Project Fi: Is Google’s Mobile Service Right for You?

The LG Nexus 5X supports Google's Project Fi mobile service


Google has just announced that anyone in the United States can now sign up for Project Fi, its mobile network that combines wireless access from Sprint and T-Mobile with Wi-Fi access. The project turned Google into a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), one that offered a unique blend of benefits to compete with the many other options on the market. By ditching the invite system, Google is offering many more users the option of a mobile service that enables them to pay only for the amount of data that they use every month. With promising reports from reviewers and early adopters, you may be asking yourself: should you consider signing up for Project Fi?

From the get-go, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Project Fi supports just three Android phones so far — Motorola’s Nexus 5X and Nexus 6, plus Huawei’s Nexus 6P — since these models have cellular radios tuned to work across network types, and are compatible with the Project Fi SIM card, which supports multiple cellular networks. You can buy a Nexus 6P or Nexus 5X through Project Fi, and pay for it upfront or over the course of 24 months. Google is currently offering a $150 discount on the Nexus 5X when you activate with Project Fi.

Many early adopters have reported positive experiences with the service so far. Project Fi automatically connects you to the fastest network at your location, choosing between two carriers’ 4G LTE networks as well as Wi-Fi. When 4G LTE isn’t available, the service chooses the fastest network type (3G or 2G). The mobile service’s pricing is another major benefit, since you can get started with the service for just $20 per month, which includes unlimited calling and texting, and you’ll pay just $10 for each gigabyte of data that you want to use each month. You’ll get a credit for the value of any data that you don’t use during the month.

Another interesting benefit is that you’ll likely use less data on Project Fi than you do with your current carrier, thanks to the service’s Wi-Fi Assistant feature. The Wi-Fi Assistant connects your phone to free, high-quality WiFi networks whenever possible, which helps to prevent unnecessary data consumption. Chris Welch reports for The Verge that more than 50% of current Project Fi customers connect to public hotspots using the Wi-Fi Assistant feature on a weekly basis. And subscribers are “impressively lean” in their usage of cellular data, averaging just 1.6GB of data each month.

Early adopters have reported that Project Fi’s service is fast, and have also noted that its billing is refreshingly transparent, given the hidden fees and deceptive practices that have become common among wireless carriers. And while some had issues with choppy or distorted calls over Wi-Fi, Project Fi’s usage of Sprint and T-Mobile’s network means that you can likely turn Wi-Fi calling off, if necessary, without risking being unable to make or receive calls in most metropolitan areas in the United States.

In a post on the Official Android Blog, Project Fi product manager Simon Arscott wrote that while Google launched Project Fi with an invitation-only Early Access program, the project is exiting that phase, and people across the U.S. can now sign up for the service without waiting for an invitation. “While Project Fi is still in its early stages,” he explains, “we’re excited to welcome our next wave of customers and look forward to growing and improving together.” If you don’t mind choosing from the relatively limited range of Nexus phones, Project Fi might be sounding like a pretty attractive option. So what are your options if you’re considering signing up for Project Fi?

Project Fi starts with Fi Basics, which costs $20 per month and includes unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international texts, Wi-Fi tethering to use your phone as a hotspot, and cellular coverage in more than 120 countries. Project Fi enables you to set a data “budget” for the month (check out our tips on determining how much data you need, if you’re unsure). You can change your data allotment for the next month whenever you want, and Project Fi will credit you dollars back for any data that goes unused.

If, at the end of the month, you’ve used less than your data budget,  you’ll get a credit for about one cent per MB. So, for instance, if you set your data budget to 2GB and use only 1.265GB, you’ll get a $7.35 credit. That value is applied as a credit toward your next month’s bill. Conversely, if you go over your data budget, you’ll still get full-speed data, and you’ll pay for the additional data that you use at the same $10 per GB rate. So if you go over your data budget by 350MB, Project Fi will add $3.50 to your next bill.

While Google’s mobile service is so far a viable option only for users who want to use the company’s line of Nexus phones, the network is expected to slowly nudge the industry toward changes that will benefit users. But if you’re already an Android or Nexus fan, and are looking for a mobile service that enables you to use 4G as well as Wi-Fi, brings a refreshing transparency to billing, and asks you to pay only for the data you actually use? Then Project Fi may be right for you.

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