PSA: Project Fi works in any phone – mostly

Project Fi

Project Fi may be appealing to a lot of would-be business travelers but Google’s mobile network has one requirement that seemingly stops people from using it: the need to have a Google device. Right now you basically have just a few possible paths here: you can use 2016’s Pixel or Pixel XL, or you can stick to the now two-year-old Nexus 6P or 5X.

For most users, the need to use one of Google’s devices seemingly rules out using it with the Apple iPhone or popular alternative Android devices such as the Galaxy S8 and LG G6. But, this isn’t technically the case and after several months of using Project Fi in a non-Pixel device, let me tell you why.

Project Fi technically works in any device

Simply put, Project Fi works in any device. That is to say, any device that supports a GSM SIM card and network. However, before you can use it in any particular device, you need to activate it and this is where you need one of the aforementioned Google devices to do so. Luckily, you don’t have to own it; borrow a friend’s or relative’s to activate your SIM card, then return to your regular phone.

Google Fi works, but what’s the catch?

Using Project Fi in a Google device has some tangible benefits that aren’t available when using a non-Google phone. The first of these is the cross-network and Wi-Fi switching, which means that when using a Google-branded handset, the phone will automatically roam between registered Wi-Fi networks and the T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Sprint cell networks to always have the best coverage. If you use a non-Google device, you don’t get this pretty important benefit.

The second benefit that you miss is visual voicemail. This allows you to access and listen to your voicemail messages directly from the phone app without having to dial into your voicemail. This is actually rather convenient and much easier than dialing voicemail, and regular voicemail activation seems to be quite buggy when using a non-Google device.

Project Fi in the iPhone 7 Plus

Once your SIM card is activated, using it in another phone is as simple as popping it in. After a few minutes, the SIM will roam onto the T-Mobile network and display Project Fi as the carrier. For those that don’t know, T-Mobile is the carrier that MVNO Project Fi runs on and when not using a Google device, you won’t get the seamless carrier switching that also lets you use US Cellular, Sprint or registered Wi-Fi networks.

In the iPhone 7 Plus, Project Fi works surprisingly well but there is a noticeable coverage issue, with the radios inside the iPhone proving to be surprisingly weak, at least when using Project Fi. However, almost always you’ll have coverage to make a call or use data, but it can occasionally be spotty and take a while to recover after being in a dead zone.

During my time with Project Fi in the iPhone, I’ve also found that call quality can be questionable, with the recipient often unable to hear me clearly. Having also used an AT&T SIM card and my UK SIM card in the iPhone while roaming in the USA, this definitely seems to be network-related and not a hardware issue that’s specific to this iPhone.

Data coverage can also be rather questionable, with coverage not speeds, being the main issue. Speeds are as fast as they are in the Pixel XL but the main issue is that the iPhone often switches between 3G and LTE and data is often unusable when on the former network. Based on limited testing, the iPhone has approximately 30-40% poorer coverage on the iPhone compared to other devices we’ve tested and data speeds are, on average, around 30% slower than Project Fi on the Google Pixel.

Project Fi in the Samsung Galaxy S8 and OnePlus 5

In the Samsung Galaxy S8, Project Fi performs much better with coverage, call quality and data speeds all vastly improved over the iPhone. Considering that all of these devices in question have full LTE band support for T-Mobile, it’s likely that this is related to carrier configuration, which could be an issue as Project Fi doesn’t support the iOS platform. On Android phones, APNs are automatically set and the device seems to connect to, and hold on to, LTE signal much longer in the same place than when using the iPhone.

It’s not all perfect however, as using Project Fi in another Android phone has its own challenges, specifically around visual voicemail and integration with hangouts. The former is the same as with the iPhone, in that visual voicemail doesn’t work but at least the phone seems to activate the voicemail forwarding feature properly. The carrier is also often listed as T-Mobile rather than Project Fi, although this depends on the Android phone in question.

One of the best things about Project Fi is the ability to answer and send calls and texts to/from your Project Fi number using Hangouts on any phone that supports it, as well as via the web, but hangouts not working properly on an Android phone can be frustrating. On the iPhone, calls and texts can route through hangouts with no problems, but on Android, the option to sound incoming calls is curiously missing. This could be related to configuration issues and the carrier becoming confused by the fact these devices run Android but it’s a problem nonetheless, especially if you’re like me and send messages from multiple devices.

Project Fi works in any phone… but should you get a Pixel?

This is arguably the million-dollar question: although Project Fi works in any phone with just a few quirks, should you buy a Pixel to use it in? Firstly, with the new Pixel 2 on the horizon, we’d recommend waiting but looking past this, the answer is complicated and depends on your personal preferences.

I’m personally not a major fan of the Google Pixel range – I was at the time but grew weary pretty quickly – so for me, I’m happy to stick the SIM in any of my other devices and deal with the few pitfalls of doing so. Specifically, the pricing is good for my usage and for when I’m roaming and I don’t want to carry a specific phone just to use my phone. It’s as bad as having a phone that’s locked to a specific carrier!

If you’re after a solid Android phone and Project Fi’s flat-rate $10/GB for data (including when roaming) appeals to you but you want the full experience, you’ll probably find that the Pixel is a good device to buy. However, if you already have a phone then we’d recommend using that in the meantime and waiting for the new Pixel 2 devices which are expected this Fall.

Do you use Project Fi and does the flat-rate roaming tempt you away from your current carrier? Who do you use right now and would you use Project Fi with any of your other phones? Let us know in the comments below and if you’re interested, you can sign up for Project Fi here! You can also take a handy quiz to see if Project Fi is right for you!

Best options for phone insurance

In today’s world, it seems like nearly everyone hasThis feature will  take a look at a number of current smartphone insurance plans available for Android and iOS devices owners a smartphone. While there are plenty of devices that can be purchased at budget prices, there is also still a huge audience for high-end smartphones that costs hundreds of dollars. Indeed, we are approaching a time where high-end consumer devices will have price tags over $1,000 without a contract.

That also means there will be tens of millions of people putting small but expensive devices in their pockets, bags or purses that can be dropped, stolen or otherwise damaged. In that case, you might want to consider purchasing a smartphone insurance plan for your device. , and also discuss whether or not you need an insurance plan in the first place.

Carrier insurance

Many people choose to buy expensive smartphones from a wireless carrier. AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and US Cellular all sell optional insurance and protection plans for their phones.

Shutterstock

AT&T

The carrier offers three insurance plans for their smartphones with monthly fees. For $8.99 a month, billed to your regular AT&T account, you can insure one phone or tablet against “loss, theft, physical or liquid damage” It also covers out-of warranty malfunctions. AT&T says a replacement device could be sent out the same day a claim is filed, although it may take longer. You will have to pay a deductible for each claim (the fees are different per device) but those fees go down by as much as 50 percent if you don’t file a claim for six months or more. You are allowed 2 claims for 12 months, with the maximum value per claim of $1,500.

If you pay $11.99 a month, you get everything in the cheaper plan, plus free access to the company’s ProTech support. It also includes 50 GB of free cloud storage with AT&T’s Protect Plus app. Finally, there’s the $34.99 a month plan, which covers up to three smartphones, tablets and even laptops. It also has everything from the $11.99 a month plan. AT&T also offers a screen repair plan with a $89 deductible and a one-year warranty.

We like the fact that AT&T cuts the deductible fee if you don’t file a claim for six months or more, but we think that 50 GB of cloud storage is a bit small for what your are paying per month for the $11.99 and $34.99 fee.

Verizon Wireless

The carrier offers what it calls Total Mobile Protection for devices. Basic phones and tablets are covered for $9 a month, and smartphones are covered for $11 a month. Verizon also offers Total Mobile Protection Multi-Device for $33 a month, which covers three lines on an account, and nine claims that can be shared for those lines in one year. Each additional line can be added to Total Mobile Protection Multi-Device for $9 a month.

Total Mobile Protection and its Multi-Device version cover lost, stolen, or damaged devices with a new one, or one that’s been certified as “like-new”, that will be sent to the customer as soon as the next day. You will also get access to the company’s Tech Coach support service. The plan also covers cracked screen repairs.

While we think offering shared claims on the Total Mobile Protection Multi-Device plans is a great idea, it’s too bad that Verizon’s insurance doesn’t offer cloud storage like AT&T’s plan.

Shutterstock

Sprint

Customers on Sprint have the option to sign up for the carrier’s Total Equipment Protection plans. It costs $9 a month for the basic service, per device, which covers “loss, theft, damage and malfunction” of a smartphone. The deductible for each claim can cost between $50 and $200, depending on the device. Replacement devices are sent the next day, or repairs for the damaged phone can take up to five days.

The Total Equipment Protection Plus plan costs $13 a month, per device, and has all the features of the normal plan. It adds 25 GB of cloud backup for each Sprint phone on the account, and access to Sprint’s Tech Expert support service. In addition, you can play $12 a month for what Sprint calls its Total Tech Expert service, which boosts the cloud storage space to 100 GB per device, along with support for every Wi-Fi connected device in a Sprint account’s home. That includes “tablets, laptops, home security, wireless routers, gaming systems, and more.”

On the one hand, we love that the Total Tech Expert service from Sprint can help out with a wide range of Wi-Fi devices, but paying an extra $12 a month for this service seems a bit steep.

T-Mobile

If you want to get your phone from T-Mobile, the carrier has its basic Device Protection plan, which costs $10 a month and covers any loss, theft, damage or malfunction of a device. However, if you want to spend a couple of extra bucks, you can get the carrier’s Premium Device Protection plan. It adds support for the Lookout Mobile Security service so you can find your phone if you lost it, and even wipe its content remotely if it gets stolen. It also comes with security features like safe browsing and app scanning.

The same insurance in Premium Device Protection is also included in T-Mobile’s JUMP! plan, which lets users upgrade more often to the latest version of their smartphone or tablet. Both Premium Device Protection and JUMP cost either $12 or $9 a month, depending on the device.

Just recently, T-Mobile launched new insurance plans. The Premium Device Protection Plus has everything in the older plan, except for the Lookout Mobile Security service. However, it adds McAfee Security for T-Mobile. That add identity protection and restoration services, along with data protection for up to 10 devices, including phones, tablets and even your PCs and Macs. The service also throws in Tech PHD (Personal Help Desk) with what it calls VIP tech support for all of a person’s connected devices.

T-Mobile is adding all of the features in Premium Device Protection Plus to its JUMP! Plus device upgrade plan as well. Both cost either $15 or $12 a month, again depending on the device.

We love the security features available with T-Mobile’s insurance plans, but the new Plus options might be a bit pricey for many customers.

US Cellular

The fifth biggest US carrier claims it has something better than normal phone insurance with its Device Protection+ plans. The standard version costs $8.99 a month per device and offers a replacement device for phones if they are lost, stolen, damaged or have a mechanical failure, along with 5 GB of free cloud storage. If you choose the $11.99 a month plan, you get a storage boost all the way up to 100 GB, plus 90 day credit monitoring, free tech support, and anti-malware protection tools with the Pocket Geek app.

US Cellular’s plans don’t sound too different from its rivals, although we do like the credit monitoring feature in case someone steals your phone and finds any financial information on it.

Samsung Protection Plus

If you have bought one of Samsung’s older smartphones, like the Galaxy S7 or the Galaxy Note 5,  you can sign up to get Samsung Protection Plus. It covers a select number of devices against  mechanical and electrical breakdowns if the phone goes out of its warranty, along with accidental damage. It does not cover lost or stolen phones.

If you own a Galaxy S4, Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S6, you can sign up for Samsung Protection Plus for $99. That covers two years and gives people two claims a year for accidental damage for 12 months. If you own a Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy Note Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge, the price of the plan goes up to $129 a year for two years. Both plans have a $99 deductible for each accidental damage claim.

Samsung’s plans cost a lot less per month than the carrier’s plans, and the deductible fee is reasonable. However, we wish it also covered lost or stolen devices as well.

Samsung Premium Care

The newly launched Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus phones can be protected with the new Samsung Premium Care service. It costs $11.99 a month (the first month is free) and covers accidental and mechanical damage, plus it throws in free technical support and an extended warranty. While we like those additions, the higher price for this protection should also cover lost or stolen phones, and Samsung Premium Care does not.

Reddit

Third-party phone insurance plans

In addition to the insurance and protection plans offered by carriers and OEMs, there are a number of plans that are available from third-party companies.

Worth Ave. Group

Based in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Worth Ave Group offers smartphone insurance for iOS, Android and even Windows Mobile phones. It offers one, two and three year coverage plans that vary in price, depending on the phone, with a minimal of a $50 deductible. In addition to covering phones from accidental and mechanical damage, it also covers lost or stolen phones, along with cracked screen damage coverage. You can purchase plans for your new phone, or even for older or refurbished devices, and it offers an unlimited numbers of claims.

This sounds on the surface like an excellent way to protect your phone, but we do wish it also included some tech support options as well.

SquareTrade

Based in San Francisco, Square Trade offers smartphone coverage for the price of $89 a year for one phone, with lower prices per device if you add more phones to the plans. Each claim has a $99 deductible fee. It covers damage and repairs to phones for drops, spills, and malfunctions, but does not cover loss or theft of devices, not does it offer tech support.

This is a pretty affordable way to protect your device from accidents or hardware failure, but is definitely not as comprehensive as other plans on this list.

Geek Squad

Geek Squad, in case you have been living in a cave for the past several years, is the electronics repair and support division of the Best Buy retail stores. Geek Squad Coverage offers anyone with a smartphone some extra protection for $7.99 a month. It will offer repairs for accidental damage or mechanical issues, and it will even replace your phone’s battery if it no longer holds a charge. The coverage even extends to a phone’s accessories such as its home charger and earbuds. If you pay $10.999 a month, it adds protection for lost or stolen phones. There is a limit of three claims within 24 months, with service fees for each claim that range from  $149.99 to $299.99.

We like the fact that this coverage extends to batteries and accessories, but the prices and the high service fees are a bit of a downer for the Geek Squad.

Do you really need insurance?

Of course, this article is for people who think they need insurance for their smartphone. If you have a mid-range or a high-end device, getting such a plan might be a good idea. However, if you just want to purchase a phone for every day use that doesn’t have the most up to date hardware or features, it might be best to buy a cheaper phone without a contract, which can be replaced with little cost if it gets damaged, lost or stolen, without having to pay any monthly fees or deductible claims.

There’s also the option of purchasing a tough and sturdy case for your phone to help protect it from any spills or drops. It may bulk up your phone, but it’s a lot cheaper than spending money on insurance for any accidental damage.

Conclusion

Our best advice for purchasing phone insurance is to figure out what kinds of needs you want for such a plan. If you just want to protect against damage or mechanical failure, you can likely purchase a cheaper plan, but if you want more coverage, especially for lost or stolen phones, be prepared to pay more.

Which plan do you think is the best for you, or do you think that you won’t bother with purchasing insurance for your phone? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Deal: Get the LG K3 2017 for only $19.99 from US Cellular (50% off)

If you’re not a power user and just want a simple entry-level smartphone that won’t break the bank, you should consider getting the LG K3 2017. US Cellular is currently offering the device for only $19.99, which is $70 off its list price. However, the list price is a bit inflated, as the K3 normally retails for around $40. It is worth mentioning that a Simple Connect Plan offered by US Cellular is required in order to get the deal.

See also:

Best US Cellular Android phones

4 days ago

LG took the wraps off the LG K3 back in December 2016. The affordable device sports a 4.5-inch display with a resolution of 854 x 480 pixels. You’ll find the Snapdragon 210 chipset under the hood along with 1 GB of RAM. It only has 8 GB of storage, which can thankfully be expanded for an additional 32 GB with a microSD card.

The device is equipped with a 5 MP primary camera with an LED flash and a front-facing selfie snapper that has a 2 MP sensor. Other features include a 2,100 mAh battery and Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with LG’s custom user interface on top.

At this price point, the LG K3 is definitely a great deal. To get it, visit US Cellular’s website by clicking the button below.

US Cellular’s ZTE Blade Max 3 brings a large battery and dual cameras for just $200

The ZTE Blade Max 3 has made its way over to U.S. Cellular. It is aimed at the budget phone market.

It isn’t very often you see a phone with a 4,000 mAh battery. Most phones these days are peaking at around 3,500 mAh, but not the Blade Max 3. The phone will need the extra power with a 6-inch Full HD display. If you do need to recharge, Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 with USB-C is there to back you up. Other specs include the mid-tier Snapdragon 625 paired with 2GB of RAM.

You get a dual 13MP camera on the back of the Blade Max 3: One camera is full RGB, while the other is monochromatic. Speaking of the back, the fingerprint sensor also lies here. This is a welcome feature for a budget phone.

Realistically, this phone is all you’ll ever need if you value good battery life over all other features. The Blade Max 3 will have enough power to get you through all of your everyday tasks, and you should be able to last longer on a single charge than most flagship phones.

The biggest downside is that Android 6.0 Marshmallow is present instead of Nougat. But, for a price of $199.99 (after $100 online discount), you might be able to forgive not having the latest software.

Check the ZTE Blade Max 3 on US Cellular

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge get Android 7.0 Nougat on US Cellular

US Cellular, the fifth largest wireless carrier in the US, is finally starting to roll out the Android 7.0 Nougat update to the owners of its Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge phones. It comes well over a month after the top four US carriers started rolling out the same update to their versions of the same phones.

See also:

Samsung Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge revisited – Is it still worth it?

3 days ago

According to SamMobile, the file size for the US Cellular Nougat update on its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge devices is 1,512.39 MB, so you will definitely need to download the file with a Wi-Fi connection. As with the Nougat updates on the other carriers, the ones from US Cellular will add a number of features like multi-window support, better battery life with an improved Doze mode, a new Performance Mode and much more. You can check out our extensive look at Nougat on the Galaxy S7 Edge for a lot more information.

Keep in mind that even though the update started rolling out today, it could take several days for the download file to appear on your device. If you are a US Cellular customer with the Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge, make sure that you refresh the software update page in the phone’s settings to see if it’s available to download. By the way, we are still waiting for Samsung to roll out the same Nougat update for the unlocked Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge in the US, although it did release the March 2017 security updates for those phones a few weeks ago.