Taking the plunge with Google Project Fi - My Experiences from a 15+ year AT&T Customer

Discussion in 'DIY Server and Workstation Builds' started by Patrick, Feb 8, 2017.

  1. Patrick

    Patrick Administrator
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    This is something I have wanted to do for some time, but when Google Project Fi was announced the phones were, well, completely underwhelming.

    I finally managed to get a decent deal on the Google Pixel XL 128GB which took about 10 days of scouring ebay, Amazon and the Google store. Eventually, I found a new one (white) for about the same price as one sells for on the Google store shipped.

    For those who are not familiar with Google Project Fi it is a service by Google that uses Sprint and T-Mobile networks (in the US) plus Wi-Fi to deliver phone and data service. The big "gotcha" is that as of today you have the option of last year's Nexus devices or the Pixel / Pixel XL. The Pixel XL I think is usable. The service will mean that I will miss out on new phones. I have been upgrading Samsung phones annually since ditching the Blackberry and trading in the Motorola Atrix back in the day. The Atrix was ahead of its time with a fingerprint reader and a docking station.

    I had been with AT&T since 2005 and PacBell likely since around 2001 so this was a big move. Perhaps the biggest advantage of Project Fi is that my monthly bill will be about half of what it was on AT&T just for domestic usage.

    I have already done one international trip this year and have four other international trips planned over the next quarter and a half. AT&T's international voice and data pricing is extremely high after leaving the big firm umbrella (where it was included.) That meant that when traveling abroad I needed to either: pay a lot for AT&T, spend a bit more and get a local SIM, or use Wi-Fi only for days at a time. Folks like @GuybrushThreepwood who I met in Asia experienced me on a local SIM which was OK at best.

    I am keeping a Google Project Fi experience thread.

    Day 0 - Initial Setup Notes
    • Phone unboxed to data transferred (via direct attach cable) took about 8 minutes from my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. I wish I could have kept the Samsung! The transfer seems to have missed my 128GB MicroSD card data so that will need to be loaded.
    • It took me about 9 tries to port my number out. I confused my passcode for my password.
    • The Project Fi application was actually great in getting this done. User error on my part.
    • When porting my number over, the website and in-app page said 1-2 business days. In reality, it was about 30 seconds after remembering my passcode
    • My AT&T account was closed after porting my number out
    • Android 7 is awesome
    Day 0 - First Three Calls
    • The first call was from my wife to my phone to test the number ported over.
    • The second call was to AT&T. I thought I needed to call to cancel.
    • The third call was for work and audio quality/ reception seems fine.
    I am going to update this post from time-to-time with experiences with the service.
     
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  2. ttabbal

    ttabbal Active Member

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    I'm curious to see how it goes. I considered Fi, but 90% of my "phone" use is data, and Fi data is expensive. Even with my WiFi use being pretty high, the cost was close to my unlimited Tmobile plan.

    My phone is even compatible, Nexus 6. I'd upgrade, but can't find anything I want. :)
     
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  3. tullnd

    tullnd Member

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    So just a few pieces of personal experience/info to add. I've been using Google Fi for about 7 months. My girlfriend has had it for 9 months.

    Previously, I was using Straight Talk. I've had AT&T, TMobile and Verizon in my past. I work for a regional ISP that also used to be a carrier(we sold our spectrum and customers recently to another of the big 3) and I formerly worked in that division in a support role, so I'm VERY familiar with GSM technology and also older Wi-Fi calling tech like UMA(mostly Nokia and Blackberry).

    First, it's not just TMobile and Sprint. There's another carrier...US Cellular I think? That they just added on, but they don't exist in my area of the states. So that may help some who live where that carrier has coverage.

    Second...the service is definitely still developing. My girlfriend and I are using Nexus 5X's. Up until about 4-5 months ago, I'd fairly frequently experience issues when on wifi, where I'd suddenly not be able to hear the other caller. They could hear me, but I couldn't hear them. I'd say this happened on maybe 15% of my wifi-based calls, if they went for longer than 4-5 minutes of talk time(never happened early in a call). This has dropped off dramatically in the last few months and I can't recall experiencing it at all in the last two months. It was a well documented issue on google's forums, but even then, only a relatively small group were experiencing it.

    I occasionally notice some issues with network switching seeming to take a while, especially right after I end a cellular call. It seems that there's often a query to possibly change networks. I work in a rather large city and I happen to know there is strong TMobile and Sprint signal in my building(the benefits of formerly being a GSM wireless guy, we know what locations in our old building have the best/worst signal for every provider). I suspect most people don't notice this if they're not looking at the phone. It seems to choose a signal after 5-6 seconds and connects quickly at that point. This also may be a Nexus 5x quirk, as it happens to both myself and my girlfriend's device.

    There's a litany of weird little issues like that...but I chalk most of them up to either device software maturation or just overall network config. A lot of this is still being tested and evaluated.

    I do notice that my wifi calls are very clear and work very well. I do wish that you could do a cellular to wifi transition like UMA technology supported, but I understand the hardware requirements that were involved with UMA provides device limitations and increased cost.

    Overall, I'd say that I have pretty reliable service. I'm not on my cell phone constantly for my job...if I was, I may experience enough little issues to look elsewhere. I also have the benefit of wifi at home and at my work desk all day (non-monitored fiber GPON test account sitting at the cubicle next to me), so I'm probably not maxing out the LTE speeds constantly either. But I'd say I'm an average user. It mostly works. Rarely, I dial a call and nothing happens. If i dial again, it goes through that time. I don't have a lot of coverage issues. I live in a fairly decent sized midwest city, but I live a ways out, right on the transition of suburbia/rural(think newer neighborhoods, surrounded by a lot of farms) and 10 minutes south of me, there's no cell phone service if you go off major roads, so I'm probably experiencing fairly common signal issues.

    The pricing works well for us. My girlfriend and I use about 3Gb of mobile data a month between the two of us. If you fit the useage model that makes pricing work, it's a very interesting option. I'm hopeful that in a year or so, they'll have sorted out most of the network issues and start to certify a little wider range of devices for compatibility.
     
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  4. jseba

    jseba New Member

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    I have had Fi for nearly a year now, got it with the Nexus 5X deal last spring. I've had very few problems with it, especially as Hangouts manages nearly everything for calls and texts. Nearly everywhere I go at least T-Mobile, Sprint, or US Cellular covers (except for my grandparents living on a very rural farm). There's only one spot I know of near me with poor service, but AT&T disappears there as well (previous carrier). My bill averages a little over $30 a month. Only a couple months I've gone over the 2GB I pay upfront for each month, as I've got WiFi access just about everywhere I am and I don't stream anything over cellular (music or videos).

    The only issue I remember from a few months ago, T-Mobile had an issue and no-one could connect to their towers for a while, but with the multi-carrier aspect, a quick dial of a system number forced the phone over to Sprint and everything continued without a hitch, resuming T-Mobile later that day.

    I've actually switched the SIM over to my iPhone 6 and have been using that for a few weeks now with no problems. The only downside of doing that is that you lose the carrier switching, so you're pretty much locked to T-Mobile (the primary MVNO for Fi).
     
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  5. frogtech

    frogtech Active Member

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    Any of you Fi guys want to PM me a referral code? I just placed an order for a Nexus 6 on swappa and have been wanting to switch, due to, what I've read is the incredible ease of use regarding account manageability.
     
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  6. Patrick

    Patrick Administrator
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    @frogtech sure here is mine DWA378

    So far I have been happy.
     
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  7. T_Minus

    T_Minus Moderator

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    How are you liking it compared to the S7 in terms of photo quality, response time/latency, needing reboots, etc... anything sticking out as big negatives?
     
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  8. Patrick

    Patrick Administrator
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    I like the S7 Edge better in terms of feel. I also am not crazy about losing the physical home button and the rear fingerprint scanner.

    Otherwise, the Pixel XL is really nice. Battery is lasting me a long time. Project Fi is putting a lot of otherwise used data over WiFi so my average usage is less.
     
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  9. Gary Gapinski

    Gary Gapinski New Member

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    My wife has been using Project Fi for about 4 or 5 months and has had no complaints. I've been using it since early January. Normally on T-Mobile network. Both using Nexus 5X. I have noticed long (~20s) voice call setup times using either cellular or 802.11, contacted Google, and was told the problem is being worked (support response time was quite good). On vacation in January in somewhat remote Costa Rica (Osa peninsula), data worked quite well (and voice calls still took about 20 seconds to initiate). If I made many voice calls, I'd likely be a bit unhappy about the setup delay.

    I very much like the billing method, account interface, and simplified international travel arrangement. Cost is around 40% of what we had been paying. What is also nice is that a data-only SIM can be used for a tablet and the data usage just accrues to the primary account (no recurring charge for the additional SIM).

    I would have gotten the wife a Pixel XL had they been available; they're still difficult to obtain, and at this point will await the next model in the fall. After enduring non-removable bloatware on non-Google phones, I'll likely stick with Google devices.
     
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  10. frogtech

    frogtech Active Member

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    I just got my sim but I wasn't really thinking when I woke up one morning and paid my T-Mobile bill for the month because their billing is atrocious and I really didn't want to put any of my billing info on auto-pay with them. So I am probably going to be with T-Mo pre-paid for another month.
     
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  11. K D

    K D Well-Known Member

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    Though it is not officially supported, you can use the Fi Sim with any compatible phone. I have been using it with an iphone SE for about 6 months and have had Zero issues.
     
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  12. T_Minus

    T_Minus Moderator

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    @K D how do you get just a SIM?
     
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  13. Patrick

    Patrick Administrator
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    Six plus months in, I have to say I am very happy. For example, I traveled to Taipei for Computex, then Switzerland, Austria and Germany and my bill that month was under $40.

    There are a few aspects to consider beyond $10/GB:
    • I use less than half the data I used on AT&T. I think Google Project Fi is more aggressive on pushing data over Wi-Fi. I generally do not stream much audio/ video over wireless.
    • Savings thus far have been about $400 on monthly charges in the US. Probably another $100-200 in international. By far the killer feature is international data. Switching SIMs for less expensive data on the road is nice, but still having your phone number is better.
    • If you live somewhere with poor mobile coverage at home, Project Fi is great. You can call from Google hangouts and your Pixel will call over Wi-Fi. If you have invested in great Wi-Fi, you will have great voice/ data coverage
    • SMS and calls from Google hangouts is a great feature. I think it was supposed to be depreciated but it still works on my Project Fi account. Being able to reply using a real keyboard when at my desk is super.
    • Mobile coverage is generally good if you are network switching. Again, if you are somewhere like a Starbucks you can do voice over Wi-Fi. At my local Starbucks I would get 1 bar on my Samsung Galaxy S7+ with AT&T. I get fast data/ voice no problem now with Project Fi.
    My brother-in-law had an unlimited plan that he lost when upgrading his device. He switched to Fi with my referral code and we both got a few bucks off. He travels a lot so it is way less expensive on average for him than paying international data charges.
     
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  14. K D

    K D Well-Known Member

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    You should be able to just order a SIM from the Fi store by choosing BYOD. The only catch is that the first time you use the SIM, it has to be in a supported phone where you will have to use the Project Fi App to activate the SIM. Once activated, the SIM will work on any phone.

    I have used it outside the country in Europe (Netherlands, France and Italy) for a month long trip and had no issues. I used the Hangouts app for all calls. Did not use the regular phone app. Other than that just used data for IM and emails. The bill was about 40$.
     
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  15. T_Minus

    T_Minus Moderator

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    I use "hangouts" for calls all the time already (desktop), wonder if I can just use it on my S7 for calls too (I am 99% I can).

    I turned on Verizon WiFi but for some reason with 1-2 bars it still is RARELY used :(

    I just downgraded our verizon from 16gb (older plan) to 2gb (we use 1-2 only) to save 50 a month, but we're still paying 150 or so, we're doing 2x device payments but soon paid off, and thinking of going to fi since T-Mobile has hardware where we are (very rural), and for our upcoming travels/long-term in Bahamas/FL/Caribbean it may make sense to compliment BTC without stupid prices from continuing Verizon Service.
     
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  16. K D

    K D Well-Known Member

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    I've uses hangouts for calls from several androids/iphones including the S7.My work email switched to using a crappy Airwatch Inbox and basically made my email unusable on mobile. The iphone native email client as well as Spark work with Airwatch and that's what made me switch to using an iphone my primary phone. At that time the Fi Sim did not work on iphone and since my Project Fi number's the one everyone has, I used hangouts almost exclusively for outgoing calls.
     
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  17. Hank C

    Hank C Active Member

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    I think Sprint might have something similar to Fi in the store. I have S8 with Sprint and recently got updated with a feature called "Calling PLUS". It does voice while you are doing web and Wifi calling. The catch for WIFI calling is that it can do international whenever there is wifi.

    found FAQ
    FAQs about Calling PLUS | Sprint Support
     
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  18. jwegman

    jwegman Active Member

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    I don't know if this has been mentioned; Project Fi will provide 'free' data-only SIMs to an existing customer from which data used by the device (with that SIM) is out of the same bucket as your phone... I use it in an older Samsung Galaxy S4 (GPE) when I'm out exercising and don't want to lug around the Nexus 6 (my primary ProFi device).

    FWIW, I was an early adopter when it was still a closed beta. I have occasionally experienced dropped calls (which I also had prior to switching from TMob) and had to work through Google's various Hangouts and Messages app update behaviour which sometimes seemingly changes the default messaging app... Otherwise I've been very happy with it and love the free data-only sim for secondary data-only devices.

    The plan pricing just makes sense to me. I typically use under 1GB per month, and really enjoy the ~$26 monthly bills.
     
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  19. Patrick

    Patrick Administrator
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    I just wanted to bring an update here. Last month I spent something like 13 days on three international trips. My total bill was higher than normal at almost $41. At Computex, I heard of people spending $10/ day for using international data on their Verizon plans. The one country I have been to since starting Project Fi where it did not work was Belize. San Pedro island was not the most cell friendly place anyway.

    Calling/ SMS directly from gmail is a feature I use daily as well.

    The biggest drawback seems to be that you are essentially limited to the Pixel line on the higher-end. My Pixel XL has been great but I will likely upgrade to Pixel 3 XL this year.
     
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  20. Caleb

    Caleb Member

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    I currently have T-Mobile as my cellular provider. I am interested in transitioning to Project Fi, however have a few questions:

    1. How does the phone switch between T-mobile, Spring & US Cellular - is it seamless or does it require an intervention, e.g. reboot?
    2. Is phone hotspot usage allowed?
    3. Does Project Fi still offer additional SIM cards for other devices that share data with the main plan or do extra SIMs add to the plan cost? I currently have a T-mobile SIM in a Netgear 1121 for backup internet at the homestead. Would this be an option with Project Fi?

    Thank you!
     
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