Chris Wiegman Chris Wiegman

Google Fi and Pixel… 5 Months Later

Back in December I wrote about an experiment I was doing where I had started using a Google Pixel 2 XL on Google Fi along with my AT&T iPhone 8+.  Five months later I’m happy to report there was a clear winner in that little contest. In fact, within weeks it became clear to me that it wasn’t really a content at all and that my iPhone really couldn’t hold a candle to my Pixel.

The funny thing about this all is that the original experiment wasn’t to get me to switch from iOS to Android. Frankly, while iPhone had plenty of quirks, it worked really well in my workflow where I consider my phone simply an extension of my laptop when my laptop isn’t handy. I don’t use them together rather when I put one down I want to be able to pick the other one up and just keep going. iPhone did that well. What I was looking for instead was a cell phone service that worked in my neighborhood which is a complete dead zone for AT&T and, at least in talking to friends, most other services. As such going to Android was a side effect of giving Project Fi a try as it seems like it had the best chance of making sure I could connect to anything when I’m not on the wi-fi in my house.

Pixel 2 XL Beat my iPhone 8+ hands down

From service (more on that soon), to integration with my workflow and from apps to reliability I’m much happier with the Pixel 2 than I was with the iPhone 8+. Like I was with the iPhone I’m not a heavy phone user but for the apps I do rely on I’ve found Google does a much better job overall than Apple. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most important app changes I’ve made and how they compare across the two devices.

iMessage vs Hangouts

Let’s start with the weakest link in the chain, Google’s messaging strategy. Over the first three months I had the new phone I actually bounced around between a number of messaging apps looking for the best one for me (a feat in and of itself as on iPhone I never had an option). My main goal was a reliable messaging platform that didn’t require me to use up too much mobile data and would integrate seamlessly with my laptop which is where I do the bulk of my messaging.

Hangouts, though quirky, has turned out to be the best option here. While Google killed text messaging in Hangouts for most users it is still the primary platform for Google Fi users and probably will be until RCS can be integrated into the network. It never misses a message, let’s me send to everyone and even makes it easier for me to tune out on my laptop while working than iMessage did. Everything else I tried would require mobile data to be reliable or would simply miss messages or generally make it tougher for me to contact who I needed to.

Where Hangouts fails in comparison to iMessage is in the interface. It just isn’t intuitive. On the desktop, for example, if I want to start a text conversation with a new person I have to open Google Contacts in another window, copy their phone number and paste it back into Hangouts as there is no way to pick a contact. On mobile adding something as simple as a meme is a ten step exercise in patience as well as the interface was simply never properly thought out for the use case.

One major benefit of Hangouts over iMessage: syncing. I clear out messages rather frequently. On iMessage that meant deleting them individually from each and every device. There’s no such issue with Hangouts. What I do on one device is instantly available everywhere and that has been wonderful.

All in all though, after some trial and error, Hangouts will do everything I need it to even if it is is clunky in some areas

Google Maps vs Apple Maps

With the exception of speed limits on Apple Maps’ driving interface moving to Google Maps has felt like a step up in nearly every way. The information is often more complete, the traffic more accurate (including rerouting around traffic) and the ability to download maps for offline use has been game changing. Yeah, I could have done this with the iPhone but my experience with each has shown me that nearly all app categories had issues when using something other than the default on Apple and this was no exception.

Originally when we I got my Pixel we were running maps on both, particularly where we could save data. After four 500 mile road trips we started to rely only on the Pixel for navigation by March as a combination of more a more reliable app than the iOS version along with offline maps and simply a better data service than what we had on our iPhone had us trusting the Pixel more when we flew back to Texas to SXSW. I miss the speed limit while driving but that isn’t worth giving up all the other benefits that have come to switching to Google Maps where it is a first-class citizen on my device.

Apple Music vs Spotify vs Google Play Music

I must start out by saying that I enjoyed Apple Music but even on iPhone I felt like there was something missing. As such I started trials to, first, Google Play Music and then Spotify even before switching devices. Today, even though we can’t do a family plan on it thanks to our Google Apps accounts, my wife and I are both on Google Music. It’s catalog size, the ability to import your own music and descent discovery made it the right choice for us and how we used to listen to music. After using each for a while I feel like Google’s solution is the perfect middle of the road system in between Apple where discovery and playlists were pretty bad leaving a focus on albums already in your library or added to your library and Spotify which is great if you always want playlists but harder to use if you switch to full albums or your own music a lot.

Pocket Casts vs Apple Podcasts

While Google offers a podcast solution in Google Play Music let’s just say it leaves a lot to be desired. As someone who listens to podcasts more from my laptop than my mobile I needed to find a replacement for Apple Podcasts that would fit my workflow and Pocket Casts does it effortlessly. In fact, when I was using iTunes for podcasts I had to create a weekly todo task to go in and sync podcasts between devices as Apple’s syncing was absolutely horrible. With Pocket Casts everything syncs perfectly and with plenty of control and options to listen just how I want to. Between Pocket Casts and Google Music we even went as far as dropping two old Apple routers we were using as Airplay devices on our speakers and bought two Chromecast Audio devices instead which, along with a standard Chromecast on our bedroom TV, allow us cheap and easy access to any of the speakers in our house. Lately it seems like we’re listening to a lot more music because of it all and I think that’s a good thing.

The best of the rest

As for the rest of the apps, tools are tools. Whether with Chrome vs Safari (I miss Safari reading list but love Chrome’s notifications on Android) or Apple Notes vs Google Keep each has its own strengths and weaknesses but none of them have been issues for me as it’s taken no more than a few minutes with any given app change to feel right at home in the new system. Even data transfer went flawlessly within a few hours as I moved over about 140 GB of data from Apple to Google services. Changing apps is something that has become part of modern life thanks to all the alternatives out there to everything as such with nearly all the apps I use it wasn’t the first change and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Google Fi vs AT&T

As I mentioned early the real reason for my initial switch was my mobile service provider. I had been on AT&T for about 3 years and although it really did work well most places in my own neighborhood, where I spend more than 90% of my time, it was nearly a complete dead zone. Even having a phone conversation was nearly impossible if I was walking around the block as the service was too spotty to keep it going.

Google Fi has been amazing. So far with it I’ve been to four states and pretty much every corner of Florida without it missing beat. When family on Sprint were having issue in St. Augustine I simply jumped to T-Mobile’s network and kept right on going. While it’s true that none of the three networks Fi uses domestically are as complete as Verizon or AT&T, together they easily make for a complete and reliable solution that, at least so far, has yet to fail me. 

As an added bonus, Google Fi is, on average, less than half of what we were paying on AT&T. We were paying about $45/phone/month for 15GB of data split four ways on AT&T. In the three years I had been on it the most I had ever used (I was easily the heaviest data user) in a single month was 3GB. With Fi my line is $20/month with $10/GB for data up to 6GB at which point any more data used is free. This means if I went all out on Fi and used, say,  10GB the most my bill would ever be is $80 for the month. I had never gotten close to that much data on AT&T and so far on Google Fi the most I’ve used in a month is 300MB for a total bill of $23. This month I haven’t used any data at all thanks to the fact that everywhere we go near home we have wi-fi and, even if I travel somewhere where I really need data it would take quite a few months of heavy data usage to approach the bill I had with AT&T.

Some Final Thoughts

While no technology is perfect I can truthfully say I’ve been happier with Google Fi that I really thought I would be. I’ve been so happy with it, in fact, that my wife joined me on the plan at the end of March and last month we sold both of our iPhones leaving us solely on Google Fi for now. It simply works well with how we both work, saves us money and gives us the piece of mind of multiple networks when at home in the US as well as the ability to go to nearly any other country without any extra charge. What more could we really ask for?

If you’re thinking of giving Google Fi a try use my referral code and we’ll each get a free month of basic service. Unless you’re a very heavy data user you won’t be disappointed.