Update: Goole has added U.S. Cellular as another Project Fi Wi-Fi carrier
Project Fi is Google’s new cellular service that accesses both Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks along with WiFi to connect your calls through whatever signal works best as the time. It currently works only with Google Nexus phones but will roll out to other compatible Android phones over time.
Easy to configure and fairly priced
I plugged the SIM card into the new Nexus 5x and logged into the Project Fi activation site to give it my name, email address, physical address and credit card number and to pick a plan which starts at $20 a month for unlimited calls and texts and goes up from there at the rate of $10 per additional gigabyte of data. If you exceed whatever data plan you’re on, they just charge you for what you use with no penalties. And if you don’t use all the data you pay for, they’ll credit you for what you didn’t use. In other words, no matter how you slice it, you only pay for what you use.
Great international roaming rates
The service is also quite reasonable if you use your phone out of the country. You get the same data rates in 120 countries (only at 3G instead of LTE) and voice calls from most of those countries are at 20 cents per minute, which is the same as T-Mobile’s international roaming plan.
I tested the service by placing a call from the Nexus 5x to my personal cell phone from inside my home where the 5X was connected to our WiFi network. The sound quality was great, as you’d expect in a strong WiFi network. I then walked out my front door and around the block — far enough to be sure that I was no longer connected to my home network and the call seamlessly switched over the cellular network. There was no indication whether I was on Sprint or T-Mobile but I’m pretty sure it was Sprint because my immediate neighborhood is pretty much a T-Mobile dead spot. I then got in the car and drove around, using the phone’s speaker to carry on a conversation and it worked as expected. For the most part, the call quality was good and I didn’t experience any dropped calls, though there were weak spots. As with all cellular services, your results will depend on coverage where you are. Because it uses both T-Mobile and Sprint you have a better chance of a decent signal than either of those companies could provide on their own.
Tempted to switch, but …
Based on all of this I am extremely tempted to switch over to Project Fi for personal use except for one problem. I’m a Google Voice user and rely on the service to ring not just my main cell phone but my home phone, my office phone, a second cell phone and to accept incoming calls on my computer through Gmail or Google hangouts. I also use Google Voice to send and receive texts not just from a phone but from the web as well.
But here’s the problem. When you sign up for Project Fi under your Google account, you are asked to either make Google Voice your Project Fi number or select a new number. If you make Google Voice your Project Fi number, you lose the ability to use Google Voice with other phones and if you elect to get a new number for Project Fi, they say they will take away your Google Voice number and you won’t be able to get it back. So, since I wanted to keep my Google Voice account as it was, I had to sign-up for Project Fi under an alternate Gmail account — one that I don’t regularly use and I don’t have associated with a Google Voice number.
And, because my new Project Fi number is, technically, another Google Voice number, I can’t forward my real Google Voice to Project Fi or use my Google Voice number to make outgoing calls from my phone, which means that people I call won’t see my Google Voice number in their caller ID. Here is what Google has to say about Project Fi and Google Voice.
But you can forward
You can forward your Project Fi number to up to four additional numbers, which somewhat mitigates this issue. Still, Google Voice users need to be very careful when signing up for Project Fi to make sure they don’t loose their Google Voice number or to make sure they really want to port Google Voice over to Project Fi. I would have preferred Google allow users to simply add their Project Fi number to their Google Voice account as an option — at least during this transitional period.