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Google Fi Phone Service: A Traveler’s Review

We all know cell phone plans are way too expensive. If you live in the USA and plan to travel internationally you know that this can cost you a ton of money even as we finish out this decade. I wanted to try to find something that would work both at home in the USA and abroad.

Google Fi (formerly Project Fi) promised to change all of that with its fancy new phone service that actually charges you based on what you use. Here I compare Verizon Wireless with Google Fi for regular everyday use in the USA.

This post was not sponsored in any way, and contains the honest opinions of Aimee a travel blogger for One Chance Travel.


What is Google Fi?

Essentially, Google Fi is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). That’s just a fancy way of saying that Google Fi’s cell service doesn’t use its own cell towers. Instead, it plugs you into T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular’s networks across the USA to provide its service.

Below I will go through some elements of Google Fi including my experience using it for two months, mostly in Southern California, USA.

The whole idea is that Google Fi adapts to what you actually need – so you only pay for the data you use every month, which means your monthly bill will always be different. Read on for more on that.


My Existing Phone Plan

I’ve always had Verizon Wireless‘s service and have been happy with it. Until I started traveling internationally. They charge you $5-$10 a day for their TravelPass service (depending on the country) to use your existing phone plan, which is like $70+ a month as it is.

$10 a day x a 7 day trip = $70 just to be able to text your friends at home. To make matters worse, your data is throttled – if it works at all. While in Mexico City my data barely worked despite paying the $5/day TravelPass upgrade.

Conclusion: Verizon is great (in the USA) if you don’t travel internationally or don’t need phone/text/data when you travel.


Google Fi Plan Options

Check out their plans based on how many people will be needing their service. For this purpose, I used 1 person since it was just me switching. Currently, they’re offering unlimited calls/texts/data for $70/month which is the same as Verizon’s lowest unlimited plan.

Alternatively, you can pay for what you use. You pay $20/month plus $10/GB for domestic data. For international data you pay $10/GB and texts are free. The cool thing about this is that after 6 GB your data is free – so your bill won’t be more than $80. That’s 6 GB x $10 = $60 for data + $20 base fee for phone service.

Taxes and government fees get tacked onto all these prices, of course.

Verizon vs. Google Fi Prices/Plans

You can see Verizon’s current plans here, but their basic unlimited packages are essentially the same for 1 person. Verizon’s unlimited runs from $70-$90 per month for a 1-device plan.

Conclusion: Plans and prices are comparable, but Fi offers more flexibility with data usage if your data needs change throughout the year.


What Phones Work with Google Fi?

Bringing Your Existing Phone

While I’m currently rocking an iPhone X, Google Fi is compatible with many phones. It only recently started supporting iPhones but has a few quirks, for example, visual voicemail is not available on the default voicemail iPhone app – you need to download the Google Fi app to access it. I found this to be no big deal.

Also, there are a few settings that needed to be tweaked upon switching over but it was easy and the Google instructions were quite clear. I did not want to buy a new phone since I had recently paid off my iPhone X, and I’m happy I didn’t get a new phone.

Pixel 4

Getting A New Phone

If you want to get a new phone, Google has a variety of their phones available such as Pixel 4 and offers some special deals like $100 off with activation.

See all the Google Fi-compatible phones here


Installation/Setup

To set it up, I ordered a (free) Google Fi SIM card online. It came within 2 days but I didn’t set it up for about a week. Setup was relatively painless – I switched my Verizon SIM card to the Google Fi SIM card and it started working within 30 minutes.

You can also buy these SIM card kits at Best Buy for $10.

Oh, and I’ll save you some time. I waited on the phone for Verizon for AN HOUR only to find out I didn’t actually need to cancel my Verizon service because it was canceled automatically the second I switched over to Google Fi.


How’s the Customer Service?

Verizon

As mentioned above, Verizon is known for its poor customer service and long wait times. They will tell you one thing then you get another person and they’ll tell you a whole other story. So overall, their customer service is not impressive.

Google Fi

There are several Google Fi options for customer service which, in my experience, were more accessible and faster. As I write this at 8 PM on a weekday I can get a call from a specialist in 2 minutes. Verizon’s wait time right now is 35 minutes.

They both offer chat options, but Verizon does not offer an email option. I like the flexibility of these options because let’s face it – most people are doing this at work.

Conclusion: Google Fi wins for having better customer service.


Cell Phone Reception for Calls

Verizon

I’ve always been impressed by Verizon’s great cell phone reception no matter where I go in the country, even performing well in busy areas like amusement parks and concerts. This is the reason I’ve kept Verizon this long.

Google Fi

This is where Google Fi failed me. I talk on the phone often for work, and I noticed immediately that even on my home wi-fi people on the other end were having trouble hearing me. I called my boyfriend from an airport and the cell reception was absolute trash – he couldn’t hear me at all.

Conclusion: Verizon is the clear winner here.

Cell Phone Reception for Texts/Data

Verizon

About the same as their phone reception.

Google Fi

Better than their phone reception, but still just okay. Didn’t work that well in populated areas like concerts. It seems to struggle to load apps more than when on Verizon. Note that Google throttles your connection after you’ve used 15 GB of data.

Conclusion: Verizon for the win.

Overall Conclusions

Verizon is an overall better phone provider, although their customer service sucks. Google Fi allows you to be flexible while you travel internationally but also with how much data you use.

You really need to ask yourself – what matters to me more? Text and data or phone calls? If you never use the phone call part, need international texts, and don’t mind some slow data times, go with Google Fi. If you need to be able to talk on the phone for more than a few minutes, go with Verizon.

After two months with Google Fi, I switched back to Verizon and haven’t looked back.

I may end up using Google Fi while traveling internationally, but switching back and forth between that and Verizon’s service was not the easiest thing in the world so I’m not sure yet. At this point, I would be hesitant to recommend Google Fi to anyone.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    milesgeek
    April 24, 2020 at 10:03 am

    I think Google Fi is much better suited for International travel vs the US with all the unlimited plans out there through MVNO’s these days.

    • Reply
      Aimee
      April 24, 2020 at 10:04 am

      I totally agree! I got it because I was planning a long trip to Mexico but that didn’t end up happening.

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