My Google Fi Experience So Far

Last month I described my hunt for a good international data roaming solution: International Roaming: AT&T / Verizon vs. Project Fi vs. T-Mobile vs. Sprint vs. SIMS vs. Hotspots.  I’ve been using AT&T for years and service has been very good, but their international plan is expensive if used frequently ($10 per day per phone adds up quickly especially when traveling as a family).  Ultimately I decided to give Google Fi phone service a try.  At home, Google Fi appears to be similarly priced to its major competitors, especially if you tend to use a lot of data.  Fi’s killer feature is that it supports high speed data roaming around the world at no additional cost.

As I reported previously, I was able to activate Google Fi service and get a Fi compatible Android phone for only $200.  And, this came with $70 in Google Fi service credit ($50 with the phone + $20 for using a referral).  It looks like I should have waited a bit, though, since the same phone now comes with $75 service credit.

If you combine that with $20 credit from accepting a friend referral (here’s mine), it’s now possible to get started for the same price I paid, but with $95 in service credit.  That’s a great deal, especially if you need a phone.

In my case, I’m perfectly happy with the phone I currently use (an iPhone 7 Plus), but I needed a Fi compatible phone to activate Google Fi service.  Once service is activated, Fi works reasonably well in my iPhone (more on that below).  Of course, I could have found a friend with a Fi compatible phone to activate my service.  That would have saved me about $150 (I’d get the $20 referral credit either way), but then I wouldn’t have an Android phone…

A little background… I’m a bit of a gadget freak.  I don’t necessarily rush out to get the latest gadgets, but I’m always interested in them.  And, I kid you not, I even have a mini gadget museum in my house containing things like my first internet enabled phone (T-Mobile Sidekick), the first iPhone, a flip phone, a Windows phone, my first e-book reader, my first GPS device, my first video-enabled MP3 player,  a few digital wallet cards, etc.  What’s not there is an Android phone. Somehow, through all the years, I’ve never owned an Android phone.  If Google Fi offers nothing else, it at least offered me an excuse to pickup an Android phone at very low cost.  And now, if I also get a Samsung Gear watch, I can use Samsung Pay by pairing the watch with this Android phone.

Initial Findings…

The phone is surprisingly good

Given that it costs only $200, the Moto G6 is a surprisingly nice phone.  It runs well, it seems to have great battery life, and it has a big, bright, and gorgeous screen.

There are negatives, of course.  This model has limited storage (32GB), a mediocre camera, and it’s a bit sluggish at times.  That said, it’s good enough for most purposes and if you care about looks over substance, you won’t be disappointed.

Domestic service is surprisingly good

Domestically, Google Fi has access to three networks: T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular.  A Fi compatible phone is able to automatically switch to whichever carrier has the fastest service.  When using Fi with an iPhone, though, it sticks with T-Mobile.  In my tests so far, that’s not a problem.

In one of my first tests, I ran Speedtest on my laptop in four scenarios: 1) Connected to Comcast internet via wifi; 2) Connected to AT&T using my iPhone as a hotspot; 3) Connected to T-Mobile using the Moto G6 as a hotspot; and 4) Connected to Sprint using the Moto G6 as a hotspot.

Comcast Internet Baseline

Laptop tethered to AT&T via iPhone. Download speeds were about half found with Comcast cable, but upload speeds were better.

Google Fi: Using Moto G6 connected to T-Mobile, download speeds were just as good as AT&T, but ping latency and upload speed were even better.

Google Fi: Using an app called Signal Spy, I switched the Moto G6’s carrier from T-Mobile to Sprint. Speeds were much worse than AT&T or T-Mobile, but still quite serviceable.

The ability to use my phone to connect my laptop to wifi is important to me.  The above tests showed that, from my home, Google Fi could easily handle my needs.

How about around town or away from home?

AT&T Google Fi on T-Mobile
Ann Arbor Downtown Download: 26.3 Mbps
Upload: 7.91 Mbps
Download: 1.31 Mbps (Sprint)
Upload: 0.21 Mbps (Sprint)
Ann Arbor Kerrytown Download: 75.0 Mbps
Upload: 3.64 Mbps
Download: 45.4 Mbps
Upload: 6.56 Mbps
Charlottesville (inside hotel) Download: 3.98 Mbps
Upload: 11.1 Mbps
Download: 12.2 Mbps
Upload: 12.9 Mbps
Charlottesville (upon a mountain) Download: 4.28 Mbps
Upload: 3.38 Mbps
Download: 19.6 Mbps
Upload: 0.06 Mbps

My first experience with Google Fi outside of my home was really bad.  I was at a restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor and I found that AT&T speeds were very good whereas Google Fi was awful.  Luckily, I later discovered that I hadn’t switched the phone off of Sprint (I had previously forced the switch to Sprint to run tests at home).  All other tests were with T-Mobile, which worked much better.

Not counting my one Sprint fiasco, I found that Google Fi on T-Mobile tended to be just as good or better than AT&T in most places.  Shown above are only the places where I explicitly compared the two.  In many other places I spot checked Fi to see if it was working well, and it usually was.

I did run into a Fi failure at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor.  Internet speeds were so poor that it was virtually unusable.  I don’t have Speedtest data for this experience because the app couldn’t even find the server.  Luckily for Fi, AT&T service was just as bad.

Using Fi on an iPhone (Does that make it a FiPhone?)

I’m not currently planning to change my primary phone — I’m happy with my iPhone 7 Plus.  So, if I’m going to change my wireless service, I want it to work well with my iPhone.  Luckily I had an old iPhone 6 Plus that I could use to test with while I continued to use my primary phone as needed.  Here’s what I found when I put my Fi SIM into my old iPhone:

  • Carrier: T-Mobile. Apparently you can’t switch to Sprint or U.S. Cellular, but that hasn’t proven to be an issue at all yet.
  • Phone service quality: Very good
  • Data speeds: Very good
  • Use as hotspot (connect laptop to phone data over wifi): Very good
  • iMessage: No problems for sending/receiving text, images, etc.
  • Text message from Android phone: Works but includes random looking text at the end (e.g. “~wbc91gAJ/Z8B9wg”)
  • Emoji sent from Android phone: Same as above. It works, but includes random text at the end.
  • MMS from Android phone: Doesn’t work.  I found various posts that describe how to setup your iPhone to receive MMS messages and I tried a few approaches, but nothing worked so far.  It’s possible (likely even) that I had entered some info incorrectly.  This warrants more investigation.

Short answer: Everything worked fine except MMS messages sent from Android phones.  This issue can probably be fixed with the right settings, but honestly it’s not something that comes up very often so I’m not too worried about it.

Data-only SIMs

A unique Google Fi feature is that you can order extra data-only SIMs for free.  These SIM cards use the same data plan as your phone so they’ll increase your data charges (up to a max data price), but otherwise won’t cost you more.  I ordered a couple of these and tried one out long enough to prove that it works, but that’s all I’ve done with it so far.

Theoretically a family could share a single-person Fi phone plan by using these data-only SIMs in different phones as long as each person uses VOIP calling/texting with a service like Google Hangouts.  There are two issues with this approach that I can think of:

  1. Data-only SIMs cannot be used as hotspots (for wifi tethering)
  2. Data speeds may be throttled after 6 Gig is used up each month

Next test: International service

I’ll be in London in a few weeks and that will be my first chance to test Google Fi’s international data service.  I expect it will be quite good, but I’ll let you know.

Wrap Up

So far, I’m really happy with Google Fi service.  In most cases Fi over T-Mobile has proven to be as good or better than AT&T.  Will I switch over completely?  Yes, I’m going to give that a try.  If my Google Fi experience then continues to go well I’ll stay with Fi.  Otherwise, I’ll go back to AT&T (or to T-Mobile) and I’ll pause Google Fi service.  I could then use Fi only when traveling abroad.  If that happens, my new Moto G6 can act as my go-everywhere hot-spot.  That’s not a bad solution either.

For more about Google Fi, see this post from Running With Miles: The Ultimate FAQ Guide About Google Project Fi – An Awesome Choice for International Travel!

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Mo
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Mo

I had a terrible experience using Google fi overseas, I had a data sim that was activated in the US and when attempting to use overseas it never found the network. I tried this in 4 countries and spoke to customer service many time and they were quite unhelpful and never resolved the issue.

Lord Dima
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Lord Dima

So many thumbs down and no replies why?

Lindsey
Guest
Lindsey

I switched to Fi 2.5 years ago, from Verizon. I carried around 2 phones for several weeks to compare, and noticed slightly better signal coverage for Verizon. I’ve used Fi exclusively for over 2.5 years now, traveled to 15 countries with it, and have been very happy with it. My bills are literally half of what they used to be (at home), and the option to use data internationally at the same rate has been phenomenal.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Just got SkyRoam $200 one year plan + Tmoblie $15 per month more for international calls .If hotel WiFi is a hassle then I will try that and After 12 months do it month by month .i only need data we will see in AUS.and New Zealand ..
This Website is a Gold Mine for the avg. traveler and I’m about as avg. as u can get ..
CHEERs

Carl
Guest
Carl

I just switched over to Fi from T-Mobile, took it on a two week trip to Japan, and couldn’t be happier with the overseas data coverage, which is what was missing from my T-Mobile service (2g data speed overseas made it unusable for GPS searches). At home, I rarely use more than 1 GB of data, so I’m saving money there.

Isavethings
Guest
Isavethings

Wait, Ann Arbor? Greg, are you a Wolverine? Go Blue!

Rye
Guest
Rye

Go Blue!

Lord Dima
Guest
Lord Dima

Go Buckeyes!

Zander L
Guest
Zander L

I’m currently in China for 3 weeks. I’m using it on an iPhone so it requires some extra tweaking sometimes. I get 3G to LTE speeds and it’s great because I can acces all the Google services without a separate vpn. You don’t realize how much you rely on Google until you don’t have it. It is great to have my safety blanket in this place that is truly foreign.

jeff tseng
Guest
jeff tseng

Could you please elaborate the “extra tweaking” you had to do? Thank you.

Zander L
Guest
Zander L

I had to switch cellular networks to manual in the setttings. I switched from China Mobile to China Unicom to get data working on my phone. I looked and my model iPhone is incompatible with the LTE bands on China Mobile.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Your speed tests were not controlled because you were connecting to different end points each time which mean different network hops which means you can’t definiitively blame the phone networks for your latency (or speed)

Matt
Guest
Matt

I love Fi. Numerous oversees trips and the only place I lost service was Belize (even though I got the “we’ve got you covered” message). My wife’s Fi phone dropped coverage in Slovakia but I was able to chat Google from my Fi phone and get her service fixed in a few minutes. No complaints what so ever.

Nate
Guest
Nate

Hi Greg! I was the same Nate that left the lengthy Fi messages on your initial post. In my experience, Google Fi is almost always the fastest in the US on T-Mobile. I know Google Fi tries to use the multiple carrier marketing pitch to make it sound amazing (and I’m sure there are a few spots in the US where Sprint and US Cellular may actually be better), but I’ve always found the T-Mobile option with Google Fi the best.

The one downside to Google Fi in the US is that as much as T-Mobile claims they have an amazing network, there are spaces, particularly out west, where Verizon and AT&T just have better coverage. At that point it’s not so much Google Fi issues, it’s just that T-Mobile in my experiences still doesn’t have the full nationwide coverage as they often claim.

One final comment about Google Fi abroad. In the US, most people use one and only one cellular carrier so when speeds or service sucks, they just have to deal with it. Since T-Mobile pairs with **multiple** overseas Telcos even in the same country, you have the ability with Google Fi under the phone/carrier settings to actually choose different “providers”. I’ve found in some countries (Germany, France, etc.) that the default carrier Google Fi sometimes chooses is not always the “fastest” carrier you can be on or doesn’t have the broadest coverage. It’s a little annoying having to switch and “find” the fastest carrier in some countries or even as you move across regions in countries. Again, this isn’t Google Fi or Android’s fault…it’s the actual carriers network coverage and performance (and perhaps agreement with T-Mobile). Then again, this option alone is another cool benefit of Google Fi and I think most people in the US don’t even think about trying to switch carriers when Google Fi is acting wonky. Unfortunately, switching carriers takes about 30 seconds sometimes and doesn’t always “take”. And some carriers that show up in the Android phone settings menu when you connect to them don’t actually “work”. But sharing this as you explore international destinations with Google Fi. I imagine in London you should be fine with the “default” carrier Google Fi selects.

A few more lessons learned:
– If you end up pausing/resume Google Fi service only for international trips, you usually have to “resume” when the Phone is connected to WiFi. That means if you land in a foreign country and then try to “resume” your service without being on WiFi, it may not work. Once you connect to the airport wifi, you can usually resume service and then *eventually* the SIM card picks up. To ease peace of mind, I usually “resume” Google Fi service while in the US airport before my international flight and verify the Google Fi service (calls, texts, data) is working before I put it in airplane mode for the flight. Yes, you pay a few more pennies for that 14 hours you resumed the service early but it means when you land you know the phone will work.
– I usually “pause” Google Fi service when I get on my international flight back to the US. This way I don’t “pay” for a service I won’t use on the plane or when I land…and I also remember to pause the service.
– Sometimes when landing in your first international destination, it takes a little while for the service to activate. This is always a little nerve racking when Google Fi is your only phone option. I’ve noticed my wife’s AT&T international plan tends to connect a bit faster, but it’s always eventually connected (sometimes I have to Toggle airplane mode on/off) and then wait a few minutes

Good luck with Google Fi…although it has some “quirks” I’ve found it to be really amazing using it abroad and getting high speed/data and not worrying about the bills or whether I’ll “have coverage” as I move across countries, especially in Europe.

Steve
Guest
Steve

I have both Project Fi (pixel XL 3 or iPhone x) and TMobile one plus. The ironic thing, the TMobile one plus plan claims to have faster international data and faster hotspot, costing $10 more. Yet, Project Fi is much faster for international data. TMobile is just sad and takes forever to load anything. Project is the way to go, no matter if it’s iPhone or a support device, but do note supported devices still get better service compared to the iPhone TMobile locked devices.

Branson
Guest
Branson

Is the T-Mobile one plus supposed to be 3G abroad? I’m looking for an international solution but I have no desire to give up my iPhone and neither do my other 3 family members. So far T-Mobile seems like the best option since it’s still cheaper than Fi (assuming 6GB usage each user).

David
Guest
David

Hey Greg,

I’m using an iPhone 6S on Fi right now. I use Hangouts for texts with non-iMessage users and iMessage for the rest. That might sound tedious at first but surprisingly easy and effective.

FreeIsGood
Guest
FreeIsGood

I’ve used google fi as my primary service due to a lot of international travel in the last few years. Was great internationally, but coming back to the US, the cell networks are always a disappointment. There is a reason T-mobile and Sprint cost so much less than Verizon and ATT – their networks aren’t as vast. Especially out west and in places with topography.

I keep it due to the ability to send/receive text messages over the internet in addition to the cell network – this works seamlessly with all types of phones on the other end (unlike iMessage which is Apple only). My work building has a lot of cell dead spots…

I don’t use a lot of data, so my bills are manageable and the recently bill protection ($80 cap, up to 15gb before throttle) is decent, but there are better unlimited plans in the USA for sure.

A minor annoyance is that my phone (pixel 2) seems to hunt a bit more for the network as it can switch between gsm and cdma which I think that drains the battery faster. It just seems to have a slightly harder time finding the best network especially when coming out of a building or something. Going with a gsm only phone would fix that, but obviously restrict to T-Mobile .

With Fi, there are some dead spots for many miles when I drive in more rural places and the mountains, so I’ve actually picked up an xfinity mobile (Verizon mvno, basically free talk/txt with xfinity cable) second phone to stash in the car.

It’s a really good niche service that’s not going to be the best for everyone.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

This is a fantastic recap and I really appreciated reading it. One thing I either missed or perhaps would be beneficial to add is some detail on cost of Google Fi services.

I got that the phone was $200 and there were incentives/rebates, but the monthly service structure…$50/month? $100/month? $1/month? I’m sure there are a variety of “options” but would have been nice to have a few basic touch-points to have some understanding of the cost.

Points Adventure
Guest
Points Adventure

Greg, where did you see the $75 service credit for Moto G6? Not seeing it at https://fi.google.com/about/phones/#moto-g6

Jerry
Guest
Jerry

Whaaat.. It was there when I checked 2 days ago

Miles
Guest
Miles

The service credit offer still has not returned to this phone…two other phones qualify for service credits, but not the Moto G6.

A great thing about the Moto G6 is that the memory can be expanded up to 160GB with an inexpensive microSD card.

john
Guest
john

I’ve been using Fi for over 3y and no issues so far. I’ve visited many countries, and always had good connectivity. However, the speed is capped at 3G, so you won’t get LTE speed. Calling the US from abroad is free and non WiFi calls are also cheaper than others (skype).
I also recommend using apps such as https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mbmc.fiinfo&hl=en_US to be able to see what network you’re using.

Lord Dima
Guest
Lord Dima

One of the first comments above mentioned 3G and LTE speeds in china?

Interested
Guest
Interested

Please review the Glocal hotspot. Thanks for doing this series. I’m also looking for a good option

Stvr
Guest
Stvr

Why not just switch to T-Mobile at this point? Seems easier and sprint is garbage you’re not enjoying anyway

AlexL
Guest
AlexL

High speed international data.

Jerry
Guest
Jerry

I am thinking about the same as well, because I don’t use that much data in the US, and I want faster data abroad, so both are strengths of Fi, but I don’t know if I can use 1 android device to activate multiple Fi sims? (not data-sims)

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Roberto del Bosque
Guest
Roberto del Bosque

I Love Fi and that’s the service I’ve been using for over 2 years. I’ve traveled to Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam (only calls there, no internet), Canada, Japan, Mexico and works perfectly fine. Won’t change it !

Gary
Guest
Gary

Hi Greg,
If your iPhone 6 Plus is the AT&T model, that would explain why you can’t connect to either Sprint or US Cellular. Both carriers use CDMA, as opposed to the GSM that both AT&T and T-mobile (and 90%+ of the world’s carriers) use. Your particular model lacks the CDMA radio, so it’s impossible to connect to Sprint and US Cellular.
In addition, I’m wondering if any iPhone can actively switch between carriers, since I assume that the switching is done via a Project Fi app, for which I assume they don’t provide an IOS version.

Gary

John F Caffrey
Guest
John F Caffrey

I must be slow or missing something essential about this entire topic. Why aren’t you looking at a dedicated personal hotspot like Skyroam or similar products? They cost less than the phone you bought and can tether up to five devices. My understanding is that you can get better service at a smaller cost, especially where data is involved. Please tell me why Google Fi is superior.