In April of 2015, Google began offering a cell phone plan alongside their own brand of cell phones for those looking for a low-cost alternative to the major carriers. Google leveraged it’s place in the mobile ecosystem as well as their size as a major tech company to create some advantageous deals.
In July of 2017 I had gotten sick and tired of Verizon Wireless and wanted something cheaper and easier to manage. I made the decision to switch to Google Fi both out of curiosity and out of admiration for Google. Having worked in the Search Marketing industry, I had a good idea of how Google handled things and had a degree of confidence, but was mostly interested in testing this out with the idea that if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t locked into it.
Over the years I had actually become quite pleased with the service. Traveling outside of town was iffy, but I had decent service at home and used Wifi most of the time.
I’ve only rarely ever had to deal with customer support in any case, and it was usually asking about setting up certain things or making sure I understood certain promotions. In September of 2021, I opted to go ahead and sign up for their Pixel Subscription plan which would give me a Pixel 5a with the understanding that I was paying a small fee every month and getting a credit for the phone during that time. It was a benefit for Google Fi subscribers that would keep them on a Pixel phone, with the option to upgrade after 24 months.
This month my 24 months was up, and I spent a decent amount of time thinking about the situation. Between then and now I had actually gotten my hands on a S22 Ultra which was my daily drive. My Pixel 5a had become my backup phone in case anything happened, and I have a Motorola phone that I used for work stuff with a Google Voice line on it. At that point, I wanted to actually have a decent work phone that I was considering making a line of its own instead of relying on a data-only sim for it.
I placed the order. My subscription would renew with a Pixel 7a, and I would be able to give it a test drive before deciding whether or not I wanted to create a new Google Account to have a second line. Unfortunately, Google Fi doesn’t have a way to do multiple lines on a single account. As a result, it would be necessary for me to create a brand new Google Account just to have a separate work number.
I received my Pixel 7a on Tuesday, September 19, 2023. On the same day I decided to go ahead and activate it and get it set up as my main line. Upon trying to do this, I kept getting activation errors. I didn’t put a SIM card in it since it’s supposed to be eSIM friendly and Google Fi should support it. I turned off the phone and stuck a SIM card in it, and upon rebooting, was greeted with an error indicating that it’s only going to work with Xfinity Mobile. Massive red flag.
When Google Fi sells you a cell phone, it has to be a phone that is unlocked otherwise it will not work with the service. Based on the information that Google Fi provides, they do not provide ANY locked phones with their service. You shouldn’t ever receive a locked phone because you wouldn’t be able to use it. They don’t even have a way to lock a phone to Google Fi since they do not offer locked phones of any kind.
I started a chat session with a gentleman who seemed eager to help me, but didn’t quite understand what a locked phone actually was. We tried a few different troubleshooting steps that wouldn’t really help if the phone was locked, but I went ahead and humored him for around an hour trying several different things. It finally came to the discussion about Google Fi making it right and getting the right phone to me. He offered to send me another phone for $600 where I would be reimbursed that amount once I send the locked phone back.
We’re at a point where Google Fi doesn’t offer locked phones on their plans, but somehow managed to sell me a locked phone. As a result, they did not give me the phone I paid for. They sent me a phone that does not align with what I ordered and should be receiving. Based on that, I let the chat agent know this wasn’t acceptable, and that I expected them to give me a label to return the device, but to also have them overnight the phone I was already starting to pay for through the subscription.
The chat agent refused that, and told me I could return it first and then receive a replacement within 5 – 10 business days after they receive it.
During this whole process I never made a mistake. It wasn’t a case of me misunderstanding the product or ordering the wrong thing. It’s their phone subscription; you cannot choose. You get the phone they offer in an unlocked state and that’s that. As a result, common sense would dictate that the onus is on the seller to make things right here rather than the buyer needing to take a temporary financial hit to make things right. The chat agent told me it was either those two routes where it’s unfair to me, or I can just return the phone. I opted to return the phone.
The phone return process was pretty simple and I got it to FedEx the following day. Google Fi received it in Texas on Thursday, September 21, 2023. Based on this interaction, I started getting a really bad feeling about Google Fi. Upon speaking with a couple of people about it and doing some research, it really does seem like Google is doing the bare minimum with their service and offers a bad customer support solution. I didn’t want to support that model, and therefore knew I was probably done with Google Fi.
I was recommended Mint Mobile by a friend of mine. Obviously I have seen the headlines, know who Ryan Reynolds is, and understand the difference between a locked and unlocked phone. The coverage is very similar because both providers use T Mobile’s towers for their service. I’ll lose the “benefit” of the wifi network that Google Fi provides which I never actually used to begin with, but I’ll get a provider that at least sounds more reasonable based on the information I was given. I ultimately made the decision to pull the trigger and got myself a new line on my S22 Ultra while I figured out what to do from there.
There was still the question of what to do with Google Fi. I still had a line, and I had the option of transferring that and keeping that number. The plan was ultimately to end up with two lines, so my decision was to start a second line on Mint Mobile and transfer the number over so I can at least keep that one. Google made this a bit difficult as, despite me returning the phone, it was clear that the phone still needed to be processed. Cancelling before that would be finished would force me to both pay $600 and ultimately still not get the phone that I was paying $600 for.
I contacted support again and this time they were rather kind and courteous. They explained the process, explained they were escalating it, and gave me a timeline to work with. At worst, 48 hours from then I would have it approved and I would then be able to cancel the account and transfer the number. Not ideal, but understandable.
For the first time in all of this, Google Fi finally stepped up and took care of me as an ex-customer. It was processed late that night and I was able to process the number transfer swiftly in the morning. I now have two lines on Mint Mobile, and nothing in Google Fi. It’s quite telling when the best customer experience you get is when you’re leaving the provider.
“Good riddance” was the message I got from this interaction. Given Google’s clear strategy of shutting down services on a regular basis, it makes me wonder if Google Fi is on its way out. I can only speculate, but their lack of quality control and customer service is something that makes you really think. I’ve experienced what their advertising customer service is like, and it’s a night and day difference there.
For anyone considering Google Fi, I would look at alternatives like Mint Mobile. I know there is a lot of hype there and that might make it seem too good to be true. At the very least, so far I can say I am not getting a different signal experience compared to Google Fi.
In the end I did end up with a Pixel 7a. I bought one on Amazon and this one was actually unlocked. At least Amazon can get the right phone to me. If somehow I did get the wrong one, I am guessing that replacement process would be SIGNIFICANTLY easier to deal with.
Now for the fun twist! While I was in the process of wrapping things up with Google Fi and figuring out the process of getting the second line on Mint Mobile, I received what looked like an automated email from Google Fi. It was pretty much “hey, I think we screwed up and gave you a locked phone. We’ve been doing that lately. We just automatically unlocked it for you!” Too little too late. Google Fi already had the phone, and the chat agent never mentioned anything about this being an option. If the chat agent told me upfront that this was an option and I could just wait, they would’ve kept a customer.
I would ask Google to do better here, but we know they won’t. They rarely do. Alphabet as a corporation is focused on the money game and only invest in customer service there if they know it will produce a return. It’s one of those things where they do things to make money, and if it’s the right thing to do at the same time, then the stars have aligned. They are no longer the “do no evil” company that they once were, and it shows in how they handle their advertising and even their video platform “YouTube” in 2023.
Once my first three months are up with Mint Mobile, I’ll probably provide a brief update of how that is working out. Their pricing and structure make sense, and I think are a better deal than Google Fi at this point. Never had to deal with the customer support during the setup process, so not sure how well that is going to work, but the onboarding was super easy.