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Google Fi vs. T-Mobile: Which is best in 2021?

Google Fi SIM with LG
Google Fi SIM with LG (Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

T-Mobile

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T-Mobile's three core plans (Essentials, Magenta, and Magenta MAX) are entirely unlimited when it comes to data, text, talk, and mobile hotspot. Along with multi-line discounts, you're also guaranteed at least 50GB of premium data and various international benefits and extra perks. This plan has fantastic value for most smartphone users as long as they live in an area with T-Mobile coverage.

T-Mobile

Unlimited for all

Reasons to buy

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5G access with all plans
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At least 50GB of premium data
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Third line free
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Service in Mexico and Canada
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Unlimited mobile hotspot

Reasons to avoid

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Plans are expensive
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SD streaming on most plans
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International calling not included (outside of Mexico and Canada)
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Not all plans offer international data

Google Fi

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With access to three U.S. networks, Google Fi gives you strong coverage and the choice of two plans: Flexible or Unlimited. With its Flexible plan, things are kept simple and you'll pay for what you use, whereas the Unlimited plan comes with unlimited data. If you're a world traveler, this is one of the best plans you can get to stay connected abroad and not worry about any extra charges.

Google Fi

The choice is yours

Reasons to buy

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Choice of Flexible or Unlimited plans
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Large combined network
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Free international data, talk, and text with Unlimited plan
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Bill protection
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Uses open Wi-Fi networks via Wi-Fi Assistant

Reasons to avoid

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Unlimited plan is slowed after 22GB
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Hotspot uses data allotment
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Need "Designed by Fi" phones to get all features
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SD streaming
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Taxes and fees aren't included

Both T-Mobile and Google Fi will give you excellent coverage, international service, and 5G access. But for most smartphone users T-Mobile's unlimited data plans will have more appeal. Each plan comes with several perks and a "third line free" offer that will bring your monthly bill down significantly while still letting you consume tons of data. Google Fi also has exceptional coverage thanks to its ability to switch between Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular towers. Unlike T-Mobile, you can opt for a plan that lets you pay for what you use or just go with its unlimited option.

Google Fi vs. T-Mobile: Unlimited has its limits

Screen showing data usage

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

It can be daunting to see the word "unlimited" used so often to describe cell phone plans, only to be followed by a paragraph describing limits. But unlimited really just refers to the amount of data you could potentially use measured in gigabytes per month. This rather raw number masks the factors that truly cause network stress, such as long HD streams and huge downloads during peak times.

Peak times are, unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, when most people want to use data. If you have a plan with T-Mobile, your data will only be deprioritized after 50GB of usage during these peak times (or depending on which plan you're on, you may never see your speeds slow down). With Google Fi's plans, you'll see speeds slow to 256Kbps after 15GB of data usage (Fi Flexible plan) or after 22GB of data usage (Fi Unlimited plan). Here's how these carriers compare.

T-Mobile EssentialsT-Mobile MagentaT-Mobile Magenta MAXGoogle Fi FlexibleGoogle Fi Unlimited
Data NetworksT-MobileT-MobileT-MobileT-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. CellularT-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. Cellular
5G connectionYesYesYesWith designed for Fi 5G compatible phone or T-Mobile 5G compatible deviceWith designed for Fi 5G compatible phone or T-Mobile 5G compatible device
DataUnlimited (50GB premium data)Unlimited (100GB premium data)Unlimited premium data$10 per GBUnlimited (slowed at 22GB)
Mobile hotspotUnlimited at 3G speeds5GB high-speed (unlimited at 3G speeds)40GB high-speed (unlimited at 3G speeds)$10 per GBUnlimited (slowed at 22GB)
Talk and textUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
International textingUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
International dataMexico and Canada (128Kbps)Unlimited in 210+ countries (128Kbps)
Mexico and Canada 5GB of 4G LTE data then unlimited 2G
Unlimited in 210+ countries (256Kbps)
Mexico and Canada 5GB of 4G LTE data then unlimited 2G
$10 per GB in 200+ countriesUnlimited in 200+ countries
International callingExtra chargeExtra chargeExtra charge1¢ per minuteFree to 50+ countries
Video QualitySDSDHDNo limitSD
Extra PerksNoneNetflix on Us (1 screen SD for 2+lines)Netflix on Us (1 screen SD for 1 line or 2 Screen HD for 2+ lines)None100GB Google One storage
Base Cost (1 line)$60 per month$70 per month$85 per month$20 per month$70 per month

There's a lot that you could do to reduce your data usage to keep Google Fi's Flexible pricing competitive, such as ensuring your apps only update on Wi-Fi or having automatic backups wait until you get home. This can also improve battery life too, so it's not such a sacrifice. Not only that, most music and video streaming services offer download options so you can download once and keep the media on your phone for the future. If you have a phone designed for Fi, Google Fi will automatically switch you to free, open Wi-Fi networks when available to save data, using VPN protection.

Still, if you find that you're frequently going over 10GB of data and adding $10 here and $10 there, you can upgrade your plan to unlimited through the Google Fi app. With this plan, you'll get unlimited data and mobile hotspot data that will only slow after 22GB of use. You'll even be able to use that same data abroad. But if you really need more data and never want to be slowed down, then one of T-Mobile's plans might be a better fit for you. If you go with the newest Magenta MAX plan, your speeds will literally never be slowed down. However, your data speeds abroad will be slower (256Kbps) than what you would get with Google Fi, so it depends on what you're willing to give up.

Google Fi vs. T-Mobile: How does it add up?

With T-Mobile, you know your bill at the beginning of the month since there isn't much that you'll need as an add-on service, and taxes and fees are already included. International travel may lead to some extra fees. Still, with unlimited international texting, service in Canada and Mexico, and 2G speed data in 210+ countries (with Magenta and Magenta MAX plans), you'll have enough speed to stay connected. Calls are enabled for $0.25 per minute in most countries, but the data speeds should be capable of voice chat on apps like Google Hangouts or Facebook Messenger, which won't use minutes.

When it comes to data on Google Fi's Flexible plan, you'll have bill protection—meaning that you won't be charged per gigabyte once you've reached $60 worth of data or 6GB. When combined with a $20 service charge, the data-hungry user's monthly bill shouldn't exceed $80. Though this may seem like a good deal for anyone who likes to consume lots of data since the maximum cost is competitive with other unrestricted, unlimited plans, there's a catch. Google Fi will throttle your connection once you've reached 15GB of data usage and slow your data speed to 256Kbps, which will feel like going back in time; it just won't be fast enough for any buffer-free streaming.

If you need more than a few gigs each month, Google Fi's unlimited plan offers better value, although you'll have to give up HD video streaming. Still, with a 22GB throttle, heavy data users will be more at home with T-Mobile. And if you're looking for more than one line, T-Mobile is a better deal. For three lines on Magenta MAX, you'll pay $141 total per month, and for four lines, $172. For three lines with Google Fi, you'll pay $150 per month, and for four, you'll pay $180.

Google Fi vs. T-Mobile: What's up with coverage?

Google Fi Sim on map

Source: Samuel Contreras / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

T-Mobile's coverage has grown a ton in recent years with a huge focus on 5G. Its LTE network has also had some nice coverage upgrades, such as band 71 support and general upgrades to the underlying connection. If you haven't checked your T-Mobile coverage (opens in new tab), you might find it has improved. But Google Fi's coverage should also be impressive since your phone will automatically switch between T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular towers for the best coverage possible, and Google Fi also relies on Wi-Fi whenever possible via its "Wi-Fi assistant."

Before you get excited about Google Fi's coverage, it's important to note that there are two tiers of supported phones. The preferred tier of phones is Designed for Fi, which indicates that the phone will be compatible with Google Fi's network switching. Recently, Designed for Fi phones have also gotten access to 5G as long as they support T-Mobile's 5G bands (n41 and n71 for sub-6). While quite a few phones support these bands, the only 5G phones that support network switching are the Pixel 4a 5G, Pixel 5, the unlocked Samsung S20 series, Note 20 series, and A71 5G.

The second tier of phones is Compatible with Fi. This includes all unlocked phones that work with the T-Mobile network and includes 5G support on the T-Mobile network. However, compatible with Fi phones won't be able to take advantage of Fi's network switching. Still, nearly any unlocked 5G phone will work with T-Mobile's network, so most people will have more than enough coverage with solid speeds.

Google Fi vs. T-Mobile: What if you just want a reliable connection?

For some people, having a great connection is worth far more than the cost of service. If that's the case, Google Fi will likely be the better candidate for you thanks to its large network available both inside and outside of the U.S. With the choice between a Flexible and Unlimited plan, Google Fi is a good fit for just about anyone. However, Google Fi does tend to be the more pricey option, especially when it comes to multiple lines.

For most, a T-Mobile plan is the better value option overall and offers plenty of coverage and great savings if you're signing up for more than one line. While its full network isn't as big a Google Fi's, it isn't far off, and you'll still be able to use data abroad with its top two core plans—just at slower speeds. T-Mobile's unlimited hotspot is another great bonus if you want to keep your devices connected on the go and not worry about running out of data or being slowed down.

Olivia Lipski is a freelance writer for Android Central and loves testing out the latest smart home tech and discovering the best cell phone plans. When she's not busy running around NYC trying to find great food or coffee, she's in her kitchen trying to make it herself.