Feature Review – Nexus 6 & Project Fi Part Two

Service

As I mentioned earlier, Project Fi is Google’s MVN (Mobile Virtual Network) like Virgin Mobile or Boost Mobile or Cricket is a MVN. All of those companies rent towers and service from either AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon and then resell it to the general public. Project Fi does the exact same thing but with service from Sprint and T-Mobile.

The service from Project Fi is unique, however, in that it offers service from two very distinct and different service providers. Sprint is a CDMA mobile broadband provider. T-Mobile is a GSM service provider. Individually, each services don’t provide great coverage. Some of their coverage areas overlap. Some don’t. However, together, they provide a much better coverage area than they do alone.

Project Fi Local Coverage

At the very least, they provide a much better coverage area where the two services overlap. When you don’t have good cellular coverage, and when you have access to Wi-Fi, you can do everything – make and take calls, surf the internet – via that Wi-Fi network.

Everything is supposed to switch seamlessly between all of the different components without any loss of service. I’m still testing this, and will likely have more on this in the coming weeks.

Service Plans

The service provides unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international text messages, low-cost international calls, Wi-Fi tethering and coverage in over 120 countries, world wide.

PF-01

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Everyone that subscribes to Fi gets these “basic” services and these things grouped together are actually called, The Fi Basics. All of that is $20 bucks a month.

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Project Fi data is an additional $10 bucks a gigabyte, a month. You want 3GB of bandwidth, that’s an extra $30 bucks (plus the $20 for Fi Basics), so a total of $50 bucks a month. Google charges you in advance for the service.

If you don’t use all the data that you’ve budgeted for, then Google will credit your bill back for the bandwidth you don’t use, next month.

Given all this, let’s take a look at how well the service actually works in the wild.

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Voice Performance

I’m using the Nexus 6 as a backup device and not as a daily driver. With the deprecation of Google Voice (see below), I can’t use my GV number as I used to. The Google Voice app for iOS won’t function as it used to and allow me to use my iPhone 6 with both numbers.

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However, I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from the voice and data coverage in my area. Calls are clear and apparently transfer from tower to tower without issue. Areas that are known to be dead spots or weak coverage areas perform without issue. Areas where known tower transfer issues occur (on a single service) don’t seem to be an issue with Project Fi.

Provided you have decent Sprint or T-Mobile coverage in your area, and provided you have a @gmail.com, AND provided you can get an invitation and are looking for new cell service, Project Fi might be a decent option for you. But…those are a lot of “ifs.”

PF-08

Data Coverage and Performance

I’ve been pleased with the speed of Project Fi’s data network up to this point. As long as there’s decent mobile broadband coverage, I haven’t really run into any real challenges with slow network performance. Because the service has two distinct mobile signals to choose from – one from Sprint and one from T-Mobile – the Nexus 6 (always) has a (potentially) fast mobile signal to choose from.

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The best thing about Project Fi and its data coverage is that it’s always receiving all voice and data signals from every service at all times. It is intelligently able to choose the best signal and tower/ service to use for the tasks you’re trying to complete. I’ve actually really liked the way the data service has performed so far.

The only issues I’ve had with any data related speeds have been on the Wi-Fi networks that I’ve been using. That, however, has more to do with those networks than with the Wi-Fi adapter or antenna in the Nexus 6.

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Google Voice Deprecation

If you’ve ever had an Android phone, of any flavor or version, then you’ve likely used Google Voice with your cell service. When coupled with an Android phone, its an awesome feature. However, there are issues with Voice when it comes to Project Fi, and if you’re going to use the two of these together, then you need to be aware of them.

Under Project Fi, Google Voice is completely deprecated. What you used to know as your voice mail, is, like, gone, man. Its history… splits-ville… erased… and I do mean TOTALLY ERASED. For me, that’s a huge problem. I lost my dad a few years ago, and I had four messages from him that I was able to save from the trash a number of years ago, and every now and again when I needed a bit of cheering up, and I needed to hear his voice, I’d play one.

Well, now, those are totally gone; and I have no idea how to get them back, or if its even possible. Project Fi completely replaces Google Voice, even on the desktop; and once that’s done, it can’t be undone. If it weren’t for those four saved messages from my father, I wouldn’t care; but…

Depending on how much you use Google Voice – I haven’t much since making the move to the iPhone as a daily driver – then this may or may not be a road block for you. With Voice gone, you’ll have to switch to Hangouts for texting and other communication services, outside of voice mail. This may or may not be a problem for you. I’m not a huge Hangouts user, but from what I’m reading on the web, it’s a poor substitute for what you got from Google Voice.

Conclusion

I started this review out with the clear intent of really only reviewing Project Fi. I’ve tried to remain true to that.

The Nexus 6 is a decent device, but boy is it big. Its difficult to work with, with only one hand. The screen is clear and bright. The device has a decent camera and the performance of the hardware is really great.

Android Lollipop 5.1.x is ok. Honestly, I’m not an Android fan, so there really isn’t any chance of me moving to the Nexus 6 permanently. However, if Android is your cup of tea, then the Nexus 6 is a decent device.

Project Fi is a decent network, provided you live in an area that has decent coverage. Nationally, the picture isn’t all that great.

Project Fi National Coverage

While Project Fi could potentially make use of any cellular network (with the right agreements or contracts between Google and a carrier) to increase the 4G or LTE coverage, but currently the best coverage seems to be in the Mid West US.

However, if you are in an area with coverage and you can get on the service (as I previously noted…) its not bad. The fact that everything works, including voice calls, on all of the network towers that it works with, is kinda cool. The coverage is decent in my area, and the prices are definitely good. If this gets implemented a wider range of coverage, this could be a decent service for everyone… provided that it works on a larger array of devices.

Working on Android only and then only on the Nexus 6 is kind of a bummer, and an expensive one at that.

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Must Have Android Apps and Widgets for Business Users

For those that got an Android smartphone for Christmas, finding the right software to assist you in your work and personal life can be a bit of a challenge. Here are some great suggestions to get you started.

Any time you move to a new phone, you’ve got to determine if the software you’ve grown accustomed to or dependent upon will work on your new device. If you’re moving from one device to another that uses the same mobile OS, this isn’t a huge issue, however, when moving from, let’s say a Blackberry to an Android smartphone, this can be a problem.

A good friend of mine recently took a position at a new company and had to leave his Blackberry behind. He chose a new HTC EVO Shift 4G from Sprint; and while he loves the phone, moving from standard BB fare to something as connected and capable as the EVO Shift 4G can be a bit daunting, especially when you’ve got to integrate one device for both work and play into your life. There’s a great deal of valuable software in the Android Market that can help do that for you. Finding it, is the hard part. Here are my suggestions for must have applications that can help the busy work and road warrior integrate a new Android Phone into their daily routine.

Android Agenda Widget
Whether you’re a C-level exec or a busy soccer mom, having your schedule in front of you when you turn your device on, is a must have for many smartphone users. Unfortunately, the Android Calendar widget leaves a great deal to be desired. Thankfully, I found the Android Agenda Widget from Everybody all the Time. With the ability to display multiple calendars and supporting a number of different display sizes, this free Android widget fills a huge hole; and makes it easy to keep your next appointment in front of you.

Go Weather
EVERYBODY that I know of, loves the HTC Clock & Weather widget that their SenseUI interface made famous. Unfortunately, unless you root your non-HTC/non-SenseUI device and install a custom ROM on it, non-SenseUI devices won’t have anything similar available to them by default. Thankfully, a similar look and feel is available through apps from many different developers in the Android Market. One of my favorite freebies is Go Weather.

Like the HTC widget, the app is Location Services compatible, and will give you not only current time and weather conditions on your home screen, but a separate app that displays your extended, local forecast information. The application supports skinning, full motion HD video, has live wallpaper as well as a status bar icon that displays current temperature information for the location you’re currently “following.” The application is worth installing, regardless of the type of device you have, solely for its status bar, temperature icon.

 This gets your schedule and a decent weather presence on your device. It also gives you a healthy sense of how location services can provide value without compromising too much personal information. Come back next time, and I’ll give you my final recommendations for must have Android apps.

Launcher Pro
Android’s stock program launcher is ok; but there are other launchers available that offer increased functionality at a very reasonable price. Launcher Pro provides access to not only the standard Android application tray, but also an unlimited number of scrollable docks. The launcher is free, and is less memory intensive than SenseUI. The registered version is $3.49USD, and offers users access to its custom home screen widgets.

If you use Launcher Pro on a SenseUI device, you may disable SenseUI, so you’ll need to be aware of this.

Google Voice
All Android phones can benefit from Google Voice. Its deep OS integration provides for free, unlimited text messaging through your standard cellular data connection. Its visual voice mail features bring this highly coveted feature to all users regardless of what your carrier and specific voice/data plans provide for. Sprint users get the added benefit of using their standard cell number as their Google Voice number without having to port their number to Google Voice thanks to an agreement between Google and the number three US carrier.

Google Maps with Navigation
While Google Maps is a standard application from Google, not every Android device has it installed. This may be the case if your wireless carrier has a branded navigation app. In that case, installing and using this data connection dependent, free, turn-by-turn navigation app is high on my recommended application list. For a freebie, it’s one of the best navigation applications available, and its data connection dependency for map delivery insures that you’ve always got the latest maps for your geographic area.

There are a TON of other apps in the Android Market that are more than likely, part of the MUST have list in your mind. These, really are just a few, and despite what most anyone thinks, they’re safe and solid choices; and they WILL provide you with value.

Do you know of any other must have Android Apps for the business professional bringing their personal smartphone to the office, or for the busy prosumer? Why not join us in the discussion below and tell us about them?

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