Google Fi Review: Seamless Wireless Service from Google

Editor’s Note: This review was updated on Dec. 12 to include testing of additional phones on Google Fi.

It used to be a foregone conclusion that if you were shopping for wireless service, you’d end up at one of the Big Four wireless carriers. Until about five years ago, prepaid and no-contract service in the United States wasn’t particularly popular, and was typically reserved only for those who prioritized spending the absolute least amount of money over all else.

Today, these networks are viable alternatives to the likes of Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint, no matter what phone you own or how much you’ve got to spend. And since 2015, one of the most intriguing options on the market has been Project Fi, Google’s attempt at making wireless service simpler.

Recently, however, the service has undergone quite a transformation. Google has dropped the “Project” aspect of the name, and now simply calls the network Google Fi. Additionally, it’s expanded access to include nearly all unlocked phones, after previously restricting service to Pixel devices and select Android handsets from Motorola and LG.

We liked Fi before, but these changes make it quite a different service from the one we tested last year. In many ways, it’s improved — though there are still a few catches here and there, especially depending on the device you bring to the network.

How Google Fi works

Google Fi is an MVNO (mobile network virtual operator), meaning that it uses other networks to deliver service. In Fi’s case, those networks are T-Mobile, Sprint and regional carrier U.S. Cellular. By consolidating all three, Google provides better coverage than any of them individually.

However, not every device on Fi can connect to all three of these networks. Specific phones sold on the Google Fi website, including the Pixel 2 and 3, as well as the Moto G6, Moto X4 Android One, LG V35 ThinQ and LG G7 ThinQ are optimized to support dynamic switching between the trio of networks. While you now can bring most GSM unlocked handsets to Fi, including iPhones, they won’t be able to switch networks, and will instead be locked to T-Mobile. Fortunately, Google supplies a handy tool to help you determine whether or not your phone will work on the service, as well as a checklist that identifies which of Fi’s features it will support.

If you do have a Fi-optimized device, switching between the networks is seamless, and happens without the user knowing. Google’s software is designed to use the fastest, most reliable signal at any given time, and also automatically connects to over 2 million Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide to save data consumption. In fact, Google says it’s been able to speed up the handoff between between LTE and Wi-Fi as of late, trimming times by up to 40 percent. Best of all, the service works overseas, too, at the same pricing as it does at home in more than 170 countries.

MORE: Google Fi vs. Verizon: Which Is Right For You?

For a while now, Google has secured its public Wi-Fi hotspots through its own VPN, so that your connections couldn't be intercepted by interlopers. Over the last few months, however, the company has gone a step further for Fi subscribers, allowing them to channel mobile network traffic over its VPN as well. This feature is optional, exclusive to Fi-optimized devices and consumes roughly 10 percent more data by Google's estimation. However, it means every connection — Wi-Fi, LTE or otherwise — is private and secure, making Google's network one of safest around, provided you’re using a handset that supports the feature.

How much it costs

What really makes Google Fi really special is its pricing structure. Plans begin at $20 for the first line, and $15 for every line thereafter. That initial fee essentially covers your talk and texting. You pay an additional $10 per gigabyte for the data that you use, plus taxes and fees, billed at the end of the month. Auto pay is mandatory.

For example, an individual who consumes 3GB will pay a total of $50 at the end of their billing cycle. (That’s $20 for the phone line, plus another $30 for the data.) Google Fi is also unusual in that its rates don’t round up when you go over a certain amount of data. Use 2.1GB of data, and you won’t be charged as if you used 3GB like you might be at most other carriers. Instead, Google charges you $21, as each 100MB of data costs $1.

Carrier

LTE Data

Monthly Cost

Notes

Google Fi

3GB

$50

$20 per line fee plus $10 per GB of data; unused data credited to next month’s account.

Boost

3GB

$35

Unlimited plan costs $50

Metro by T-Mobile

2GB

$30

10GB plan costs $40; Unlimited plans start at $50

Sprint

Unlimited Basic

$60

Unlimited Plus ($70) and Unlimited Premium ($90) also available, offering more perks


T-Mobile

One Unlimited

$70

Unlimited Essentials plan costs $60, but your speeds may be throttled

Verizon

5GB

$55

Unlimited options also available starting at $75

Because Fi prominently incorporates public Wi-Fi networks, depending on where you live, you may not even need to purchase quite as much data as you would on other carriers. That said, having used Fi extensively in New York City, we’ve found that Google’s hotspots aren’t as ubiquitous as you’d hope.

MORE: A Guide to No Contract and Prepaid Phone Plans

Many carriers provide rollover data, but shockingly few let you pay for only what you consume, making Google Fi’s pricing scheme pretty attractive. That said, if you’re one to burn through your data cap quickly, your monthly statement can get out of hand pretty fast. Thankfully, Google Fi offers a feature called Bill Protection designed to stop that.

With Bill Protection, you aren't charged for additional data past a certain threshold. This effectively turns all Google Fi plans into unlimited data plans once you spend enough money. For example, under the current $10-per-gigabyte model, an individual stops getting charged for data after consuming 6GB, or the equivalent of $80 in one month.

Bill Protection is available for group plans too, though the amount you must consume before multi-line plans become "unlimited" is higher and differs depending on the number of lines active on your account. Google provides a calculator on the Fi website that breaks down how much subscribers could save in every circumstance.

If there's one downside, however, Bill Protection has forced Google to institute a soft cap on users who exceed 15GB in a billing cycle. Go over that limit, and you can continue to use the service and pay nothing, but your data speeds will be deprioritized. This is less than Verizon and AT&T's 22GB limit, or T-Mobile's 50GB limit.

How Google Fi performed

Tom’s Guide has tested Google Fi on a number of devices over the past year. In our initial experience with the service, we used a Moto X4 Android One, which is optimized for Google’s network. Setup was a cinch thanks to the handy Google Fi app, which simply takes a Google account (i.e., a Gmail address) to begin. Add a payment method, choose whether you’d like to port a number or create a new one, restart your phone and voila — within minutes you’re up and running.

No matter what device we used, Fi’s service was as reliable and consistent as any major network we’ve tested.

The Moto X4 connected to T-Mobile’s LTE towers in New York City, according to network analytics app Signal Spy. A speed test displayed 19.5 Mbps downstream and 4.6 Mbps upstream. That’s consistent with what we’ve observed when testing T-Mobile LTE in the past.

MORE: My Month With Google Fi: Why I’m Sticking With It

Setup and performance is similarly streamlined even if you bring a device to Fi that wasn’t designed for it, like an iPhone XS. The main differences are that you lose out on network switching and VPN access, and you have to modify some APN settings to get SMS and MMS working properly. However, that doesn’t take long, and Google provides extensive directions with the Fi SIM kit and on its website to walk you through the process. (Fi only supports SIM-free setup on the Pixel 3 at the moment.)

BYOD devices on Fi are stuck on T-Mobile’s network, and don’t benefit from Sprint or U.S. Cellular’s infrastructures. Though in our experience testing speeds in a few locations around central New Jersey, that limitation didn’t make much of a difference.

Our Fi-connected iPhone XS averaged 61.2 Mbps for downloads and 7.7 Mbps for uploads, while our Pixel 3, also on Fi, topped out at 18.9 Mbps downstream and 2.7 upstream. The Pixel 3 curiously opted for Sprint’s towers over T-Mobile’s in many of these trials, even at times when the iPhone’s speed test results proved the Uncarrier’s data was flowing better.

Ultimately, customers who take an iPhone or other unlocked device to Fi aren’t missing much without network switching — though, if you’re going to pay Google to use T-Mobile’s towers, you may as well consider T-Mobile’s plans to begin with (or those of its prepaid subsidiary, Metro), especially if you’re a heavy data user.

About the app

No matter what device we used, Fi’s service was as reliable and consistent as any major network we’ve tested. But that’s not the whole story, because half of the network’s charm resides in its brilliantly designed app and overall customer experience.

We’re all painfully familiar with terribly designed carrier apps that hide simple features and information behind dated, clunky interfaces that are excruciating to navigate. Google Fi is a breath of fresh air, as you’d expect from the company that built Android.

Open the Google Fi app, and you're immediately presented with a bar displaying your data consumption, that you can preset with a warning to know when you’re getting too close to any self-imposed limits. Scroll down, and you’ll see an overview of your plan above easy links to alter everything from voicemail settings, to blocked numbers to the service address linked to your account.

Swipe to the right for Billing and Support tabs, where all your previous statements are easily viewable. Getting in touch with a representative is a snap, too, with options for phone, chat and email alongside estimated wait times. I received a response to a chat query in just 1 minute.

The app is such a pleasure to use, unless you have to enlist the expertise on Google’s wonderfully enlightening Google Fi forum, you’ll never need to leave it. But the most impressive part of Fi’s interface is the way it handles multiple phones and lines.

At one point, I pulled the SIM card out of our Moto X4 and placed it into a Pixel XL, and Fi was smart enough to know that not only was it in a different phone, but precisely what phone it was and how much data was consumed on it. You can even break down that information into graphs, where daily usage is tallied per device. It’s an impressive degree of detail that is typically absent for users on other carriers who frequently swap SIM cards and devices.

You can also order free data-only SIM cards from the Fi app that you can then place inside other devices, like tablets and laptops. The data consumed on those devices will simply be added to your monthly tally, without any extra fees or extra line charges, and Google doesn’t bill you extra for tethering from your Fi phone, either.

Should you use Google Fi?

Google Fi works well and has a great app — but how does it compare to the value offered by other networks? Despite the strength of three carriers, Google’s coverage map is smaller than Verizon’s, particularly in more rural areas.

Project Fi coverage mapProject Fi coverage mapWhen the conversation turns to price, however, things are a bit different. Verizon’s cheapest individual postpaid plan costs $55 for 5GB once autopay is enabled. On Google Fi, 3GB will run you $50. Although Big Red doesn’t only charge you for the data you use, it does allow you to carry over unused data from month to month.

Verizon coverage mapVerizon coverage mapBecause Verizon is the exclusive major carrier partner for Google’s Pixel smartphone — a trend that continues with the Pixel 3 — comparisons against Google Fi are inevitable. But perhaps it’d be more appropriate to cast Google’s network against a less costly prepaid carrier.

Metro by T-Mobile is currently our favorite discount-service provider, offering T-Mobile’s speedy network for even lower prices. Customers can get 2GB for $30 per month, or 10GB for $40 — with taxes and fees included. Google Fi runs a whopping $70 for 5GB, though Metro leaves you with two caveats: tethering is not allowed, and all video streams are capped at 480p.

Fi is also great if you travel, offering international data and text for no added charge, and calls at 20 cents a minute. Metro has $5-per-month that extends coverage to Mexico and Canada, but its $10-per-month World Calling package is tremendously limited, providing only a paltry 200MB of data, 200 minutes and 200 texts.

MORE: MetroPCS Is Fastest Discount Carrier, Straight Talk Slowest

Families don’t stand to benefit quite as much on Google Fi. Google’s multiline discount is only $5 per line. You can add additional lines at Metro for $30 each, so the discounts increase for people with pricier plans. Both Metro and Boost Mobile provide each user with their own data bucket, whereas with Fi, every line’s data is shared.

Bottom Line

Google Fi is by no means the cheapest carrier out there. If you eat up a lot of data, Google’s service can get quite expensive fast. Discounts on multiple lines are also modest compared with other prepaid carriers like Boost and Metro by T-Mobile, and everyone draws from the same pool of data on Google Fi.

Still, Google Fi offers a premium user experience, thanks to a competitive network map, great coverage for travelers, useful perks (for the devices that support them, at least) and software that is second to none. It’s the best mix of cost and convenience out there, with a simple pricing structure and properly designed app. And in wireless, those two things go very, very far.


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  • cobhom
    What about international travel vs the other companies?
  • nduke
    I've been using Project fi for over a year and a half now and absolutely LOVE it! Previously I used a prepaid phone service on a Google phone and didn't want to get back on a contract with anyone just to have a phone. I was tired of the huge cost of monthly plans and being at a carrier's mercy until a contract ran out. I got a 6P from Google for a no interest $21/month and a $20 plan with an added GB of data. I will admit that I use my phone more at home or at friends than anywhere else (hence lots of WiFi usage), because I live out in the boonies and am retired. But for less than $50./ month (including data credits and phone payment) I feel like I get an excellent deal! Texas is a large state and I tend to drive around quite a bit and travel out of state. In the past year and a half I have never lost a signal or come up without a signal anywhere I have been on fi, and have always had data when I needed it. Also I never have noticed a switch of carriers mid call or search, but an app tells me that it happens more often than I would have guessed. Granted, I am not a 5-10 GB/month user. But for my purposes fi is great!
  • 1gr8gol4
    Why no comparison to Tracfone? If you shop around, phones are free and you can buy just what service you need. Seems like a better deal for people who at just moderate phone service users.
  • deavir
    My wife and I use less then a gig of 4G due to wifi at work and home. Our group plan is ~55$ a month. Also the old nexus 6 is also supported.
  • holguinlorenzo
    Even though coverage is good, one is afraid to use it because it's easy too expensive. I feel like when I'm using video I'm looking to check his much data I'm using. 2 or 3 days of video use puts you at 5 GB fast.
  • glorioushektor
    It doesn't work well in much of Wyoming thanks to the Union Wireless monopoly on GSM service in most of the state. Sprint is not very good in most of the state either. Luckily I can pause my Fi service and reactivate when I travel Cheyenne, Jackson, or Utah. In the meantime I'm using a Verizon MVNO on my Moto X4 Android One version, since it's universally unlocked despite being sold as a Fi phone.
  • nduke
    Anonymous said:
    Even though coverage is good, one is afraid to use it because it's easy too expensive. I feel like when I'm using video I'm looking to check his much data I'm using. 2 or 3 days of video use puts you at 5 GB fast.


    Use WiFi for that! Are you in the habit of using cellular service for movies? I watch Netflix on my phone with WiFi. No charge for data usage.
  • wowamber123
    Loved my phone. The network service was awful. My phone bootlooped, I was sent a refurbishef replacement with so many problems. They credited my account $5. But i still had the problems.
    Finally. I had to say goodbye. I do miss my original phone.
  • madamliqueur
    I currently have a plan with Project Fi. I would say it's best for people who are out of the country a lot. You're covered under the same plan internationally. I went to Mexico for 6 months, and my phone sent me a message saying that I'm covered. I went to Guatemala within that same timeframe and received the same message, that I was covered. When your phone is linked to an open WiFi, it secures it automatically. And the way you can call internationally, from another country, for free, is by using your Google Hangouts dialer. I use that to call my family in America when I'm in other countries, and I'm not charged. If you dial through the actual phone dialing system it'll charge you 20 cents a minute. This was a great article. So again, it's worth it for convenience.
  • manganite
    Let's see how long even successful MVNOs can hold out when there are only three Mega-Carriers left after a T-Mobile/Sprint merger. Chances are we end up like Canada that already has that level of non-competition and double the cell plan costs as here. I am a Fi user since February and beforehand was a T-Mobile prepaid user on my own Android. Rarely I cross 2GB per month - just restrain yourself from video streaming until you got WiFi.
  • Doh_123
    Was on Project Fi for about a year and was frustrated by the time spent waiting for the phone to switch carriers. We don't have a strong cell provider here, and T-Mobile is about 1 bar of signal strength at my house. The phone would occasionally decide it wanted to use T-Mobile, so after it settled on T-Mobile, I'd have to switch it manually to Sprint...switching was NOT instantaneous, each switch took about 15 seconds or more. Anyways, I decided that Fi was not for me...especially since wifi calling didn't work most of the time since we had low-level Sprint coverage that prevented it from using wifi calling ("Cellular preferred"). Just didn't work out for me, although I gave it a good long chance until I just got tired of waiting for my phone to find Sprint...always looked at T-Mobile first when searching for a usable provider, even if the last one that I used was Sprint. Stupid algorithm, I could do better just starting with the last provider used rather than T-Mobile every time. Going back to Verizon was a relief, just turned on my phone and could immediately use it, wonderful!
  • dysonjjr
    My parents are probably the oldest users of Google Fi (in their 70s) and it works great for them! I originally set them up as an experiment when US Cellular was added to the participating providers. Voice calls seamlessly move from Wifi to cell most of the time. They get money back every month because they don't use their alotted data very often, since most of their usage is in their home. There is absolutely no risk with this plan if you have (or want) one of the supported phones. We have had terrific support from LG even when a phone ran into a problem outside the warranty window.

    If Sprint/T-Mobile/US Cellular have strong signals in the areas you frequent or you have reliable public wifi available, it is definitely viable for people with low data needs.
  • pbilling
    We have been on Fi just over a year now and love it. Very sketchy cell service in our house and none in the basement. With Fi and wifi we get coverage everyplace at home. Out and about the service is on par with what we were getting from Verizon and much better then our friends get with ATT. Good article, but almost no mention of the fact that Fi uses WiFi for calling, for us this was the biggest benefit.
  • Doh_123
    Anonymous said:
    We have been on Fi just over a year now and love it. Very sketchy cell service in our house and none in the basement. With Fi and wifi we get coverage everyplace at home. Out and about the service is on par with what we were getting from Verizon and much better then our friends get with ATT. Good article, but almost no mention of the fact that Fi uses WiFi for calling, for us this was the biggest benefit.


    Wifi calling worked sometimes, but mostly not for me. While Wifi calling works well on my iPhone on Verizon *sigh*, the Project Fi version was mostly prevented from working by having low-level Sprint coverage. And the mode for calling is "Cellular preferred", which means if there's any cellular coverage, use that. Our Sprint coverage was variable but enough for Fi to attempt to use it, no T-Mobile coverage, but enough Sprint coverage to inhibit wifi calling. Glad that it worked for you, though! Be aware that it may not work for others.

    It is low-cost to try, though, if you already have a Google phone, or Moto X4 in Android One mode. Or would have a Google phone anyways.
  • pbilling
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    We have been on Fi just over a year now and love it. Very sketchy cell service in our house and none in the basement. With Fi and wifi we get coverage everyplace at home. Out and about the service is on par with what we were getting from Verizon and much better then our friends get with ATT. Good article, but almost no mention of the fact that Fi uses WiFi for calling, for us this was the biggest benefit.


    Wifi calling worked sometimes, but mostly not for me. While Wifi calling works well on my iPhone on Verizon *sigh*, the Project Fi version was mostly prevented from working by having low-level Sprint coverage. And the mode for calling is "Cellular preferred", which means if there's any cellular coverage, use that. Our Sprint coverage was variable but enough for Fi to attempt to use it, no T-Mobile coverage, but enough Sprint coverage to inhibit wifi calling. Glad that it worked for you, though! Be aware that it may not work for others.

    It is low-cost to try, though, if you already have a Google phone, or Moto X4 in Android One mode. Or would have a Google phone anyways.



    It's a pain sometimes but that did happen to us occasionally, particularly with 5x's we started with. When it did, I would put them in Airplane Mode then turn WiFi on. It would then work great. I do wish there was a way to tell it to use certain (like my home) WiFi calling no matter what the cellular strength. The Pixel seems to do better with it.
  • Doh_123
    Anonymous said:

    It's a pain sometimes but that did happen to us occasionally, particularly with 5x's we started with. When it did, I would put them in Airplane Mode then turn WiFi on. It would then work great. I do wish there was a way to tell it to use certain (like my home) WiFi calling no matter what the cellular strength. The Pixel seems to do better with it.


    Yes, the weird thing is that's exactly when you need wifi calling, when you don't have adequate cell coverage. And that's when my Fi phone used to try to use that inadequate cell coverage, rather than going to wifi calling. That's one reason why I'm no longer on Project Fi. Yes, you could put the phone in Airplane mode and turn wifi back on, but the phone should be able to do that, without my having to risk remembering to take it out of Airplane mode every time I leave the house, or put it in Airplane mode when I get home. That's the way that my iPhone works on Verizon, just uses wifi calling when it needs to, so it can't be too difficult to do it right :-).
  • zanydr18
    Keeping it short, I was a first buyer for the 5x and Fi service, being sick of the bills. The Fi service is good for me because if you watch yourself and get on WIFI the bill stays low and there is no other connection service problem. The bad was the 5x phone which had a hardware bootloop problem they should have fixed for free. It happened to me twice almost on schedule. The next time it happens, I will be out of warranty and will not be buying another.
    .
    I know people still using the original moto x phones, bought used for 100 dollars on ebay that had no problems. That says a lot for Motorola.
  • DR____L
    When parts ran out for the 5X and 6P bootloop problem they were being replaced by the Pixel and Pixel XL. It sounds like you got your 5X from Google and Fi so I would call Google/Fi. Hope this helps.
  • jvintimilla
    I have had Project Fi for just under 2 years and today I am going to Verizon to switch my service. I have had nothing but issues with their phones & service and it isn't worth it. Here are the main issues:

    -Outright purchase of a Nexus 5 that died within 8 months of it being issued. It took them over a week to send me a new phone. With there not being any hard wall stores, you have no choice.
    -The replacement Nexus 5 that was given to me died 8 months later as well and Project Fi told me "Oh well, your problem...call the manufacturer because we don't support the phone anymore." They knew when they sent me the replacement this was going to happen & rather than send me a reliable device, they sent me this to quiet me.
    -The Oreo 8 operating system on their phone is not compatible with everything because it is so new. It does not work with my car's bluetooth, it does not integrate well when trying to send texts to iPhone users, etc. - no way to fix it unless you want to trade-in your car for something with lesser technology.
    -Spotty service. I have had my calls dropped because their carriers didn't cover an area or the coverage switched to one of their other carriers. I'm only going 30 minutes in Atlanta - not a rural area. This shouldn't happen.
    -Poor customer service. The amount of times I have had to call, online chat, etc. is more than I ever had for any product. On top of that, they aren't friendly & don't even attempt to understand your issue. I'm pretty sure if someone at Google didn't have a phone for a week they would loose their mind.

    Until Project Fi ups their customer service and provides reliable technology, I would stay away. Especially when established carriers offer competitive data plans.
  • mikegratis1
    Have been using Project Fi since last year and am VERY happy with it. I seldom use over 1 GB of data, with the vast majority of my access being via Wi-Fi, no matter where I am. Because of this, my monthly bills are almost always under $30. You can refer other people to the service and get a $20 credit every time one of them subscribes. Calls can also be completed with Wi-Fi, which is a BIG plus when in areas with little to no connectivity. I travel all around the United States, as well as to Canada once or twice a year, and have hardly never had an issue with connectivity - When I have had a problem, once in a Blue Moon, others using different service providers did, too. I have convinced 5 people to switch to Project Fi, as well as knowing s few others who use it, and have not heard a complaint from any of them. Project Fi may not be for everyone; but it works great for us!