When Google announced Google Fi, their attempt at being a cellular carrier, I was cautiously interested. While I don’t enjoy the idea of Google enjoying even more control and access about what I do online, I also want to encourage any innovation and competition in the cellular carrier space.
I’m also painfully, horribly frustrated as anyone with Verizon and AT&T so I jumped right on.
Google Fi currently only works with one cellphone, in two colors. At the time of writing, the white option was on backorder, so I got a blue one.
About a week after signing up and ordering, I got my package in the mail. This is where Google did something extremely nice: a fantastic new user experience in visual design and thoughtfulness.
You receive two packages, the Fi welcome package and your new Nexus 6.
The Fi package is exquisite. Really quite nice.
It made me feel welcome. It’s friendly, enforces the Fi brand and then just lets you go on your way. No bullshit.
The Nexus 6 packaging is nice, but not remarkable. It’s impossible to open without a knife of some sort (grumble).
The phone itself came with the screen protector not quite aligned correctly on the phone, and was covered in some dust and other particulate matter. A bit disappointing.
Alas, the Nexus 6 does not come pre-signed in to your Google account when you receive it. I feel like this would truly be a magical experience, but for several reasons (presumably, issues with technology, fulfillment process and security) this doesn’t happen.
The Nexus 6 has a beautiful setup assistant, though – much nicer than iOS’ cold, dead white first run experience. In one extra screen, you set up Fi and port your number, after which you can start using your phone immediately. While the number ports, the phone works over wi-fi.
Coverage was good in and around San Francisco, being about 70% as good as my iPhone 6 on Verizon. It had a few areas where data simply didn’t work, and ‘deep-indoor’ coverage (read: several units deep into an old, big apartment building) was poor like my T-Mobile coverage was when I first moved to San Francisco a few years ago.
Fortunately, you can simply call and text over Wifi. This does eat into your data plan, for some reason.
Speaking of T-Mobile, if you are in the market, another option that is currently on the market is T-Mobile’s prepaid plans, which while not being as easy to use, do feature unlimited 4G data (with a tethering data cap), the same rate for data abroad. Of course, you can use any phone with T-Mobile.
T-Mobile has a few other benefits Google Fi does not currently have:
– Data never ‘runs out': the GBs you pay for are only for 4G LTE, after that your speeds simply drop. I haven’t tested this with Fi, but I think you just start paying more if you cross the GB cap.
– Data used streaming most major music services does not count towards your data use
– Data unused in one billing period rolls over to the next (‘Data Stash’)
– T-Mobile gives customers a discount on phones after 12 months of timely payments
Google Fi naturally has more coverage as it uses both the Sprint and T-Mobile network.
And the phone? Ah, the phone.
This isn’t a Nexus 6 review, so I won’t go into the phone and its OS too deeply, but in a few words: the Nexus 6 is a garish shade of blue, has a beautiful screen, works quite nicely and is simply way too goddamn big.
No, seriously, this thing will make your larger iPhone feel like a nano-phone. I find it less than usable. Maybe in the future, I will get to try Google Fi with a somewhat smaller phone, and I can give it a better and final verdict.
In the mean time, it works pretty well for doing a sort of tribute to a Rolling Stones album cover, though.
(above photo credit: Michael Grinich)