Using Project Fi abroad for 5 months straight

Project Fi is a Google phone service that allows you to use multiple carriers in your area by dynamically picking best carriers.

The catch is it’s designed to work on Google Android Phones and iPhone is not officially supported. However if you do want to make it work with your iPhone read my how to set Project Fi on an iPhone guide. The hardest part of the process is that you have to activate Project Fi SIM card in an Android phone first. I’ve been using Project Fi on an iPhone 7 while traveling the world. Your experience will most likely be better if you are using any of the Google phones.

If you don’t have time to read, then my verdict is still that it’s totally worth it.

Ease of use and Support

After an easy set up (more cumbersome if you are on an iPhone) you can pretty much forget about it. There is no activations or dialing US country codes. You will magically have phone and LTE data service in 135 countries as soon as you land. If you do choose to use a local SIM you can still receive phone calls and text messages on your phone since it’s connected through the internet. Oh and while you are using local SIM you are not billed for your Project Fi data. The overall experience is much better then any cell phone company I’ve used so far. The website is clean and transparent, bills are easy to read and things are easy to figure out. When you call support you get a live agent right away without going through phone menus and wait times.  It’s so great in fact that you will never want to go back a traditional company ever again.

Ease of use and Support: 10/10

If you use a Google Phone you are greeted when you land

Reliability

I wish I could say that using Project Fi overseas on an iPhone has been an experience with no hiccups. The more infrastructure a country has the more likely things will go smoothly. There will be times like in Bali when service would suddenly drop and the only way to get it back was to reboot the phone. I’ve been using it on iPhone 7 which was originally bought through T-Mobile which is known to have poor Intel chipset (more on this here). My fiancé’s iPhone 6 Plus experienced far less issues and I think that’s the main culprit. In some other countries like Singapore (which is known for one of the best cell phone networks in the world) some carriers would simply stop working after a few days. Thankfully you can go to settings and just switch to a different network. In the end I was never in a place with no reception. It’s hard to figure out if the issue is just location, carrier, Project Fi or a phone.

Reliability: 7/10

 

Speed

Overall the service was good and I got decent LTE speed in every one of the 11 countries I visited. It still felt that the speed of the network was about 30% slower compared to using a native SIM. I think this is because the networks give priority to their own subscribers. Speed is good enough to have Skype meetings with screen sharing as well as Facetime Video and Audio calls. You will get a minimum of 200kb/s up and 200 kb/s down in most countries.

Compared to T-Mobile

I used to have T-Mobile just for traveling because of their unlimited global plan. This is much better than T-Mobile global plan where it’s almost unusable (they cap you at 2G speed) for anything other than texting, some email and some slow Google maps.  I don’t think there will ever be a time where you will get the same speed as the local carriers since they will be always prioritized over guests. At the end of the day you will get a usable data connection that you won’t notice any slow downs.

 

Speed in Singapore. Local SIM card will get you better speed. This is not a scientific test here, but I have consistently noticed faster speeds with local SIMs

Speed: 9/10

Cost

Half of the countries I visited had a cheaper local SIM option and sometimes by a lot. It’s great that Project Fi charges you only for what you use. So when you switch to a local SIM your Project Fi bill becomes only $20/month. If you don’t want to get your calls and texts on your old number you can pause it completely. There were still some countries like South Africa where Project Fi was cheaper than using a local SIM. On average the cost for 2 people was about $144 a month depending on how much hotspot and data you are using. If I am not using hotspot I was using about 4GB of data whereas Vanessa used 6GB which ended up being about $170 for both of us (including the $10 Nexus phone fee)

You can see a big spike when I used a hotspot
Average monthly usage with no hotspot

 

You also have to remember that if you are keeping your current service and traveling you will be paying your standard monthly fee plus the cost of the local SIM card that you will buy which start at a minimum of around $15. Overall I feel it’s a little expensive yet fair.

Cost: 8/10

 

Hotspot

Even though hotspot is supported out of the box and works in US it was hit or miss world wide. In most countries hotspot just wouldn’t work on the iPhone (both iPhone7 and iPhone 6 plus). Fortunately this seemed to only apply to iPhones. As soon as I installed my Project Fi SIM back into Nexus 5x hotspot always worked. The hotspot functionality is probably the number one reason why it’s worth it to have Project Fi services. So many times I would be stuck in a place with poor or no WiFi connection and a trusty hotspot would save the day and make a meeting possible.

Want to work on top of a rooftop in Malaysia? No problem with a Project Fi hotspot

 

Final thoughts

If you travel once or twice a year and stay in one place most of the time then you might be better off getting T-Mobile. Sometimes all you need is just Text, Chat and email on the road, since your hotel will most likely have WiFi. You can always get an additional local SIM card for extra money to get that extra speed. If however you travel globally often then it’s a no brainer to get Project Fi even if you are on an iPhone. The set up is a little annoying but once you are done you have a very flexible phone service that travels with you everywhere. It’s just so convenient to not have to buy a SIM card every time you land, sometimes the process and set up can take up to an hour and people won’t be able to reach you on your local number. If you have or willing to use any of the Google phones like Google Pixel then you should switch today no matter how much you travel as dynamic carrier switching works great. If you are on an iPhone expect a harder sign up process some quirks here and there and no dynamic carrier switching in the US. If you travel a lot I believe it’s worth it no matter what device you have.

Overall: 8/10