I've previously said Google's Project Fi was the best international phone plan. Recent experiences have me withdrawing that endorsement.
Article word count: 1424
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18886804
Posted by hispanic
(karma: 509)Post stats: Points: 219 - Comments: 129 - 2019-01-11T20:47:20Z
I’ve been fiercely evangelical about Project Fi since Google launched their cell phone service a few years ago. The plans have saved me a ton compared to a legacy mobile carrier, the un-throttled international coverage has been life-changing, and I adored the functionality and photo quality of my Pixel 2.
And because I’ve been so enthusiastic about the service, I think it’s important to update y’all about some recent experiences and research, along with why I am withdrawing my endorsement.
Like, 10/10 would not recommend. At all.
From a support perspective, Google Fi was not ready to expand
Project Fi recently rebranded to Google Fi, as part of an expansion that opened the platform to a few dozen more devices, including iPhones.
And I’m not sure all the components of that rapid growth were thought through.
My Pixel 3 is a little defective (or possibly a lemon). There are issues with calls dropping in locations where the Pixel 2 never had issues, the screen isn’t consistently responsive to touch feedback, the fingerprint reader is intermittent, and so forth. It happens, and I don’t feel like this is a failure of Fi — manufacturing just isn’t perfect.
Previously, whenever I had issues with my Pixel 2 or prior Fi-enabled devices, the third-party support center was phenomenal. I’ve had them help me with hardware issues, system issues, a phone that just wouldn’t connect to WiFi, or tethering that didn’t work when it was supposed to — every interaction was great, and resulted in the problem being solved.
Since November, this has not been the case. My calls and chats to support have gone nowhere, and the once-great support staff have been replaced (or supplemented) by random people using generic scripts. I’m sure the awesome trouble-shooters are still there, but the sampling I’ve seen doesn’t suggest pervasive competency.
I’m sure everything will eventually get resolved, and I have a lot of redundancy built in to my tech needs, but it’s super frustrating to have a brand-new phone not work as well as the device its replacing, and for tech support to be unhelpful about the whole thing.
Google Fi doesn’t function independently
I didn’t know this previously, because honestly — we all have better things to care about than the backend of a merchant’s payment processing systems. My Project Fi payments earned 5x points on my Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card, and that was about the extent of my interest level.
Turns out, anything run by Google that takes money goes through Google Payments at some point, which is fine when things are fine, but horrible when they’re not.
If Google Payments is broken, your entire Google ecosystem is broken
My husband has been dealing with this for the past five weeks, and it’s basically a tire fire.
He made a purchase through the Google Store (for a Pixel 3 during the travel promotion, but it could just as easily have been an in-app purchase, or premium content on YouTube, or literally anything where Google collects the money). There were some issues with the payment (Chase declined the initial transaction as suspicious due to some other fraud I’d had on the card that same day, but Google still shipped the phone instead of flagging the payment, and obviously that’s not how the exchange of money for goods is supposed to work), and the process of getting that figured out triggered a “security check” with Google Payments.
It’s important to note, however, that the exact circumstances don’t really matter.
From what I’ve since learned, if a card in your Google Pay is stolen, or someone uses your Payments account fraudulently, or anything happens that leads to a security flag being raised, it can lead to your Google Payments account being frozen.
And that can wreak havoc on your Google life.
If you can’t use Google Payments, you can’t pay for Google Fi
This, fundamentally, is why I can’t suggest anyone use Project Fi anymore.
My husband has always paid his Google Fi bill with his Ink Plus, and has nearly three years of on-time (automatic) payments. This is the only card linked to his account, and there’s no indication that the Fi and Payments accounts “talk”. So while we were fixing the issue with the Google Store (which was on a completely different card), we didn’t give any thought to how it might impact other services.
Until Fi suspended his service for non-payment.
And his Android/Google Pay stopped working.
And his ability to make YouTube purchases ended.
And all in-app purchases started failing.
And he could no longer use Hangouts to make calls.
You get the picture.
Getting this fixed is actually impossible, and I say that as someone who really, truly, loves solving problems and has made a living off getting phone agents to want to help me.
We have submitted copies of his ID four times, my ID twice, multiple photos of credit cards, and various credit card statements. We’ve talked to agents and supervisors at Google Payments and Google Fi. No one is empowered to do anything, and even a well-intentioned agent doesn’t get the same answer from the “security department” twice.
I’ve since found hundreds of comments and Reddit threads from people having similar experiences, with almost zero positive conclusions.
The only suggestion of a solution we’ve been given is that he abandon both his email address and phone number of the past twenty years and start fresh.
There is no way to escalate, no timeline for resolution, and until that secret department (which consumers aren’t allowed to talk to) finishes their process with Google Payments, you can’t pay your bill. Google Fi won’t restore service or allow your number to be ported out until the bill is paid, so around and around we go.
And this is the crux of the issue for me — at the end of the day, no matter how awful AT&T or Verizon are (and we’ve all had some awful experiences), they’ll take your money. You could walk into the store with a bag of coins or a stack of sweaty dollar bills, and they’d take your money.
So the simple fact that Google Fi can’t manage that is a deal-breaker for me. You’re either prepared to run a service business, or you’re not, and these recent experiences have reminded me that when it comes to Google (and other large tech companies) you have very little recourse when the Internet doesn’t “just work”.
And I don’t know that I feel comfortable putting an essential communication tool in the hands of a company that is taking this kind of approach.
To be clear, I’m not trying to get sympathy here — dealing with companies is often annoying, and that’s just part of being an adult. But when we’ve recommended a product or service to readers based on certain experiences, and circumstances change, I think it’s important to address it, especially when I haven’t otherwise had negatives to report.
It certainly hasn’t been convenient for my husband to not have phone service for weeks, but the realities of our life at this moment of time have meant it’s also not impossible. He telecommutes as well, and we spent most of the holidays together or with family, so he’s been around WiFi or with me (and able to tether off my phone) 95% of the time.
If it were me, not having a phone would be a non-starter, and I suspect the same is true for many of you. Of course if I was abroad I could buy a temporary SIM card and tether with my hotspot, or otherwise would work it out, but that shouldn’t be necessary when you are ready, able, and willing to pay a phone bill and the provider just can’t figure out how to process the payment.
Combined with the support experiences I’ve had, the deterioration of the service at Google Fi makes the platform feel very uncertain to me, and I just don’t feel comfortable recommending anyone else move over.
Beyond that, if you’re currently on Google Fi, and aren’t extremely nimble when it comes to managing your connectivity, you might want to think about moving back to a traditional carrier. You may pay a bit more, but unless you can guarantee that you will never have any issue that you might need Fi’s help with and would thus be inconvenienced by, it’s probably a worthwhile tradeoff.
Has anyone else had issues with Google Fi recently? Were you able to get them resolved?
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