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Project Fi vs. Sprint Data Speed in Europe

After nearly a decade using Sprint as my cell phone carrier, my latest Sprint contract just expired. I’ve gotten rather poor service on Sprint — both in terms of reception and customer support — but the price I locked in years ago has been keeping me around. Now, the question is whether or not to switch. And, if so, which carrier I should switch to.

Up until recently, the obvious choice was T-Mobile, since the carrier offers free text and data overseas in 140+ countries and I often travel abroad. However, my wife Katie recently switched from T-Mobile to Google’s Project Fi, and her experience has been excellent. Connecting to either GSM or CDMA service — depending on the country — has worked out much better than what she was able to get through her T-Mobile GSM-only phone.

Further complicating my decision, Sprint recently added free data and text overseas in many countries. So, before making a final choice, I decided to put two of my possibilities to the test: Sprint (on an LG G3) and Google’s Project Fi (on a Nexus 5X) in Germany and Switzerland.

Test #1: Google Search in Frankfurt Airport 

google-fi-vs-sprint-speed-test-1-frankfurt-airport
The first head-to-head was a simple Google search in the Frankfurt airport.

Our first test was soon after landing in Frankfurt Airport (FRA). While in the terminal, we put our phones side by side and started a Google search simultaneously. We both searched for “Frankfurt observation deck hours.” Here are the results:

Service First Results Fully Loaded
Project Fi 3 seconds 3 seconds
Sprint 40 seconds 47 seconds

Test #2: Google Maps Search in the Frankfurt Airport Train Station

Next, we tried Google Maps directions in an underground train station.
Next, we tried Google Maps directions in an underground train station.

Next, we needed to get transit instructions to the InterContinental Frankfurt. We were both underground in the Frankfurt Airport train station, so we expected slower results. But, Google Maps doesn’t seem to require much data, so we figured the results would be similar on Sprint and Project Fi.

Service Hotel Found on Map Transit Directions Fully Loaded
Project Fi 5 seconds 11 seconds
Sprint 8 seconds 27 seconds

Test #3: Google Search in Frankfurt

There was no comparison between the two when loading the weather.
There was no comparison between the two when loading the weather.

After checking in to our hotel, we wanted to look up the weather to see if we should bring a jacket when we headed back out. While both on cellular data, we Googled “weather underground Frankfurt.”

Service Google Results Loaded Website Fully Loaded
Project Fi 2 seconds 8 seconds
Sprint 39 seconds 202* seconds

*Note that some graphics and images were still missing, even after the website stopped loading.

Test #4: The Points Guy Webpage in Zurich

Google Fi blew away Sprint when loading a picture-heavy The Points Guy webpage.
Google Fi blew away Sprint when loading the TPG homepage.

While we were in downtown Zurich, we wanted to check in to see the latest on TPG. So, we each typed in “thepointsguy.com” into our Chrome browsers and hit go. Again, there was no competition.

Service Text Loaded Website Fully Loaded
Project Fi 2 seconds 9 seconds
Sprint 18 seconds >180 seconds

After three minutes, I couldn’t wait any longer and ended up clicking away.

Test #5: Google Maps Search in Zurich

Finally, we needed to get to the airport.
Finally, we needed to get to the airport.

For our fifth and final test, we searched for Google Maps transit directions to the Zurich Airport. Since we had already done a few Google Maps searches, both of our phones were able to quickly find the airport in the seemingly cached map. But, actually loading directions is where Google Fi set itself apart.

Service Airport Found on Map Transit Directions Fully Loaded
Project Fi 2 seconds 8 seconds
Sprint 3 seconds 19 seconds

Conclusion

After traveling internationally for decades without a mobile internet connection, it’s honestly great to have any kind of free data overseas. I think all of us international travelers appreciate that T-Mobile changed the game by offering free text and data in many countries. This raised the bar, forcing traditional carriers like Sprint to drop their punishing international text and data surcharges to compete.

As long as you don’t need to load photo-intensive websites — and forget trying any sort of video — Sprint’s 2G speeds are good enough for getting Google Maps directions and sending/receiving emails. It might be frustratingly slow at points, but it’s eventually going to get the job done. However, if you’re deciding between the two, Google’s Project Fi is going to get the job done a lot quicker.

For me, the choice is clear.
For me, the choice is clear.

Plus, it might do so at a cheaper cost. Sprint is currently charging me $ 50 per month for unlimited text/data. Project Fi costs just $ 20 per month — or $ 15 per month if you join someone else’s plan — before charging $ 10 per GB for data. So, I can get at least 3 GB of high-speed data anywhere in the world for the same cost as my current Sprint plan. The downside is that Google’s Project Fi doesn’t qualify for 5x on my Chase Ink Cash card, while Sprint does.

As someone who needs to stay connected while traveling, I think the choice is clear. I’ll be switching over to Google Project Fi today.

How does your cell phone carrier work overseas?

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