Frugal Living

Costly Phone Plan? We Moved To Google’s Project Fi

[ Day 74 of 2000 ]

This is one post I have wanted to write for a while. Just never happened earlier. I have talked about having a Project Fi connection here and here.

I was interested in Project Fi from the moment I heard that it had launched. The selling point? I only had to pay for the data that I actually used! I spent most of my time at home, office, or at a place that had free Wi-Fi (the doctor’s, indoor soccer place, coffee shops, hotels,… ) and not too much of my data.

What is Project Fi?

Project Fi is a cell phone plan from Google. However, they do not have their own network – they have some kind of collaboration with Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. They also try and use an available WiFi over these different carriers. Switching from WiFi to cellular, and back are transparent.

We just pay Google and let them do their magic.

Our Story

When Project Fi launched, we were using an AT&T connection. The bills came up to $117 for two connections. I had a Nexus 6 phone and asked for an invite (it was by invitation only at that point), and got one. There were not many reviews, and BusyDad didn’t have a compatible phone. So I put that off.

A year later, BusyDad’s phone stopped working. That was the perfect time! We got a Project Fi connection mid 2016, and have loved it ever since. And the best part? Our phone plan costs were just half now.

We also have connectivity when we are on international trips. Before switching, we would opt to not use a phone, or get a local sim whenever we traveled. We didn’t want to waste money on international plans. Not any more! It doesn’t cost a lot to use the Fi phone abroad. I have billing details later in this post.

Low Costs

Right now, we have a group plan. The plan owner (BusyDad) pays $20 a month, and the rest of them (just me, here) pays $15 a month for unlimited talk and text. For each GB of data used, we pay $10. No rounding off – if you use 214 MB, you pay $2.14. And it is as simple as that. You get to decide how much you would typically use, and pay for that in advance. If you use less, you get it refunded. If you use more, you pay for it – no penalties. Here’s my screenshot for the past few months.

The rates vary depending on how much data you used – All those months it went to $28+, I can explain. GBoy needed a bunch of physical therapy sessions and I spent an hour (or sometimes more) per week just browsing on my data plan. In July, we drove cross country – east to west coast – and did a lot of browsing on the way.

Free Data-Only Sim

We also got an extra sim card from them to use in my old Nexus 6 phone. I cannot make a call from that. That is mainly used for GBoy to play Pokemon Go, and occasionally for Google Maps. I do not pay for the connection itself – I just pay for any data used on that sim card. It is useful if you have a tablet that takes sim cards. We don’t have a tablet like that.

Easy To Understand Charges

There are times when I am trying to reduce the cost of something and try to understand what to do. With Project Fi, it is easy. No hidden charges, and everything is explained properly.

International Roaming

Data costs the same, wherever you are. And texts are free. I have not sent an international text ever – I am not really sure about that part. What I do know is that you can send a text to a US number for free even when you are traveling.

As to the calls – if you are on WiFi, you don’t get charged for a call to the US. If you are not connected to WiFi, you are charged 20 cents for each minute.

We have used it in India, Dubai and UK. And it worked perfectly fine. Anyone calling us when we were traveling wouldn’t know that we were traveling, it is just a regular call.

International Calls

I stopped getting a Skype subscription. The call rates are low enough that I now just directly call from my phone. To make calls to India or UK, it now costs me $0.01 a minute.

I have a few screenshots below.

International Roaming and Calls – My Usage

I had traveled to UK during both of those months above. All those black rectangles – that was just me trying to black out the numbers I called/got a call from. I wanted to point out a few things that we talked about.

  • On Oct 13, at 10:04 am, I was in the UK. I called a UK number, but I was connected to a WiFi network. It cost me a $0.01 per minute.
  • On Nov 5, at 9:20 am, I was in the USA. I called an India number, and it cost me $0.01 per minute.
  • On May 15, at 3:30 pm, I was in the UK, and not connected to WiFi. I was charged $0.20 per minute for a call from USA.

Coverage within USA

We have good coverage where we live. I have not had any issue with that. We also did drive from Boston to San Francisco last summer, and were happy about how well it worked. We did find some parts of the country – somewhere around Utah/Nebraska/South Dakota/… when the coverage was spotty – but not enough to bother us. Of course I wasn’t looking at the phone all the time 🙂

Here is a coverage map and make sure you check the areas that are important to you. However, even if you do not have coverage at a particular location, you can still make calls and get text messages if you are connected to WiFi.

We had slightly bad reception in certain rooms of our house when we were with AT&T. That problem was fixed when we moved to Project Fi, thanks to our home WiFi.

Major Drawback

We have found one major issue with using Project Fi. You cannot just get a sim card and pop it into any phone. It only works with certain phones – Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 6p, Nexus 5x, Nexus 6 and Android One Moto X4. I have read reports on the internet about people using it in other phones, and it working pretty well – just not as exceptional as ours.

However, if you are anyway going to get a new phone, you should consider moving to Project Fi. If you buy the phone directly from Project Fi, they also have an option of paying for it over 2 years. We opted for that when we bought BusyDad’s phone. It was zero percent interest, and we had nothing to lose by buying it that way.

In retrospect, I think we could have moved to Project Fi even before BusyDad’s old phone was not working. The cost of the new phone was more than offset by the difference in phone plan charges from when we delayed making that decision. If you are considering Project Fi, I would suggest that you do the calculations and see whether you should do it now, or when you change your phone next.

Is Project Fi for you?

It depends. If you spend a lot of time where you have access to WiFi anyway, it is probably for you. However, if you do not have access to WiFi most of the time, may be not. It depends on how much data you use. If your data usage is over 3 GB or so per month, you may be better off getting it from a different provider.

Google recently introduced a bill protection plan where you do not have to pay for more than a certain limit. For one user, if you use 6 GB of data, you do not have to pay for additional data usage. For two, the limit is 10 GB. However, we have never used over 1.5 GB for both of us together, and have no use with the bill protection plan. It is good to have, though. In case we accidentally stream movies back to back without noticing, and the phone doesn’t run out of charge 🙂

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About BusyMom

Mom, Software Engineer, Dreamer - Can't wait to be less busy! . Please leave me any feedback you can think of. I am still learning and anything you can tell me about making this blog better is very much appreciated. .
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6 thoughts on “Costly Phone Plan? We Moved To Google’s Project Fi

  1. This is pretty cool. I keep hearing about this but I just did the math. Since I use around 3GB+ data per month, it would be around what I pay currently. I have a group plan on T-Mobile paying $50 each for unlimited everything (even intl data!). Plus my iphone 6S (super old by now) is still cranking out some life even with it’s cracked screen. If only NY would get city-wide wifi, I’d consider it.

    It definitely sounds great for people who mostly use wifi all day!

  2. Well done! I’ve looked into this and may again in the future. Since we already have iPhones, our best bet was to go with Ting. It allowed us to go from a similar $120 per month for two lines, down to $40 total. No-brainer!

  3. Thanks for the review. I’ve been with Virgin Mobile for years and only pay $35 a month for unlimited everything. So it’s cheap and I’ve mostly been pleased. The only flaw is they use Sprint’s network. Sprint is okay in cities and urban areas, but quickly degrades as you get out to the hinterlands. I do a lot of outdoor activities and sports, and I’m often without coverage when doing those. Sometimes I don’t mind that at all – I’m a big believer in “digital detox” and being off the grid sometimes simply for mental health. But when I’m doing some of my more risky pursuits, it’d be nice to have coverage in case anything goes wrong.

    I’ll keep looking into Google FI

    1. I have found the coverage to be good. However, I won’t be caught dead on those places that you visit… Check their coverage map before you decide to switch.

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