Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T may get the most attention of the U.S.’s smartphone carriers, but they aren’t the only game in town. In 2015, Google launched Project Fi, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) compatible with Nexus and Pixel smartphones (plus the Motorola Moto X4). Just like the incumbents with which it competes, Project Fi offers data, voice, and texting service for a flat rate, and boasts a robust network that reaches most of the contiguous U.S. But that’s where the similarities end.
Project Fi is one of the few wireless carriers in the U.S. to refund you for the data you don’t use, meaning that if you churn through 3.5GB data in one month on a 4GB plan, you are credited the remaining 0.5GB. Fi’s network relies on a combination of U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile, and Sprint’s network for coverage, and compatible phones switch between the three depending on network congestion and signal strength.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. Project Fi is, as the name implies, an ongoing experiment, and it’s constantly being improved with new benefits and features. Here’s everything you need to know about Project Fi, including plan pricing, phones compatible with Project Fi, and more.
Project Fi phones and tablets
Carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile offer a broad swath of smartphones and tablets from which to choose, but Project Fi is a bit different. Because its network-switching technology requires special software and wireless radios, not every phone qualifies as “fully compatible.”
At launch, the list of Project Fi-certified phones was limited to Google’s Nexus and Pixel lines. Over the past year, however, Google has been working to improve the list of compatible devices. Late last year, for example, Google teamed up with Motorola to launch the Android One Moto X4, a special $400 edition of the Moto X4 that’s compatible with all of Fi’s bands. It’s available from the Project Fi website.
Here’s a full list of phones compatible with Project Fi:
Project Fi phones also take advantage of Wi-Fi Assistant, a background service that automatically connects to “more than a million” public hotspots. It’s a seamless transition between the networks — calls aren’t interrupted when the phone switches from cellular to Wi-Fi — and the connection is secured through a virtual private network that routes traffic through Google’s servers.
Fi works with more than just smartphones, but it’s not quite the same experience. A data-only SIM that lacks calling and texting features works on select iPad models and Android tablets, but only a handful as Project Fi users can add up to nine data-only SIMs to a single plan.
Here is a full list of tablets and iPads compatible with Project Fi:
- Nexus 7 (with a nano SIM to micro SIM adapter)
- Nexus 9
- iPad Air 2
- iPad Mini 4
- iPad Pro
- Galaxy Tab S (with a nano SIM to micro SIM adapter)
Project Fi customers aren’t necessarily restricted to Google’s list of compatible devices. The SIMs work with all devices that (1) are unlocked, (2) have a GSM radio, and (3) work with T-Mobile, but there’s a caveat. Non-compatible phones can’t tap Sprint or U.S. Cellular’s network for coverage, and data-only SIMs can’t route calls and texts across the cellular network.
Project Fi plans
|People||Line cost||4G LTE data||Total|
|2||$20 + $15||$20 w/2GB
|3||$20 + $15 x 2||$20 w/2GB
|4||$20 + $15 x 3||$20 w/2GB
|5||$20 + $15 x 4||$20 w/2GB
In terms of pure, plain-and-simple pricing, Project Fi definitely isn’t the cheapest prepaid plan on the block. Republic Wireless, for example, offers talk, text, and up to 5GB of 4G LTE data for $50 per month — $20 per month cheaper than the equivalent Fi plan. Cricket Wireless’s $55 plan has unlimited talk, text, and data. FreedomPop’s 4GB tier starts at $35 per month.
But while Project Fi’s plan isn’t the cheapest, it comes with a lot of perks. Pricing starts at a flat $20 per month for unlimited calls and texting and $10 for 1GB of data, but money for unused data is credited back to the user’s account. Overages result in a charge of $10 per GB used. Fi also doesn’t levy a fee on mobile hotspots — data used while tethering is deducted from a Fi user’s monthly allotment.
Another perk is the newly announced “Bill Protection,” which basically gives you unlimited data for $80 (if you only have one line). That’s because Google will no longer charge for more than 6GB of data — so if you use 10GB, you will still only be paying for 6GB. The caveat is that Google says users might experience slower speeds after 15GB of data. Bill Protection kicks in at different levels for group plans — and you can see where here.
Fi’s Group Plans let users add other people to their subscription for an additional $15 per user per month. Group Plans let plan managers view data usage by each member, set data notifications, add monthly allowances, and pause members’ data usage. A more recent feature, Group Repay, automatically calculates each of the members’ individual shares of the monthly bill, and allows payments in (1) fixed amounts based on an individual’s total usage, or (2) only for data usage above the standard allotment.
Fi subscribers can use 4G LTE data in more than 135 countries around the world, including Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey, and more (see Project Fi’s support page for the full list of supported carriers and countries). International data costs the same rate as Project Fi data in the U.S. — and text messaging is free. Calls start at 20 cents per minute.
- Project Fi can be a good option for those that don’t use a lot of data but still want the option to use a lot down the line. If you consistently use more than 6GB of data, then T-Mobile’s One data plan might be better for you — it’ll save you $10 per month, and won’t throttle you until you hit 50GB of data.
- Project Fi may technically support phones that work on T-Mobile, but at the cost of U.S. Cellular and Sprint coverage. You’re better off sticking to a handset from Google’s approved list.
The perks of Project Fi:
- Strong service in rural areas.
- Savings for light data users.
- High-speed international data at no extra charge.
- Tethering at no extra charge.
- Bill Protection caps your bill at $60.
The downsides of Project Fi:
- A small number of supported tablets and smartphones.
- Pricier plans than T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon, and some MVNOs, depending on the data allotment.
Phone payment plans and trade-in program
Project Fi-compatible phones tend to be expensive, but there’s an alternative: A trade-in program. Starting September 20, subscribers who trade in a Nexus 6 or Nexus 6P device on Project Fi can get up to $165 in bill credit, plus an additional $50 if they start a trade-in before October 5. The Google Store also offers device trade-ins. The Google Store’s Terms and Conditions page lays out the rules for trade-ins.
An alternative is Project Fi’s monthly device installment plans. Fi offers the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL starting at $27.04 per month and $35.38 per month, respectively. Payments are over a 24-month period, but you can pay off the remainder of your balance at any time.
|Device||Off-contract price||Pay over 24 months|
|Pixel 2 – 64GB||$650||$27.04/month for 24 months|
|Pixel 2 – 128GB||$750||$31.21/month for 24 months|
|Pixel 2 XL – 64GB||$850||$35.38/month for 24 months|
|Pixel 2 XL – 128GB||$950||$39.54/month for 24 months|
|Pixel XL – 32GB||$550||$22.88/month for 24 months|
|Pixel XL – 128GB||$650||$27.04/month for 24 months|
|Lenovo Moto X4 – 32GB||$300||$12.46/month for 24 months|
Updated: Added news about Bill Protection, and revised article with new phones and pricing changes.
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