What Is Project Fi, and Is It Worth It?

Google already makes the OS for your smartphone and, for some of us, makes the phone itself. And if you sign up for Project Fi, the tech giant can provide the cellular service for that phone, too.

Project Fi launched in 2015, as an alternate wireless carrier for select Google devices. With Project Fi, Google uses a blend of Wi-Fi and the networks of three carriers to keep you covered, and its pay-only-for-what-you-use approach may appeal to smartphone owners who balk at paying for one unused megabyte of data — provided they’re using an accepted device. And Google's data plans just became more appealing now that Project Fi caps the amount it will charge you each month.

Here’s what you need to know about Google’s Project Fi.

What network does Project Fi use?

Like other mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, Project Fi relies on another carrier’s network to provide cellular coverage. In Project Fi’s case, a trio of carriers are used — Sprint, T-Mobile and regional carrier US Cellular. Google says that Project Fi determines which carrier has the fastest network where you happen to be and connects you to that one. Should you relocate to an area where another carrier partner has better coverage, you’ll be switched over to the better connection.

But cellular coverage is only part of the Project Fi story. Like fellow MVNOs Republic Wireless and TextNow, Project Fi also delivers talk, text and data over Wi-Fi when a wireless network is available. Again, Google promises seamless switching between Wi-Fi and cellular connections. And it’s that reliance on Wi-Fi that allows Project Fi to offer lower monthly bills compared to the major carriers.

What phones can you use with Project Fi?

Phone selection is probably the biggest limitation with Project Fi — you can't just bring any old device to Project Fi. But Google is taking steps to address that, adding support for additional phones beyond in-house devices like the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Pixel and Pixel XL and, of course, the Pixel 2 models Google released last fall.

The Moto X4 Android One is also an option for Project Fi customers. (Credit: Tom's Guide)The Moto X4 Android One is also an option for Project Fi customers. (Credit: Tom's Guide)The Moto X4 joined the phones that will work on Project Fi last year. It's an Android One version of the phone, meaning it's as close to stock Android as possible. (A version of the X4 that we saw at the IFA trade show in Berlin had built-in support for Amazon's Alexa assistant, for example; that feature is stripped out of the Android One edition of the X4.) The X4 normally costs $399 through Project Fi, though as of this writing, that price has been slashed to $249. Even without the discount, that means Project Fi now offers a lower cost option if you don't want to pay up for the Pixel 2.

MORE: Project Fi Showdown: Splurge on the Pixel 2 or Save on the Moto X4?

If that's too rich for your blood, consider the newly released Moto G6, which has also been added to Project Fi. Normally $249, that phone currently costs $199 when you buy it through Google's service. We're big fans of the G6's bright screen and solid performance, though you will make some trade-offs with the cameras and battery life.

Expect the ranks of Project Fi-capable phones to grow even further. The service is adding support for the newly announced LG V35 ThinQ as well as the LG G7 ThinQ. Both these options are pretty pricey, though, at $899 and $749, respectively.

Google says it limits which devices are compatible with Project Fi because the devices need to be able to support the Project Fi SIM card, which works with multiple carrier networks. Both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL cost the same if you buy them through Project Fi as they do at Verizon. Of course, getting your Pixel directly from Google ensures that you’ll get software and security updates as soon as they become available.

Project Fi’s appeal lies in the fact that you won’t have to pay for any unused data.

Project Fi lets you transfer your current cellphone number over to its service when you sign up.

What are the best Project Fi plans?

If Project Fi’s phone selection remains restrictive compared to other carriers, at least it keeps plans simple. You’ve got one plan option: Fi Basics, which provides unlimited talk and text (including international texting) for $20 a month.

But what about data? You estimate how much LTE data you’ll use each month, paying $10 for each GB. Let’s say you expect to use 3GB per month. That would tack on another $30 to your bill, meaning you can expect to pay $50 each month. Given Project Fi’s use of Wi-Fi when available, you presumably would use less LTE data than you might with a traditional carrier.

If you want to use another Android phone or — heaven forbid — an iPhone, Project Fi is not for you.

At first glance, that doesn’t compare particularly well to other low-cost carriers. MetroPCS, currently our top choice among discount carriers, offers a 5GB plan for $40 a month — that same $40 buys you just 2GB of data at Project Fi.

But Project Fi’s appeal lies in the fact that you won’t have to pay for any unused data. Project Fi credits you approximately 1 cent for each MB you stay under your allotment. Sticking with our 3GB scenario, should you use just 2.2GB in a month, you’ll get a refund of $8, which will appear as a credit on your next bill.

The service's Bill Protection feature effectively adds unlimited data to Project Fi. Bill Protection caps your monthly bill at $80 a month, or 6GB of data under Google's $10-per-gigabyte pricing. However, you're still able to use data once you go over 6GB without your bill increasing. Only when you hit 15GB of data during a month will Google start to slow your data speeds.

You can add additional people to your Project Fi account for another $15 per line. Everyone on the account draws from the same pool of LTE data, so a family of four that uses 9.5GB a month would pay $160, which is what T-Mobile charges that same family for unlimited data. Bill Protection works on multiline accounts, too, though the cap varies depending on how many lines of data you have.

What special features does Project Fi offer?

Besides rebates on unused data, Project Fi customers are able to use their phones as a wireless hotspot for no additional cost, though any data they use comes out of their monthly allotment.

Project Fi’s real special feature should appeal to international travelers: You’re able to draw from your regular pool of data in 135 countries, without having to pay any roaming fees. To put that in context, T-Mobile lets you use unlimited data when traveling in 140 countries, but it severely limits your speed. Verizon charges you $5 to $10 per day depending on where you’re traveling to use your data plan overseas.

As noted above, unlimited international texting is included with every plan. Phone calls in 135 countries will cost you 20 cents a minute over cellular connections; rates vary for Wi-Fi calls.

Project Fi also offers a referral program, where you get a $20 credit for any friend or relative who becomes a Fi subscriber and stays active for 30 days, including paying for two months of service. You can enjoy up to 10 referral credits, which translates to $200 if you’re particularly persuasive.

What do customers say about Project Fi?

Reviews of Project Fi posted by the service’s users in the Project Fi app are a love-fest for Google’s wireless service. Project Fi gets an average rating of 4.6 out of 5, with more than 80 percent of customers posting 5-star reviews. Customers like paying only for the data they use and the lower monthly bills. The few complaints on the Project Fi app concern call quality.

MORE: 5 Sneaky Ways Your Wireless Carrier Is Ripping You Off

That pretty much squares with the wider perception of Project Fi, which has won the Readers' Choice Award at PC Mag for three years running. Other reviews at Computerworld and Forbes are similarly glowing, praising Project Fi’s customer service and simplified billing. Those reviews do acknowledge the limitation on supported phones, and the Forbes reviewer suggested that heavy data users won’t get much bill satisfaction from Project Fi.

We reviewed Project Fi and found that it delivered a top-rate customer experience with reliable performance.

The Bottom Line

There are some clear advantages to Project Fi, from the straightforward billing to the monthly credits for unused data. Bill Protection makes Google's service even more appealing for heavy-data users. If you prefer Google’s Pixel phones, the service is a no-brainer, and international travelers will love the convenience of using their regular data plan to stay connected on the go.

If the Pixel doesn’t appeal to you, though, Project Fi’s many benefits will be out of reach, especially if the limited options from Motorola and LG don't strike your fancy.. Other carriers also offer more aggressively priced data plans, though Bill Protection makes Project Fi more competitive for heavy data users. You may not reap Project Fi’s benefits if you’re not around Wi-Fi as much, though. That said, fans of Google devices will find plenty to like about Project Fi.

Credit: Project Fi

Create a new thread in the Cell Phone General Discussion forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
26 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • StephenFeather
    I was in one of the first beta batches of users to test Project Fi. Bought a full priced Nexus 6. Despite some bumps in the road, the service was stable and engineers answered trouble tickets pretty fast. That was 3 years ago.

    After a year, bought my wife a full priced Nexus 5x and moved her from Verizon to ProjectFi.

    Since then I upgraded to a Pixel. When everyone else is getting security patches on the 5th of each month, Project Fi pixel users don't get updates until around the week of the 15th of each month.

    In June, the Nexus 5x began to bootloop. After 2 days on the phone with tier 1 support, finally got passed up to the next tier. Project Fi offered to replace the Nexus 5x with a rebuilt model. After 2 days with no news on when this replacement would ship, we bought a cheap pay as you go sim, dropped it into an old samsung s3 and forwarded the project fi number to that device while we waited. We finally get a tracking number...that never leaves the warehouse. The Nexus 5x order is then canceled. Another day of calling, 'we have shipping problems'.

    After another day, another Supervisor arranges for a full refund of the Nexus 5x. We package it up and ship it to texas. Order a Pixel to put on the wife's fi account. Four weeks after google received the device, the refund has not been posted back to the payment method. Send an email, told 'it will be refunded'.

    And this is where the hell begins. The refund of $454.77 is returned across 2 different Visa accounts. Its refunded in 8 payments, the smallest being $2.76.

    As soon as the credits are issued, Project Fi then pulled 3 debits from one of the accounts totaling $375.38.

    We paid ourselves the refund.

    We spent a week trying to talk to someone at Project Fi support who would understand this, got a lot of 'we are so sorry, we understand, we are working on it.

    (Eventually the $357.38 shows up as a 'credit' on her account.)

    The next Monday I went to the bank and charged back the 3 unauthorized debits as 'fraud' per the recommendation of the Chase security team.

    Its been another 2 weeks and this week Project Fi decide to add one of the charge backs as a debt against the Project Fi account, so this months bill is $257.

    We are in the middle of a shell game where all they have done is move our money around between various 'accounts'.

    Project Fi? Avoid. Engineers are running the books, not accountants. No one is responsible, and communication is mostly done by email.
  • Ryan_350
    Project Fi is amazing! Can't say enough great things about the service people are super helpful will never go back to the big 4 carriers awful awful service... Oh and data is no problem me & my wife have Nexus 6ps ( awesome phones) and each have 1 GB of data here's the kicker we use mabye 200mbs wifi @ home and we both work downtown so wifi, wifi everywhere!! And credits on the bill every month again if you're thinking about it pull the trigger! Google is redefining the mobile game.
  • Waltzer
    cAN NOT SEE HOW THIS WOULD WORK IN THE MIDDLE OF FLY OVER COUNTRY?
  • rgd1101
    Anonymous said:
    cAN NOT SEE HOW THIS WOULD WORK IN THE MIDDLE OF FLY OVER COUNTRY?


    If the plane have wifi. but probably pay for it.
  • Luis_101
    I have been using Project Fi for almost a year and I love it!
    I don´t need to gather the patience to deal with customer service, can control my costs really well (usually wont surpass 2gb of data), and when traveling, Fi has been a godsend.

    Granted, that this carrier is not for everyone. It just does not make sense for those who use lots of data, or those in T-mobile or Sprint deadspots.


    Tip: If you won´t be using Fi for a period of time, you can pause the service in within the app. Fi will not charge you for that period!

    [referral code removed ]
  • rgd1101
    Anonymous said:
    I have been using Project Fi for almost a year and I love it!
    I don´t need to gather the patience to deal with customer service, can control my costs really well (usually wont surpass 2gb of data), and when traveling, Fi has been a godsend.

    Granted, that this carrier is not for everyone. It just does not make sense for those who use lots of data, or those in T-mobile or Sprint deadspots.


    Tip: If you won´t be using Fi for a period of time, you can pause the service in within the app. Fi will not charge you for that period!

    [referral code removed ]


    https://fi.google.com/about/faq/#top-faq-5
    Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular
  • eryr80
    Sadly my experience differs... If you are in the hinterlands of the US you get the fun of watching people with TMobile and Sprint being able to call but Fi does not work.
    Of you have a problem customer No Service can only apologize and make vague promises.
    Warning consider everything before you use Fi
  • paulvotava
    Same here, good if it works, if you have problems like tower switching issues in my case, they leave you hanging for weeks with apologies and no solutions. Stay away!
  • mindling
    Project Fi is terrible if you want reliable, seamless communications overseas. It almost never works with local cell carriers, and sometimes works on wi-fi. But I don't have the time when abroad to waste with "FI" drones apologizing and doing very little of value. And besides, how do I communicate with them if my Fi phone doesn't work? They could not replace my Nexus 5P phone, have offered me a refund (I suspect it is their network(s), not the phone. They will not give me a discount to replace the phone, and the new phone is over $650. No thanks.
  • paulvotava
    Anonymous said:
    Project Fi is terrible if you want reliable, seamless communications overseas. It almost never works with local cell carriers, and sometimes works on wi-fi. But I don't have the time when abroad to waste with "FI" drones apologizing and doing very little of value. And besides, how do I communicate with them if my Fi phone doesn't work? They could not replace my Nexus 5P phone, have offered me a refund (I suspect it is their network(s), not the phone. They will not give me a discount to replace the phone, and the new phone is over $650. No thanks.
  • paulvotava
    Wow, at least they offered you a phone, the best they would do for me was send a SIM replacement, and wouldn't even expedite it. 10 days later, no SIM. The WORST customer service experience ever.
  • zatexdp
    I have been a Fi customer for just over one year. July 2016 until now, September 2017>

    I have been very happy with the service. I have used the phone all over Texas and New Mexico, road trip to Wisconsin and back, every where I have been I have had good service. There are a few places in New Mexico that the phone didn't have signal, but neither did my wife's ATT phone.

    The only hiccup is the Nexus 5X phone, After 13 months it entered a bootloop death spiral.

    One call to Fi and they had another 5X headed my way, no charge. They even shipped the new one next day air.
    Excellent customer service.

    The network coverage is as good if not better than any ATT service I've had.

    Good stuff!
  • wamsley4x4
    Friday afternoon my Pixel XL 32gb started saying out of nowhere that the SIM card was not inserted. I had the phone in my pocket, it has never been dropped and always in a case. I have only had it since mid july. I powered off the phone, took out the SIM and reinserted it. Still the problem persists. I take my old Moto Turbo 2 Nano SIM insert it into my Pixel and still nothing happens (This should at least allow for emergency calls even though the SIM isnt active with Verizon anymore). I then take the Project Fi nano SIM and put it in my Turbo 2. It recognizes the card and I can actually make calls via WIFI but not on the actual cell network. So from this I have determined it's probably the phone. I'm actually an electronics technician, troubleshooting stuff like this is a specialty of mine.

    So I call Project Fi customer service. They run me through about 10 different steps troubleshooting the software (including a factory reset) to no success. I explain several times that I think it's the phone not the OS. They tell me all I need is a new SIM then, I tell them I think this is not the problem because of my own troubleshooting. They flat out deny to replace the phone and that I have to try the new SIM out first, They'll mail it out and it should arrive Monday. So they want me to wait 4 days with no phone only to get the new SIM and it still not work. I tell them I want it escalated and want a new phone sent out. Finally the rep I speak to agrees it's probably the phone and they'll get a new one out to me. Great news I think but then he tells me they'll need to place a hold on my account for the full amount of the phone until they receive my defective unit. So $750 for 6-10 business days. This isn't going to work for me I tell him. I don't have that amount just sitting in my account for them to hold on to for that amount of time. So they send me over to hardware and the hardware rep offers the Standard Exchange. Standard exchange means I send in the defective unit and then once they get it they'll send me back a new Pixel and I should have it in 6-10 business days.

    If I had known how this process went before switching to Project Fi I would have never done so. I switched because I thought it was more cost effective since I don't use tons of data every month. I also had the phone financed through them because I did'nt have $750 to spend on it. I did'nt then and I don't now. I hope I am helping anyone considering switching to Fi so that they don't have to be put through the same thing. In my experience it has not been worth it.

    I have been given the options of Standard exchange or Advanced Replacement for my Pixel XL. Advanced replacement would remove $750 from my checking account for too many business days. Standard exchange leaves me without a phone for a minimum of 6 business days. These are unacceptable policies. I will be canceling my Project Fi service as soon as possible and sharing my poor experience in every corner of the internet possible. Google has pleasant CS reps but they don't actually get anything done for customers. I have only had my phone a few months and should not have to spend hours on the phone to end up with no replacement phone within a reasonable time frame. This process should take no more than 48 hours since Google has no physical locations. Thank you for nothing, Google.
  • rudyallan
    My experiences with Project Fi are mostly negative. The Nexus is not a good phone. Its slow, under supplied with ram and storage. The camera is of low quality. The data plan also is not good. If you select 2GB per month you will be charged for 2GB even if it goes through you home wifi and never use LTE. If you go above set plan it becomes very very expensive. I have never had a bill under $250 for one person per month. Sometimes $300. The calls are very low quality and "drops" are always happening. Often, there simply is an endless silence when you dial a number. And you get pushed and funneled into having to use all of Googles apps. Their news is particularly slanted and biased. Right after I used Priceline, it started pushing Google flights offers daily. And every time I log into Facebook, the phone starts pushing and placing Google+ reminders everywhere. All these "built in" google push ads and pop ups are very hard to remove or reduce. It simply blocks skype and then hangouts appears within minutes. Its an extremely invasive service which cost more than any other plan I have had and uses a very low quality phone as its only option (Google owns Motorola). Support is mostly empty promises with a lot of "we are sorry". The phone was $700 and that alone makes Project Fi a major regret. I wish I had bought an iPhone and selected T-Mobile or Metro PCS.
  • dan.beilke2
    It seems to work all right except in certain remote wooded areas, but those are pretty much dead zones. There are a couple of spots where my wife's Verizon phone gets spotty coverage where I get none.

    The thing is that data is getting cheaper and some unlimited plans are coming back. I'm on T-Mobile's towers most of the time so realistically I could just use T-Mobile or a discount carrier and get a better deal.

    If I had unlimited data for not much more than I pay right now and got great service in the city I spend 95% of my time, I'd certainly take advantage of it and stream what I wanted to at work instead of listening to the few radio stations that actually that I actually get inside a metal building.

    I've had this service for about 2 years and it has been fine. Very good overseas and not much worse than any other carrier here. It saved me a lot of money from Verizon 2 years ago but there are better deals available now.
  • dan.beilke2
    Anonymous said:
    It seems to work all right except in certain remote wooded areas, but those are pretty much dead zones. There are a couple of spots where my wife's Verizon phone gets spotty coverage where I get none.

    The thing is that data is getting cheaper and some unlimited plans are coming back. I'm on T-Mobile's towers most of the time so realistically I could just use T-Mobile or a discount carrier and get a better deal.

    If I had unlimited data for not much more than I pay right now and got great service in the city I spend 95% of my time, I'd certainly take advantage of it and stream what I wanted to at work instead of listening to the few radio stations that actually that I actually get inside a metal building.

    I've had this service for about 2 years and it has been fine. Very good overseas and not much worse than any other carrier here. It saved me a lot of money from Verizon 2 years ago but there are better deals available now.


    An update, they just rolled out a cap on data charges, so if you go over 6 GB in a month, you will only be charged for 6. That is their version of flexible unlimited data. If you use less than 6, you are still just charged $10/gb. I feel like while other carriers have dropped the price of data, Fi is still the same. For me, now that my phone is paid off, my total bill now ranges between 30 and $40/mo.
  • eryr80
    I got Project Fi about a year ago when I was working all over the Army Central Command area. Works. Good over there as long as you have internet or a Tmobile or Related tower.
    In the US it works good in to mobile (read populated areas) I'm happy with it.. Had a bad phone at first and they handled it like pros. I think the big thing is customer service is awesome. Cost runs about 60 a month more or less
  • gcsipe
    Nexus 6P purchased was defective just after a year, no help from Google or Huwei. Get extended warranty with Project Fi or don't go with Project Fi as they don't care about their customers.
  • 1shay.la.vie
    FYI:

    Project Fi data is no longer prepaid. Therefore, there is no credit issued.

    Data is post-paid.

    You are charged for the data you used during your statement cycle.

    Data is charged at the rate of $10 per gigabyte; you are charged only for your actual usage.

    The unlimited talk/text portion is charged as prepaid.

    https://fi.google.com/about/faq/#plan-and-pricing-5
  • matt.kapelanczyk
    Avoid Project Fi at all costs. My wife and I both have it and had Nexus 6p’s with microphone issues and have been paying for device protection since day one. They replaced these but improperly moved my device protection to her returned malfunctioning 6p. Now my replacement 6p is stuck in boot loader and the service tech admitted it is malfunctioning and a valid claim, but won’t replace it since their insurance carrier won’t pay for it. I understand the insurance company not paying for something that wasn’t insured, but the fault was on Google for assigning it to the wrong device so they should cover the phone as it was their mistake.

    I’ve spoken to 4 tier one techs, one who hung up on me and two who promised to call me back and never did. The tier two and three techs only reply by email if you are lucky. Since the insurance provider, Assurant, won’t cover the phone Google won’t provide a replacement even after admitting the claim is valid and they screwed up moving the device protection. All they would offer is a refund of my $5/mo device protection. So I get $60 when I am owed a $700 phone!?!?

    Worst customer service ever. Go ANYWHERE else for your mobile needs.