Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T may get the most attention of the U.S.’s smartphone carriers, but they aren’t the only game in town. In 2015, Google launched Project Fi, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) compatible with Nexus and Pixel smartphones (plus the Motorola Moto X4). Just like the incumbents with which it competes, Project Fi offers data, voice, and texting service for a flat rate, and boasts a robust network that reaches most of the contiguous U.S. But that’s where the similarities end.
Project Fi is one of the few wireless carriers in the U.S. to refund you for the data you don’t use, meaning that if you churn through 3.5GB data in one month on a 4GB plan, you are credited the remaining 0.5GB. Fi’s network relies on a combination of U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile, and Sprint’s network for coverage, and compatible phones switch between the three depending on network congestion and signal strength.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. Project Fi is, as the name implies, an ongoing experiment, and it’s constantly being improved with new benefits and features. Here’s everything you need to know about Project Fi, including plan pricing, phones compatible with Project Fi, and more.
A project no more — a name change to ‘Google Fi’ may be coming soon
Google’s penchant for renaming things after itself may be about to strike again. Like Android Pay and Android Wear before it, Project Fi may be brought directly under Google’s branding with a name change to “Google Fi”.
Nothing has been confirmed by Google yet, but a Reddit user by the name of u/moonlightclergy was sent a pamphlet with their new Pixel that included instructions on how to set up Google Fi. There appear to be two pamphlets — one for Project Fi and another for Google Fi — so it’s likely the newer version was sent out by mistake. There’s a brand new logo to go with the new name, and it looks a great deal more “Google” than the older Project Fi logo.
Could it be that the adoption of a more recognizable brand name means Google is ready to expand the Fi service to other areas? Perhaps — but it’s just as likely Google is branding Project Fi a success, and incorporating it into its branding empire.
Project Fi for the fam
Family plans are no longer relegated to the major phone service providers. Now, Project Fi offers the same packaged deal. Beginning on June 5, you can add children under 13 to your Project Fi group plan “using a Google Account managed with Family Link,” Google announced. Once you have added your kid to your group plan, you can access all the features Project Fi already offers, including data alerts, seamless switching between networks, and automatic connection to free Wi-Fi hotspots.
Project Fi also offers parents the option of managing their kids’ data usage, and with the free companion Family Link app, you can manage the content that your children are seeing — at least insofar as their apps are concerned. You can also limit screen time, or lock your children’s phones when it’s bed, homework, or mealtime. Parents can also set filters in Chrome, search, and other Google services.
Setting up a Project Fi account for your family members seems to be pretty straightforward — you need to create an account on Family Link, add your child to your existing Project Fi group plan, then pick a Fi-friendly phone, which are outlined below.
Project Fi phones and tablets
Carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile offer a broad swath of smartphones and tablets from which to choose, but Project Fi is a bit different. Because its network-switching technology requires special software and wireless radios, not every phone qualifies as “fully compatible.”
We haven’t seen very many flagship phones hit Project Fi, outside of Google’s own Pixel range, but that’s about to change with the LG V35 ThinQ. LG’s latest flagship smartphone will be the first phone on Project Fi that comes with the raw power of the latest Snapdragon 845 processor, and it also features A.I.-smarts, a wide-angle camera, and a massive 6-inch OLED display. Project Fi subscribers will be able to pre-order the V35 ThinQ on June 1 for $900.
The V35 isn’t the only phone coming to Project Fi, though. LG’s other current flagship, the G7 ThinQ, is also joining the party for $750 — it too has a Snapdragon 845 processor. There’s also the Motorola Moto G6 budget phone, which retails for $250, but Fi customers can nab it for $200. The Moto G6 is available for pre-order on the Project Fi website, and the LG G7 ThinQ will also be available in June. If you’re ordering the G7 or the V35, you’ll get $50 in Fi service credits as a bonus.
Here’s a full list of phones compatible with Project Fi:
Project Fi phones also take advantage of Wi-Fi Assistant, a background service that automatically connects to “more than a million” public hotspots. It’s a seamless transition between the networks — calls aren’t interrupted when the phone switches from cellular to Wi-Fi — and the connection is secured through a virtual private network that routes traffic through Google’s servers.
Fi works with more than just smartphones, but it’s not quite the same experience. A data-only SIM that lacks calling and texting features works on select iPad models and Android tablets, but only a handful of Project Fi users can add up to nine data-only SIMs to a single plan.
Here is a full list of tablets and iPads compatible with Project Fi:
Project Fi customers aren’t necessarily restricted to Google’s list of compatible devices. The SIMs work with all devices that (1) are unlocked, (2) have a GSM radio, and (3) work with T-Mobile, but there’s a caveat. Non-compatible phones can’t tap Sprint or U.S. Cellular’s network for coverage, and data-only SIMs can’t route calls and texts across the cellular network.
Project Fi plans
|People||Line cost||4G LTE data||Total|
|2||$20 + $15||$20 w/2GB
|3||$20 + $15 x 2||$20 w/2GB
|4||$20 + $15 x 3||$20 w/2GB
|5||$20 + $15 x 4||$20 w/2GB
In terms of pure, plain-and-simple pricing, Project Fi definitely isn’t the cheapest prepaid plan on the block. Republic Wireless, for example, offers talk, text, and up to 5GB of 4G LTE data for $40 per month — $30 per month cheaper than the equivalent Fi plan. Cricket Wireless’s $55 plan has unlimited talk, text, and data. FreedomPop’s 4GB tier starts at $35 per month.
But while Project Fi’s plan isn’t the cheapest, it comes with a lot of perks. Pricing starts at a flat $20 per month for unlimited calls and texting and $10 for 1GB of data, but money for unused data is credited back to the user’s account. Overages result in a charge of $10 per GB used. Fi also doesn’t levy a fee on mobile hotspots — data used while tethering is deducted from a Fi user’s monthly allotment.
Another perk is the newly announced “Bill Protection,” which basically gives you unlimited data for $80 (if you only have one line). That’s because Google will no longer charge for more than 6GB of data — so if you use 10GB, you will still only be paying for 6GB. The caveat is that Google says users might experience slower speeds after 15GB of data. Bill Protection kicks in at different levels for group plans — and you can see where here.
Fi’s Group Plans let users add other people to their subscription for an additional $15 per user per month. Group Plans let plan managers view data usage by each member, set data notifications, add monthly allowances, and pause members’ data usage. A more recent feature, Group Repay, automatically calculates each of the members’ individual shares of the monthly bill and allows payments in (1) fixed amounts based on an individual’s total usage, or (2) only for data usage above the standard allotment.
Fi subscribers can use 4G LTE data in more than 135 countries around the world, including Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey, and more (see Project Fi’s support page for the full list of supported carriers and countries). International data costs the same rate as Project Fi data in the U.S. — and text messaging is free. Calls start at 20 cents per minute.
- Project Fi can be a good option for those that don’t use a lot of data but still want the option to use a lot down the line. If you consistently use more than 6GB of data, then T-Mobile’s One data plan might be better for you — it’ll save you $10 per month, and won’t throttle you until you hit 50GB of data.
- Project Fi may technically support phones that work on T-Mobile, but at the cost of U.S. Cellular and Sprint coverage. You’re better off sticking to a handset from Google’s approved list.
The perks of Project Fi:
- Strong service in rural areas.
- Savings for light data users.
- High-speed international data at no extra charge.
- Tethering at no extra charge.
- Bill Protection caps your bill at $60.
The downsides of Project Fi:
- A small number of supported tablets and smartphones.
- Pricier plans than T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon, and some MVNOs, depending on the data allotment.
Phone payment plans and trade-in program
Project Fi-compatible phones tend to be expensive, but there’s an alternative: A trade-in program, which can gain you up to $440 in credit on Google’s store. The Google Store’s Terms and Conditions page lays out the rules for trade-ins.
An alternative is Project Fi’s monthly device installment plans. Payments are over a 24-month period, but you can pay off the remainder of your balance at any time.
|Device||Off-contract price||Pay over 24 months|
|Pixel 2 — 64GB||$650||$27.04/month for 24 months|
|Pixel 2 — 128GB||$750||$31.21/month for 24 months|
|Pixel 2 XL — 64GB||$850||$35.38/month for 24 months|
|Pixel 2 XL — 128GB||$950||$39.54/month for 24 months|
|Moto X4 — 32GB||$250||$10.38/month for 24 months|
Updated on November 2, 2018: Project Fi could be renamed to Google Fi soon.