Alphabet/Google’s Project Fi Just Made Things Interesting for Tablets
Alphabet/Google (don’t lose sight of the fact that Google is directly intertwined with everything Alphabet does) is trying to disrupt and push forward just about every communications industry they can. And it makes sense since they are the premiere cloud services company on the planet with things like Google Drive, Gmail, and the like. The faster and less expensively people can access those services the better for Alphabet/Google (and in turn, depending on whether you don’t care about the privacy tradeoff with using Google’s services, the better for you).
One of their most recent ventures in the communications space is their MVNO cell phone service, Project Fi. This is a telecom that operates on a hybrid model of Sprint, T-Mobile, and seamlessly switches to WiFi, and offers free tethering, all for really low price points based upon how much data you use. It’s not a bad idea when compared to the atrocious Big Four telecoms we have to deal with in the USA, but then you are selling your soul to Alphabet/Google in this case, and that company doesn’t need any more money, nor does it need market signals from people that somehow they are a viable business model (a business model that is explicitly against your human liberty of privacy).
But, as I’ve said many times on my science and tech podcast, Sovyrn Tech, one of the best forms of activism that you can do today to peacefully push back at the ridiculous corporatist world we live in is to pay out as little money as possible to insane corporate juggernauts like AT&T, Verizon, and others. Be a conscious consumer. And going with MNVO’s like Project Fi, Straight Talk, and Virgin Mobile is one way of doing that. And Project Fi may have just become a little more interesting as an MVNO to consider, especially when it comes to the Dark Android Project.
It was recently reported that Project Fi is going to begin working with–at no extra charge–some Android tablets. It’s not clear as to all the tablets that it will be compatible with, but it is known that they will ship you a SIM card for our Dark Android favorite: the ASUS-built 2013 Google Nexus 7. And that means that for the same price that you pay for having a smartphone with Project Fi, you can also have a tablet with an anywhere data connection (and only data) just like you would with a smartphone. And I think that’s exciting.
First off, tablets under Project Fi will be data-only, no voice or text plans available (yet). However, I don’t think that particularly matters as most people don’t even use their smartphones for text and voice calls, and use data only near exclusively. Getting around not being able to text and make phone calls with your tablet is easy enough anyways if you either attach your number to Google Hangouts (which you have to do with Project Fi in the first place, even if it’s a Google Voice number), or if you use a Skype-offered phone number and just use the Skype app for SMS and voice (and if you’re in a full “no Google Play Store” Dark Android setup, you may be able to do this through a Firefox-compatible browser and the questionable WebRTC Skype interface online…no app required). So it being data only is just fine. I dare say it’s preferable, and is partly what makes it “free”.
But then that’s the second part, it’s not totally free. You have to have a Project Fi account already, and that means you have to have either a Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, or Nexus 5X smartphone to even be into Project Fi. And that means you’re technically going to have two devices (at least at first). But once you have your data-plan enabled tablet, you can either permanently turn the power off on your Nexus phone, or who knows, perhaps if something goes wrong with your phone you don’t ever have to buy another one, you may be able to just run a tablet in your Project Fi account.
Now why would anyone want to just use a tablet for their “daily driver” instead of a smartphone? Well, for myself, tablets are far better at productivity, and the whole reason I have a data plan on anything is so that I can get shit done no matter where on the Earth I am. And the less devices I have to carry around (just a tablet, instead of a tablet and a smartphone) the better. Also, tablets have far better battery life than most smartphones. And while tablets don’t always have better specs than higher-end smartphones (there isn’t a tablet available that could beat my ASUS Zenfone 2 with 4GB of RAM), the fact that they have either a 7″ or larger screen is a bonus, in my opinion (no, you don’t have to hold a 7″-9″ tablet up to your ear…use a bluetooth headset when you’re making calls, you dummy). I realize that I have significantly larger hands than most, but I can easily hold a 7″ tablet in one hand, and it feels good to the touch. Also, using the onscreen keyboard on a tablet makes messaging all the easier. It’s a win-win for me. Then there’s also the fact that Android tablets have the ability to switch profiles to blank slates, which can be a very handy feature when you’re crossing preposterous national borders (which, they’re all preposterous) and a border guard wants a look at what’s on your tablet (Android smartphones have yet to implement this feature, if ever).
Oh, did I mention this new Project Fi tablet option also works with iPads? I know some readers of this blog are Apple users (and that’s a-okay), so this might work for you as well (including the Hangouts and Skype tricks).
Of course, do keep in mind that all of your metadata is going to Alphabet/Google when you use Project Fi (and unless you have AOSP or a custom ROM loaded on your device like CyanogenMod, all of your metadata is going to Google, anyways). And keep in mind that SIM cards, from Alphabet/Google or anywhere else, are all inherently insecure at this time. When that changes I’ll let you know here, but that’s the whole reason I recommend using SIM card-less mobile devices like tablets on the Dark Android Project. But if neither of those things bother you, then Project Fi with my tablet of choice would definitely be a route I’d be taking right now.
I imagine that at some point in the future (and I’ve theorized this on Sovryn Tech before) that all of our myriad devices from smartphones, to laptops, to tablets, to microwaves (yes, smart microwaves are a thing) are all going to connect to data networks through a single little pocketable device that acts similarly to a WiFi router. Nothing will have its own data plan, it will just come from that little device in your pocket. And maybe Alphabet/Google is working towards something like that with the pricing plan for Project Fi. Maybe. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’ll leave to you, but until that day comes, workarounds like the ones we talked about here are going to be necessary if we want to use our tech the way we want to. People have been trying for years to put Straight Talk SIM cards into their tablets and use them as their sole mobile device (no smartphone), but to no avail. With Project Fi however, that little trick might finally be a possibility.