Saturday, August 1, 2015

A month in with Project Fi

Earlier this year in April I received an invite to join Project Fi, a new wireless service from Google. I had been using T-mobile for at least few years and had no problems with their service, however after reading an enticing list of features promised by Fi I accepted the invite. Those features include:

  • $20 per month unlimited talk and text
  • $10 per month per GB of data. Any unused data is refunded the following billing cycle
  • Connects to multiple cellular networks: automatically switches to the fastest network
  • Tight integration with Hangouts- make & receive calls, text and voicemail for your number through hangouts on all platforms
  • Lower cost international calls, free calling the US using the hangouts dialer (VOIP)

The updated invite to start service came in June. What I wasn't expecting at this time was that the product page noted that the only compatible device on the market was the Nexus 6. This was discouraging because I already had a sweet phone, my Nexus 5, and I didn't want to pay $650 for a new device just to switch carriers. I was also kinda put off by the Nexus 6 device due to it's dimensions: this is probably the largest phone on the market and with the case, it dwarfs any other phone I've physically compared it to. However, I decided to bite the bullet and jump on the phablet hype. I also calculated in my head the total cost of ownership of the device and realized that I'd probably end up saving quite a bit on the service after the phone was paid off: those months that I'm primarily on WiFi (winter especially) I'll probably see a pretty decent refund on my data bill using this new service.

Nexus 6: After my first month with Fi I'm feeling a bit better about switching phones and services. My worst fear, that the Nexus 6 would be too clunky for day to day use, was not really an issue. It took a couple weeks to adjust but now I don't notice. What helped me is that my hands are larger than average so I'm able to use the device one handed, but someone with small hands would probably be concerned that it could be bumped out of their grasp in a crowded area. The device software itself wasn't much different from my Nexus 5, only larger. Same operating system version and all my apps transferred over. I later decided to change the DPI setting to 360. This forces the device to think it is a tablet, so it presents the apps in tablet mode as well as the operating system. For me this was nice because I hated the giant icons on a giant screen and I am able to use the device in landscape for all apps, even the lock and operating system menu's (as shown below).

Service: As far as service goes I felt that it worked very well, even outside of the NYC area.  When I would go upstate for the weekend and for a trip deep in the woods of Pennsylvania it wasn't so bad, probably no worse than other local providers but still gave me 4G in small pockets that I thought it didn't exist. I think my initial impression was that it took slightly longer to negotiate which network it would use- even in areas completely blanked by 4G (when exiting a subway in brooklyn) it first switched to 3G. I only really noticed this glitch when I first started the service and haven't really noticed anything since- it may have been a glitch.

Integration: I think my favorite aspect of Fi so far is integration with hangouts. Now I can receive phone calls and text messages directly in hangouts- which is super convenient since I now never have to take out my phone to see any communication. Even if my phone is in another room I can answer my phone and view and respond to texts through any other device that I'm signed in to gmail. I've since set my phone to priority calls only- which means it won't ring unless it is from a number on my contact list. Before having Fi I had this disabled because I would then have to check my voicemail to see if any of those calls were actually important, instead I would just answer them all. With Fi I can see a text transcript of the voicemail or play back without having to dial the voicemail service. The integration with hangouts is great, however there were some confusing aspects: I was expecting a phone call and my computer started to ring, but my phone didn't. I really wanted to take it from the handset instead of a speakerphone but the handset wasn't ringing. When I got on the line I mentioned to the other party that my phone must be going through Voice Over IP (VOIP), so their may be a delay on the call- to which he responded the same, that he calling me using a VOIP service.  If an incoming call is VOIP it doesn't ring the handset if it knows I'm on a computer? This wasn't the first time that the service seems to try to guess which device I would like to have ring and either rings the wrong device or rings all of the devices: my computer in my office, my cell phone, my tablet- all ringing with different ring tones for the same voice call.

Billing: Of course all these integration niceties were great but they didn't make Fi stand out from the competition. There are other 1st and 3rd party apps
and services that provide most, if not all of the functionality that Fi provides. It wasn't until I received my first bill that I was genuinely impressed with the service. I was unsure how the refund would be reflected on my bill or if the savings would be significant savings in normal day-to-day use. On my first bill they refunded for the data I had not used, which for this billing cycle was $18.74. What made the billing even nicer was how it was presented. I didn't have to go to some cluttered website trying to sell me a phone to see or pay my bill. There was no up-sell to any other offers or services that I'd have to run into. And unlike T-Mobile, I'm not receiving any text messages throughout the month reminding me to consider their new products and services. The simplicity of the service and app have made the service stand so much that I feel this is the biggest sale point of their service. Simplicity is tremendous value.

Conclusion: Overall I'm quite happy with the new service and the Nexus 6. I highly recommend this service because overall it provides a better value than any other service provider. The only reason I wouldn't recommend it for everyone is because of the phone size and cost. If new, smaller devices compatible with Fi are released (New Nexus 5) I can see this service being disruptive for the carrier market.

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