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ByDanika Miller Internet & Entertainment Writer

Danika is currently covering the internet and entertainment beat. Her previous work lives in random corners of the internet and fiction anthologies hidden in university libraries.

Google Fi Review

Previously known as Project Fi, Google has rebranded its cellphone service and expanded compatibility for more phone types. Now called Google Fi, the service operates with a simple usage-based plan. You pay only for the data you use. While that doesn’t directly correlate to a cheaper price, it can be a great value for some users, such as those who travel frequently. Google Fi’s international coverage comes at the exact same rate as its regular service.

Domestic coverage is optimized by using three cellular networks (T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular) and automatically connecting to open free Wi-Fi hotspots. The only catch is you need a Google Fi-designed phone to unlock its best features.

The Claim

Google wants to disrupt cellphone service with “a different kind of phone plan.” It claims to offer “simpler pricing and smarter coverage.”

Is it true?

It’s mostly true. Google Fi’s one plan is certainly simple. It’s just $20 for unlimited talk and text, plus $10 for every GB of data used. That’s where Google Fi’s phone plan is unique: you only pay for the data you use. If you mostly browse, scroll, and upload when at home or at places with Wi-Fi (like school or work), you could potentially pay only $30 a month for phone service.

On the other hand, people who enjoy streaming, posting, and searching while out and about could find themselves overpaying for data that is cheaper elsewhere. If you’re a heavy data user, you can find a more affordable unlimited plan with another carrier. Either way, you only pay for what you actually use with Google Fi.

If you don’t own one of the six Google Fi-designed phones, you won’t have access to its “smarter coverage.” One of Google Fi’s most unique features is that it will intelligently switch between its three cellular networks for the best service. If you’d like to carry over the phone you have now, we recommend checking out what services you might sacrifice if your phone isn’t optimized for Google Fi.

Product Overview

Best for

One phone line, Google Fi phone owners, minimal data users

Not for

iPhone owners, family plans, heavy data usage

Google Fi Features

Price Starts at $30
Standout features Usage-based pricing, bill protection, access to three networks, international coverage, no contracts
States serviced 50
Data cap Data speeds throttled after 15 GB
Fees None
Google Fi Phones Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Moto G7, Moto G6, LG V35 ThinQ, LG G7 ThinQ, Android One Moto X

Usage-based pricing

Google Fi uses one plan for every customer. And the philosophy is simple, you pay for what you use. It will cost $20 each month for unlimited talk and text and then $10 more for each GB of data. It’s $15 for each additional line and the group plan will share the data budget. With no activation or cancellation fees, it sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Let’s take a family plan with three lines as an example. Initial talk and text costs would be $50, and with about 3GB of shared data use, they’re looking at $80 per month.

The actual value will depend on how much data you use. If you’re a mostly Wi-Fi user who doesn’t do much mobile browsing, it's possible you can score a cellphone plan for just $30 per month. T-Mobile also only offers one plan, but it’ll cost $70 for your first line. That’s a much steeper starting cost than Google Fi’s $30, but you get truly unlimited data (upwards of 50 GB). Google Fi would cost you $80 on one line for 6+ GB of data (throttled at 15GB). Value-wise T-Mobile is a better deal. But if you’re a low-data user, you can get a cheap plan from Google Fi. Either way, Google Fi is unique because you’ll only have to pay for what you use.

Bill protection

There’s a clause in place to keep your data charge from getting exorbitant. It’s called Bill Protection and on individual plans, it means additional monthly data usage is free after you’ve paid for 6GB ($60). So the max you’d pay on an individual plan in one month is $80. It’s basically an unlimited data plan that you only have to pay for when you use it. The entry point for that bill protection climbs with each person you add to your plan. For example, a three-person group plan will pay per GB until 12 GB, at which point their bill will stay at $170 for the month (including the talk/text line cost).

3 mobile networks

Google Fi is a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. This means it uses another carrier’s network to offer service. Google Fi use three other mobile networks — Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. For Google Fi users who have a designated Fi phone, the service will intelligently shift between those three networks for the best signal at any given moment. Phones designed for Fi will also automatically connect to Wi-Fi when possible, shifting you off of the paid mobile data. And your Wi-Fi connection is protected by a Google Fi VPN. Public Wi-Fi hotspots can leave your information vulnerable to hackers and a VPN will make sure your internet connection is protected from prying eyes.

International coverage

In over 200 countries, your international coverage is the exact same as your regular Google Fi plan (including your data speeds). The only exception is voice calls, which will cost 20 cents per minute. If you can make calls over Wi-Fi instead, then there’s no additional charge. Your data usage is drawn from your regular pool without any additional roaming fees. Other carriers might allow you to use your data in other countries, but speeds are usually limited.

Possible Drawbacks

Phone compatibility

Not every phone is going to work with the Google Fi service. Some aren’t compatible at all, and others will see restricted services.

To best take advantage of the Google Fi service, you’ll need a phone that has been specifically designed for the service. These are the phones that are designed for Google Fi: Pixel 3, Moto G7, Moto G6, LG V35 ThinQ, LG G7 ThinQ, Android One Moto X.

It’s not an exhaustive list. Other Android phones are likely to work with Google Fi, but won’t have access to the intelligent network switching and automatic Wi-Fi connecting services. That means your phone will exclusively run on either the T-Mobile or Sprint network.

The compatibility is even worse for iPhone users, though it’s still in beta. Take texting: iMessage should work immediately but Google Fi warns that your settings have to be updated to get texts to non-iPhones to work. And you might have to update those settings a few times a year. The iOS visual voicemail app is also incompatible and you’ll have to call to check your voicemail.

Check the list on the Google Fi site to see if you can bring your phone when switching, and what kind of services will still be available.

Low value for heavy data users

Though Google Fi touts a cheap entry point and the appeal of usage-based data, its comparative value is poor.

With bill protection in place, the max price for one line of service is $80. And that’s not for unlimited data. After 15 GB of monthly data usage, your speeds will be throttled (nearly unusable at that point). T-Mobile, like we pointed out earlier, costs $70 for unlimited data (with a 50 GB throttle). AT&T offers unlimited data for $80 and will throttle speeds at 22 GB. If you’re looking for a plan with more generous data allotment, Google Fi probably won’t rank at the top of your list.

Though Google Fi offers the automatic connection to Wi-Fi hotspots, which could mean less data usage, it's not as available as you’d think. The feature will only connect to Wi-Fi networks that are completely open. That means any Wi-Fi service that requires a password or landing page (“click here to connect” or “sign in to use”) won’t apply to the automatic connection feature. For Wi-Fi hotspots that remember your previous log-ins, that can be auto-detected in the future.

The Competition

Google Fi
AT&T
Our review
Verizon
Our review
T-Mobile
Our review
Price for single line
$30-$80 per month
$45-$80 per month
$35-$95
$70
Streaming/
entertainment
service included
Watch TV
Netflix
Unlimited Talk/Text
Data cap
15 GB
22 GB on Unlimited Plans
22 GB on Beyond Unlimited plan
75 GB on Above Unlimited plan
50 GB on T-Mobile One plan

Google Fi vs. AT&T

Both Google Fi and AT&T cost $80 max for the single line unlimited plan. AT&T offers about five more GB before your speeds are throttled. We love AT&T for its wide variety of services you can bundle with. You can add the AT&T streaming service, DirecTV Now, or DirecTV service. Google Fi doesn’t offer bundling deals for other services. Some of AT&T’s unlimited plans even include a live TV package. But its $50 starting point is pricier than Google Fi’s.

Google Fi vs. Verizon

Verizon is known for having great cellphone coverage. And while Google Fi uses three networks, none of those are quite as expansive as Verizon’s network. We recommend checking coverage maps for your most frequented areas (work, home, school, etc.), before signing any contracts. Verizon’s entry point for service is also $30 per month (with talk, text, and 500 MB data). Google Fi offers more data at that price, with 1 GB and is likely a better deal for low data users.

Google Fi vs. T-Mobile

T-Mobile also offers just one plan for its customers. At $70 for the first line, T-Mobile may seem more expensive. But that $70 gets you truly unlimited data (up to 50 GB), while Google Fi will cost you $80 for “unlimited” data that is throttled at 15 GB. Both carriers have generous international plans, but T-Mobile only offers 2G speeds while Google Fi offers the same speeds you’ll find at home

Google Fi FAQ

What phones can you use with Google Fi?

There are six phones designed for Google Fi: Pixel 3, Moto G7, Moto G6, LG V35 ThinQ, LG G7 ThinQ, Android One Moto X. There are many more phones you can use with the service but you will have to sacrifice some of its features.

How fast is Google Fi?

Google Fi currently use 4G mobile broadband networks but plans to start rolling out 5G speeds via Sprint in some cities soon. The upgrade is a bit exclusive at this point — you’ll need a Sprint 5G enabled phone (that’s also Google Fi friendly), and to be within the 5G coverage zone to take advantage of the speed boost.

What carriers does Google Fi Use?

Google Fi uses three cellular networks to offer service to its customers — T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular. If you have a Google Fi-designed phone, it will intelligently switch between the three for the best connection. If you want to carry over a different, but still compatible phone, your service will either use T-Mobile or Sprint.

The Bottom Line

If you don’t use that much cellular data, Google Fi could be an incredibly affordable cellphone plan. With a starting cost of just $30, and a usage-based pricing system, it could appeal to those who feel they’re currently overpaying for service they don’t use much. While heavy cellular data users and iPhone loyalists will find little value in Google Fi’s service. We recommend you audit your current data usage, research coverage maps, and compare with other carriers to find the best cellphone plan for you.

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