By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. April 13, 2016
I don’t change personal technology products very often. Instead, I tend to shop carefully, then hang on to products until they die or my reason for owning them changes. But when Google recently invited me to join its Project Fi cellular service, I decided to go for it. Following are a few thoughts on my first six weeks of Project Fi service.
Project Fi background
If you don’t know about it, Project Fi is a virtual mobile network owned by Google that delivers cellular and data services based on a combination of private and public wi-fi, and cellular networks owned by T-Mobile and Sprint.
The service moves between the two companies’ cellular networks depending on availability and speed, and automatically switches over to private wi-fi networks approved by a phone’s owner and public wi-fi networks that meet certain standards. When the phone is connected to public wi-fi, data and calls are automatically secured through a virtual private network (VPN).
Project Fi plans start at $20.00 per month for unlimited voice and messaging, and data usage costs an additional $10.00 per GB. Any unused data is credited $10.00/GB (or $0.01/MB) on the customer’s next invoice, while extra data is charged at the same rate.
Project Fi calling services only work with compatible Google Nexus phones, including the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. Data-only service (with limited coverage) is available on tablets including Google’s Nexus 7 and Nexus 9, and on cellular network-compatible versions of the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and Samsung Galaxy Tab S.
Project Fi and the Nexus 6p – At home and on the road
My decision to sign-up for Project Fi hinged on related issues—the cost of my existing T-Mobile service and unlimited data plan, and the age of my Nexus 5 phone. In addition, since I work largely from a home office, I seemed like an ideal candidate since the majority of calling/data usage would be offloaded to my home wi-fi network.
I opted for a new Nexus 6p with 32GB of storage (costing $499.00 plus tax through Google), and a Project Fi plan with 2GB of data which is about what I use normally.
The Nexus 6p was something of a revelation—not surprising since it’s the first “phablet” style phone I’ve owned. There a few minor inconveniences related to its size—it’s certainly more awkward to carry/hold than the Nexus 5. Plus, I never realized how many things I’d done singlehandedly with my old phone, most of which aren’t really possible with the 6p.
But the phone’s pluses really outweigh the negatives, including its large, stunningly gorgeous display (great for watching video), sound quality (important since I often use the speakerphone) and fast charge feature (critical for someone who uses the phone all day and into most evenings). The camera is far better than the Nexus 5 both in terms of both image quality and its intuitive GUI. Finally, I’m extremely happy with the integrated fingerprint reader which makes unlocking the phone a breeze.
I have had a couple of problems, mainly related to the voice quality in Bluetooth-connected headsets and extension speakers but those appear to have been resolved with the software update Google rolled out in March. Since then, my experience has been essentially positive
So how did the Project Fi data plan work out? Pretty much as I expected, at least as long as I was working at home. At the end of my second week of service, I’d used about 200MB of T-Mobile/Sprint data or about 1/10th of my plan. But then a week-long business trip took me out of town and my data usage jumped dramatically to just under 2GB.
That number came as a shock but in retrospect it related to two issues: 1) the habit I’d gotten into of using the phone for tasks I’d previously performed on my laptop, and 2) not being vigilant about using password-protected wi-fi networks in the hotels and venues where I’d been working.
As a result, my first month’s bill totaled just over $46.00—a bit more than expected but still about 40% less than my previous average cellular bill. Halfway into this month’s billing cycle, I’ve used about 400MB of data but that includes attending two out of town conferences where I made sure I used available wi-fi networks.
So what’s my take on Project Fi? Overall, the service has been largely seamless and delivered what Google promised. My service costs are lower than before, and should be even cheaper by staying vigilant about wi-fi usage. I’ve also enjoyed the Nexus 6p which, despite its size and quirks, is easily the best smart phone I’ve ever owned.
Bottom line—I plan to stick with Project Fi so long as Google continues to offer it. It may not be ideal for everyone—in particular, I can foresee problems for business people who spend a lot of time on the road. But for those who have ready access to a recent Nexus phone and a good quality home or workplace wi-fi network, Project Fi is a terrific and cost effective option for calling, messaging and data.
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