Google's Project Fi is an alternative to traditional phone carriers, and it provides some nice perks for mobile business users, including unlimited international messaging, simplified billing and – depending on your usage – the chance to save some money with a cheaper, more flexible data plan.
Here's a rundown on how Project Fi Works, as well as reasons some business users like it and others don't.
How does it work?
In a nutshell, Project Fi is a phone carrier service from Google that relies on a special SIM card to authenticate the use of mobile data from three existing mobile networks – T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular. It switches among these networks automatically to provide the best possible service based on your current location. It's meant to be easy to use, with a simple setup: Just swap out your phone's current SIM card with a Google Fi card. It also features simplified billing that lets you pay only for the data you use.
While other carriers offer data plans riddled with fine print and often paired with unyielding contracts, Project Fi allows you to pay a flat rate of $20 per month, which includes unlimited talk and texts as well as 2GB of data for $20 and no contract. If you want to use more than 2GB of data, you simply pay an additional $10 for each gigabyte you use with no additional penalties.
On the service's website, you can estimate your monthly usage (or goal usage) and see how much that amount of data would cost you. Since there is no contract, you only pay for what you use. So, if you plan on spending $40 for 4GB of data but end up only using 1GB one month, you'll only pay $10 for that month. You can also add data-only SIM cards to any other mobile device you own and pay the same monthly rate of $10 per gigabyte for those (or nothing, if the data goes unused).
Why would I want it?
Here are a few reasons you might like Project Fi.
You're a world traveler. If you travel internationally (or have friends abroad), you might like Google's phone service. Project Fi works in 135 countries by default, so there's no need to change out your SIM card or purchase an international data plan. There's no extra cost for international data usage or text messaging, and no steep roaming fees. International calling is available at a flat rate, with lower rates if you call over Wi-Fi, which you can do using Google Hangouts or another free app, and calling back to the U.S. over Wi-Fi is free if you're abroad. Note: While using data internationally, you're limited to 3G speeds (rather than the 4G you're likely used to in the U.S.). You can, however, use your Project Fi phone as a hotspot for your laptop, which is great for traveling.
You're within range of Wi-Fi a lot, and you want to save money. Google Fi offers excellent service coverage in urban areas, and densely populated regions tend to have lots of available Wi-Fi to use (lowering your monthly costs for data), which is why Project Fi is such a good fit for many urban dwellers. If you typically go from your home (with Wi-Fi) to your workplace (with Wi-Fi) and possibly also frequently access Wi-Fi in public spaces, you can save serious money with Project Fi. Google prorates its data charges; it doesn't round up to the next gigabyte, so if you use a tiny amount, like 0.25GB, you'll only pay $2.50 that month. You can track your data usage directly on your phone through the Project Fi app, and it will warn you when you get close to your goal limit.
You're not glued to your phone, but you want a nice smartphone.
Project Fi is great if you want a nice smartphone but don't want to pay for data you know you're not going to use. Both the Pixel X and Pixel XL are excellent phones, and the Android One Moto X4 is now available for use on Google's plan as well. The Moto X4 costs $399, but Project Fi offers a $388 Fi service credit or credit card refund when you trade in an eligible phone, and up to $50 more if the phone you trade in is a Nexus.
There's no upgrade time or high-priced data plan tied to any of these phones; you simply purchase the one you want when you want it. You can either pay for the cost of the phone upfront or pay any of the phones off over a period of 24 months, with zero interest.
Why wouldn't I want it?
Here are a few reasons you might not like Project Fi.
You want an unlimited data plan. If you crave data and want an unlimited data plan, even if it's higher priced, you are better off going with a contract from a major cell phone carrier. Project Fi is a better deal for people who use lots of Wi-Fi and relatively little data each month.
You want a phone that doesn't work on Project Fi. Love your Samsung smartphone? Then Project Fi might not be for you. The service only supports smartphones released by Google, including the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P and the soon-to-be-released Pixel and Pixel XL. Those are nice smartphones, especially because they'll be the first to get new Android operating system updates in the future. But buyers who want to stick to their current brand — or just aren't ready to upgrade their existing device — are out of luck.
You currently have a family plan. If you have kids, and they're major data users, you will probably end up spending more money by switching to Project Fi. For most family plan users, it's a better deal to opt for a major carrier that's set up for family plans at lower rates than to pay for usage on a gigabyte basis.
You live in a rural area. For now, Project Fi has spotty service in some (not all) rural areas. If you don't live near an urban center, be sure to check out the service map before you switch.
Project Fi is an innovative no-contract phone service that seems to be adding more smartphones to its list of approved devices, and the low monthly rates based on usage are a good fit for some business users. If Project Fi added unlimited and family data plans, offered more phones, and increased service regions, it would suit the needs of more users.
Additional reporting by Brett Nuckles.