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Should You Switch to Google Fi on the iPhone?

Mike Epstein Nov 30, 2018. 18 comments

Earlier this week, Google announced that its cellular service provider division “Project Fi” has graduated from beta “project” to full-fledged product Google Fi. The name change is fine, but what’s really interesting and exciting about the whole thing is that, as part of the shift, Google Fi now officially supports the iPhone.

Back when it was “Project Fi”—two days ago—users could take their SIM and put it in an iPhone. You had to change some settings, but it would work. Now that’s it’s Google Fi, though...

You still need to change some settings to get it to work.

Technically, Google Fi support for the iPhone is currently in beta. iPhone users have limited features and, in some cases —you guessed it— you may need to change some settings to achieve full functionality. Still, Google Fi’s unique pricing scheme is very interesting, and you might not want to dismiss the idea of switching just because of the hiccups. So let’s talk about what it would mean to switch to Google Fi as an iPhone user, from the boxes you need to check to the money you may or may not save.

First things first. You need to have a new(ish) iPhone to use Google Fi, as the service is only compatible with models no older than the iPhone 5S or SE, and run iOS 11 or later. Your phone also can’t be carrier locked: If you bought your phone through your current carrier—as opposed to buying it directly from Apple—you may need to ask them to unlock it.

Assuming your iPhone is compatible, iPhone owners using Fi have access to a restricted “beta” version of the service that does not include some of its best selling points. Fi, as an MVNO provider that uses the infrastructure of other service providers, lets some users bounce between multiple carrier networks, including Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular, to get the best service. iPhones on Fi, however, get cell service and data through the T-Mobile network. iPhone users will also not have access to the Fi VPN, which provides additional security. To be fair, these features currently work with only specific phones that are “designed for Fi,” but they are also some of the strongest benefits over a major carrier.

There are also some technical issues that hinder some of the phone’s core features. While using Fi, iPhones cannot make calls over wifi or use the phone’s “visual voicemail” app. Instead, you can call your mailbox to listen to your voicemails and can have transcripts sent to you via text message. While iMessage works fine, iPhone users will need to take extra steps to turn on SMS and MMS text messaging. Lastly, the phone cannot be used as a data hotspot outside of the U.S. None of these features are necessarily huge losses—this is just as good an excuse as any to tell people not to leave you a message —but it’s a longish list of inconveniences that you can avoid elsewhere.

Despite everything, though, there’s still a good reason why you might want to consider Google Fi even if you have an iPhone—the pricing structure. Google Fi charges $20 per month for phone service and texting, plus $10 per GB of data up to a max fee of $60. Put it another way: It’s $80 for calls, text, and unlimited data, but you can get a discount if you’re a low data user. There’s an extra boon if you like to travel: the phone works in 179 countries, and there are no roaming fees.

The service becomes even more cost efficient if you’re part of a family plan. Each additional user or device costs an extra $15/month, and raises the max data price, though by a smaller amount with every user. It’s $155 for 10 GB or more between two users, $170 for 12GB of data or more among three, $205 for 14GB or more among four, etc. Keep in mind that you can always spend less if you’re frugal about how you use data. On the other hand, while Google does have promotions helping subsidize the cost of new phones, these prices are just for the service, no phone included.

Put it all together and it seems like Google Fi is an interesting new option, but it may only appeal for a specific kind of iPhone user. If you’re a globetrotting data hog and/or on a family plan, and don’t mind jumping through a few hoops, it may be worth pursuing. For everyone else... Well, I guess you’ll have to crunch the numbers, look at the issues, and figure out what you think. Or check out the Google Fi app for more information.

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