Sunday, March 19, 2017

One Year with Google's Project Fi

When we moved abroad, one of my hesitations was being able to stay in touch with my family and friends back home.  Between the time difference and the international fees, I was worried it wouldn't be so easy to stay in touch.  While it is definitely harder to schedule video chats with friends (they get off work right as I'm going to bed), there are so many different and cheap ways to stay in touch when abroad that no one really has to be worried.

We are big fans of Google.  We each have multiple GMail addresses, share a joint Google calendar, and use GChat for video and messaging almost every day. When Google came out with Project Fi, Mike was on it. It came right around the same time I needed a new phone and right around the time we had given up hope of every convincing the Turkish bureaucracy to allow me to have a cell phone plan. Instead of continuing to spend hours arguing with some random Turkish government employee, we decided for me to make the switch to Project Fi.

What is Project Fi?

  • Project Fi is Google's own cell phone plan.  It costs $20 a month plus $10 for each GB of data you use.   If you don't use a whole GB, you get credited on your bill! So, for example,  in February, I used 1.5 GB of data.  I was charged the $20 monthly fee plus $15 since I only used 1.5 GB of data, bringing my bill to $35. Hooray!  Some people are really intense about not using data and only using wifi.  It's not worth it to me to not use my phone just to save a few extra dollars, but I do think twice about downloading my next podcast or aimlessly stalking people on Facebook when I'm not in wifi. 
  • I have the same phone number I did when I lived in the United States, so it's easy to remember and all of my friends and family already had that number saved, so the transition was super easy.  
  • In the United States, you get unlimited calls and texts, so chat away!! Abroad, it's unlimited calls to the United States when I'm using wifi, but it's unlimited texting no matter where I am. I don't actually use my phone that much to call people, but if I need to make a phone call back to the states (the bank, our insurance, my parents, etc) I just make sure I'm in a wifi zone so that it's free.  Otherwise, it's 7 cents a minute (I think!) to make a call.  Not too expensive, but avoidable.
  • It works in 135 countries for no extra cost.  We looked into a million other international phone plans and weren't able to find anything that comes super close in price.  Everything else was extremely expensive.  Plus, it works when we travel internationally, which is so nice. We are always able to be connected in case we get lost or something happens. 
Here's what my current month of data usage looks like.  I have 16 days left on my current cycle and I have used about half a GB.  Since I plan on being home and within wifi most days, I should have no problem staying under 1 GB, which means my monthly bill should be right around $30!   

The Pros
  • Being able to text and call home!! This is by far the biggest positive of this whole plan!
  • Not being tied down to a contract.  When we got this plan for me, we didn't realize that I would be leaving Turkey in a few months or that we'd be moving to Germany for a year.  If we had to commit to a two year contract in either place, we'd still be paying for it because we would be bound by the contract.  Project Fi is month to month, so I can technically cancel whenever we want.  Mike plans on getting this plan when we get back to the United States and it will be perfect for deployments and long underways because he can just pause his service for the month(s) he's gone and we won't have to pay anything. 
  • Having a phone when we travel to other countries.  Gone are the days where we'd buy coffee just to use a cafe's wifi so we could figure out how to get somewhere. Plus, Mike can always give his Navy guys my phone number as an emergency contact so that if something comes up, they can get in touch with him. 
  • It's cheap! Not as cheap as the cell phone plans here or in Turkey, but not that much more expensive, and definitely cheaper than any international plan we were able to find. 
  • Having an American number abroad.  When I had my iPhone, I was able to iMessage with anyone who had an iPhone, but for my Android friends, I had to ask them to use WhatsApp or Google Hangouts to message me.  Not a big deal, but I never wanted people to have to download an App or create a new account just for me. Now, I can just text them like I would if I were in the states.  Plus, it's so nice to have an American number that we can give companies, like our bank or insurance, so they can reach us. 
The Cons
  • By far the biggest con is that you have to have a Google phone.  I have the Nexus 5x and I don't like it.  It's camera is slow, it's glitchy and it doesn't compare to my old iPhone.  In fact, I scheduled this post for a week ago and then my phone stopped working and I postponed it. Mike has the Pixel, which is the newest Google phone and enjoys it, but I still love the iPhone.  Plus, I'm just not an Android fan.  Every Android fan I talked to said that I would love it after I got used to it, but a year later and I'm still not convinced.  I don't dislike it enough to go back, but if Apple came out with a similar cell phone plan, I'd be going back to the iPhone in a heartbeat.* 
  • Every once and while, someone will tell me they texted me and I don't think I ever got their text.  That issue seems to have worked itself out and really was only happening when it was someone with an iPhone, so I think (fingers crossed! knock on wood!) that problem has solved itself. 
  • There have been a few times when we're traveling where I haven't had service, even though we've been in major cities like Rome where I was told I should have service.  Not a huge deal if you don't live in Europe, but it's been a little frustrating. 
  • I haven't been too impressed with the Project Fi support staff.  I've contacted them a few times to try and trouble shoot the texting issue and the lack of service issue.   When I told them I thought I wasn't receiving texts from iPhone users, they were pretty helpful, but ultimately told me they couldn't do anything like send a sample text because they don't keep iPhones in their office.  The same thing happened when we were in Rome and I didn't have service.  After a few suggestions, they ultimately told me to buy a sim card to use during my time there. Not quite the help I wanted.
  • I don't think it's cheaper for an entire family to have Project Fi.  My monthly phone bill averages about $40/month.  So, for two or three people, it might make sense to make the switch, but for a family of five cell phone users, probably not worth it. There is a family "plan" but it's not that much cheaper once you start adding in the cost of data. 
  • You do have to have an American address to get the phone and sim card shipped to.  They won't ship to an APO/DPO and definitely won't ship to an address outside of the US, so it makes the most sense to start Project Fi before you move abroad (if you're planning to use it abroad).  Not really an issue for most people, but we've had to have everything mailed to my parents and then they've sent it to us. 
Overall, I'm extremely satisfied with Project Fi.  I've yet to have a cell phone provider that I've had no issues with, but Project Fi has met all of my needs most of the time and the cost and the availability have made the issues I've had bearable.  Like I said before, if Apple came out with a plan like this where I could use an iPhone, I'd switch in a heartbeat, but until they do, I'm a Project Fi fan! Mike hasn't made the switch to Project Fi yet because we've learned that at least one person in each household must have a local number.  Mike's German number is the number that we give my doctor, the utility companies and our landlord, the embassy here in Berlin and tons of other German offices. I don't know how we would function without a German number.  That being said, we're planning to have him switch to Project Fi when we get back to the United States because it's so much cheaper.  Project Fi came at the perfect time for us and we haven't regretted making the switch!

If you are interested in making the switch, here's a little link for you!

*Apparently, you just need a Google phone to activate the sim card and then you can put the sim card into lots of other phones, including the iPhone, to use Project Fi.  I've heard mixed reviews on this and it only works if you have a Google phone to activate it with. 

I'm also not getting compensated for this post.  Google has no idea  I'm writing this! I just really like Project Fi and have had a few people ask what I do for a  cell phone plan here. 

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