Mobile operators that prioritize Wi-Fi over traditional cellular connection are nothing new. A good example of one is Republic Wireless, a company that has been convincing customers to leave big carriers since it was founded in 2011. But when one of the largest and most influential tech companies decides to enter the competitive arena of virtual network operators, everybody pays attention.
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According to Google’s own words, “Project Fi is a program to deliver a fast, easy wireless experience in close partnership with leading carriers, hardware makers, and our users.” This essentially means that customers now have an easy way how to purchase a Nexus smartphone and use it to its maximum potential over Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s networks, as well as Wi-Fi connections.
Coverage and Speed
In theory, Project Fi should always provide you with the best network, as it can automatically switch to either Sprint or T-Mobile depending on the signal strength. If neither of those two provides strong enough coverage, everything will be securely transmitted your local Wi-Fi connection. A feature called Wi-Fi Assistant will automatically select trusted open hotspots in your nearby vicinity and establish an encrypted private tunnel through which it communicates with the base tower.
You can check if Sprint and T-Mobile are available in your area, or just head over to Google’s own network coverage page to have everything displayed in one simple step.
Our practical experience was relatively pleasant. The service works great when you are using the cellular network, but everything can become very unpredictable once you switch to Wi-Fi. Some hotspots will be so slow that the call quality will be distorted, while others leave only a very little to be desired. The switching itself is not 100 percent, and you will definitely notice a few seconds long pause during which no data are transmitted at all.
The network speed peaks at around 50 Mbps for download and regularly hovered above 10 Mbps. This should be more than fast enough for just about every user. There were a few dips to single digits, but these happened only very rarely.
The range of smartphones that are available with the service follows the same principle of simplicity as the rest of the plan. If you are used to the availability of dozens and dozens of smartphones from carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile, you’ll be greatly disappointed. At the moment, there are just two smartphones: The Nexus 5X and 6P.
Nexus 6P – The 6P is manufactured by Huawei and was first released in September 2015. This premium device features an all-metal design, a great-looking 5.7” AMOLED display, and state-of-the-art Snapdragon 810 octa-core chipset. The 3450 mAh battery provides enough energy to make the smartphone last a whole day of moderately heavy use, making it great for multitasking professional who heavily rely on their phone for all aspects of their personal and professional life.
Nexus 5X – Manufactured by LG, the 5X is the smaller and less powerful phone offered by Google. When we say smaller and less powerful, we mean compared to the Nexus 6P and not an average Android device. The 5.2” IPS display is still large enough for great multimedia experience and the Snapdragon 808 chipset has more than enough power even for more demanding applications and games. If you want something that can be controlled with just one hand, this is the phone to get.
Pricing is very simple and divided between the basic plan and additional data.
Mobile plan – the Fi Basics costs $20 per month and includes unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international texts, ability to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and coverage in 120+ countries.
Data – each GB of data will cost you extra $10. That means $10 for 1GB, $20 for 2GB, $30 for 3GB, and so on. We really like that Google makes you pay only for what you really use. At the end of each month, your unused data are converted to dollars and cents and subtracted from your bill.
Also worth mentioning is the option to project your phone against all kinds of damage for $5 per month.
The Project Fi Android Application
The dedicated Android application deserves a special mentioning. It allows users to active their Project Fi service, manage account and settings, check data usage, see monthly statements, and contact the customer support.
The application is built around Google’s own Material Design guidelines. The bar at the top lets you switch between 3 tabs: Account, Billing, Support. Everything is really easy to understand and take absolutely no time getting used to. The high score of 4.7 stars tells a lot about how well-optimized and stable the app is. Well done Google.
When compared to a basic 2 GB data plan with unlimited talk and text from all four major US carriers, Fi takes the lead in each case:
AT&T – With AT&T, you are required to purchase 2GB of shared data for $30 and pay $15 extra dollars for every additional gigabyte. This makes for about $55 each month, when you also add the basic mobile plan. In other words, Project Fi saves you $180 each year.
T-Mobile – Beating AT&T by $5 is T-Mobile. Their Simple Choice Plan includes unlimited calls and text in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, as well as 2GB of data. Unlike AT&T, T-Mobile has no data overages. In this case, Project Fi saves you $120 each year.
Sprint – Unless you look very carefully, you might be led to believe that Sprint is actually just as affordable as Project Fi. That’s because their $40 1GB plan is advertised to include unlimited data. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. After you use the 1GB, Sprint will limit you to 2G speeds, which means that you will be just as good without any Internet connection at all. Their next option is the 3GB plan for $50 per month, making you pay $120 more each year than you would with Project Fi.
Verizon – The most expensive of all is Verizon with their 3GB plan for $45 and extra $20 phone access charge. The $25 difference means that you pay $300 more every single year you spend with Verizon. That’s the same as you would pay for a brand new smartphone.
Google provides their customers a truly wonderful customer support service that deserves a lot of praise. Their phone support line has an average waiting time of less than 1 minute, and it often happens that you get connected to a Fi Expert without any waiting whatsoever.
Those who prefer describing their problems with text rather than words can either chat online with a support specialist or request an email reply. The faster and more hands-on approach, the chat, takes just around 2 minutes before you get a reply, compared to a few hours for the email support.
Additionally, there’s also the Project Fi Help Center, which is essentially an FAQ that covers signing up, activation, billing, account management, phone usage, and plenty of other topics.
- Very affordable if you don’t use much cellular data
- International calling is included
- Fast support and convenient management
- Very limited number of devices
To fully benefit from what Project Fi offers, you have to like their Nexus devices and spend most of your time connected to Wi-Fi. If both of these things sound like you, then you can start saving some serious money and enjoy premium Android experience.
The service is currently not without its flaws, but there are not any worse than what you experience with other wireless providers. We hope that Project Fi is a part of Google’s large intention to compete with established cellular carriers.