Since my last guest post here on The Droid Lawyer—which showcased my Oneplus One—I have changed carriers. AT&T worked for me, but customer service was never great and I had to worry about hidden fees. Since I use little data (0.5-1.0 GB per month), I was also paying for more than I needed.
So when Google ran a promotion for its cell service, Project Fi, I decided to switch. Now I pay about $25 per month, and I am quite happy with the service.
Project Fi has two major selling points: price and ease of use.
The service is prepaid by month, with no contracts and no extra fees (just taxes). You pay $20 for unlimited calling and texting, plus $10 per gigabyte of data you think you will use. If you don’t use all the data you paid for, Google will give you a prorated credit on your next bill. So, for example, I paid $30 (the minimum) last month for basic service and one gigabyte of data, but since I only used half of that gigabyte my next month’s bill had a credit of $5. I effectively paid $25 for one month—not too shabby.
Note, however, that $10 per gigabyte is not a good deal if you use a lot of data. If you use more than 2 GB per month, stick with a traditional carrier. Thankfully, Google has built in thoughtful data saving features to keep that number down.
For instance, the phone will automatically connect to open WiFi. It even has a built-in VPN to protect your privacy while doing so. (A reassuring key symbol appears on your status bar to let you know when it’s working.) The Project Fi app also makes it easy to set limits and warnings for your data usage. And if you go over, there’s no penalty—just a prorated charge on your next bill.
The Project Fi app makes managing your account simple. It sits on your phone and prominently displays your data usage upon opening. You can view bills and get customer service. It’s simple, and that’s the selling point. There’s no brick-and-mortar store to go to if you have questions, but then again you don’t have to go wait in line just to make account changes. Service is entirely through the app or the Project Fi website.
Cell reception is typically good. Project Fi uses two networks: Sprint and T-Mobile. The special SIM card lets the phone use whichever network is strongest in your location. The service also uses WiFi calling, which means you can make regular phone calls over the internet even if your office doesn’t get good reception. All of this goes on behind the scenes. It works almost seamlessly. (I say “almost” because you do notice brief periods without a network while the phone switches to a better one, most commonly after a WiFi call.)
Most of the other features are things that probably won’t make a difference in the day-to-day, but may be nice to have when needed. Tethering is free, making it easy to give your computer internet access through your phone. Traveling should be much less of a headache than with other carriers: data costs the same $10/GB in 120 countries, and voice/text costs a simple, flat amount per minute or message.
Project Fi only works with three phones: the Nexus 6 (no longer available), the Nexus 6P, and the Nexus 5X. These phones are the only ones that can take the fancy SIM card Google uses for that intelligent network switching. The bottom line is if you want to try Project Fi, you will probably have to buy a new phone, and your options will be limited.
The options, thankfully, are good ones. The Nexus 6P has been universally lauded by aficionados. It should make anyone who wants a large, premium phone happy. If instead you want a smaller phone that just works, the Nexus 5X fits the bill. Both phones have good cameras and fingerprint sensors. You can even pay for them in monthly installments after a credit check, as long as you stay with Project Fi. And if Project Fi doesn’t work out for you, you can take these phones to any other U.S. network.
The Nexus 5X is what I got, and I’ve been happy with it. The phone hasn’t been as popular as the 6P because of its retail price—at $380-430, there are much better phones. But Google has been running promotions (the current one ends June 9th) that reduce the price to $200-250 if you activate the phone on Project Fi, and that is a good deal.
The other drawbacks to Project Fi are not as likely to be deal breakers. The T-Mobile and Sprint networks aren’t as large or developed as AT&T or Verizon. There’s no family plan available. There’s no in-person customer service. You’ll have to decide how important these features are to you if you want to switch.
Ed: I’m a T-Mobile user. And while T-Mobile has great coverage in most major cities, buyer beware when you leave the metro. Coverage is improving, but you will notice many dead data spots.
Using Project Fi as a Lawyer
What I appreciate most about Project Fi is, of course, the cost. Paying only $25 or $30 per month for my cell phone feels good. I also know that I’m in control of that number; if I want to reduce the bill, I just have to use less data.
Apart from that, I feel better using my phone for business because of the security features. My Nexus phone gets security patches from Google every month. It will always have the latest Android version and features. And I get an automatic, free VPN when connected to open WiFi networks.
I also appreciate that my phone has three options when making voice calls. Between T-Mobile, Sprint, and WiFi, chances are I’ll have a good quality connection. That helps things go smoothly.
Overall, Project Fi is a good option, especially if you want a separate business phone. It is low-cost and low-hassle (once you get past buying a new phone just to use it). And most of the time it works just like any other carrier.
If you have more questions about Project Fi, check out the FAQ.
Update: Some readers have expressed concern about automatically connecting to open networks and Google’s VPN. Here’s some further explanation of that feature:
- First, I should make clear that Google’s VPN is not a substitute for a paid VPN if you are doing client work in coffee shops and the like. You can’t activate it on command; it only activates when Project Fi’s Wi-Fi Assistant connects you to an open network that also requires no further action on your part. Many public networks are outside this category, since many require agreement to terms of service.
- According to the Project Fi help page, Google uses data sent through the VPN only for the following purposes:
- To provide and improve Wi-Fi Assistant, including the virtual private network (VPN).
- To monitor for abuse.
- To comply with applicable laws and regulations, or as required by court or government orders.
- If Wi-Fi Assistant makes you nervous, you can turn it off.
- For more information on these points, check out this Project Fi help page.