Despite the fact that I had to drive down to Bastrop on Friday to pick up a SIM card because none of the Best Buys here in Austin had them, the transition from Cricket to Google Fi on Saturday morning was rather painless. All told, took about 10 minutes to swap the SIM, activate the Google Fi app on my Nexus 5X phone, and 20 minutes to completely transition my phone number.
My Cricket subscription is now automatically cancelled, just a scant 3 days before the next month’s payment was due. It’s been a good run, but Cricket didn’t offer a tethering plan or international roaming for my bring-your-own-phone device. They refused to flip that tethering switch, saying “We don’t support that phone model.” Yet their parent company, AT&T, would’ve had no trouble doing the same if I was their direct customer. I signed up with Cricket over 12 years ago because I “didn’t want to be locked into a contract”, and now I’ve finally left, as if I had been in contract the whole time. I fear change, I guess.
Domestically, Google Fi leases service from a handful of mobile carriers (many mobile brands do this). The SIM contains the base minimum to connect to the T-Mobile network. The Fi app has an option to “Tune Your SIM Card for Best Coverage”, meaning it needs to consult Google’s systems to get the provisioning info for the other carriers so it can write them to the SIM. So sure, fine, yeah, I can be offline for a few minutes while it scans the mobile bands to test connectivity with each carrier. Luckily I had nobody calling me.
The marketing literature says Fi’s data plan has built-in VPN. The fine print is that it’s only activated if you turn on “Automatically connect to high-quality public WiFi networks”, in which case it will tunnel your data plan through a VPN on whatever public WiFi your phone touches. This means the Google Fi app pulls down a database of the SSIDs and passwords of every WiFi hotspot Google’s learned about. That’s kinda troublesome from a trust standpoint, because you’re at the mercy of whatever crypto is used in this VPN, but that’s the nature of the beast if you’re dealing with Google.
Also, if you’re on WiFi, the plan defaults to WiFi calling. The call quality is fine as long as the WiFi isn’t saturated at whatever hotel, mall, arena, airport, or cafe you’re visiting, otherwise you’ll start buffering and having drops in your conversation. And if you leave that WiFi hotspot, prepare to have your audio disrupted for a few seconds while the phone transitions to GSM calling. So heads up.
Otherwise, the plan costs are about on par with Cricket (based on my usual monthly data usage), and they offer international roaming, which will prove essential here shortly.
More news later if something blows up.