Despite a deal, not everyone should switch to Fi. Here’s why.

Yesterday, Google Fi ran an incredible deal that ended up being pulled early (See: WOW! Get a Google Fi phone & travel gift card worth the phone’s price). That deal was so good that it caused me to make an unbelievable impulse purchase: a Google Pixel 3 XL for $999. Yet despite buying a crazy phone and Greg’s happiness with the service, I don’t actually intend to switch to Google Fi. Here’s why I bought the phone, but I won’t keep Google Fi long-term.

A compelling deal

If you missed yesterday’s deal, I don’t want to rub salt in the wound, but here’s a quick recap: If you bought a new Google Fi phone yesterday and ported in your number, Google was offering your choice of travel gift cards (like Southwest, Delta, AirBnB, and Hotels.com) in the amount of the purchase price of the phone. In other words, if you bought a phone that cost $199, you’d get $199 in gift cards. If you bought a phone that rang up at $999, you’d get $999 in gift cards. It was an epic deal that was supposed to last until midnight Pacific time, but it ended up getting pulled early.

That deal got even better thanks to a member of our Frequent Miler Insiders who pointed out that paying for a device with Google Fi was triggering the “Congratulations” email on a targeted Amex Offer for $100 back on $500 or more meant for advertising purchases. Since Google Fi phones are sold by Google Services, and Google also happens to be in the business of selling Internet advertising, it seems that the phone purchase shows up the same way an advertising charge does. I’m not counting on this credit sticking, but I’ll obviously be happy if I get $100 back.

If the Amex Offer sticks, I’ll have paid less than $999 for a Pixel 3 XL + $999 in travel gift cards. The catch is that the phone has to stay active on Google Fi for 2 months (60 days) and you can’t cancel the service for the first 120 days. The cheapest plan is $20 for unlimited talk & text and $10 per GB of data used. You pay for a max of 6GB of data (a cap of $80 for a single user). Additional voice lines cost $15/mo each and they share the same data allotment (though two users will pay for up to 10GB before data becomes “free” — see the chart in the next section for more on this). Greg has written extensively about Google Fi, so you can read more about his experiences here:

Even if I only use voice and stay connected to Wi-Fi for all data, I’ll be on the hook for $60 towards service ($20 per month x 4 = $80 – $20 for signing up through Greg’s referral link = $60 net cost). That brings my with-tax total to about $1030. Still a great deal for both a “thousand-dollar phone” and a thousand bucks in gift cards.

In fact, I know I could sell the gift cards for around 80% of face value and have the phone and 4 months of talk and text for a net $230. Or if I sold the phone and got at least $530 for it, I’d be getting my travel gift cards for 50% off. It was a deal that was too good to pass up — whichever way I play it, it’s a win. I could buy first and think about it later, so I did.

Google Fi is less compelling for a heavy data user

As mentioned above, Greg is very enthusiastic about Google Fi. For an international traveling family that mostly stays connected to Wi-Fi, Google Fi is a great deal.

However, for heavy data users, it isn’t.

While Google advertises Fi as having a cost cap for data at $60 per month for a single line (i.e. you pay $10 per month per GB for the first 6GB and then you don’t pay any more), that comes with a relatively low allotment of data access. Google says that if an individual user on your plan goes over 15GB in a billing cycle, they may see their data speeds slowed to a near-standstill. If you exceed 15GB and get “throttled” (slowed data speed), you can pay $10 per GB to turn high-speed data on again.

My wife and I have a few days left on our current T-Mobile cell phone plan, and we’ve definitely exceeded 15GB each on our current plan.

Google Fi would get a lot more expensive for us. For two people, the max data cost is higher. We would have to pay $100 for the first 10GB of combined data that we use (and we’d obviously exceed that).

So we would be looking at a cost of $135 and then $10 per GB when each line exceeds 15GB. We’ve each exceeded that, so we’d be looking at an extra $240 this month to keep high-speed data assuming that Google does in fact throttle us after 15GB. That’s a lot more than I’m currently paying.

For those wondering why so much data use: We live in a very rural area. Our only option for home Internet is Verizon DSL. Unfortunately, our home Internet coverage has been unreliable for years. It works most of the time. But in my life before Frequent Miler, I regularly video conferenced from home. My wife still does (and I do some as well). Verizon DSL just wasn’t cutting it as our connection would unexpectedly cut out intermittently. While exploring options, we landed on a T-Mobile hotspot. While T-Mobile had absolutely no coverage within 60 miles of our home for years, we discovered that they had put a tower in our little town a couple of years ago. We get a terrific T-Mobile signal at home (and as most people think T-Mobile has no coverage in our area, we must have one of the least congested towers on the network).

Eventually, that led us to make a full switch to T-Mobile with both of our phone lines and a third hotspot-only line (I actually ended up with four lines, which is why I had a spare line to port to Google Fi). We added on unlimited hotspot to both of our phones, so we no longer use the hotspot line much since T-Mobile allows users 50GB per line before throttling (slowing) their speed, which is more than we need. That has led to us using our phones more and more — to the point where T-Mobile has become our primary source of Internet access. It’s both more reliable and faster than the Verizon DSL we’d been stuck with for years before. Furthermore, I’m often working while traveling now and my laptop is thus connected to my phone in the car, in airport lounges, etc. I regularly use 25GB+ per month.

Google Fi would become expensive very quickly if I had to pay an extra $10 per GB over 15GB. A potential solution here would be to order extra data-only SIMs and rotate each one out of a phone every time I hit 15GB on a line, but that sounds inconvenient and unlikely to go unnoticed by Google. Frankly, I’m surprised by the really poor data cap before throttling. Even Straight Talk, a prepaid cell phone service I used to use on AT&T, gets 60GB per month of high speed data on its “unlimited” plan (which only costs $55 for one user).

Google’s cap on data usage really doesn’t make sense to me. The Pixel phones do not have expandable storage — Google is really pushing users to get into its cloud services and to stream their music, entertainment, etc. If you want people ton use the Internet for storage rather than having it locally on the phone, it doesn’t make sense to me to limit data to 15GB per line.

In my case, I just use far too much data to get serious about a switch from T-Mobile to Google Fi.

Rural coverage may not be as good

T-Mobile has been aggressively expanding its coverage in rural areas with Band 71 coverage (600MHz) in preparation of launching 5G service in 2020. I’m not a real techie, but the basic idea (according to my understanding) is that this new band of coverage enables a wider range on LTE signal — allowing the signal to travel much farther from the tower and to penetrate buildings more easily. My home area has not yet seen a roll-out of Band 71 coverage, but parts of New York State have. As someone who lives and travels in rural New York, future-proofing myself with access to better rural cell coverage just makes sense.

Based on what I’ve read, Google Fi does not have access to T-Mobile’s Band 71 coverage. While the Pixel 3 XL I bought is capable of picking up band 71 signal, it doesn’t look like Google is able to use it yet. Will that change in the future? It certainly might. But for now, Project Fi would mean the potential for more limited coverage in rural spots. Of course, I’ll be putting it to the test for the first couple of months since I need to have the phone active anyway.

Interestingly, when I was singing up for Fi, Google told me there was no coverage in my home area. I had to use an address in a different area to get it to let me sign up for Fi. That’s odd since the T-Mobile coverage map certainly shows signal in my area (and as noted, they have a tower that’s actually in my zip code). We’ll see how it compares to being on T-Mobile.

I really want a Samsung device

Of course, the other issue is that I don’t really want the Pixel as much as I’d like to have a Samsung device. That’s because Samsung Pay has been awesome on my Gear S3 and I’d like to have access to some of the phone-only Samsung Pay deals that have run recently. Since Google Fi now officially supports Samsung phones, I certainly could buy one and bring it with me to Google Fi. But my point here is that I didn’t intend for my next phone to be the Pixel 3 XL. I’m going to give it a shot, but I don’t think its pros will outweigh a Samsung phone’s value to me. I think I will likely end up selling the Pixel down the road and buying an older used Samsung phone. I’m happy enough with my current phone (an LG V30+) not to have any need to switch to something bigger/better.

Bottom line

Google Fi ran an incredible deal yesterday that was good enough for me to buy an expensive phone that I neither needed nor intend to keep long-term. Many international travelers would do really well by switching to Google Fi, likely paying less for service and enjoying full-speed LTE overseas, points Greg has covered well. But the low cap on data seems out of line with what other carriers are offering these days (and out of line with the type of behavior Google seems to be encouraging in terms of utilizing cloud services). If you’re the type who streams Pandora during your daily workout or Netflix on the train during your commute, the 15GB data cap on a line just might not work. And if you live in a very rural area, T-Mobile might be offering coverage that Google Fi can’t yet access. Don’t get me wrong: Google Fi has me very intrigued. I have to keep the service through late March and I have an international trip coming in April, so I’ll probably keep the service an extra month to try it out abroad. But I don’t think that Google Fi will become a primary service for me any time soon. Don’t mistake that for a complaint: I’m thrilled with the deal they offered and I think it was worth diving in whether you want the service long-term or not. It’s just not likely going to work out for everyone. I’ve love to love it, but I don’t think Fi will work for me.

All that said, it’s right for some people. If you’re interested in signing up for Fi to check it out for yourself, feel free to use our referral link with our thanks.

Last updated on December 5th, 2018

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

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shaun
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shaun

I switched from Verizon to Fi this year and LOVE it. Works great overseas and really have no issues with calls on either Wifi or cell networks. The only issue I’ve had is sometimes I get a bit of crackle in a voice call….but that’s usually when I’m home and at the other end of the house from the router. But since i make voice calls once a quarter 🙂 it’s not a deal breaker.

I had used only Samsung phones since about 2012 and got the Moto x4 (b/c it was the cheapest). It’s VERY similar to the Samsungs I’ve used. I’m not a huge tech guy so maybe there are some things it doesn’t have that the $1k phones have…but I’d guess that for 80% of people it’s probably fine.

Josh
Guest
Josh

I thought google fi didn’t support wifi calling? Or is that it just doesn’t support it w/ iphones?

Neal
Guest
Neal

The latter.

Devon
Guest
Devon

I see conflicting reports of the throttling. It seems it’s not consistent and often users are only throttled a small % of the time once over their cap. Anyone used it extensively that can comment?

Greg The Frequent Miler
Admin

I’d love to see datapoints about this too

Bogan
Guest
Bogan

There is no reason not to keep Fi long term in addition to your regular service. Once you complete the 120 days required for the rebate, you can just pause your service and only turn it back on when you are traveling abroad. You can take out the SIM card, sell the Pixel 3 and use the Fi SIM in your Samsung when you travel.

HoKo
Guest
HoKo

Hey Nick/Greg, would love to hear your thoughts on only using Fi for international service.

I currently have an iPhone X on a grandfathered VZW plan with a great discount so I don’t intend to give that up (I ported in a GV number for this deal). So for me I will sell the phone on eBay after 4 months has passed, maybe sell the Gift card as well. Using conservative numbers I should net ~$500 in profit if I sell both the phone and the GC.

But where I am intrigued is the possibility of keeping Fi on pause for months at a time, then unpause and use it for a week or two at a time while overseas, then pause it again when I get home. Here are the questions I can come up with off the top of my head:

1. Does Fi have a limit on how many months in a row you can pause your service?
2. Does FI have a limit on how many months out of a year you can pause service?
3. Does Fi take issue with people only using the service while out of the USA?
4. Lets say I unpause my service for 1 week out of a month, do I still pay the full $20 monthly fee or do I only pay $5?
5. Can Data only sim cards be used in phones? The Google store order page only talks about using data-only SIM’s in tablets so this was a bit confusing.
6. If I am travelling with my girlfriend could i just give her a data only SIM card…then we’d pay the $20 monthly fee on my line + whatever the charges were for our combined data consumption
7. I guess the only downside of swapping out the SIM’s when I travel is that I wouldn’t be able to make/receive calls/texts/imessages on my “real” phone number since I’d have the Fi sim in there.

Thoughts?

Wash
Guest
Wash

Fi lets you pause upto 3 consecutive months before resuming automatically. They’ll prorate you for the days (or even hours) of the $20 that you are paused. No idea if there is a limit per year. NOTE if you decide to pause it, look into the terms of the promo that you signed up under — it may delay or cause issues with receiving the promotion.

Data-only sims can be used in phones. You won’t be able to make regular calls out from that device, but can use apps like Hangouts/GV or other chat apps to make calls. Note however that the sims may not work well in other phones — it depends on the bands that it is compatible with. Example while I used it for traveling to Asia & Canada — I put the sim into an old Note 5 phone and it had trouble accessing some cell towers. Popped the sim into my Note 8 and it worked OK where I was traveling. In an iPhone, it worked for the most part, though service wasn’t as consistent as on the Fi phone.

For your #6 question, that is what I basically did. I ordered 9 sims, and passed it around to other family/friends traveling on the trip. I also put the Fi phone in hotspot mode so that everyone could access it if there were any issues with using the Data-only sim.

#7 — correct, you can’t receive any calls/messages that is sent to your “real” phone number. If you use that one Fi phone as a hotspot though, the other phones connecting to it can still receive messages over wifi.

HoKo
Guest
HoKo

Thanks, very helpful. I’ve done some additional research since I posted this comment and it looks like they do have a max # of days per year that you can be paused: it’s 180. I couldn’t find that date listed on any official Google pages…but a couple different people mentioned that limit to me so seems like there’s a good chance it’s accurate. If true, that pretty much kills my idea of only using Fi for a month or two per year.

Do you use Fi as your normal carrier so you’ve avoided running into this issue?

I guess one option would be to cancel Fi altogether when not in use. Then later in the year “signup” for Fi as a new customer again…it’s not as clean as being able to pause but it might be a way to circumvent the 180 days restriction since Fi would hopefully perceive you as a new account thus restarting the 180 days clock. might be more of a pain in the butt than it is worth though…what do you think?

Wash
Guest
Wash

The Fi phone I use is a spare phone, not my primary. Mainly intended for out of town guests, and when someone in my family travels. Have only been using it for about 1.5 months, but have been very happy for it. I will try pausing once I get past the # days required for my original promotion (and the referral credit terms) to be effective.

Canceling could be an option for some if its truly a spare phone, and you don’t mind the #s changing (I don’t know if they let you keep the # if you straight up cancel). I haven’t looked into this but you may want to look into porting out your # to preserve the #. If not, you can keep getting new #s every time you cancel. One workaround for this is if you keep one account for your Fi #, and a separate Google account for your Google Voice #.. Keep the Google Voice #, and just get a new Fi # every time.

HoKo
Guest
HoKo

Yep that’s exactly what i was thinking. I really just want this for cheap international data that doesn’t require running around trying to find a local SIM card upon arrival. So i don’t think I’d mind the number changing. The coverage, speed, etc. has been good overseas so far?

Wash
Guest
Wash

So the last workaround option may work best for you. Keep one account with a Google Voice # that you’d like to keep and use.. and another account for Google account for Fi to signup and disconnect. Haven’t tried this, so not sure if there would be any issues, but sounds like a good plan!

As for overseas.. I just tried it in Seoul, HK, and mainland China. Speeds were excellent throughout. In China, I didn’t not experience any blocks from the Great Firewall (though I don’t think foreign sims are blocked in general). I mainly used it the primary Fi phone as a mobile hotspot. Both my friend and wife that used the data sims on iPhones had some intermittent connection issues, but for the most part worked as expected. Both their iPhones did experience some other issues which we aren’t sure whether it was related to the data sims.

P-nope
Guest
P-nope

Not familiar with this at all. I’ve always bought sim cards and just use that. So, this is more a subscription service or a pay-as-you-go service? Can I have the service this month because I’m traveling then switch it off next month then have it again and so on?

Blue
Guest
Blue

Totally infuriated by the way the handled the end of the promo; had it in my cart and got denied. Cold day in hell before I consider a Google/Android phone in the future.

Shameless
Guest
Shameless

You are pissed at Google because they ended early a flawed promo that is costing them millions? Lol..

Mike H
Guest
Mike H

Swap you my Note 8 (in prestine condition) for that Pixel 3!

Tom
Guest
Tom

I believe the 15 GB cap is per line of service, not per SIM. I don’t think getting extra data-only SIMs and swapping them in would work, since you would be pulling from the same pool of data.

Lrdx
Guest
Lrdx

While you might not get access to all T frequency bands with Fi, you also get access to the Sprint and US Cellular network with Pixel 3. I somehow doubt T without band 71 plus Sprint plus US Cellular coverage is worse than T with band 71.

Edit: Sprint + US Cellular, not Verizon.

Wash
Guest
Wash

Nick,

Regarding your possible “solution” of swapping data-only sim cards, that will not work. I recently got 1 line with 9 data sims (only 3 data sims were used). Went on international trip with it. The 15GB cap/throttle kicked in when the collective account reached that amount. The data-only sim counts towards the single line’s 15GB cap. At that point, I decided to pony up for the faster speed.

Perhaps a Google rep may be able to clarify for you whether the 15GB cap is per line or per account as a per-line cap doesn’t make too much sense.

As this is a travel blog, one of the many reasons I’m now a huge fan of Fi is that it worked well in China — I was able to surf social media (FB, Twitter) and Google just fine on my Fi phone, and all the other phones/devices that was using my hotspot. This was just before their recent VPN announcement (VPN was not enabled).

O.M.
Guest
O.M.

I think that Nick rural coverage is the exception for the rule.
For my case, I am really happy that I switched from VzW to Google FI. My monthly cost now is significant lower and I continue to using my Galaxy S8+ without any problem.
For me, the main motivation for the switch was the international roaming. I do not need to pay extra for international roaming or search for a prepaid SIM in the airport in order to grab my Uber after I land “anywhere”.