I am on Project Fi, Google’s cell phone plan offering. It has limitations for me as an iPhone user, so I am thinking about switching to one of the major providers. Some research.
Project Fi has a few really nice properties:
- Free addidional data-only SIMs
- Low base price ($20)
- Flexible data plan ($10/GB but pay only for actual use)
- Free mobile hotspot with no data cap
- The same rates apply abroad
- No long term agreement
But a few not-so-nice properties make me consider switching to something else:
- Spotty coverage where I live
- Works only so-so on iPhone
Google likes Android and sells (nice) Android phones, so it should be no surprise that Project Fi likes Android as well. You need a Google Android phone to activate service, specifically a Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel, Pixel XL, Android One Moto X4, Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P. You also need a Google account to use Fi. After activation, you can use the Fi SIM in other phones as well, including iPhones, with some limitations:
- No automatic network switching, you’re stuck on T-Mobile
- No Wi-Fi calling
- Separate SMS apps needed for texting iPhone and Android / other friends
- Probably no support but haven’t tried
If Fi offered full iPhone support, it would be a no-brainer. I don’t dislike Android, but I do still prefer the iPhone for three reasons:
- The iPhone SE. Why doesn’t anyone else make small yet powerful phones anymore?
- Camera. Fantastic quality and very responsive. I own a Fujifilm XE-1 and some fantastic lenses, but the best camera is the one you have on you. I hear the new Pixel phones have fantastic cameras too, but I am skeptical
- It Just Works. Android still doesn’t quite get it right. The Je ne sais quoi argument.
Pano straight out of the iPhone SE. Full size
But Fi does not fully support the iPhone, so let’s dig into other offerings a little.
AT&T / Verizon
AT&T and Verizon plans are expensive. Verizon wants $75 / month, and AT&T will eat $90 out of your monthly budget. (They have a $60 plan too, but it does not offer mobile hotspot, which I use a lot.) Both offer international day passes at $10. I spend about 20 days a year abroad, so that’s an additional $200. Conclusion: I can expect to pay $1100-$1280 annually, compared to $480 now. A $620-$800 difference annually. Grotesque. (Especially compared to the EU, where there is an actual competitive marketplace, and good-for-most plans including a few GB of data can be had for €15 a month.)
There are also Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs — virtual providers who repackage excess capacity on real providers’ networks into cheaper plans. Some of them are owned by the major providers and simply a clever way to segment and capture more of the market. Going with an MVNO such as Cricket (owned by AT&T and operating on their network), you can get a decent plan for $35/mo. To get tethering however, you need to be on the $45/mo plan or better, and cough up an additional $10/mo, for a total of $55/mo. Doesn’t look so cheap anymore. Moreover, these MVNO plans do get throttled and/or deprioritized — Cricket caps speeds at 8Mbps, for example. The results of deprioritization are less predictable and obviously not advertised.
Conclusion I can probably get better call quality and keep my iPhone, but it would cost me $620-$800 per year more. Or go with an MVNO for a little less and deal with the network deprioritization. I think I will pocket my money, swallow the call quality issues for now, and stay with Project Fi. Once the Pixel 2 becomes available, I will check out the camera and decide if it’s worth the $650 upgrade.