T-Mobile made international travel so much better in 2014 when they introduced free unlimited global roaming with its post paid plans. We were eager to take advantage and switched 2 lines over to T-Mobile – one for a an iPhone and one for an Android. The T-Mobile offering is excellent but most of the time you’ll be running at 2G speed. It is good enough for texting and email but definitely not fast enough for maps and tooling around social media. (Yes, we know, sometimes, you will get 4G speed with T-Mobile, but it isn’t consistent and it is country and device dependent).
In 2015, Google announced its own mobile service, Project Fi. Their basic service offering is:
- $30 month for unlimited voice, text and 1GB of data. Additional 1GB of data at $10/month
- The texting is FREE globally to a US number. It is always free to receive from anyone.
- In New York City, the $30 plan with taxes comes out to about $36 (taxes will vary slightly depending on your location).
- Unlimited global roaming at 3G speed (256 kilobits per second) included
- Unlimited tethering so you can make your phone a hotspot and connect your laptop, iPad etc to the Internet
- Credit you back for any unused data at $1/100mbs. If you only use 500mb a month, you would get $5 back. However, the taxes for the unused $5 are not credited back.
At first it was available on an invite-only basis and available on ONE phone, the Nexus 6. Now it’s open to all and available on 3 phones, the Nexus 5x (which is what we use), Nexus 6 and 6P. We thought the value proposition was good enough that when our T-Mobile Android contract was up, we switched it to Project Fi in December, 2015. The porting process was seamless – everything was done via the Project Fi app on the phone and the whole process took less than 10 minutes.
WARNING: For those already with a Google Voice number, keep in mind you can only transfer that number over to Project Fi or select a new number (and lose your Google Voice number).
We have successfully used Project Fi in 8 countries:
- Hong Kong
We have not been to a country that it hasn’t worked yet. In the next 4 weeks, we will be testing Project Fi in the following countries: China, England, Iceland, Japan, Macao and Sri Lanka.
Update: May 7th, 2016 – We returned from our trip to Asia. Project Fi worked fine in China (had to switch to 2G to acquire a signal first, then switch to 3G), Japan (automatic), Macao (switch to 3G to acquire a signal), Thailand (had a layover – automatic) and Sri Lanka (had to punch this into the phone dialer – “*#*#347626#*#*” without the quotes to acquire a signal).
In general, Project Fi is solid and we get consistent 3G speeds everywhere we’ve been. Google Maps (our number ONE app use) when traveling, loads a lot faster than T-Mobile—so much so that we can use it for turn by turn navigation when driving. That is something that we definitely can’t do with T-Mobile. We like how calls to the US are 20 cents a minute when using a mobile network and free with WiFi. Customer service is excellent. Calls are answered immediately and solutions are often very hepful. Email exchanges are usually completed in under 10 minutes. We do not expect this to continue when they add more customers.
All Project Fi phones are by default unlocked and hotspot enabled. Project Fi has coverage in over 125 countries which is about the same as T-Mobile, but for countries without Project Fi coverage this is great. Buy a local SIM and you are good to go. Some countries not covered include Jordan, Myanmar, Namiba, and Botswana. In fact, we don’t even carry our MiFi anymore traveling internationally. That’s one less device that we are carrying now. In countries without Project Fi coverage, voice and text will continue to work over WiFi.
Project Fi plans have no contracts. You can cancel anytime after the first month. For travelers who might want to use Project Fi only while traveling – you can pause your plan up to 3 months a time all via the app – no need to talk to anyone.
- Acquiring a signal in a new country can take a few minutes. This is a lot slower than T-Mobile. The default option is LTE roaming, however, that does not work everywhere. We had trouble with it in Hong Kong under LTE mode and had to switch it 3G to get it to work. It took a support call to get that sorted but “Auto” network switching would be nice addition to the Nexus phones.
- Even with WiFi calling turned on, it does not default to WiFi calling when roaming. We didn’t realize this until later when we saw the bill. Now, when we make a call at an international location, we place the phone in airplane mode first to force WiFi calling.
- In Brazil, we had an iPhone tethered to our Nexus 5x. Every time we attached it, the Nexus 5x clock would be reset to 1970 and GMT time zone causing constant reboots. We haven’t been able to replicate that elsewhere, but just be mindful if that happens to you.
- If you have a 2GB plan ($40/month) and use only use $1GB, you will still pay taxes on the full $40 vs $30. So the most optimal plan is 1GB of data. If you go over, you will be charged $1 per 100 megabyte—the same as signing up for a bigger plan. So start with the cheapest plan possible.
- If you an iDevices user/fan, Project Fi only works with Android and the 3 devices listed above as a phone service. For data only there are a few more device options. But in order to get the data only plan, you need to be a Project Fi phone subscriber first.
- You need a personal Gmail account to signup and it does not work with Gmail hosted apps accounts.
- Domestically, you’ll need Sprint or T-Mobile availability to utilize Project Fi
Google Fi definitely requires a bit more tweaking than T-Mobile for it to work internationally. Which is fine for us, but probably not for everyone.
If you are a frequent traveler, slightly technically inclined, not a heavy data user, and open to using Android, we think Project Fi is an excellent choice. We are happy with it despite the flaws and have switched two additional lines over to Project Fi. But, we are even more excited to share this with everyone:
That’s our bill for the last 4 months with a lot of international travel. You can’t beat that! Right now, you can get the entry level Nexus 5x for $199 until May 8th
from the Google Store. If you are interested in learning more about Project Fi, visit the Project Fi website.
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