Google Project Fi Review: Cheap International Data & Cell Service - Running with Miles
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Google Project Fi Review: Cheap International Data & Cell Service

Google Project Fi
Written by Charlie

Do you want some pretty cheap international data? How about free SMS with your plan? Check out this Google Project Fi review to see how it performs abroad.

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When traveling abroad, it is always nice to be able to stay in touch and have contact with friends and family. If you use your US carrier for travel abroad (with the exception of T-Mobile and their Simple Choice Plans), you will be paying a lot of money for data, voice, and SMS.

The cheapest way to get all of that when traveling is to use the local SIMs and prepaid phone services (I pay $6 per month for 300 minutes, 100 SMS, and 500MB of data) but if you are traveling for just a few days in a country, you may wish to just use a plan you already have.

There are many reviews about the Google Nexus 6 phone and Project Fi. This review will look at the experiences of using this phone and plan internationally.

Google Project Fi Review

Google launched their Project Fi to beta users earlier this year. I was finally eligible in July and have been using it for a little over a month now so thought it would be a good time to review how it might be useful for international travel.

Request Google Project Fi Invite

To begin, the Project Fi only works with the Google Nexus 6 smartphone. If you do not have one, you will have to consider purchasing one makes sense for you or not.

Google Project Fi

You will need a Google Nexus 6 to access Google Project Fi

Next, the basic plan (for service and unlimited talk/text in the US and unlimited text outside of the US) costs $20 per month with data costing an extra $10 per 1GB. Now, the beauty of their billing system is that you only pay for what you use! If you think you are going to need 3GB but only use 1GB, you will have a credit for $20 on your next month’s bill. At the same time, if you think you are only going to use 1GB and you use 2GB, you will only be charged an additional $10.

While in the US, the Google Project Fi SIM jumps between Sprint and T-Mobile’s network. In addition to that, it also uses WiFi for calls when it is available. When traveling internationally, it jumps to the available networks in the area.

International Data Speeds

Google says that international data is capped at 3G 256kbps and it truly is. While that speed is usable for many different things, be aware that using data in the US will likely have spoiled you and you will miss the speed.

The only good thing about the speed is that it is doubtful you will go much over 1GB while international. I used the SIM in Germany, UAE, Egypt, France, Greece, and Turkey and had the same speed in all locations. I will be using it next week in Egypt, UAE, Australia, and Chile so I expect the same results.

The good news is that speeds in the US are very good with this phone and the Project Fi plan. So, if you spend a majority of your time on US networks, you will not notice much different from your current phone/plan.

International Talk And Text

When making calls internationally, it will cost you $.20 per minute to any one of 120 countries. But, if you are on WiFi anywhere in the world, you will receive all calls to the US for free. The numbers will come from your Google assigned-local number so you can have one number work anywhere in the world.

You can use Google Hangouts for placing calls but it will go through the data plan instead of using regular voice so it may not be good if in a slower data zone. Still, you can get away with paying less than a penny a minute if you go this route! [thanks to commenter Scott for this reminder]

In the whole scheme of things, paying $.20 per minute when on foreign cell carriers is not that bad when it is all for the same US-issued number.

However, texting is still free around the world. Since so many people do texting now, that is a great way to keep in touch and you get to do it for free anywhere within the 120+ countries that they cover.

One of the good things is that when you go to make a phone call, the display will tell you if it is being made via a wireless network. This way, you know if your phone call from an international location is going to hit you for the $.20 per minute (which you don’t pay when making calls to the US from a WiFi connection).

Using Google Fi Internationally

My biggest complain was not the data speeds but the amount of time it took for the phone to activate on a local network. Sometimes, it would activate within 5 minutes while other times took as long as 20 minutes. Since I like to get on the phone as soon as we land so I can catch up on e-mails while we are taxiing, that delay sort of eliminates that.

Once your phone is activated, you will receive a welcome message from Google welcoming you to the country you are in and giving you a link for rates.

The Monthly Bill And Credits

Google Project Fi

My bill from the recent usage showing the credit for my unused data.

With taxes, 1GB of data and the basic Project Fi package comes to $35. But, that was just for the first month. Since I only used a little bit of data, my account was credited with $9 for the next month.

The one thing I do not know yet but will find out this coming month is whether the credits will drop your bill below the $20 basic package price. If it does, that will be great! That means you could literally just use this plan for international travel and not pay anything. Otherwise, it would mean that the most you pay any month is $20 when you do not use data much.

I was curious (as were some others) as to how Google billed their Project Fi statement – would it bill as communications for 5X earning with the Chase Ink cards? Nope, it comes up as “business” so it just earns a single point per dollar.

I do really like that they give an exact breakdown on the data usage per day and country for your international travels. That lets you keep very close track on your data.

Is It Worth It?

If you already have a Google Nexus 6, I would say that Project Fi is a no-brainer. The phone worked flawlessly in the US and the internet speeds were great. To get all of that, unlimited text, unlimited talk, and 1GB of data for under $35 a month is a nice deal. Not only that, but you can cancel it at anytime!

If you do not have a Google Nexus 6, it would seriously depend on how much you travel. If you take a couple/few international trips a year and want to stay connected, it could be worth it to get it and add Project Fi. The prices are beginning to come down as a new model is expected. In fact, Amazon has the Google Nexus 6 32GB version for $350 and the Google Nexus 6 64GB version for $399. That is still a high price, but if you use this for your cell service, you will get it back in one year.

If you are already using the T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan for your regular service and international access, I would say you are better off with that. Even though you are paying more per month, you have a choice of any phone instead of just one.

Have more questions about using Google Project Fi abroad? Let me know!

Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

10 Comments

  • Thanks to your notification of the current Amazon prices, I just saved $150+ by price matching the Nexus I bought from them a few days ago.

  • Thanks for the balanced review. I’ve been contemplating a switch for a few months now (already have my invite) but based on my experience with T-Mobile in the places I use it, I’m not convinced Project Fi will be much better even with the addition of Sprint. If it were accessible without a Nexus 6 and the $300 outlay just to try the service, I’d give it a shot in a heartbeat.

  • One thing that seems better than Tmobile, if I understand it correctly, is that Tmobile speeds are only 2G internationally and Project Fi is 3G. I have also read you can freeze it and only use it when traveling, but have not personally tried it.

  • Charlie, I called all three parties, Chase Ink and Google Project Fi and Google Wallet to see if we can get them to change the category for the monthly billing to “Cellular Service” to get the 5X earning on Chase Ink cards. But so far I have not been successful in getting Google to make the change. Do you have any contacts at Google that you can reach out to and see if they can change the Project Fi billing to cellular service for the 5X earning on Chase Ink Cards.

    • What about buying the cell phone from project fi with ink? I was about to do it but will use another card if not 5x…

    • Not anyone that would be in a position to do anything about the payment processing mode. I can certainly ask around but I am not even sure what it entails to their own accounting to switch to that or if there are separate regulations if they are billing out as telecommunications? It would be great but I am not sure we will see it soon. Thanks for checking with them!

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