Google's Mobile Service Gets International Upgrade
Google announced faster speeds for its Project Fi mobile service on Tuesday, expanding coverage and making it a better option for travelers.
Project Fi now offers high data speeds in more than 135 destinations — without charging extra for international service. If you're looking for mobile service and frequently lament your provider's international data roaming charges, the service is worth a look.
With the update, Project Fi is promising data speeds ten times as fast as they were before, or enough to be able to stream HD video, download movies, video chat, and upload photos without feeling like you're back in the age of dial-up.
In the last year (since Project Fi launched), 15 percent of users have traveled internationally to a combined total of 110 countries, according to Google.
Of course, there's a catch: Project Fi is only available for use with Google's Nexus phones. That will be a dealbreaker for many.
I tested the service in New York City on the Nexus 6P by Huawei, a beautiful but occasionally unwieldy device. The smartphone is comparable in size to the iPhone 6s Plus, and weighs slightly (.2 ounces) more. I enjoyed looking at the screen — it's gorgeous and perfectly responsive — but found it awkward when reaching for anything at the top of the screen (and I have pretty big hands). The other option is the smaller Nexus 5X, which is also cheaper ($499 vs. $199).
Since annual contracts spread out the cost of a new device, Project Fi's upfront hardware costs can be more than with another carrier, however Google also offers to spread out payments.
Project Fi's biggest appeal is its simple pricing structure: $20 for phone and texting service each month, plus $10 per gigabyte of data used. For example, for my sample plan of phone, texting and 1GB data, the total was $30— with taxes and fees $36.11. Google's plan is pay as you go, meaning that you pay more if you go over — but you also get money back if you stay under. With the phone purchased upfront, there is no annual contract.
And there's one more catch: Voice calling over Wi-Fi doesn't cost any more while traveling abroad, but voice calling when not on Wi-Fi is subject to different prices depending on the country.
Google has the ambitious goal of creating a seamless data connection by combining both Sprint and T-Mobile network connections as well as publicly available Wi-Fi signals. (Google encrypts the data to protect users on Wi-Fi.) Utilizing Wi-Fi signals can also keep costs down for customers, as it avoids any unnecessary data costs.
“With the addition of faster speeds and more countries for the same fair price, we’re one step closer to making using your phone internationally as easy as it is at home,” wrote Tyler Kugler, Project Fi product manager, in a blog post announcing the update.
To make the service more attractive to newcomers, Google is offering $150 off the Nexus 6P (retails $499) when purchased through Project Fi, for one week beginning at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on Tuesday.