones you can use in full potential with project fi
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#7
Quote from BostonBatman View Post :
Just for reference, you're only charged actual cellular data use, not for wifi-assisted service data use, right? Tmobile was the first to allow wifi-assisting but it still counted those as minutes. In fact, when I went on a cruise, there was wifi but tmobile still attempted to charge me for international phonecalls even though they were made on google voice.
You don't pay for minutes because it's unlimited minutes and unlimited texts. But yes, wifi is not counted towards your data usage. That's the point of Fi, to not use up a ton of data but rather rely on the wifi that's all around us
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#8
My highest bill was a month I started a new job and did not have a wifi connection and it was $53.

I have had mixed results with service as well. New Orleans and Los Angeles were awful but I had full LTE on a remote Yasawi Island in Fiji.

I am glad I made the switch. The nexus 5x works well and has a nice dashboard. Google gives you 3 months of free play credit and unlimited music downloads and ad-free youtube are $10/month after that.

I have not seen one of their Fi boxes in airports or whatever but I hope to soon Smilie
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Last edited by sa1126 February 27, 2017 at 08:17 PM.
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#9
I've had Google fi for over a year. My average bill is $32. I travel the world, been to Mexico, Germany, France, Costa Rica, and the $10/G worked great. Whenever I had WIFI, I could make free calls back to the states. So to answer your question, no there is no charge for calling over WIFI to the US. Now I hear there is a fee for WIFI calling to someplace outside the US.
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#10
Not mentioned: When my phone is on Sprint network it drains the battery really fast. 2) Switching between networks doesn't go smoothly you get discontented. 3) it could take a while for a phone call to connect when the phone can't decide to go thru a network or Wifi. 4) when on wifi there's sometimes an annoying voice echo/delay I have to hang up and call again.
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#11
I have really enjoyed my experience on Fi after handing Sprint $100/month for a decade of unlimited data!

Google will also send you a free data-only SIM with no extra line fee which is really nice for a tablet or smartwatch. I actually use it in a cheap burner for going out on the weekends. Their SIM cards have worked in all of the unlocked devices I've tossed it in with T-Mobile's network.
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#12
I love traveling internationally and not having to freak out about roaming data usage :-)
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#13
Quote from BostonBatman View Post :
Just for reference, you're only charged actual cellular data use, not for wifi-assisted service data use, right? Tmobile was the first to allow wifi-assisting but it still counted those as minutes. In fact, when I went on a cruise, there was wifi but tmobile still attempted to charge me for international phonecalls even though they were made on google voice.
Google voice only initiates the call, you still use the cellular connection.
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#14
The service is great, truly - other than not being unlimited.

The downside is being forced to buy an expensive wannabe-iPhone. I have been onboard since before Pixel, and am disappointed in my Nexus 5x... It was more of a sideways move from my 2 year old Galaxy S5, but at least only cost $250.

So phone selection - or lack thereof - and specifically that the only phones they have today are terrible on the bang-for-the-buck scale (you are paying for a metal jewelryphone - a wannabe iPhone) - is the downside.

It's so bad I likely will jump ship when this 5x gives up the ghost.
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#15
I was on project Fi but I needed more data so I went to mintsim. Project Fi is only viable for people who travel outside of the united states with their overseas rate being the same and the US rate
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