If you're a frequent flyer who's been looking for a phone upgrade, Google's newly expanded Fi mobile service may be worth a look, with new discounts and support added for many Android phones -- and iPhones.
In 2015, Google launched Project Fi, a sort of virtual mobile network where a user could seamlessly bounce among cell towers run by T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. Instead of paying the tower owners for access (or dealing with them directly in any way), the user paid and dealt with Google for Project Fi. If you didn't use very much data, then Fi's basic $20 for a phone line and $10 per gigabyte of data could also be very economical.
In short, Project Fi could be pretty inexpensive, and its ability to work across multiple mobile carriers theoretically gave it superior coverage.
There was just one problem: Fi was compatible only with a very small selection of phones, because they needed a special radio that could communicate with T-Mobile's GSM-based network and Sprint's CDMA-based network, which are ordinarily incompatible. And none of these were made by Apple, so Google automatically lost out on a potentially huge market sector.
However, Google has just announced that Project Fi is finally branching out to iPhones, as well as Android phones that don't have the fancy radio. As another indicator of its continuing commitment to the service, it's now known as Google Fi. (Anecdotally, we've regularly seen it referred to as "Google Fi" anyway, which is arguably stronger branding.)
You can check on the Fi website to see if your phone now works with Google's service. Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG, Essential, Nokia, OnePlus, and Xiaomi are all represented. The OnePlus 6T is not on the compatibility list yet, but new phones can take time to certify. Owners of the Oneplus 3 through 6 are all on Google's list.
In the past, you could technically get an iPhone to work with Google Fi, but the device had to use a Fi SIM card that had already been activated in a compatible Android phone. Now Apple fans don't need to jump through any unusual hoops, and they even get their own iOS app. (Fi has always had a solid website and Android app for customers to manage their accounts and shop for devices, but feature parity is important for Apple's discerning clientele.)
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Note that Google characterizes its support for iPhones as being in a beta state, so if you're not desperate to switch carriers, you may want to give that one some more time in the proverbial oven.
Also, the additional phones that Google Fi now supports do not have the special LTE radio found in the company's Pixel line. So if your phone uses CDMA, you'll only be able to connect to the Sprint and U.S. Cellular portions of Fi. If you have a GSM phone, you'll only connect to the T-Mobile portion. You also won't get the free 24/7 VPN.
Google is celebrating this new era for Fi with some pretty interesting discounts, too: "For any phone you purchase, you'll receive the same value back in your choice of travel gift cards, which you can spend on flights with Delta and Southwest or lodging with Airbnb and hotels.com. Alternatively, if you'd rather set up Google Fi on your current phone, you'll earn $200 of Fi service credit when you sign up today."
So if you buy a $1,000 Pixel 3 XL on the Google Fi website, that literally means $1,000 in travel gift cards -- just in time for the holidays. (Update 11/29: The travel gift card offer was set to last for 24 hours and has now expired, but you can still get the service credits.)
This is no random offer, either; Google has done extensive work recently on integrating travel plans into its search experience. Google Fi is also known for inexpensive and seamless roaming when you travel outside the United States.
Google Maps is also constantly getting updated with new discovery features that may be beneficial for tourists and other vacationers looking for good restaurants and points of interest. And Google Maps works in Apple CarPlay with the arrival of iOS 12.
- Project Fi, Google's mobile network service that combines coverage from T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular in an economical package, is now known as Google Fi, and device support now extends to Samsung, OnePlus, and even the iPhone.
- Note that iPhone support is currently in beta.
- The Google Fi store is also offering a deal where any phone you purchase there comes with an equal value of travel gift cards. If you bring your own phone, then you get a $200 statement credit.
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