Google's Project Fi, which the company has just renamed Google Fi, is an affordable $20-a-month smartphone plan that until now has been inaccessible to most people because of the narrow range of devices supported (just the Pixel, Nexus and a small selection of mostly uninteresting Android devices). That's all over now, though, because Google just made it possible for millions of iPhone and Android users to ditch their expensive phone plans and access Google Fi, effectively removing the biggest barrier the project has had to gaining new subscribers.
If your interest is piqued by the promise of Google-level service, zero contracts and low prices, here's a rundown on how Google Fi works, which phones you can use with it, and all the pros and cons of the service.
Which phones can I use with Google Fi?
As has always been the case, you can use any Pixel phone with Google's service, as well as any of the phones sold directly from the Google Fi website. None of that is news, though – what has changed is the ability to onboard other types of phones, including iPhones and popular Android devices. You can check if your device is compatible here.
Those who have an iPhone 5S, 6, SE or newer (including international devices) may access Google Fi now, but be aware that such users will be accessing the service in beta mode. As such, not every service available to Pixel users will be available right away. However, this is not unusual for new software services, and considering how much Google could gain from fully supporting more devices, it seems likely that the beta period will be relatively brief and painless.
Android users can bring their phones to the new Google Fi too. In fact, many popular Android devices are 100 percent compatible with Google Fi, without going through beta mode first. Some notable examples are Samsung's S7, S8, S8+, S9, S9+, Note 8 and Note 9. Most HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola and LG phones are also compatible, with full feature access available now.
How does Google Fi work?
In a nutshell, Google 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 has 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, Google 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 Google Fi.
You're a world traveler. If you travel internationally or have friends abroad, you might like Google's phone service. Google 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 Google Fi-enabled phone as a hotspot for your laptop, which is great for traveling.
You're within range of Wi-Fi a lot. 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 Google 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 Google Fi.
You want to save money. 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 Google Fi app, and it will warn you when you get close to your goal limit. The $20 monthly subscription fee includes unlimited texting and calling, and if you plan on using a ton of data, you can opt for the 6GB level of data, which comes with Bill Protection, so you'll never spend more than $80 a month. That said, try the service without unlimited data first; you might be surprised at how often you can hop on Wi-Fi without using any data at all.
You want flexibility. Google Fi charges on a monthly basis, and there is no contract whatsoever. You can upgrade phones whenever you want, buy any compatible phone, and cancel service at will without paying an arm and a leg in fees.
Why wouldn't I want it?
Here are a couple reasons you might not like Google Fi.
You currently have a family plan. If you have kids, and they're major data users, you may end up spending more money by switching to Google Fi. For some 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. Remember, unlimited data on Google Fi is $80 a month per device.
You're locked into a contract. If you are currently under contract (something you won't experience with Google Fi), it may be too much expense and trouble to get out of your current plan just to try Google Fi. In that case, you're better off waiting for your contract to end and then making the jump.
You live in a rural or otherwise underserved area. For now, Google Fi has spotty service in some rural areas. If you don't live near an urban center, be sure to check out the service map before you switch. Google Fi may not be suitable for people who are frequently traveling in highly remote areas with limited access to Wi-Fi and without proximity to the cell services Google Fi uses.
Google Fi is an innovative no-contract phone service that's more affordable than most mainstream competitors. If Google Fi added family data plans and increased its service regions, it would suit the needs of more users, but as is, it meets the needs of many users who are currently overpaying for data.