Fi or T-Mo? Which should you choose?

T-Mobile is one of the Big Four carriers in the U.S. (along with AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint), and its casual approach to contracts and limitations is what draws customers in for the long haul. Google takes an even more cavalier approach to contracts and data caps with its Project Fi, leasing coverage from the bigger networks to bring you lower prices (usually).

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Which is better for you? Let's compare the two and see.

T-Mobile background

T-Mobile coverage map

Who owns it? Deutsche Telekom

Which network does it use? T-Mobile 4G LTE (da-durr)

How long has it been around? Since 1990

Tethering allowed? Yes, up to 10GB of 4G LTE free (3G speeds after 10GB)

Cheapest plan: $45/month: Prepaid, up to 4GB of 4G LTE, unlimited talk, text, and 2G data, Music Unlimited

Project Fi background

Project Fi coverage map

Who owns it? Google

Which network does it use? Sprint CDMA and LTE, T-Mobile 4G LTE, U.S. Cellular CDMA and LTE

How long has it been around? Since 2015

Tethering allowed? Yes

Cheapest plan: $20/month: Unlimited nationwide talk and text, unlimited international text

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T-Mobile plans

T-Mobile has really pared down its plan selection to, essentially, just one plan, aptly named "T-Mobile ONE". Starting at $75 per month, you get unlimited talk, text, and data, with speeds throttled after you use 30GB of data in a month (very few people ever do). There are then discounts for every line you add.

T-Mobile ONE Unlimited data
(30GB before throttling)
1 line $75/month
2 lines $100/month (with $5 Autopay discount)
3 lines $140/month (with $5 Autopay discount)
4 lines $160/month (with $5 Autopay discount)
What's included Tethering
unlimited SD video streaming
unlimited talk, text, and 2G data
Music Unlimited
T-Mobile prepaid 4GB 4G LTE 6GB 4G LTE
Price $45/month $55/month
What's included Tethering
unlimited SD video streaming
unlimited talk, text, and 2G data
Music Unlimited

Note: T-Mobile likes to change its pricing often. Above prices are as valid of April 4, 2017.

Add-ons

T-Mobile ONE Plus: $5 per line, per month gets you unlimited HD video streaming in the U.S., 2x non-LTE data speeds, unlimited tethering with the first 10GB at up to 4G LTE speeds, plus unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi on Gogo-enabled flights, voicemail to text, and name ID.

T-Mobile ONE Plus International: $25 per line, per month gets you unlimited HD video streaming in the U.S., 2x non-LTE data speeds, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi on Gogo-enabled flights, voicemail to text, name ID, unlimited international calling to landlines in 70+ countries and mobile numbers in 30+ countries, and unlimited 4G LTE tethering.

T-Mobile Tuesdays: T-Mo Tuesdays is not a paid add-on; it's how T-Mobile likes to show appreciation for its customers. Every Tuesday, you'll get free stuff, just for having the T-Mobile Tuesdays app downloaded. You'll get free stuff from great brands, like PetSmart and ESPN, as well as movie tickets, discounts, downloads, and more.

Project Fi plans

Project Fi offers two types of plans: family and single line. What you get with each plan is the same, but you'll save money on each additional family plan line (up to 5 lines).

The Basics Extra data (1GB)
Price $20/month $10/month
Free Extras Unlimited international texting
Call and text from any Android or iPhone

Family Plan

The Basics Extra data (1GB)
Primary line price $20/month $10/month
Secondary lines (up to 5) $15/month $10/month
Free Extras Unlimited international texting
Call and text from any Android or iPhone

Note: Google calls the base Project Fi plan "The Basics." No data is included and must be purchased at the rate of $10/GB. Data is not shared between lines on a family plan. Each line pays the same $10 per GB of data (domestic and international in 135 countries) with the cost of any unused data refunded at the end of each month

Add-ons

Data-only SIM:

Google offers a data-only SIM card to use in any compatible LTE device, It shares data with the primary line at the same $10/GB rate. You need to have at least one line of service and purchase a minimum of 1GB of data to use the data-only SIM card.

Data pricing:

  • 1GB of 4G LTE: $10/month

Phone Insurance:

$5 per month, per device covers accidental damages and device malfunctions. You can make one in a 12-month period. Deductibles are $79 for Pixel, $99 for Pixel XL, $69 for Nexus 5X, $99 for Nexus 6P. When you make a claim Google will ship out a replacement device the next business day.

International add-ons:

International cellular calls cost $0.20 per minute.

Google Wi-Fi services:

Your Project Fi phone service includes Wi-Fi calling and texting anywhere in the world. In addition, Google VPN services are available and allow you to connect to open Wi-Fi hotspots safely and securely.

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Project Fi and Google Hangouts apps:

The Project Fi app is tied to your Google account and can be installed on any Android or iPhone. You can pay your bill, check account balances and talk to customer service through the app at no cost. The Google Hangouts app allows calls and texts using your Project Fi number on any Android or iPhone.

Project Fi phones

Project Fi only supports phones from Google. That means your selection is currently limited to:

  • Nexus 5X
  • Nexus 6
  • Nexus 6P
  • Google Pixel
  • Google Pixel XL

Note: While it's possible to enable Project Fi on unsupported phones, this is against the Project Fi terms of service.

A data-only SIM is available and can be used in any compatible LTE device as long as at least one line of Fi service is active.

Which one is better?

Looking at the big picture, Project Fi is the better way to go, because $75/month for 30GB is a lot of money to spend on a lot of data that you likely won't use. According to NPD Research, the average person only uses 3.53GB per month. In fact, 95% of Americans don't use more than 10GB of data per month.

If you pay for The Basics and 4GB of data from Project Fi, that's only costing you $60/month. Plus, if you pay for more data than you actually use on Project Fi, you get a refund for that amount at the end of your billing cycle.

Project Fi also leases coverage from more than one network, so where T-Mobile's coverage falters, Fi is able to fill in the blanks with Sprint and U.S. Cellular's networks.

All that being said, Project Fi only works with five phones. If you're not into any of their hardware or software, then you'll likely be put off by Project Fi. You can bring just about any unlocked phone to T-Mobile — all you need to do is make sure it's compatible.

T-Mobile's multi-line deals are pretty attractive, especially at $100 for two.