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:
- Google Fi now officially supports new iPhones, Samsung, and more
- Google’s Project Fi abroad. 6 surprises: 3 good and 3 bad.
- International Roaming: AT&T / Verizon vs. Project Fi vs. T-Mobile vs. Sprint vs. SIMS vs. Hotspots.
- International Roaming Next Steps (I’ll try Project Fi).
- My Google Fi Experience So Far.
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.
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.