Tech – Cell Phones

Nick thought he had it all figured out. We had started using Google’s Project Fi a few months before moving to Korea. It’s a great service – they subcontract with Sprint, US Cellular, and at least one other US carrier that I can’t remember. The other bonus is that they offer service in 170 foreign countries – at the same rate for data and messages, calls back to the US are free over WiFi, or $0.20 a minute over cell. We’d be able to keep our US numbers, which is stupid convenient for our friends and family back home. It’s also cheap – $20 for unlimited voice and text, and $10 per gb of data. No overages – if you used 1.1gb, your bill would be $31.

For Project Fi, you have to be using one of Google’s Nexus phones – the Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, or Nexus 5X. Nick got the 6P, and Hillary got the 5X.

 

So that’s how it briefed. How it executed, well… Two main problems. One, voice service was a pain. We kept getting error messages when trying to call US numbers, regardless of if we were on cell or WiFi. A few conversations with Google’s tech support didn’t clear it up.  The other problem is that you pretty much need a Korean number – both for giving to businesses, and for anyone you want to talk to for personal stuff.

So Nick ended up getting a Korean phone, because initially we had planned to at least keep the Project Fi for talking back home. He quickly decided having two phones is a major pain.

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There’s a business center at Dragon Hill Lodge that carries LG U+, one of the three major cellular carriers in Korea. It’s actually the smallest by number of users – both KT (formerly known as olleh) and SK Telecom are bigger. We went with LG U+ because it was convenient, and the price was tough to beat. For $62 a month we get unlimited local talk and text, 300 minutes of international calls, and unlimited data. For the data we get 11gb a month at 4G speeds. Once that’s used up, we get another 2gb a day. If we use that up too, we still have unlimited data but at 3G speeds. So, pretty much awesome. The $62 also included a Samsung A3 2016 – essentially a Samsung S6 Mini.

After a few weeks of dealing with Project Fi being essentially useless, we decided to just switch to LG U+ entirely. If we’d known then what we know now, we would have just switched over Nick’s Nexus 6P to the LG U+. Today we suspended our Project Fi service (Google lets you suspend for up to 39 months for military service), and Nick switched the sim over to his Nexus 6P with no problems. Later today we’re going to get Hillary signed up for the same plan, but hers will be $52 a month since we won’t be paying for a device.

So, while the Project Fi briefed well, you’re still better off getting a Korean carrier while you’re here. Thanks to the numerous data voice options (Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc.) there are plenty of easy ways to reach back to the US even if you don’t want to spend the money for international calls.

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