T-Mobile Simple Choice vs Google Project FI for international travel

Google vs T-Mobile cell phone plan abroad

Google Project FI and T-Mobile Simple Choice are both plans that are great if you are travelling abroad since they automatically include very cheap or even free data, calls and texts. We tested both plans side by side on a trip through Austria, Germany, Italy, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom to share our experience with you. Especially since Google’s new Project FI plan isn’t completely opened to everybody we were very curious how it would perform.

For T-Mobile we used an IPhone 6. We used a Google Nexus 6 phone Google Project FI since the device compatibility is currently limited.

High level the plans are somewhat similar. One reason probably being that Google’s Project FI plan actually relies on the underlying T-Mobile and Sprint Network. In the US this means that if you live in an area without good T-Mobile or Sprint coverage neither one of these plans might be the right one for you. Since neither one plan requires a long term contract commitment you can easily take it for a spin in your area.

T-Mobile
Simple Choice$50

  • unlimited calls (US, Canada, Mexico)
  • unlimited texts in 140+ countries
  • unlimited international data in 140+ countries (throttled to 128kbps)
  • 2GB of data at 4G speeds (throttled after this)
  • Wi-Fi Calling, Binge On™, Music Freedom™

Text messages

Both T-Mobile Simple Choice and Google Project FI included unlimited receiving and sending of text messages (not like other carriers like Sprint that offer “unlimited texts” but charge $0.50 for incoming texts from an international number). When testing in Europe we didn’t experience any problems receiving or sending text messages with either carrier.

Calls

We didn’t experience any difference in network coverage when using T-Mobile or Google in the countries we visited. The quality over the cellular network has been good and has been pretty much the same of what you would expect if you’d get with a local SIM card in the country you are visiting.

Data Speeds

This is one area where the plans are quite different. Google limits international data speeds to 256kbps whereas T-Mobile limits speeds to 128kbps. Especially on T-Mobile surfing the web feels VERY slow (don’t even think about using Youtube!). Surfing the web with Google makes it definitely more pleasant compared to T-Mobile. On T-Mobile you’ll definitely have to wait quite a while for a website to load in your browser. Most certainly you will also receive timeouts from time to time when accessing websites, downloading your email, or even searching in Google Maps. Sending photos through WhatsApp might require a couple of tries as well.

T-Mobile offers the ability to purchase 1, 7 or 14 day high speed data passes (up to 3G speeds) in over 100 countries. Though the price for this isn’t exactly cheap. If you need better data speeds it might just be easier to purchase a local SIM card depending on the country you are visiting.

Single day pass: $15 for 100MB (high speed data capped at 100MB) 7 day pass: $25 for 200MB (high speed data capped at 200MB) 14 day pass: $50 for 500MB (high speed data capped at 500MB)

Without spending additional money Project FI definitely wins in this category.

How slow is slow? Theoretically you could download roughly 58MB in one hour if you continuously maximize the network usage at T-Mobile’s 128kbps. Let’s assume at home you have very fast LTE/4G coverage at 47mbps. In this case it would only take 10 seconds to download the same 58MB. One photo on your iPhone 6 usually has a size.

Here some observed speeds we measured using the Speedtest app.

T-Mobile
Simple Choice
Austria
Google
Project FI
Austria
Google
Project FI
USA
Data Speed T-Mobile Simple Choice in Austria Data Speed Google Project FI in Austria Data Speed Google Project FI in USA

Plan Cost

The lowest priced plan on T-Mobile starts at $50 with 2GB of 4G data. Google's base rate is actually only $20 for unlimited calls and texts + $10 for 1 GB of data. Every additional GB of data is charged at the same rate of $10. BUT if you didn't use your data at the end of the month you'll receive a credit on your next bill from Google. So if you only use 500MB in a month you'll get $5 credited back!

Google wins this category because of it's very transparent and fair pricing structure. If you do have multiple lines or if you are in a grandfathered unlimited data plan and really use all the data the Google pricing might not be as competitive since they don't offer any family plans at this point.

Here a simple pricing table to determine monthly cost based on your data usage:
500MB 1GB 2GB 3GB 5GB 6GB
T-Mobile $25 $30 $40 $50 $60 $70
Google $50 $50 $50 $65 $65 $65

Data Cost

T-Mobile Simple Choice plans actually include unlimited international data although it is only half the speed of the Google Project FI international speeds. Since Google charges you the same low rates ($10/GB) for international data usage that you have to pay at home we think Google is still the better option though purely based on the price T-Mobile wins this category.

With Google you'll get a credit on your next billing cycle for unused data.

Wi-Fi Calling Cost

T-Mobile and Google both offer Wi-Fi Calling with calls to US numbers being included. On a Project FI plan you’ll always benefit from the cheap Google Voice rates for international calls (which are usually only a few cents) no matter whether you are abroad or at home. With T-Mobile it’s a bit more complicated. If you are making WiFi Calls in one of their 140+ supported countries you’ll pay $0.20/minutes to place calls. If you are in the US you’ll unfortunately be billed the much higher World Class service rates from T-Mobile. The quality of wifi calls usually depends on the quality of the wifi connection. When making and receiving calls while abroad over wifi it seemed both Google and T-Mobile had some issues (calls might disconnect or there is a pause of a few seconds).

Your Location Number to Call Cost/Minute
T-Mobile Germany USA Free
Google Germany USA Free
T-Mobile Germany Germany (landline) $0.20
Google Germany Germany (landline) $0.01
T-Mobile USA Germany (landline) $1.49
Google USA Germany (landline) $0.01
T-Mobile Germany China (landline) $0.20
Google Germany China (landline) $0.01
T-Mobile USA China (landline) $3.59
Google USA China (landline) $0.01

Check out the T-Mobile Simple Choice pricing or Google Project FI pricing for additional rate information.

International calling within the US

With Google Project FI you’ll always benefit from their cheap Google Voice rates. Unfortunately T-Mobile rates are significantly higher.

Contract terms

Simple Choice and Project FI are month to month, so if you are not satisfied you can cancel anytime and aren’t locked into a long contract.

Customer support

T-Mobile: 3AM-10PM PT
Google: 24/7

Conclusion

We have been pleasantly surprised how well Google’s Project FI plan worked for us und would definitely recommend it for your next trip abroad. The international rates to make calls are exceptionally low and there is no hassle of getting local SIM cards in the country you are traveling to. There is a small difference in countries with cell coverage (T-Mobile supports 145 and Google only 123 countries) so make sure to check this out if you are planning to go to some exotic destination.

Comments (8)

  • MajidMaskati's picture

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    Jan 24, 2019
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