Google is everywhere. Originally a humble internet search engine, Google has expanded into almost every facet of tech and every area of our lives. The company’s latest venture, Google Fi, promises to be “a different kind of phone plan.” Google already has phones and operating systems, so moving into cell service isn’t a big leap.
If you’re not a fan of your phone carrier, Google Fi could be right for you. The service has some upgrades over its conventional competitors but isn’t all perfect.
What is Google Fi?
Google Fi is Google’s cellular service, which provides international, contract-free cell phone plans. There are two basic packages, both of which are available for individuals and groups.
The “Unlimited” plan for an individual cost $70 per month, and comes with free texting and calling plus unlimited data. The catch is that you’ll get slower speeds after using 22 GB in a month, but that’s not an issue for most individuals. The plan also comes with free texting and data while traveling, as well as free calls to 50+ international locations.
Google Fi also offers a “Flexible” plan that starts at $20 per month and charges you $10 for each gig of data you use. Unlike other pay-as-you-use data plans, Fi doesn’t round up or down. Instead, you’re charged for the exact amount of data you use. 1 GB is $10, 1.5 GB is $15, 1.75 GB is $17.50, etc. The plan also comes with unlimited text and talk and is good for people who don’t use a ton of data monthly. After 6 GB, something called “Bill Protection” kicks in, and you get the rest of your data for the month free. However, you’ll start to see your internet speed throttled around 15 GB of data used.
The price per plan drops as you add more lines. An unlimited plan with four lines runs just $45 per line per month, and a Flexible plan gets as cheap as $16.
Fi has been in the works at Google for years, and it was originally called “Project Fi” until 2018. Fi is an MVNO, a mobile virtual network operator. That means while Google provides wireless service, it doesn’t control the network or infrastructure. Instead, Google Fi uses the networks of T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular. The upside is that on certain devices, Google Fi will constantly transition between networks to guarantee you’re always getting the strongest signal.
How Does Google Fi Work?
Google Fi is compatible with most smartphones, but only optimized for a handful of devices. If you use a Google Pixel or Moto G phone, you can access all three networks under the Google Fi umbrella for the strongest possible service. Other phones can still use Google Fi but will get their service through T-Mobile. You can check how your device will work with Google Fi here.
Google is actually selling six Samsung phone models directly now, in conjunction with Fi. The company is also flexing Fi’s 5G capability, now offering “nationwide” 5G coverage. Since Fi works through T-Mobile, you’ll always have access to its 5G service on a Fi phone. Google also plans to roll out its own 5G phones soon, including the new Pixel 5.
The service is at its best on a Google or Moto phone, and Google wants more users to make the switch. You can get $150 off a Moto G Stylus or Moto G Power with Google Fi, or get a Pixel that you can pay for in $14 installments.
As of now, the site warns that Fi for iPhones is still in beta. Most Apple devices should be compatible, but it may take a bit of work and settings tweaking to get started. All phones on Fi also get access to millions of hotspots nationwide,
The Bottom Line
What makes Fi unique is also what can make it expensive. The down-to-the-dollar data payment on a Flexible plan is awesome for people who only want to pay for exactly what they use but can end up more pricey than the unlimited plan in any given month. The Flexible package has more wiggle room than most competitors and really becomes a powerful provider if you have a Fi-optimized device. The Unlimited plan provides great international support and strong coverage, especially on made-for-Fi phones.
That caveat will come up often if you’re considering switching to Fi. The service is really at its best if your phone is fully compatible with it, but discounts and financing on optimized phones make that more possible.