I wrote last year about switching to the Pixel 2 XL and how interesting the transition to Android has been, but I discovered something surprising that has me convinced Google's strategy is far ahead of anyone else's in the industry.
Here's the story: last month I was travelling to America, which is notorious for bullshit roaming charges from almost every carrier out there, including T-Mobile NL. I have unlimited data, texting and calling across Europe, but head to the US and it suddenly becomes prohibitively expensive, so I tend to pick up a local SIM-card when I'm there.
This time around, it didn't work out: San Francisco airport doesn't seem to have a SIM card store outside of one of those scammy sub-network ones and I arrived late at night so it was closed, leaving me unable to contact my friends to get the keys to the apartment I was staying in. Sitting on the BART, I figured I'd head to a Starbucks and text them from there.
I don't know how I remembered this random thing, but I somehow recalled that Google had quietly mentioned that all Pixel 2 smartphones have an 'eSIM' inside of them, which is a software-only SIM card that allows a phone to connect to mobile networks without needing a physical card, or store visit.
Realizing this, and hoping that it would work, I paid $5 for a 50MB roaming data pack and went to the Google Project Fi website on my Pixel. From there, it took me less than three minutes to get my phone online, with unlimited data anywhere in the world for a base fee of $20 per month, that can be cancelled at any time.
This is the fricking future! I got online in a foreign country, without popping my SIM card, without visiting a store, and without dealing with agents on the phone. I just tapped on my screen a few times, and boom, I had data. I have a European model, and apparently it doesn't matter.
What's crazy about this is what eSIM means for this phone, and the wider industry: Google just did what Apple tried and couldn't pull off, and made a phone that lets you swap mobile carrier whenever you feel like it without visiting a store. My Pixel 2 now allows me to hot swap between my Dutch T-mobile SIM card, which is in the SIM slot, and my American Project Fi virtual card, which lets me get cheap data anywhere in the world.
We've been raving about how eSIM is the future for years, but this is damn magical. Now that I'm back home, I can switch between my US and NL SIM cards without any issues to get text messages on either number.
I don't have to reboot or anything, and have the number swapped in about ten seconds or so, which feels revolutionary in a world of slow moving carriers that'll do anything to squeeze money out of you.
OK, OK, but what's this Fi thing? Google's Project Fi is an undersung startup in the US carrier world that operates on top of other mobile networks and just handles the magic for you.
Google doesn't talk about the product much, but assumably, the company is quietly underwriting all of this and hoping its competitors don't notice what it's up to, because the data is so much cheaper than its competitors and much easier to get at. It should highlight this so much more though, because it's the most futuristic thing ever: no more plastic, no more crappy store experience, just use your phone in every damn country.
It's incredible to me that Google just quietly reinvented how carriers work, and few people noticed. I wish every carrier experience was like this, so I'd never need to visit an AT&T store again. Until then, I'll basically be enjoying the distant future on my Pixel 2.
p.s - Please don't tell Google I figured out how to get Fi outside the US
p.p.s - Fi has a baseline fee of $20 per month, and you need to register within the US to get it... however you can pause your plan at any time and they credit you per day for the paused time, basically making it free to suspend it until you need it.