Google Fi Review

If you saw me last week at Gr8Conf US, you may have seen me lugging around a giant new Motorola Nexus 6 with Google Fi.  It's the only phone currently available for the new wireless carrier by Google so I bought into it.

I was super excited for everything Google Fi had to offer. Based on my usage for the last few years, I could have a bill as low as $30/month with Google Fi.  After 10+ years as a Verizon customer including the 1.5 years I spent as a call center customer service rep, I was ready to leave the big wireless carrier prices and irritating policies behind.  I was also excited to see the coolest new features from Android and finally get the chance to play around with Groovy for Android.

After a week, I returned it and canceled the service and here's why.

I started the week carrying two phones, but by the weekend I had switched to using the Fi Phone almost exclusively.  However, I found myself reaching for my old iPhone fairly frequently.  The first reason was coverage. I was having trouble getting messages especially in my house and inside other buildings.  I kinda suspected that's how it would go.  I tried T-Mobile about 5 years ago and it was so bad I couldn't get calls or text messages without leaving the apartment where I was living at the time.  At least with this new phone, I could get messages intermittently.  If it was just that, I probably could have learned to live with it.  However, I was also irritated that it continued to charge me data while I was on WIFI in my house.  I noticed very quickly that I was using about twice as much data as I did before.  This quickly negated the cost savings.

But I also had several problems with the phone.  The most annoying one was that the phone paired with the Bluetooth in my car, but wouldn't play audio from either the speakers or the phone.  I'm terrible with directions and depend heavily on Google Maps to get around Minneapolis.  Having loud, clear directions that cut off the radio at the right time is essential. After spending hours trying to get it to work, I gave up.  Most solutions were to keep power cycling the phone, but that didn't work and isn't feasible for most situations.  I shouldn't have to reboot a phone several times a day just to get it to work.

I had high hopes of a fancy new 13MP camera, but that turned out to be more of a problem.  Although the pictures I took were incredibly sharp, the lighting was off and they just looked terrible!  I didn't realize how bad they were until hours later when I finally got the phone to transfer pictures to my home PC.  And why is the process so painful?  When I first got my iPhone, I thought it was annoying when I plugged it into a computer and my pictures popped up(a setting I have since disabled), but at least that was easy.  For most of the settings, I had to go digging to find the right one. I got my first smartphone two years ago and prior to that I hadn't really used macs either.  I didn't grow up using Apple and expected to be able to change quickly.  I guess I realize now how many features I take for granted in the Apple ecosystem.

I started this blog with how large the phone is.  It's 6 inches across!  Everyone I ran into pulled out their own phones to compare and it's a monster compared to most.  Many people joked it was much closer to a small tablet than a phone.  I saw one blog label it a 'phablet'.  It's not a lie. This phone is huge and I hadn't even had a chance to put a sturdy drop-resistant water-resistant case on it like I normally buy for my phones.

There were also several small annoyances.  For instance, I am used to seeing badge notifications on my iPhone.  They let me know I have email, slack messages, etc, without spamming me with notifications all the time.  I expected a switch to push notifications, but I didn't realize that I was missing push notifications until I checked my iPhone. :( I found out now that there are third party apps to help with that, but like I said, it wasn't just one thing that was a problem.  It also kept waking up from sleep. Like it would be just sitting on a table and wake up and show the clock.  There were no notifications or anything and it was just bizarre.  Lastly, during the couple of phone calls I made, the audio sounded distant -- like a mix between poor reception and speaker phone.  Not sure what's up with that, but hopefully they fix it soon.

Not everything was bad, though.  The battery did get me through the day and most of the evening.  And if I needed to stay out, I had the Google Fi external battery to charge it. That was also huge, but hey, it worked and was included free of charge. The screen was incredibly clear and readable even without my glasses.  It was also fairly lightweight for such a large phone.  And although the phone calls seemed distant, the audio was clear and crisp.  I played pandora radio a few times and the sound quality was very enjoyable.

For many people, Google Fi may be a great option, but I'm sticking with Verizon.  It is time for  a new phone now so maybe I'll try an android, but definitely a different(and smaller) one.