Why I’m Leaving Google Fi

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I’ve used Google’s Project Fi in the Denver area for over 18 months. I’m leaving. Here is my honest review of Project Fi in Denver, and the pro-cons why I’m leaving.

What Is Google Project Fi Really Like

Several years ago, I had Sprint. I had Sprint forever because I got in on an employee plan called SERO, not the newer versions, the older, original, really great one. With that plan I had unlimited data, unlimited text for $30 per month. The only limit was 500 minutes of talk time. That tells you how old the plan was. It was from back when data was the add-on, and voice was the most important thing for a cell phone plan. The plan was so good, I even suffered for over a year while Sprint slowly brought 4G to Denver way, WAY, after everyone else did.  I just couldn’t justify doubling my monthly plan costs.

Even then, I knew that Sprint’s network sucked compared to everyone else, especially when it comes to data. That Sprint commercial where they say there is just a 1% difference must be using some shaky metrics. At the time, I played a mobile phone-based, data-driven game called Ingress. Inevitably, around town, and out of town, there were places where I would get a much slower, barely usable connection, or no connection at all, compared to other players standing right beside me using Verizon or AT&T. (For whatever reason, I never really ran into anyone using T-Mobile enough to compare.) I even went so far as to mock up a “One Hand Behind Your Back” Ingress badge for playing while using using Sprint.

Not only was the Sprint network garbage, but they kept adding restrictions to the SERO plan to make it less attractive. For example, you had to pay an extra $10 for 4G (even when there was no 4G in all of Denver). And, they limited the phones you could use it on to last generation phones.

So, when Google announce Project Fi, I was excited. The idea was simple, $20 for the line, and then $10 per month for each gig of data. Even better, if you went over your data, they just charged you the same $10 per gig, and if you went under, they refunded whatever you didn’t use. I use my phone mostly at home where I’m connected to my free WiFi, so I just need to cover being out an about. In other words, the costs would just about line up with what I was paying on my $30 SERO plan plus $10 “advanced device fee” and $10 4G fee.

Even better, Google promised to combine both T-Mobile and Sprint and always connect you to the better network, PLUS you could use “thousands” of mobile hotspots. So, basically, I got the Sprint network I already had, plus everywhere that it was so terrible, I would get T-Mobile, and surely the two together would be just as good as Verizon or AT&T, right?

Project Fi had phone limitations too, but at least they were current models. I got the Nexus 5X, because I’m not that big of phone guy. I don’t like watching video on tiny screens, and most of my connections take place at home, or somewhere else that has decent WiFi. Plus, I need the thing to fit in my pocket.

So, my bill from Project Fi breaks down like this:

  • Fi Basics (the access line charge) $20.00
  • Pre-paid Data (I chose 2GB per month) $20.00
  • Device Payment (Nexus 5X): $10.38/month
  • Device Protection: $5!
  • Taxes and Regulatory Fees: $4.20
  • Additional Data (overage of the 2GB): $4.37 (for 0.437 GB)

That low $5 device protection fee saves you another $10 per month over major carriers. I’ve used it once already ($75 deductible payment gets you a replacement phone). So, don’t leave that cost out when you compare plans.

Add it all up, and you get $53.57 for the plan features, plus $10.38 to pay for the phone. This varies by a buck or two either way based on how much data I end up using, but I never have big swings.

Google Fi Slow Data Bad Network

Based on the above information, Project Fi is a great deal and I would highly recommend it to anyone. However, in the real world, the Project Fi is a bad deal, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Why?

The Network Is Bad

I don’t know if Project Fi gets the worst part of Sprint and T-Mobile, or if those two carriers just really overlap their coverage — and not coverage — that much. There are dead spots all around Denver that make no sense. Near my house, I literally cannot make a call unless it connects to my WiFi. It says LTE with full bars on the phone, but that is clearly a lie. And, it needs a lot of the bandwidth to connect a call, and it doesn’t detect whether it has enough before trying to use it.

One day, I was using Bittorrent (none of your business, that’s why) and my wife called. My phone answered, tried using the WiFi, and she couldn’t hear me at all, and she was breaking up the whole time. I killed the bit torrent app and called her back, and it worked.

project fi abandoned by google

Now, in case you think I live out in the sticks, I live in the very dense, very upper-middle class, Stapleton neighborhood, which also is less than a quarter mile from I-70, a major interstate. When I try and get directions from Waze, or Google Maps, I have to make sure and load them while still connected to the WiFi, otherwise, my phone will say “Searching for Network” until I’ve driven a few miles. By then, I could be sitting in traffic Waze would have routed me around.

At my daughter’s swim meets, I only got usable data at three of the five pools she swam at, scattered around Denver.

Obviously anywhere outside of the middle of a city is a crap shoot. I got virtually no DATA service through the entire southwest of Colorado during our road trip.

This is the scam of the whole 1% better thing. I think they count anywhere they can get any voice connection regardless of quality as “coverage.” If you can’t actually USE the data on that connection, that doesn’t matter; they still count it as “covered.”

The Project Fi Software Is Bad

The worst part about Project Fi is the software is just flat out bad.

Search online and you’ll see that the claim to connect to the best network is iffy at best. The reality seems to be that your phone just tries one, either by default or at random, and if it sort of works, it goes with it, regardless of whether the other connection is better.

Just as bad, it seems that the only comparison is signal strength, not how well the signal works. This is especially bad if you are trying to use data. Just because there is a strong signal to make phone calls with doesn’t mean that it’s a good data connection.

But the absolute worst, is how the phone decides to use WiFi.

Google doesn’t get to use the Sprint and T-Mobile networks for free, but it does get to use WiFi for free, so the desperately wants to use WiFi and will try it first, no matter what the connection is like.

I have Xfinity for my home internet and cable. With that, they throw in the ability to use Xfinity hot spots, of which, pretty much every Xfinity router is one. That’s fine. But, with Project Fi desperate to use WiFi it constantly tries to connect to those, even if it is a one bar strength signal that I’m getting from out on the street while I sit at a red light. Even worse, is how long it takes to finally give up, disconnect and consider that it must move on to a new connection. By then, your webpage has timed out, your call has dropped, or whatever. It was so bad, I had to remove the Xfinity WiFi password and connection from my phone, so that Project Fi couldn’t try and use it.

In other words, I think the Project Fi software is designed to make it cheapest and easiest for Google, not to provide the best service to customers.

Google Abandoned Project Fi

Like so many other projects before it, once Google launched its shiny new toy, it lost interest. Project Fi now just sits out there without any improvements or upgrades. The company doesn’t even bother advertising it anymore. The reality is that Google never wanted to be a mobile network, it just wanted to force the real mobile companies to offer faster, cheaper data, so that online services with Google would work better.

In some sense, they have succeeded. There are new payment structures from most cell phone providers. If only I needed 4 lines, Verizon has a very good per line rate, but I only need two lines right now, and that makes the cost $65 per month.

While looking around for new plans, I noticed that Xfinity has rolled out a new mobile offering.

Unlike Google, Xfinity’s business is connectivity, so they may not lose interest so quickly, and the price isn’t any higher if I only use 2 lines.

And, it turns out they are going to use the Verizon network that works so much better. The best part is that as an Xfinity customer already, they wave that $20 gotcha access line charge.

In my next post, I’ll lay out all of the price comparisons and see if I’m going with Xfinity, Verzion or AT&T. (Sprint is now forever dead to me.)

 

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