5x_3If you’ve been interested in Google’s Project Fi pay-as-you-go phone service but didn’t want to have to wait for an invitation, here’s some good news! Project Fi is now open to general signup with no invitation required. It does require a Google Nexus-branded phone, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry—as an introductory deal, they’re offering $150 off the Nexus 5X for the next month. That brings the 16 GB model down to $199, and the 32 GB model to $249—not at all a bad price for some excellent Google-branded hardware.

I signed up for Project Fi with my new Nexus 6 phone and have been on it for a couple of months now. The plan costs $20 per month for unlimited talk and text, plus $10 per month per gigabyte of data. (You have to buy at least 1 GB.) Any data you don’t use is credited onto your next month’s bill at that same rate.

I keep my phone connected to my Karma Go hotspot most times I’m out, because with the Karma Refuel plan’s buy-one-get-one data bundle sales I only pay $5 per GB (and it comes out of the huge amount of referral credit I’ve built up anyway, so I basically more sort of don’t pay for it), so I end up getting much of that 1 GB credited back each month.

I’m quite satisfied with Project Fi on the whole, but it’s not for everybody. The people who will get the most out of it are the folks who don’t use their phones for a lot of high-bandwidth applications like frequent streaming of video media. If you’re a heavy phone data user, you’ll get a better bargain going with one of the monthly plans available from one of the major carriers. For example, T-Mobile has a $30/mo prepaid plan that includes only 100 minutes of talk time but 5 GB of 4G data per month. But Project Fi has a number of other features that also appeal to me.

The big one is that Project Fi uses the Google Voice number that I was already using, via my computer, as my “home” phone. I was able to eliminate my old cellular number, getting rid of the hassle of hoping that hunting rollover to my cell phone worked properly when someone called my Google Voice line, or missing calls when someone called my cell phone number instead of my home number while it was charging in the other room. Now just one phone number rings me no matter where I am.

I did have to divest my Voice account of the old phone number I had attached to it from when I lived in Springfield, though—and it’s possible you might have to make other changes to your Google Voice line if you’re using one already. Still, I’m not at all unhappy with the end result.

Another nice thing is that Project Fi phones will automatically put you on public WiFi when it’s available, and create a VPN link to Google’s servers automatically. There’s no extra charge for the VPN, so you can be sure that you’re automatically browsing safely no matter where you’re connected. And you don’t have to worry about remembering to pull down the menu and sign into WiFi so you can save your phone data for other things—Google does it for you.

The phone will also allow you to tether devices via WiFi or Bluetooth and use its 4G connection—a rarity for pay-as-you-go phone plans. (Of course, I don’t use that feature because I have my Karma and its data is cheaper, but it’s nice to know it’s available if I should need it.) And since Project Fi uses both the Sprint and T-Mobile networks, it’s got some redundancy in case one or the other network isn’t available.

The $150 off a new Google-branded phone isn’t a bad deal, either. Google doesn’t put OEM or phone company cruft on its phones—you get plain-vanilla Android and that’s it. The 5X has decent specs for the price, and can run pretty much any app in the store—including all the most popular e-readers. Or you could go for the Nexus 6P if the 5X is too small, but you don’t get a discount on that one and it starts at $499. Or, you could get an older Nexus phone (such as my Nexus 6) from elsewhere and sign up with that instead.

And if even $199 is too much to pay all at once, Google will let you amortize the cost of the phone over your first 24 monthly payments instead—a little over $8 per month for the 16 GB or $10 per month for the 32 GB. The cost doesn’t seem to add up to that much more than buying it all at once.

Plus, there’s no contract commitment required to get the discount—you just have to activate Project Fi service within a month of getting the phone. So you could, presumably, try Project Fi for a month, then if you don’t like it, take your unlocked Nexus phone to some other carrier and still have saved money.

In any event, this is a great phone that makes a great e-reader, for a great service at a great price—as long as you don’t need to use too much monthly data. But then, one nice thing about e-books is that they don’t take much data at all to download. So if you mainly use your phone as an e-reader, this could be right up your alley.


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