Tuesday , May 18 2021

Google Fi for iPhones: Fewer Features, Lower Prices

Since it launched in 2015, Google's Project Fi has been quietly one of the best deals in tech. An alternative to mainstream carriers, it offers simplified data plans, easy international use, and a slew of other perks. The catch: Only Google's Nexus and Pixel phones-and, more recently, a smattering of third-party Android options-have worked on it. That changes Wednesday, when the slightly renamed Google Fi will begin accepting most recent Android smartphones, and iPhones running iOS 11 or higher.

As always, there's a catch, the size of which depends on what smartphone you bring over. It's helpful, though, to talk about why you might want it in the first place, especially if you're not familiar with Google Fi.

Unlike the big four US carriers you've heard of, the Verizons and Sprints of the world, Google Fi does not operate its own network. Instead, it piggybacks on those of T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular, which hands your phone off to whichever one offers the strongest connection at any given time. That makes it a "mobile virtual network operator," rather than a carrier proper. In practice, this does not mean much for you, other than hypothetically more consistently strong coverage wherever you are.

Where you will notice a difference is the straightforward pricing. On Google Fi, you get unlimited calls and texting for $ 20 per month, while data costs $ 10 per gigabyte, up to 6GB. That's probably the most you'll pay; Any data over that limit is free, though Google will start throttle you at 15GB. (You can cough up $ 10 per gigabyte again at that point to restore full speeds.) The other wrinkle: You only pay for the data you actually use. If you hit 2.5GB, for example, you get five bucks back.

Which is perhaps a complicated way of explaining how simple it all is. Google Fi also has no long-term contracts; you pay month to month and can go as you please. And the data costs the same internationally as it does at home, at least in most countries.

But as great as Google Fi has been this entire time, its device selection has been disappointed. Google's Pixel line is consistently terrific, but expensive. And the non-Pixel options on Project Fi have been paltry-a couple of LG and Motorola handsets. Most of all, it has left millions of iPhone owners out in the cold.

They will finally get the chance to join Google Fi Wednesday, but here come the caveats. iOS compatibility is technically in beta, so anticipate a less than smooth experience. It also leaves some important secondary features, such as visual voicemail, calls and texts over Wi-Fi, automated spam detection, and international tethering.

Similarly, Android smartphones that are not specifically built for Google Fi are anything other than Pixels and those LG and Motorola handsets-will not be able to seamlessly switch between, say, T-Mobile and Sprint, or between Wi-Fi and cellular. They will lack spam blocking and Wi-Fi calls and texts too. And if you're stuck on a device running anything older than Android 7.0, you're out of luck. That's about half of all Android smartphones currently in use.

That sounds grim, but it's probably helpful to think about it in terms of how many of those features your current carrier offers in the first place. And even more helpful to think about how much they charge you for it. The real appeal of Google Fi has always been its simplicity and affordability, both of which remain no matter what device you bring on board.

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