(Pocket-lint) - It's now been a few years since Google first launched Project Fi, now called Google Fi. It first made an appearance in 2015, seeking to deal with some of the pain points of US carriers.
When it launched it was only available to those using the Nexus 6, but has since been expanded. It's now available to not only Android device owners but also iPhone owners. The whole point of Fi is that it aims to give you the best cellular and data coverage wherever you are in the US, or indeed, the world.
Your service is still pulled from major 4G LTE networks, but your phone can smartly switch between them as you move around. It can also intelligently use Wi-Fi when available to make calls and send texts.
If you're wondering whether Fi is right for you, this is the guide to read. We've explained what it is, how it works, what it costs, and more.
What is Google Fi?
With a Google Fi plan, you'll get improved network coverage. Fi uses two carriers (T-Mobile - which has since bought Sprint - and US Cellular) and Wi-Fi hotspots if available to ensure you always have the most reliable connection wherever possible. You just need to use Fi with a smartphone that's either "designed" for Fi or "compatible" with Fi. This can be an unlocked Android, Pixel, or even an iPhone.
Beyond cellular and data coverage, Google Fi is all about streamlined billing. You pay one fee per month for unlimited talk and texting, plus a flat rate per gigabyte of data after that. There's also a level called "Bill Protection", which effectively caps your charges every month and therefore serves an unlimited plan. You can also do international data and calling with Fi, and there's no additional cost for data use or texting.
How much does Google Fi cost?
Remember, Google Fi is about streamlined billing. So there are no hidden fees. Since launch, Fi has updated its offering with a number of new plans, and how much you pay depends on how many lines you're looking for. However, here's how a full breakdown of the costs you'll see in the lowest tier single line Fi plan:
- For $20 per month, you get unlimited domestic talk and texting, unlimited international texting, and cellular coverage in 200+ countries.
- You can also pay $10 per gigabyte of data - until you hit 6GB ($60) of usage.
- Then, Bill Protection kicks in for your plan. When that happens, data is free for the rest of the monthly billing cycle.
- Once you hit 15GB of total data usage, your speeds are slowed to 256kbps.
- After 15GB, you can choose to pay $10 per gigabyte again for full speed data.
To be clear, the plan only charges you for the data you use, and when you hit a certain amount of data, it’s free for the rest of the month. Also, when you travel internationally, data abroad costs the same as at home.
For a plan with unlimited data you pay $70 per month for a single user, up to a fair usage limit of 22GB. With that plan you also get Google One membership.
For those looking to add additional lines, the per person monthly price drops. For instance, for two users you pay $18 per person, or for three people you pay $17 per person each month. If you need five or six lines you pay just $16 per month per line.
You can estimate your Google Fi bill here.
Does Google Fi cover your area?
If you live in a T-Mobile or US Cellular coverage area, then you have nothing to worry about. But you can double-check using this tool.
How does Google Fi work?
Sign up for Fi
Those of you who already have a phone number from a different carrier service that you want to use must first switch carriers and port your phone number. Fortunately, you can sign up for Google Fi online in minutes, and it does a lot of the hard work for you. Some carriers do not allow you to take your number, but Google will check if you can transfer when you sign up. The transfer process usually only takes 15 minutes.
Setting up your device
Next, Google Fi requires a special SIM card. You can either buy a new phone with this SIM card when you sign up for Fi, or Google will ship you a free SIM card to put in your existing phone and activate. To check whether you can have a phone that is "compatible" with Fi, use Google's checker tool, or see this full list of compatible phones. Most popular Android phones and iPhone models from 5S on up will work with Fi.
If you own a Google Pixel device, you're lucky, because you can get started right away. It has an integrated eSIM that works with Fi. With an eSIM, essentially, there is no need for a physical SIM card, which frees up your SIM slot so it can be used on another carrier's network if desired.
If you don't already own a compatible Fi phone, or if you don't have a Pixel with an eSIM, then you can buy a "designed" for Fi phone directly from Google Fi during sign up. See the full list here. It will come unlocked and can be used with other carrier networks if you choose to leave Fi.
Once you've signed up for Fi and set it up, you can start using your phone like normal. Move around. Travel. You'll be able to text, call, and use data due to the three carrier networks Google Fi uses and Wi-Fi networks. Fi uses your phone's "Wi-Fi assistant" to constantly search for and connect to good Wi-Fi networks. Fi will also take any solid connection and route it through a VPN for your safety.
If you toggle between, say, T-Mobile and a Wi-Fi hotspot, you won't notice a thing. You'll no longer be paying for mobile data, and calls and texts will work just as they do on mobile data. You can even continue your phone call as your phone switches between carrier and Wi-Fi networks.
There is one caveat: Although Google Fi works with most unlocked phones, they won't be able to do network switching. You'll be using the T-Mobile network for the most part, and you won't get Fi's VPN features. But you do get international roaming, simplified billing, and more. To avoid all this, we recommend using either a "designed" for Fi phone or a Pixel with eSIM, rather than a random unlocked phone that's compatible.
Google Fi works in over 200 countries, with no additional cost for data or texting. Calls cost around $0.20 per min to any number while abroad. (Tip: you pay lower rates when calling over Wi-Fi). Go here full the full list of international rates. You can also call back to the US on Wi-Fi for free. Data used internationally is charged like normal, costing $10 per gigabyte usage, until Bill Protection kicks in.
Managing your account
To manage your account, see your billing, and do just about anything Fi-related, you'll want to fire up the Fi app for iOS or Android.
Which phones work with Google Fi?
We already explained this above (under How does Google Fi work > Setting up your device). But, to summarise, there are three types of phones that work with Google Fi. Here is a breakdown of each one and which is best to use.
- Designed for Fi phones: These phones include the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, Note 20 and S20 series, Moto One 5G Ace, Moto G Power and Play (2021 editions). See the full list of devices here. They all support Fi, with no limitations. So you get full network switching capabilities, access to the Google Fi VPN service, and more. These phones, if bought direct from Google Fi, come with a special SIM card that works with Fi.
- Compatible with Fi phones: Google Fi now works with any unlocked Android phone and even iPhone, but with some major limitations. They can't handle Fi's network switching capabilities, so you're stuck with T-Mobile, and they don't get Fi's always-on VPN feature. These phones (see the full list here) require a special SIM card that Google will ship to you for free once you sign up for Fi online.
- Pixel phones: This includes Google's latest phones: the Pixel 5, 4a and 4a 5G. These phones have an eSIM that works with Fi. That means you you can set up a Fi account and connect to its network without needing a physical SIM card.
Want to know more?
Check out the Google Fi FAQ page for more information.