I felt I needed a working mobile phone during a trip to Germany and Austria this spring. Having had a great experience with a pre-paid SIM in the UK a few years ago but a poor experience with a pre-paid SIM in Italy, I decided to do something different. I purchased a Google Fi phone and opened a Google Fi account just for the trip.
The phone, a Moto X4 Android One cost me a net of $99. On sale and the service is $20 a month plus $10 per GB of data – up to 6GB and then no charge above that. Sounds a bit steep at first but if you’re diligent about using WIFI when available, cellular data usage can be managed.
Talk-time while international is 20 cents a minute which is more than some pre-paid but a lot less than most “travel SIM cards.” I really didn’t expect to be calling much except for the occasional short call for reservations and such so this didn’t concern me. (I only made 2 short calls to local numbers.) Calls to/from home would be video calls and either free of at a 2 cents per minute charge.
Also, international texting is free so I was able to keep in casual contact with friends and family back home for free.
What I really wanted out of this phone was an emergency communications device and for on the go web surfing/navigation.
It should also be said that my primary phone is getting a bit old (~5 YO) and this may become a replacement, both in terms of phone and service.
The bad – On the surface, it is a bit more expensive for both data and calling than some pre-paid plans out there. Also, this particular phone has an LCD screen and when rotated to landscape while wearing polarizing sun glasses, one can’t read the screen (the screen appears black because of the polarization). Also, the camera, while adequate, isn’t up to that of my wife’s iPhone 7.
The good – Convenience! As soon as we landed in Germany I turned the phone back on. Within 1 minute, it was logged into a cellular network and I received a text “Welcome to Germany, your voice calls will cost 20 cents a minute and data will cost you $10 a GB.” When we crossed the border into Austria, the same sort of text. We always seemed to have good cellular signal and 4G data. I should note that I have heard that international data does not come out of any pre-paid allowance but is billed separately. I cannot confirm this because I don’t pre-pay for data on this plan. BTW – with judicious data usage setting (turning off background processes and limiting individual applications access to cellular data) and heavy use of WIFI, I only used two thirds of a GB of cellular data on the trip.
I should add that I received a complimentary (promotional) WIFI hotspot with my Hertz rental car. While the unit its self was a bit flaky, when it was working it worked well. If the hotel WIFI was sub-par, we always had the Hertz hotspot as a backup.
Bottom line, the Google Fi phone/service was the most convenient way, for the money, to extend our cellular network overseas. I didn’t have to go hunt for a SIM retailer or hassle with swapping SIMs before/after a trip. Except for the initial investment in the phone (which may become my main phone anyway), having this phone in Germany and Austria cost me less than $30.