I’ve been considering switching phone services for a while. Basically, the whole “pay us $200 every 2 years and then get locked into our overpriced service and a mandatory $350 early termination fee if you decide to leave” story got extremely old. Couple that with limited data, crappy customer service, and the end of my contract, and I was ready to make a move.
Now, I’ve been a loyal iPhone user for many years, so I wasn’t sure what my other options were for low-cost carrier services. It looks like Straight Talk is the only non major carrier platform offering the ability to bring your iPhone. But the only plan is $45/mo.
Then I heard about Google’s Project Fi over at Mr. Money Mustache and it caught my eye. A $20 plan with the ability to finance a phone, but without any termination fees? It sounded practically too good to be true, although it would require a switch to an Android phone. But it turns out it’s better than I had hoped!
The basic idea is that Google has built a phone that hops between wireless networks (currently Sprint and T-Mobile) to always be on the one with the best coverage. It also takes advantage of the ability to route your calls onto WiFi (while encrypting them), and finds high quality, free public WiFi networks to automatically connect to (while encrypting your traffic) so you can use the least amount of cell data possible. The base plan is $20/month, with a requirement of buying 1gb of data at $10/month. BUT you get refunded for any data you don’t use, thus lowering your next monthly bill. You can also finance (at 0%) a new Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P, both of which sport the latest version of Android OS (Marshmallow).
I decided to take the plunge and opted for the 5X. It’s only slightly smaller than the iPhone 6 Plus, and fits more comfortably in the hand than the larger phablets. Turns out Google’s Android OS, sans all the bloatware other phone makers/cell providers put on it, is quite intuitive to use, and will be easy to setup for anyone who has used a smart phone in the last 5 years.
It took me about 0.1 seconds to decide that it would be best to avoid cell data unless I was expecting an important email message while not on WiFi. After my first month, I used a whopping 53MB of data, mostly thanks to a handy feature which lets you turn off cell data—and only cell data. You can still get texts and phone calls, but you won’t leak data in the background. And that will mean an approximately $9.47 credit on my next bill. (Total bill for next month: $42.26, including the $17.88 finance charge for my 32gb 5X. Once that’s paid off I can expect my bill to drop to $24.38.)
I’ve been using Google apps for quite some time, from Gmail to their cloud-based office suite, but have always been disappointed at the lack of customer support for any of these services. Of course, I wasn’t paying for any of them so I couldn’t complain much. But it did give me pause before signing up. Would Google give their new phone service the same hands off treatment? It couldn’t have been more opposite.
Smack dab in the middle of the Project Fi app that comes pre-installed in the phone is a beautifully simple support feature, which lets you triage your own problem. Not an emergency? Shoot an email straight from the app to the support team. Need help now? Give them a call, with an estimated wait time provided before you dial. The emails I have gotten back have been within the suggested timeframe, are cogently written, and have fully addressed the simple problems posed. And I didn’t have to wait on a tech support line for 20 minutes.
My only real problem was more of an irritation about the transaction costs of switching to another system of cables. The new suite of Nexus phones use USB type C cables, which will be the universal standard within several years, but basically nothing supports it now. For some reason Google decided to send only a USB-C to USB-C cable with the phone, which means you could only connect it to the charger they provided, and not a computer (unless you happen to have the latest generation of MacBooks) or another charger you happened to have on hand, or at the office. It’s a great standard, is reversible (no more frustrated attempts to get the USB input the right way!), and will be fantastic once all the hardware gets in line. But that didn’t solve my problem. And I wasn’t excited about buying another cable for a phone I had just purchased.
Then I got this in the mail:
I felt like Jack from the Nightmare Before Christmas. What’s this?!
No way! A USB-C to a USB-A cord and a clever puzzle to create a phone holder.
Note that Google decided to send this stuff apparently on a whim, free of charge, and without any feedback from me. Well done. All told, I couldn’t be any happier with the switch, and the long term savings potential is pretty huge.