Your Nexus phone will soon automatically connect to open Wi-Fi networks

Google's awesome Wi-Fi Assistant, which was previously available only to Project Fi phones, will be opening up to all Nexus phones in the coming weeks. The feature lets your Nexus — with your permission — connect to all open Wi-Fi networks that it finds, offloading data usage that would otherwise end up costing you on a limited mobile data plan.

With Wi-Fi Assistant enabled, which you'll soon find behind a settings gear in your Wi-Fi settings, your phone still always be scanning and will latch onto any open network that it can find that doesn't require a login or captive portal check before connecting. The best part about this is that it does the checks for you without any of your input, so you don't have to bother hunting around to find a Wi-Fi network — just use your phone and let it do its thing.

One of Project Fi's best features comes to all Nexuses

For your protection, when your phone connects to an open network via Wi-Fi Assistant, all of your traffic automatically passes through a Google VPN, keeping the data safe from the potential dangers of an open Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi Assistant is also regularly checking the speed of the networks it connects to, and is very willing to drop off of the Wi-Fi if it's slow or unstable, which gives you the best experience. After using a Project Fi phone for well over a year now, I never turn off Wi-Fi anymore and simply let it handle things, saving me dozens of megabytes per month.

Together with the ability to switch between multiple mobile data networks, Wi-Fi Assistant was actually one of the biggest selling points of Project Fi — bringing us closer to the idea of just connecting to any data source that was available, without you having to worry about the specifics. With that feature coming to Nexus phones, it's yet another one of Google's great value-added services that can be a huge benefit to Nexus owners, currently and in future buying decisions.

The feature will roll out to all Nexus phones running Android 5.1 or newer, and in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, UK and Nordic countries. The process will take a few weeks, but we will start to see it on some phones right away.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I loved this feature when I was using Fi, glad to see it expanding to all Nexus devices. It should be noted though that it doesn't simply latch onto any open network. It only connects to networks that Google has verified are safe and even then it throws in Google's VPN for added security. That's why whenever the WiFi assistant feature comes up there are always a bunch of people saying they've never seen it work in their area.
  • You'll find that if you read the article start to finish that I talk about these points :)
  • Not exactly. You start off with saying it'll "connect to all open Wi-Fi networks that it finds" when that isn't accurate. One paragraph later you add "that doesn't require a login or captive portal check" to that, but it's still not quite how far it goes. Google has a list of reputable WiFi networks and that's what the assistant starts with to decide what you do and don't automatically connect to.
    "To stay connected in places where your cell connection isn't as strong, you can have your phone or tablet automatically connect to open Wi-Fi networks that we've verified as fast and reliable. Wi-Fi Assistant is a free service that makes these connections for you securely." There's also the ability for network administrators to manually opt out of letting people automatically connect. EDIT: I'm just wanting to point out that it's smarter than just "connect to all the open things" and that's what makes this an even better thing than what this article says it is.
  • Give them a break. It's not a pokemon go article. So it's hard to focus on the details.
  • Agreed. At least Google is TRYING to be smart on open Wi-Fi, as it's still to easy for intruders to "sniff" your open connection. It good, but with everything, proceed with caution, VPN or not...
  • I think I already have it my phone updated yesterday to 7.0 via OTA. It wishes great already improved battery life. And it even has the option to use open wifi. So I guess it is in the 7.0 package.
  • I've got PFi, and auto run wifi, last sunday at home it didn't work, when is it supposed to be active on PFi?
  • Nexus leads...others follow!
  • Lol.. That funny
  • This is cool on Fi, but be careful with Hotel and School networks, etc. If it makes you sign in or click an agreement, it doesn't connect automatically and you are NOT on Google's VPN. The only way you are on the VPN is if you see that key sign in the status bar and if the WiFi app connected you automatically. If you manually sign into a network, including by having to click on a terms or password or anything like that, you're just on regular WiFi and not protected with Google's magic stuff.
  • Thanks for letting us know this important information. Posted via my Moto X Pure Edition using the Android Central App
  • Wow.. That's important to know. Thanks Posted via Techmology
  • That kinda blows, pretty much everyone public wifi i know has a terms or a sign in
  • I wonder how much of a hit the battery takes with this
  • You know I was wondering this as well.. I guess we'll find out soon enough.... Posted via the Android Central App
  • It really doesn't. The scanning is super low power, and you may already be letting your phone scan for Wi-Fi for location purposes anyway. You also have to factor in how much power you're saving when you're finally connected to Wi-Fi, versus being on the mobile network. I've never seen a hit on battery by leaving it on.
  • Good point, I will welcome this for the battery savings more than the data savings.
  • This isn't a feature Posted via Android Central App
  • Seems like pretty much the definition of a feature?
  • Except that it connects you to random wifi stations Posted via Android Central App
  • If you turn it on. And it's not "random" Wi-Fi networks, it's networks that the phone finds and determines to be good enough to use. And then it connects you via a VPN to keep you secure.
  • I stand corrected then my apologies Posted via Android Central App
  • Great story Andrew! I was worried about using this feature due to security but you explained it well.
  • Are there enough WiFi hot spots available to make this feature worthwhile to the point where I would want to go out and buy this phone?? I will be in the market for a new one in the coming months. Wifi spots are very localized from what I understand. I can drive by McDonald's in three seconds so is that really going to help?
  • Yeah, and routes you through a free VPN that you can't get any other way. It may not be one that interests you, but it's a feature. I think you'll find most people on Fi would agree. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Well I consider it a feature that I've wanted on my Nexus for some time. I used to have it when I had Fi and found it quite useful.
  • it's actually the definition of feature...
  • Yeah, what they said^^^ what the hell guy??
  • I have seen all sorts of headaches with this "feature." They really need to add the ability to ignore certain networks ie those with paywalls and clickwalls.
  • It's never supposed to attempt to connect to a network that has a click-through or registration. Now of course it can't be perfect considering all of the convoluted ways that networks are set up, but it seems to do a damn good job from my time using it.
  • I used it for about 8 months when I had Fi. Never caused me any issues. It won't connect to any open network that requires you to accept an agreement.
  • I've never had this secure connection go through the pay wifi at the hotel I work at. That only happens in the regular wifi network selections. This happens automatically.
  • Can someone please tell me if assesses the strength of the wifi signal? Sometimes my phone now connects to open networks that then ruin my use of the phone, when the throughput is abysmally slow. I feel like that's a functional fail of the software. It should not autoconnect to a wifi signal that is too slow.
  • As I explain in the article, it purports to have some smarts where it'll drop out from using the network if the speed or signal strength drops below a threshold. The problem is there are always tons of variables in Wi-Fi — it'll never be able to perfectly determine how long to stay on a network.
  • Thanks. I am just trying to compare this to the current functionality where it will auto-connect to known networks even if they suck completely - TWC Wifi and AT&T Wifi come to mind. I'll suddenly have horrible experience where my phone is not even usable, and then I realize why. I hope this new functionality takes the wifi performance and speed at that particular moment in time into account before auto-switching from LTE. Thanks for the response.
  • Any idea whether this will expand to the rest of Europe anytime soon?
  • I would assume it's related to how quickly it can build up its database of Wi-Fi networks. Considering Google chose to expand it this much, I wouldn't be surprised if it expanded further in due time.
  • I don't believe there is any "database" that this uses. From my experience with it, the phone determines if the network is usable each time it comes in contact with it.
  • This sounds great, I'm looking forward to taking advantage of it.
  • I thought our phones already did this? When I leave my wifi on and I go places it connects to the wifi? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Your phone only connected to wifi it remembers (you've connected to it before). There is some software that will automatically connect to open networks.
    This is different, it connects to any open Wi-Fi automatically BUT it does so safely because it routes traffic over a VPN so your traffic isn't susceptible to sniffing.
  • Oh dam. That's right Posted via the Android Central App
  • Mmm... hasn't this been around for ages in other phones, though? Never use it because I hate having the phone connect to open networks that might end up requiring an extra sign-in page or are just too crowded to work well, but do other phones do this already or just notify that that there are open networks?
  • Phones have had all sorts of Wi-Fi auto-connect features, but not with this kind of smarts behind it. The whole idea here is that Google does a little extra work to only connect to networks it know it can get data to/from, rather than connecting to them blindly only to force you to then accept terms or check boxes to connect. Then you throw in the VPN, which helps a ton.
  • Aaaaah!! OK, now that does make sense as a notable new feature. Thanks for clarifying! Yeah, the VPN is definitely a good thing to have.
  • I wonder how Jerry feels about this? I have a feeling that he would be concerned about nefarious WiFi routers like me.
  • If I turn on the Guest WiFi option on my router and leave it open does it mean I'll get free VPN?
  • No dumbass,it means you will have an open unsecure wifi that anyone can hack and use
  • Strange I'm not a current Fi user but used it on a trip to England and I have this feature. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Now if only they would use the Google Hotspots at every Starbuck's this way that would be great. I understand that the wifi networks are owned by Starbucks, but Google is providing the data. What's the hold up here?
  • You guys should demand more from your couriers :) 150Mbs 4G with unlimited data for 22,90e / month and it can be used in all Nordic / Baltian countries for same price :) No need to use crappy open wifi networks or think when my data plan is used... Of course this is handy when travelling in other countries... Usually really hard to find working open wifi.
  • Excellent article. I'm a Nexus owner and didn't know about this feature, thanks.
  • Yes, an excellent article. I'm waiting for the new Nexus phones to arrive on the market. I hope the prices will be reasonable and that ATT carries them. Anyone have any luck using unlocked phones on ATT? I read ATT won't provide full services for unlocked phones due to not being a carrier branded phone.
  • I have a Nexus 6 on Project Fi and have never heard of this. I just checked and there is no "Use open Wi-Fi automatically" setting on my phone. I am running Nougat beta FWIW.
  • It's in advanced Wi-Fi settings.
  • Sorry, but this is not on my phone either in wi-fi settings or advanced.
  • I don't too much stock in Android security, compared to computer, but this to me smells of a vulnerability by design.
    How much data am I really saving by walking by the 3 absolutely open wifi networks for a few seconds. Even for lunch, 30 min tops, which translate to maybe, maybe 1 gmail refresh.
  • Got Android 7.0 installed to my 5X. Where do I find this setting? I don't see it in the wifi settings. Does it live somewhere else?
  • I found this... the instructions say: Simply open the Settings on your phone, head to “Google” then “Networking.” Once inside, enable “Wi-Fi Assistant” with the on/off switch. I have a Nexus 6p also w/ 7.0 Nougat and when I go to Settings > Google > there is no networking option to select. Sadness is sad.
  • thanks. Yeah, maybe it will just be rolling out later instead of with the original deployment of Nougat?