A Look at Project Fi

What is this Fi you speak of?

If you’re reading this, chances are you already know what Project Fi is, but in case you don’t allow me to spin you a tale. Back in April 2015 Google began an invitation only rollout for their new MVNO phone service. For those not in the know, a mobile virtual network operator or MVNO is a wireless phone provider that does not own the lines or pay for the towers. Instead, they pay the bigger carriers for access to their network. In the US there are over 300 MVNO, some of them you’ve probably heard of. Cricket, Boost Mobile and Wal-Mart’s Straight Talk are all examples of MVNO and now we have one more, Google’s Project Fi.

Before I go on I should mention one HUGE caveat to Project Fi. You have to be using either a Nexus 6P or 5X. So if you don’t already have either one of those phones or you don’t want either one, the Project Fi is not for you. That said, maybe one the other 299 MVNO carriers is? Why? Cost!

Cost

The best thing about Project Fi is the plans, or lack thereof. For Unlimited Talk/Text you’ll pay a flat 20$. Then for every Gigabyte of data you use, you pay 10$. But wait! There is indeed more.Different from most companies, with Project Fi you will pay in advance. This means that when you choose your “plan”, you’ll need to make an educated guess on how much data you need. But worry not about being too accurate. Let me explain why with three scenarios in which you prepay for 2 GB of data.

Scenario 1

In the month of June, you used exactly 2 Gigs of data. That means the 40$(+regulatory fees) that you prepaid for will cover your actual usage. Woot!

Scenario 2

In July things went sour and you used 3.523 Gigs of data. Oh noes! Don’t worry, you just pay the difference with no added cost. And by the difference, I don’t mean you pay for another 2GB.  You used and extra 1.523 GB so that’s what you pay for. That brings your overage cost to… 15.23$ Sweet!

Scenario 3

Finally, this August you changed your prepaid amount to account for the extra data that you think you’ll be using. This brings your total bill to 20$ for Talk/Text plus the 40$ for 4 GB of data to 60$ Come the end of the month you however find out that you only used 2 Gigs. In this case, Project Fi will refund you the 20$ that you didn’t need to pay!

Now let’s talk about coverage.

Coverage

Project Fi uses a combination of wi-fi calling and cellular networks to enable its service. If you’re on a WiFi network with enough bandwidth the software will switch over to WiFi calling. To aid in this Google partners with an ungodly amount of companies and “certifies” them as Project Fi ready. I can tell you from first hand experience that the call quality is pretty much the same whether I’m on WiFi or a cellular network. But if you don’t want to use WiFi calling, you can simply turn it off in the Project Fi app. 

For cellular service you will be relying on Spring and T-Mobile’s network. If both of them overlap, and they most likely will, the one with the strongest signal will be used. Both Sprint and T-Mobile provide coverage for most of the US, but check their maps just to make sure.

So all that sounds well and good, and for the most part it all works, but there are a few hiccups. The only problem I’ve encountered is when the signal strength between Sprints and T-Mobile is so close that the phone will switch between the two networks constantly. And as much as Google may claim that this switch is a seamless process, the reality is that it produces a 1-2 second disconnect. Which is another way of saying it will sound like you’re stuttering to whomever you’re talking to. But this only happens to me when I’m finishing up a call in front of my favorite BBQ joint. 

Now that we know and how it works, how does it compare in price? Spoiler! It’s cheaper. Go Smokey Mo’s!

Let Compare

To be honest this is hardly scientific. All I did was go to each of the companies respective sites and go through the motions of creating a new account. I’ll ignore the cost of the phone to try to make it more fair. I’m using 4GB as a baseline but to be honest that’s probably high for most people’s needs and it skews the cost/saving to being more competitive but I’ll stick with that amount anyways.

*Remember also that with Project Fi, you pay for what you use so the total monthly cost is a moving variable that depends on your usage. 

  Talk/Text  4 GB of data  Overage Cost  Data Rollover  Hotspot  International  Total
Project Fi  20$  40$  0  No-But you get a refund for unused data  Free  Depends. Currently supports 135 counties with average of .20 cents a minute. Wf-Fi calling is free, but the wi-fi you’re using may not be. 60$
Verizon   20$  50$  15$ per GB  Yes  10$  Mexico/Canada is free but only on the XL plan which is 60$ more than the Medium one I selected.  70$
AT&T  25 50  15$ per GB  Yes  20$
But included on higher plans
 Mexico/Canada is free but only on the 15GB+  plan which is 50$ more than the Medium one I selected.  75$
StraightTalk 45$ Includes Talk/Text/Data   0- but you speed get throttled

no

 

no none- but they do have an international plan for Mexico, China, India, & Canada that cost 60$ 45$

*Note that AT&T does not have a 4GB plan. The one I selected is reflective of their 5GB one.

Website

This might seem like a weird thing to mention, but holy crap is the Project Fi website awesome. It’s awesomeness lies in its simplicity. 

This is their main page and hot damn is that one nice looking page. You have 5 cards that provide links to everything you’ll need. 

Clicking on the “Plan” card will open up your current… ummm… plan. Here you can enable international calling, adjust your data plan on the fly and even pause/cancel your service. How awesome is that?

Clicking on the Payment method card will bring you to a page where can setup your payment method. Which kind of goes without saying I suppose. But I’m saying it anyways. Muhahahah!

This card will allow you to access… Yea those labels are pretty self-explanatory. 

Again, pretty self-explanatory.

And finally, a bill. Look at that lovely bill. Look at that total! To be fair my data usage last month was pretty low. But because Project Fi automatically connects to various WiFi networks I’ve noticed that my cellular usage is way lower to begin with. 

Setting Up

This is actually a pretty simple process. When you sign up for Project Fi you will be sent a little card that has your new sim card in it. 

Isn’t adorable?

Keep that paper clip!!!

You may think I’m being odd including the paperclip in there but you’ll definitely want to keep it. Normally when you buy a new sim card it will come with a tool that will eject your old card. It something looks like this.

Thinking it may have fallen out, I searched around for it for more minutes that I’d care to admit. Then I saw the paper clip. Staring at me. Laughing at my anguish! Point is, keep the paper clip. 

The sign-up process will also guide you through transferring your current number if you have one. It will then have you download the Project Fi app. Once you get your new sim card and have a confirmation that your number is ready, the Project Fi app will handle all the rest. Like, you don’t have to really do anything.

More questions about the process? Go here.

Now after all that…

Is it worth it?

I guess that really all depends on your phone of choice and where you live. If you don’t like the Nexus 5x or 6P then that pretty much makes the decisions for you. Both phones are pretty awesome though. 🙂

If you live in some spot that isn’t covered by either Sprint or T-Mobile, then keep on walking. And finally if you’re a power user who goes through anything over 7GB of data a month, then the other guys will be cheaper.

That’s a lot of “ifs” I’ll admit, but if you can make it past them… I mean, look at that price of my bill. It almost makes you want to cry tears of joy. So… yeah. I think it’s worth it.

Thanks for reading!

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