A Quick Look at What You Will—And Won’t—Get with Google Fi

Posted on November 28, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, Google, iOS, Mobile with 54 Comments

Considering switching to Google Fi? You should: It’s feature-rich, inexpensive, and transparent. But it may also not work fully with your smartphone. So let’s see how this plays out, using a few obvious examples.

As a bit of background, I use and strongly recommend Google Fi—previously called Project Fi—though I had only one (major) caveat to that recommendation to date: Until this week, the service was only compatible with a small selection of mostly Google-branded handsets. So if you used an iPhone, a Samsung Galaxy, a OnePlus, or virtually any other non-Google Android phone, you were out of luck.

Well, that just changed. Effective immediately, Google Fi is now compatible with iPhone and most Android handsets. The issue is that you won’t necessarily get the full Fi experience on phones that weren’t designed specifically for Fi. These phones—which include the Pixel 2/2 XL, Pixel 3/3 XL, the Moto G6 and Moto X, and the LG V35 ThinQ and G7 ThinQ, include special networking hardware that lets them seamlessly switch between networks, a key Fi benefit. (In the U.S. those networks are T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular.) You also lose some other features, like the Fi VPN.

So let’s compare and contrast. Let’s see what Google Fi features are available across three phones I’ve used in recent months: The Google Pixel 2 XL, the OnePlus 6T, and the Apple iPhone XS.

Google Pixel 2 XL

Unlimited talk/text for $20 per month. Yes
Data for $10 per 1 GB per month. Yes
Bill protection at 6 GB per month. Yes
Full-speed data to 15 GB per month. Yes
Group plan. Yes.
Free international data roaming. Yes
Free international texting. Yes
Affordable international phone calls. Yes
No contracts. Yes
Seamless switching between cell networks and Wi-Fi hot-spots. Yes
Automatic VPN protection. Yes
Data-free SIM cards for other devices. Yes
Googe Fi mobile app. Yes

The Pixel 2 XL is fully Fi-compatible, so you get the entire range of Google Fi functionality.

OnePlus 6T

Unlimited talk/text for $20 per month. Yes
Data for $10 per 1 GB per month. Yes
Bill protection at 6 GB per month. Yes
Full-speed data to 15 GB per month. Yes
Group plan. Yes.
Free international data roaming. Yes
Free international texting. Yes
Affordable international phone calls. Yes
No contracts. Yes
Seamless switching between cell networks and Wi-Fi hot-spots. NO
Automatic VPN protection.  NO
Data-free SIM cards for other devices. Yes
Googe Fi mobile app. Yes

The two key missing pieces here are the lack of seamless network switching and lack of automatic VPN protection.

Apple iPhone XS

Unlimited talk/text for $20 per month. Yes
Data for $10 per 1 GB per month. Yes
Bill protection at 6 GB per month. Yes
Full-speed data to 15 GB per month. Yes
Group plan. Yes.
Free international data roaming. Yes
Free international texting. Yes
Affordable international phone calls. Yes
No contracts. Yes
Seamless switching between cell networks and Wi-Fi hot-spots.  NO
Automatic VPN protection. NO
Data-free SIM cards for other devices. Yes
Googe Fi mobile app. Yes

The two key missing pieces here are the lack of seamless network switching and lack of automatic VPN protection.

But Google also notes that iPhone users will need to make a manual configuration change for text messaging to work correctly, something that is common with mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) like Google Fi. That said, iMessage works fine.

Also problematic, there’s no visual voicemail support on Google Fi. To make up for this, Google will text message you a transcription of each voicemail you receive, which is nice.


I’ll start testing Google Fi with my OnePlus 6T starting this week. I’m excited by these changes, and I had never expected an improvement this dramatic.

You can learn more about Google Fi on the Google Fi website.

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Comments (54)

54 responses to “A Quick Look at What You Will—And Won’t—Get with Google Fi”

  1. Avatar

    GilesBrule

    It would be really wonderful if you could provide some clarity on how this affects the wifi based calling/texting. I have used Fi now for 2 years because were I work and live there is no cell connectivity and I rely on my phones ability to make/receive calls and texts over wifi. Previously we had to use a ATT micro cell and that was a nightmare. If it still worked on wifi and all I had to do was restart it to get it working on the cell signal again I would be looking at the note 9 or a one plus when its time to upgrade.

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      In reply to GilesBrule:

      I believe Wi-Fi calling and texting will simply work. For example, iMessage just works.

    • Avatar

      jhoff80

      In reply to GilesBrule:


      On the phone compatibility page (I searched for my Note8), it's got an X over the box for "Even more security and network reliability." If you mouse over the ? next to that header, it includes that phones designed for Fi can "Make Wi-Fi Calls." So it sounds like phones that are only compatible with Fi will not have that feature. Dealbreaker for me, unfortunately.

    • Avatar

      Jeffsters

      In reply to GilesBrule:

      Seemless Wi-Fi phone, text, works great with AT&T, including SMS, no microcells needed for about 2 years when using an iPhone.

    • Avatar

      ebernet

      In reply to GilesBrule:

      I have been using WiFi Calling on my iPhone 6s (and now a new XS) on AT&T for 3 years now (it has been supported for longer) with seamless transition between WiFi and LTE. I was using this back when I had Xfinity as my Cable Internet provider, and now with Century Link as my Gig Fiber Internet provider. How is this solution (Google-FI), that uses subpar carriers as out of home carriers (T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular), doesn't transition between WiFi and LTE, requires modifying standard settings for texting to work, does not support Visual Voice Mail, requires me to have all my data mined and filtered by Google, is an MVNO instead of a major carrier, AND costs in my case actually more (I use over 10 GB a month on my iPhone) better? All the Major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) support WiFi Calling with current hardware by multiple manufacturers. All you have to do is toggle the WiFi calling feature on in Settings>Cellular>WiFi Calling and you will use WiFi and international roaming over WiFi on MOST carriers without any of these silly limitations...

  2. Avatar

    George Semple

    Pass for us. We are on the (old folks) 55+ T-Mobile Unlimited plan. Two lines at a flat 60 bucks a month. Based on our usage (running about 3-4GB/mo each), I think we'd land up a bit above 60/mo if we were to switch.

  3. Avatar

    a_seeker

    For me it's all about international. Five weeks in China with a Pixel 2 XL and have LTE, gmail, google search, google maps, youtube and hot spot. That's the beauty of fi.

  4. Avatar

    rmlounsbury

    Without the ability to switch between networks this kinda defeats the point of the service given most carriers unliminted plans these days. With T-Mobile I get 2-lines w/unlimited data (throttled at some point) for $100 a month. I don't have to worry about overages so the data protection cap on Fi doesn't mean any thing to me. If I travelled internationally more that would be of value but I don't typically travel outside of the US that much.


    So, unless both my wife and I switched to phones (likely the Pixel 3) that fully support the switching I ultimately end up with a device that is still going to use a single carrier signal (though which one it is; who knows?) and I'm now speed capped at 15GB.


    When I saw the news it certainly got me curious but since both my wife and I are using Samsing devices on T-Mo there doesn't appear to be any value in us changing for now. Perhaps if we go Pixel in the future we might kick the tires.

  5. Avatar

    timothyhuber

    I'm a current T-Mobile user here who moved from Fi a year ago. There was a lot to Fi that was very attractive, including multiple networks, hangouts on the PC, and predictable pricing. Phone choice, or should I say the lack of choice, was the limiting factor which ultimately drove us away. Now that's changed.


    But I don't think it makes sense anymore. It seems that without network hopping that Google Fi is more or less an MVNO on the T-Mobile network. With a family of four on T-Mobile One and our monthly data use of more than 20GB, there is no money to be saved switching. (T-Mo also picks up Netflix for us). So the benefit comes down to hangouts on the PC for messaging (does that still work?) and international roaming. Am I missing something?

  6. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    I still worry a little bit about Google getting bored with this and dropping it the way they abandoned their fiber network (or myriad other services/products).

  7. Avatar

    Corey Ditter

    I don't fully comprehend what 'seamless network switching' means and what my experience will be like, having been with Verizon since 2004. Will Fi work seamlessly on Verizon's networks? I'm open to switching to Fi on a OnePlus 6T (or future OnePlus phone), but I need to be confident that my service will be equivalent to what I've gotten from Verizon for the last several years. I'm happy with Verizon's coverage and quality of service, just not the monthly bill.

    • Avatar

      wright_is

      In reply to c_ditt1:

      Given that it works with T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular, then no, it won't work on Verizon's network. I guess the real question is, whether those carriers have equivalent coverage in the areas where you regularly use the phone.

      It also seems very expensive, from a European point of view. I pay $34 a month (including tax) for unlimited calls, SMS and data, with the first 10GB at full speed, throttled after that, although I can buy 1GB booster packs for a few dollars to get full speed again, if I go over my limit, although I've always come in well under 10GB. And that is expensive, there are more expensive plans offering less, but there are also cheaper plans that now offer more - I've had the contract for nearly 2 years and prices have come down somewhat.

  8. Avatar

    SvenJ

    Is this any different than it used to be? I think you could always put a Fi SIM into any unlocked phone, and you'd get as much T-Mobile service as that device would get with a T-Mobile SIM. I imagine the big difference is Google now officially supports it? Before, you were sort of on your own if you were having issues with something.

  9. Avatar

    christian.hvid

    Paying $10 per Gb just seems so absurd to me... here in IKEA-land, the going rate is anywhere from $0.20 to $0.50 per Gb, depending on your plan. This includes free roaming within the EU, but not internationally - which is probably the one thing that Google Fi has going for it. But I do believe Google has to adapt their pricing to the market if they want Fi to succeed outside the US.

  10. Avatar

    lordbaal1

    How long before Google will start texting you with ads?

  11. Avatar

    ejuly

    I have read the comments and people are missing the point Google is going after the small business and traveller market. Those are the people who will get he OnePlus or iPhones. This is not a play for the typical high price phone, low cost unlimited data, living and working a few miles a part (or in the EU) person. That market is very competitive and served OK.

  12. Avatar

    pbakalor

    When I travel AT&T hits me for $10 per day for out of country use. Looks to me that I could get Google Fi for my iPhone for use just for travel, while keeping the AT&T contract for home use, and end up better off (thinking in terms of travel lengths like a month or two).

  13. Avatar

    Dashrender

    I just looked and it told me data protection at 10 GB, so that's a $40 swing...

  14. Avatar

    cawoodstock

    I would love to hear how folks experience this with an iPhone. If it works as advertised - even with the limitations- my wife and I would definitely switch.

  15. Avatar

    dcdevito

    They need better pricing. I was on Fi but I turned into a data cheapskate and was driving myself nuts turning data off. In the end I wasn't saving much money. I went back to Straight Talk (Verizon network) and for $50 I get unlimited data (throttled at 60GB).

    • Avatar

      Chris_Kez

      In reply to dcdevito:

      Yeah, it sounds like you're outside one of the sweet spots for Google Fi. I have a three-person family plan and we typically use ~20GB per month (of a 30GB plan). Google Fi would cost us $170 ($56 per person), which is right inline with what we're paying AT&T. I didn't realize until just now that Fi also offers free data-only SIM's which is a nice bonus I'll have to keep in mind as I look at connected devices over the next year (iPad, Surface, Apple Watch).

  16. Avatar

    Mark Hancheroff

    This is really exciting, i've been looking for something to pull me off AT&T, and this just might do it...

  17. Avatar

    ChristopherCollins

    I see no point in having this without the switching between wifi and cellular networks. The whole benefit of this thing (to me) is the aggregation of multiple signals to make a stronger MVNO out of two lesser networks. Am I missing something here?

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      In reply to ChristopherCollins:

      Well, yes. That isn't the whole point of it. :) That's one of many great features.

    • Avatar

      Chris_Kez

      In reply to ChristopherCollins:

      The other thing that's of interest for many users is the pricing model and the transparency. You only pay for the data you use. You don't worry about a crazy overage charge (e.g. AT&T charged me $15 per GB when I exceeded my family plan allotment) nor do you feel like you're wasting money paying for data you're not using (e.g. my bill is no lower if my family uses 3GB one month rather than the usual 15-20GB).

      That said, you have to look at your usage history and map out some typical scenarios to see whether the ultimate costs are better than what you currently have. And this will also vary depending on whether you have a family plan because Google Fi has different rates and thresholds in that case.

  18. Avatar

    Bats

    This is a super major win for smart phone users (in general). More carriers, more competition....lower prices. Even technically, Google isn't going to be a provider, ....the more sellers, the better.


    The best is of this service is the free international roaming. For the most part, no need to purchase a foreign sim card, or at least that's my experience.


    Now I'm wondering....hmmmm...... How come Google ditched the word "Project" in "Project Fi?" Was the word and reputation of Project just so bad that Google had replace it with its own name brand? LOL.

  19. Avatar

    Jeffsters

    What’s the privacy implications? Seems with more people using mobile devices google wants that data. Who you call, who you text, where you go, what you browse, where you shop, what you buy, a world where all traffic and communication goes through Google owned services. A company that makes money from the data they collect not the phone service they offer. They can stop paying Apple, or anyone else, because now it all will go through them. BTW: don’t get to excited about claims that the service anonymizes data it collects. They all do...but when later aggregated with other data, google and 3rd party syndicated data, they know everything. I’ll pass!


    UPDATE: read the privacy policy and terms and conditions, they even speak to the 3rd party data I mentioned above,...I’ll DEFINITELY PASS!

    • Avatar

      LocalPCGuy

      In reply to Jeffsters:

      Google knowing where your phone is can be quite a nice feature - if you travel. I setup "Find Device". It tells me it's in my hand when I check. If I leave it somewhere, I can find out where it is. Knowing where your phone is can be a good thing since you should be able to retrieve it.

      • Avatar

        Jeffsters

        In reply to LocalPCGuy:

        I agree that’s a great feature, but they aren’t doing it to help you, they’re helping you to get your data. As an iOS user I have that already and Apple isn’t selling my location data or marketing goods and services to me using it for the privilege. Hey you, and others may not care and that’s fine, you decide what’s best for you. But this reminds me of smart TV’s and why I never connect them to Wi-Fi. Your cable company, by law, can not sell your viewing data. That’s why Nielsen still exists. Samsung isn’t under those laws so they can collect anything and are free to sell it.

        • Avatar

          bleached

          In reply to Jeffsters:

          What is your current ISP doing with that data? Do you really trust a Verizon or AT&T more than Google!?

          • Avatar

            Jeffsters

            In reply to Bleached:

            Your cable company, AT&T, Verizon, etc.,are prevented by law from selling or using it. That said Google doesn’t care anyway...they already have all your other data. Look I could care less what you use. I’m just telling you how this stuff works...do what ever you like! Enjoy!

            • Avatar

              George Rae

              In reply to Jeffsters:
              No you are telling us how you think it's works, that is a vast difference. You make some claims and have assumptions that are just not true.
              Here is just one data point, also read in depth about Oath and how many companies it connects to

              https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/06/verizon-and-att-will-stop-selling-your-phones-location-to-data-brokers/


  20. Avatar

    milespro

    I would like to know if wifi calling is supported on the OP6T in settings. Ideally I would like the phone to automatically select wifi calling and seamlessly switch to cellular if I go out of WiFi range. I am also planning to reactivate my fi account to evaluate but a heads up on this critical feature would be welcome.

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