i changed my mind and have since cancelled project fi. You can read more about why at "why I cancelled Project Fi"
My original review is still posted below.
(If you’d like to watch a video version of the original review including more details about the Nexus 5x, you can check it out here.)
Prior to leaving for our trip, I had a Samsung Note 4 that I liked. It took great pictures, had a ton of memory for music and photos and was unlocked so I could easily install sim cards in other countries once we were international. The phone was only about a year old and in great condition.
Then this happened.
So why did I plunk down $600 for a Google Nexus 5x?
Project Fi is a virtual mobile company meaning they don’t own or set up their own cell towers. Instead, they rent bandwidth on other providers and bounce their customers between the different service providers they’ve contracted with. If you’ve used Cricket Wireless or Boost Mobile, you’ve used a virtual mobile company. To use Project Fi, you must purchase a Google phone like the 5x or the 6p both released late last year.
In the US Project Fi contracts with T-Mobile and Sprint giving them pretty good coverage and speeds in most urban areas of the US.
But the reason I wanted to try Project Fi was because their roaming network doesn’t just cover the US, it covers 120+ countries around the world. Moreover, they do so at the same low cost they do in the states: $20/month base cost plus $10 a gigabyte for data.
It’s now been over two months since I started using Project Fi. I’ve had the phone in Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
So is Project Fi the right option for long term or round the world travelers?
I’ll save you the suspense.
The phone has provided rock solid access to phone and text and mostly reliable access to data everywhere we have traveled. It’s cheap, the customer service is great and combined with offline Google maps, you’ll never need another map.
Here’s the most useful and effective parts of using Project Fi abroad.
Keep your American Phone Number
Like any other wireless provider in the states you can port your current number to your Project Fi account. This has been essential when it comes to calls to financial institutions, text verification codes from password changes, etc. Keeping my same cell phone number has eliminated headaches for the logistics of life continuing on at home in both a professional and social sense.
Coverage for Texts and Calls
Though the data coverage has been spotty at times (more on that later) we’ve had working phone and texting 100% of our time abroad. Though international calls while roaming are $0.20 a minute, it’s been nice to know that we have a phone wherever we go if we need one.
The basic $20 a month provides unlimited texts. We’ve been able to keep up short and fun conversations with friends thousands of miles away and also receive fraud alerts or other info that vendors, service providers or banks want to send us.
The sim card automatically routes calls and all data over wifi whenever you are connected. When I was working in Vegas and Jess was traveling solo in Lima, it was easy for us to connect by voice or video anytime we were on wifi.
The majority of the time we have only 3G data (though we have experienced LTE in urban areas). This means that as opposed to the huge gulps of data our phone takes in the states, abroad it basically sips data. We’ve reduced that even more by turning off background data usage on a number of apps.
Aside from my trip back to the states, we’ve reliably used less than 2 gigabyte of data each month meaning our total plan costs less than $50 with taxes. In fact, Google credits our future bill for data we paid for but didn’t use the current month. (Above you can see that we had to make a few calls off wifi over the last month, which added to our bill)
Combining Google maps new ability to download offline areas with cellular service everywhere we go means that we haven’t needed a single tour or hotel map. We can find street addresses, look up directions and even find local businesses when our data connection isn’t working. It’s incredible to have complete, accurate and easy to access maps everywhere. It’s truly a game changer for anyone who travels internationally.
Though technically not a part of Project Fi itself, if you sign up you are likely to be buying a new Google 5x or 6p phone. Both have the same excellent camera that has taken the majority of our photos on this trip. It’s truly the best camera I have ever used on a cell phone. How good is it? Check out our photo galleries from the trip.
No fees, no locked phones
There is no sign up fee, no cancellation fee- really no fees of any kind. All Google phones are unlocked so if you decide you don’t like the service or want to switch when you return home, you can do so easily.
Easy and clear billing and phone support
The Project Fi app clearly displays how much data you’ve used, how much your bill was last month and how much anything you can think to do is going to cost you. It seems like what a bill should look like if a company isn’t trying to screw you.
Though we never managed to get data working during our first stop in Cartagena, Colombia, I had a great experience with Project Fi’s customer service through chat, voice and email. They followed up consistently and overall seemed really interested in fixing my problem. In the end, we moved onto Medellin before we figured it out and data began working on its own.
What's not so good?
Though my overall experience with Project Fi has been good, here’s a few things you should know if you are considering using it for your round the world or extended length trip:
Data coverage can be spotty
In remote areas we often find no data is available. Whether this is a feature of the coverage in the countries we are visiting or how Project Fi handles roaming, I can’t say. But if you are a business traveler and need data 24/7 or if you are staying for an extended period in a single isolated location, you may be better off looking into local sim cards each place you go.
Roaming can be buggy
I sometimes find I suddenly don’t have data after having it in the same location the previous day and vice versa. I routinely restart my phone if data is missing and often find that suddenly I can access data when I couldn’t before.
Customer Service knows very little about the networks where you are traveling
I think Project Fi’s customer service is awesome but most of their expertise revolves around the phone and its setup. When it comes to the networks I've passed through while traveling, they seemed fairly clueless about which they were, how they were set up or why things might or might not be working.
Wifi Assistant is largely useless abroad
One of Project Fi’s big selling points in the states is the phone’s Wifi Assistant which automatically shuttles users onto reliable public wifi networks when possible. This is designed to minimize cellular data usage and therefore cost. Though there have been a few isolated incidents at major international airports when the wifi assistant has located a trusted network, it appears that this feature is really not well populated outside the US.
Do you have experience using Project Fi internationally? Anything you would add?