On The Fence About Project Fi? Part 2 – Project Fi In Action

Android / Google / Mobile / Tech

In our previous post, we hit most of the general stuff about Project Fi.  We really needed to repeat the basics to set the foundation for the discussion in Part 2.  I’ve been on Project Fi for a month.  Project Fi is prepaid service.  The customer is billed on a set date for upcoming service, with payment due approximately ten days later.  Any decrease or overage of data is applied to the next bill.  My second bill, which has a credit applied, along with a credit for unused data, is half off — even with taxes and fees!  Normally, I expect I’ll see about a 25% discount on my bill for most future months based on my usage so far.  Which is a good thing.  When you get into the writing field, it doesn’t take long to figure out that only a very few writers make hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

My writing “office” is a corner of my livingroom.  My cell coverage here is “interesting.”  I’m within city limits, which should mean good signal.  However, I’m on a hill. Near the top, but on the wrong side from two different nearby cell towers, and surrounded by brick homes that can hamper reception.  That means that normal single carrier coverage can be dicey inside my home.  Outside is better.  And that’s a situation where Project Fi shines.

We mentioned last time that Project Fi will switch between T-Mobile and Sprint, depending on which has a stronger signal at any given time.  Add to that the fact that Project Fi  prioritizes wifi for data and does the same for calls if Sprint and T-Mobile signal isn’t strong enough.  It’ll switch, as needed, mid-call too.  I’ve seen comments in the support community about audible switching or calls dropping instead of switching.  I haven’t experienced that.  I usually  use a bluetooth headset, so I can see my phone when it switches.  The only way I can tell is that the carrier icon has changed.  I’ve never had any audible noise because of the switch and I’ve never had a call drop.

Wifi priority gets interesting away from home, work, or your normal hangouts. There is a Project Fi wifi spot map that will show which ones accept Google’s VPN key, protecting the customer.  Project Fi devices will automatically connect to those, saving data usage.  Those will show a key icon in your notification bar.  And, of course, any hotspots you’ve already signed into using a password will still also automatically connect.  A note on those wifi spots.  How many keys show up will vary.  In the areas of my city that I normally get to, there are two on the map.  If I traveled to the southeast corner of the city and the adjacent county, there are quite a few more.

In most cities, coverage for phone calls will be stellar.  If you’re more rural, it will be very dependent on the T-Mobile and Sprint service in your area.  Each will have some coverage where the other doesn’t.  So, that should increase the area Project Fi comfortably covers.

The devices Project Fi can use are limited in number.  Google just added a few tablets for a data only plan.  The only phones that work fully are the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, and the Nexus 6P.  The 5X and 6P are new, both getting good reviews.  But, if you’d rather save some money, the Nexus 6 is last year’s model, so sellers are now discounting it to get rid of inventory.  Previously I’ve had a variety of flagship devices on several different platforms.  And the Nexus 6 may be the nicest phone experience I’ve had.  Older doesn’t have to mean worse.

Do you travel?  Google has “roaming agreements” with 120 countries.  I put that in quotes for a reason.  I only checked a few, but here’s what I found.  Whether you’re in the US or in one of the 120 countries, average call cost is around $.20 a minute, country to country, on cell service.  Within a country, wifi calls are greatly discounted with calls to cell phones being slightly less than calls to landlines.  Wifi calls to the US are free.  That’s all with using your Project Fi sim instead of buying a local one.  The locals still pay whatever they would to call you in the US, whether you’re there or back here.  So, no savings for them.  But, depending on where you’re traveling and how much in-country calling you’ll be doing, it may be as cheap or cheaper to just use your Project Fi sim instead of buying a short term local sim.

What’s usually our biggest cell service complaint?  Customer Service!!!  Be ready for that to change.  From the time I ordered my sim card through just several days ago, I’ve had a ton of questions, from the differences in how Project Fi handles some things to international calling.  So, I’ve called often.  Every time, the representative has been friendly, informative, and accurate.  I’m not sure they know what having a bad day means.  If you agree, each call ends with a survey of how the call went, using the numeric keypad with an optional voice message for comments, at the end.  Google is making sure the customer is well taken care of.

Besides Customer service, there are two Project Fi communities on Google+.  The public one is open to anyone and also happens to be the smaller of the two.  Although I’ve joined, I don’t think I’ve visited it more than a few times.  The other community, though only for those with activated Project Fi sims, is also much larger.  I’m there daily, along with some friends I know from other tech communities.  I’ve never seen anyone there that I knew was officially a Project Fi employee, but there are a lot of friendly, knowledgeable people who are very active there.  So, there’s no lack of friendly help between that and Customer Service.

Officially, Project Fi isn’t in beta, but as recently as August PC Magazine was calling it a beta product.  BetaNews was still covering changes in September, and some of the Fi reps still say it’s in beta.  I will say that it seems to me to have that freewheeling atmosphere of a work in progress.  They’re very open to customer input, both positive and negative, and they’re still looking for suggestions.  So, would I recommend Project Fi to my friends?

My answer has to be a resounding probably.  It depends on a few things.

  1. Is there at least decent coverage from T-Mobile, Sprint, or both in your area?  Without it, you’re pretty much dead in the water.
  2. Do you have fairly regular wifi coverage?  The basic 1 Gigabyte data plan will be cheaper than regular carriers and can be even cheaper with wifi taking as much as possible of the data load.  If you use a lot of cellular data, anything above 3 Gigabytes is likely to be the same cost or more expensive than your current carrier.  Project Fi doesn’t have an unlimited data plan.
  3. Are you OK with the limited number of devices that work with Project Fi? Our preceding article listed the tablets.  And, as we said, only the latest three Nexus phones will work.  If you want an iPhone, a Blackberry, or a non-Nexus Android device, then you need to stick with the normal carriers.
  4. Are you on contract with your present carrier? Are you at the end of your contract?  Project Fi doesn’t cover early termination fees.
  5. Do you travel or at least call any of the 120 countries Google has arrangements in?  If so, you probably can get better calling rates than the “big four.”

If you answered “Yes” to the first four, give Project Fi a try.  If you said yes to number five, that’s like getting an extra helping of food for free.  One last note:  You have the first 15 days to try Project Fi without obligation.  If all that sounds interesting enough to try, you can head over to the Project Fi homepage for more information. It’s currently by invitation only, and the button at the top right of the page will take you to the invitation request form.  They will ask for your info.  If they don’t yet cover where you are, they’ll let you know at this time.  Otherwise, you’ll get an invitation shortly.

In planning your switch and number porting, it can take up to three weeks to send out the sim card. Once you receive it you can then activate it at your convenience.  Complete activation, including porting your number, can theoretically take up to 24 hours.  Mine was fully switched in about 5 minutes.

Happy saving with Project Fi!

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