Mobility

How to use Google Fi on non-Google phones

Project Fi is now Google Fi, and you can officially use it on non-Google phones, including the iPhone. Here's how to take advantage of Google's revamped cellular service.

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Image: Google

Google's cellular service, Project Fi, has entered a new era, shedding its project designation in favor of a new name: Google Fi. Along with joining Google's lineup as a more official product, Google Fi has extended its list of available phones, and it isn't restricted to GSM phones—CDMA devices will work on Google Fi too.

When I wrote about using non-supported devices on Project Fi in July 2018 there were a lot of hoops to jump through to get them working, but not anymore—Google has made it easy to get a supported smartphone working on the Google Fi network.

If you're interested in switching to Google Fi and keeping your current smartphone, there are a few things you need to know before jumping in.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

Is my phone supported by Google Fi?

Along with welcoming iPhones to Google Fi (though still listing them as being in beta on the network), Google has given the nod to a long list of Android phones from manufacturers that include Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, Huawei, Essential, OnePlus, and others.

Just because your phone comes from one of those brands, it doesn't mean you're ready to jump ship from your current carrier. If you want to be sure your device is supported, check out Google Fi's device compatibility page and follow the prompts.

If your device is compatible the site will tell you, but even that is just an indicator a phone of that model works on Google Fi—yours may not.

Like with any smartphone, bringing it from one carrier to another requires it to be unlocked. The easiest way to find out if your phone is unlocked is to contact your carrier and ask. Alternatively, you could borrow a friend's phone that is on a different carrier and pop their SIM card in—if you can make calls, your device is likely unlocked.

Unlocking your device isn't difficult—provided you meet the prerequisites specific to your carrier. Digital Trends has an excellent guide on how to unlock devices from various carriers that you can follow to prepare your device for migration to Google Fi.

What restrictions come with a phone not built for Google Fi?

Bringing a non-Fi phone to Google's network comes with a few restrictions, but nothing that will ruin the service for you.

  • Non-Fi phones won't be able to automatically switch between the three cellular networks Fi operates on (T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular), and may be restricted to a single network based on being either CDMA or GSM.
  • Other Google Fi enhanced network features may be unavailable as well.
  • iPhone users will need to manually set up texting to non-iOS devices by specifying some cellular data network settings in the Settings app.

How can I set up my iPhone on Google Fi?

Getting an Android device up and running on Google Fi is simple: Pop a Google Fi SIM card in, follow the prompts, and you'll be up and running in no time. Using an iOS device is essentially the same, but with the additional step of having to manually configure text messaging to non-iOS devices.

First, you'll need a Google Fi SIM card, which you can get for free on the Fi website by signing up.

Once you get your SIM card, you'll need to install the Google Fi app for iOS. Turn your smartphone off and insert the Google Fi SIM card, restart, and follow the steps in the Google Fi iOS app.

The app will walk you through setting up text messaging to non-iOS devices as part of the setup, prompt you to restart, and that's that—you'll have an iPhone that works on Google Fi.

SEE: Get more done with your iPhone: Tips and tricks for power users (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

One of the biggest drawbacks to using Google Fi on an iPhone is that you won't be able to get voicemail in the iOS Phone app—tapping on the Voicemail tab only shows a button that you can tap to call your Google Fi voicemail to listen to messages. iPhone users will still get their Google Fi voicemails as texts, so that should eliminate some of the need to call your Google Fi voicemail to listen to messages, provided the voice-to-text transcription works well enough.

iPhone users are also out a few additional Fi features: There's no visual voicemail, no network swapping (iPhones are restricted to the T-mobile cellular network), no Wi-Fi texts or calls, and no using your phone as a data hotspot outside of the US.

Hopefully iPhone users won't be stuck with those restrictions forever—those are a lot of the positives of Google Fi—but Google hasn't said whether or not it will add them in the future.

iPhones starting with the 5S/SE/6 generation are compatible, as are all newer iPhones. iOS must be version 11 or newer.

Regardless of restrictions, iPhone users can still benefit from the rock-bottom prices offered by Google Fi: Unlimited calls and texts only cost $20/month, and $15/month for each additional line, and you're only billed for the data you use ($10/GB [$1/0.1GB] up to 6GB, after which data is free).

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About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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