Google this week began rolling out a feature called Wi-Fi Assistant—previously a Project Fi exclusive—to all users of Nexus handsets in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. This feature works similarly to Wi-Fi Sense in Windows 10.
Google announced this change was coming back in August, but according to recent reports, it’s now rolling out.
“Keep your connection speed high and your data bill low with Wi-Fi Assistant, a feature that allows you to automatically and securely connect to more than a million, free open Wi-Fi hotspots,” a Google+ post explains. “Originally a Project Fi exclusive feature, we are now expanding Wi-Fi Assistant to all Nexus users in the United States, Canada, Mexico, UK and Nordic countries. This will roll out to users over the next few weeks.”
To be clear, Wi-Fi Assistant doesn’t just connect your phone blindly to open networks: It works only with known-good networks and utilizes VPN technologies to protect your data from others on the network. Google does not view or record the content you send over this VPN, the firm says, but it does monitor for abuse, and uses anonymous data to help improve the service and ensure that known-good networks are in fact good. (Legally, Google also notes that it will “comply with applicable laws and regulations, or as required by court or government orders.”)
As you may know, I’ve long championed the use of Nexus handsets for those who choose the Android ecosystem, and I am specifically a fan of the most recent Nexus devices, the Nexus 5X and especially the Nexus 6P. I’also touted the advantages of Google’s Project Fi wireless service, which offers transparent pricing, amazing connectivity, and truly transformative international capabilities.
The combination of a modern Nexus handset—a Nexus 6P or Nexus 5X, currently, though Google is expected to announce new devices in early October—and Project Fi is, I think, the best-case scenario for Android usage. But Project Fi isn’t for everyone: You may need to stick with your existing carrier for whatever reason. And so you can of course use Nexus devices with any carrier, as they feature universal antennas.
By bringing Wi-Fi Assistant to Nexus devices, even those not on Project Fi, Google is further enhancing the allure of its hardware. And what’s neat is you don’t need the latest Nexus handsets to use it: It will work with any Nexus handset running Android 5.1 or newer. So those with older Nexus devices, like the excellent Nexus 5, should be able to take advantage of this feature as well.
That said, I’m not seeing Wi-Fi Assistant on my own Nexus 5 yet. (It’s running Android 6.0, so it should be getting it soon.)
To check if you have it, navigate to Settings, Wi-Fi and then select the Configure (gear) icon. You’ll see an option called “Use open Wi-Fi automatically.” Just make sure it’s enabled.
In Windows 10, the similar Wi-Fi Sense feature is one of several features in that OS which came under fire from well-meaning but confused privacy advocates. And you may have heard that Wi-Fi Sense was killed, or discontinued in the recent Anniversary Update release. That’s not true: The Wi-Fi Sense functionality that works like Wi-Fi Assistant feature continues forward in the Anniversary Update. What Microsoft removed was the ability to easily share your personal Wi-Fi networks with friends. Because sometimes FUD really does win out.