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Google Fi review

Google Fi is a different kind of phone plan, but only for some smartphones.

Google Fi
(Image: © Google)

Our Verdict

Google Fi boasts intelligent network-switching capabilities and nationwide 5G service, but only a limited number of smartphone models can take full advantage.

For

  • Reasonable unlimited plan
  • Intuitive website and setup
  • Nationwide 5G coverage for compatible smartphones

Against

  • Limited iPhone functionality
  • Budget plan charges quickly add up

When Google launched its own cellular network in 2015, it did so under the banner “Project Fi,” an invite-only network designed for the Nexus 6 smartphone. Three years later, Project Fi was rebranded as Google Fi, “a different kind of phone plan” that customers can join from home and tailor to their families’ needs. Boasting nationwide 5G coverage, Google Fi keeps subscribers connected by “intelligently shifting between multiple major phone networks,” according to its website

There are a lot of points in Google Fi’s favor, especially when it comes to the service’s reasonably priced wireless plan that beats out many of its competitors like Verizon Wireless. However, only about a dozen of the best smartphones have full access to Google Fi’s network-shifting functionality, and people attached to their current smartphones might run into trouble trying to make the switch. 

So, is Google Fi good enough to overcome its limitations and join the ranks of the best cell phone providers? Read on as we put it through its paces in our Google Fi review.

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Google Fi review: Unlimited plan

  • Plans from $45 per month per device (six subscribers)
  • Up to $70 per month per device (one subscriber)

What’s helpful about Google Fi is the fact that the website makes it easy to compare and contrast plans. On top of that, the more people that are added to a plan, the lower the per-person cost gets, making it especially ideal for families. A single user can get unlimited calls, texts, and data for $70 a month, and the per-device cost goes down with every person added to the plan (up to six people total).

On top of unlimited calls, texts, and data, the plan also includes full-speed hotspot tethering at no extra charge, free data and texts outside of the United States, and free calls to 50 countries and territories, and a Google One membership with 100GB of cloud storage per member. The hotspot tethering is particularly useful, as subscribers can share their data connection with up to ten other devices at once, essentially providing Wi-Fi where there’s no external connection available.

That unlimited data comes with a couple of caveats, though. The fine print specifies that the plan comes with unlimited 4G LTE data, not the 5G speeds headlining the website. Compatible phones will be able to access 5G where available, but subscribers shouldn’t expect that to be the default. Additionally, video may stream at 480p, and Google slows down data speeds after 22GB per person per cycle. That’s a lot of data for the average person, but those who use their smartphones for work or as a main source of entertainment might soon find themselves struggling with slower speeds.

Despite the restrictions on data, Google’s unlimited plan is pretty reasonably priced, particularly for households with multiple members and high usage needs. The unlimited international texts and data are also a bonus, as using an American smartphone in foreign countries can often be unnecessarily complicated and pricey.

Google Fi review: Flexible plan

  • Plans from $16 per month per device, plus $10/GB data (six subscribers)
  • Up to $20 per month per device, plus $10/GB data (one subscriber)

Google Fi’s budget option is the flexible plan, which runs around $20/month plus $10 for every gigabyte of data used. Like the unlimited plan, the flexible options get cheaper with every device added to the plan, though in this case the difference between one user ($20/month) and six users ($16/month per device) is marginal.

While that appears entirely reasonable on paper, the pay-as-you-go data charges can quickly add up. Bill Protection kicks in after 6GB for a single person and 18GB for a party of six, so you won’t be charged for additional data after that amount, but using that much makes the flexible plan more expensive than the unlimited plan. Those considering the flexible plan should take a good look at their current smartphone data usage before making the switch, as it could end up being more expensive than the unlimited plan in the long run.

This $10/GB data rate also applies for hotspot tethering and international usage, with data slowed after 15GB per individual per billing cycle. Calls to other countries start at a penny a minute, while international texts are free. The only major feature missing is the Google One membership, which is only included in the unlimited plan.

One thing to note about both plan options: while they have decent international communication rates, the plans are only available to United States residents.

Google Fi review: Cell phone options

  • Selection of phones “designed for Fi,” including Samsung Galaxy and Pixel models
  • Can be used with most phones, though not with full features

Where Google Fi falls short is in its limited compatibility options. The Google Fi website lists about a dozen phones “designed for Fi,” among them the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G, Pixel 4a, Pixel 5, and Moto G Stylus. Only these specific models — none of which are iPhones — can use one of Google Fi’s core features, the ability to automatically switch among “millions of secure Wi-Fi connections” for the best possible connection at all times. Additionally, only unlocked phones on T-Mobile’s 5G network will have access to 5G speeds.

Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

Those looking to bring their existing phone to Google Fi might be able to do so, as the network is compatible with a number of phones from Apple, HTC, and other manufacturers. The website makes it easy to figure out if your existing phone is compatible, but expect to have to make some concessions if your model wasn’t specifically designed to be used with Google Fi.

If you’re particularly attached to the ecosystem, Google Fi probably isn’t the best option for you. It’s still on beta on iOS, so iPhone users will have to use the Google Fi app to check their voicemail and do some finagling to get text messages to work properly. Oh, and there’s one more thing: iPhones need to be unlocked before switching to Fi, which may not be an option if you purchased yours through a wireless carrier. 

Google Fi customer reviews and satisfaction

As Google Fi doesn’t have a Better Business Bureau rating, we looked to app reviews on the Google Play Store to get an idea of what users were saying about the purchase. The app itself has a rating of 3.9/5, with many of the 17,342 reviews giving the app (and service) five stars. Many positive reviews praise the cost of the service, as well as Google Fi’s “fast and reliable” customer service.

On the flip side, there are a number of recent comments criticizing Google Fi. The most common complaints stated that the service was unreliable, text messages weren’t working, and data speeds were slow to nonexistent.

Should you choose Google Fi?

After a comprehensive analysis of Google Fi’s features and pricing, it’s clear that this is a great wireless network for a limited number of smartphone users. It’s relatively easy to navigate pricing and plan options via the website, and users can set everything up from the comfort of their own homes. The biggest point in Google Fi’s favor is its comparatively affordable unlimited plan, which is a great option for heavy data users who don’t particularly care which smartphone they use.

It’s not particularly surprising that Google wants to encourage Fi subscribers to use its own Pixel smartphone, but limiting features on the iPhone, the most popular smartphone in the world, also limits the number of people who can get the most out of this service. 

Ultimately, it comes down to priorities: would you rather have a comprehensive unlimited data plan that covers your entire household for less money than Google Fi’s competitors? Or would you rather have the freedom to choose which smartphone model to use without limiting key features like 5G service? Those who would choose the latter option are probably better off with another plan. 

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