My experience with Google Fi on an iPhone isn't off to a good start

I wanted to test out Apple's iPhone on Google's wireless service, but the experience has been nothing short of frustrating.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

When Google announced that Project Fi was becoming Google Fi, along with the addition of official iPhone support, I was intrigued.

I had used Project Fi in the past, pausing and resuming service when I needed a second line. The flexibility of Google's service was something I appreciated and took full advantage of.

Getting the Google Fi SIM card

When the news broke, I ordered a SIM card, in anticipation of using it in an iPhone XR. The next day, I received a tracking number that showed the SIM was due for delivery a couple of days later.

Then, the tracking number quit updating, and after another day or two, it became apparent FedEx lost the package. I used Google Fi's chat support feature to see what my options were. After being told I would have a SIM card overnighted to me, I was then told I would have to pay $16 for expedited shipping. The lost delivery wasn't Google's fault, nor mine, but I wasn't going to pay for expedited shipping; it wasn't even my idea to have it shipped overnight.

Also: Apple's iPhone XR isn't selling? I went to Best Buy to find out

The customer service representative eventually told me I would have to open a support ticket in order to have the company attempt to track down the package with FedEx. I agreed to have the ticket opened, and I waited to hear back from Google. A few days later, on a Saturday, I heard back from support. The package was lost and couldn't be recovered, and I would need to order another SIM card.

I asked if the offer to have a card overnighted for free was still available. The representative offered to apply a credit for the shipping fee to my Google Fi account after I activate service, which is a fair trade off, so I ordered the card and it showed up on Tuesday, nearly three weeks after I placed the original order.

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Setting up Google Fi

I installed the Google Fi iOS app, signed into my Google account, and followed the prompts. Setting up Google Fi on the iPhone takes a little bit of work, because you have to enter the APN settings for Google Fi service. That process took only a couple of minutes, partly because I'm comfortable with such a task, and because Google's instructions are easy to follow.

After restarting the iPhone XR, I received two text messages from Google Fi, providing me with my Google Fi phone number and welcoming me to the service.

A few minutes later, I attempted to send myself a picture and a text message. The text message appeared within a few seconds on my main phone number, but the picture message never arrived. I restarted the iPhone again and attempted to send another picture message. This time, my iPhone received a message, but it wasn't the picture message. Instead, it was a block of text that reads:

"One or more of the message components have been deleted by MMS Adaptation. Either the message was too large or the components were unsuitable for your handset."

Troubleshooting Google Fi

What? I still don't fully understand what that message is saying, and subsequent searches have resulted in more confusion, including suggestions that include completely resetting my personal phone and setting it up as brand new, which I'm not going to do, because it's not an issue related to the phone I'm actually using to receive the message.

I sent a picture message to my Google Fi phone, and that worked as expected. A text message went through without issue as well. Adding to the confusion, I can send a picture message to a Pixel 3 XL, and it works, but only about half the time.

Also: Goodbye iPhone XR: Signal strength and size bring me back

(Screenshot: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Google Fi support -- or lack thereof

I decided to chat with Google Fi support and see if perhaps something is amiss on the backend and to verify the APN settings I had entered during the setup process. I opened the Google Fi app, selected the support tab, and tapped on Chat. I entered a brief description of my issue and tapped submit.

There were 247 people in the queue ahead of me, and it took over an hour before I received a message from my support agent. After messaging back and forth, I was told to make sure my Google Fi phone wasn't connected to Wi-Fi when I want to send a picture message and to delete the Google Fi app, restart the phone, reinstall the app, and then go through the setup process again.

After doing all of that, I still can't send picture messages to my personal iPhone. My wife's iPhone displays the same message.

A while later, I received an email from the chat support representative, letting me know there is a messaging outage, which could be the reason I'm having issues, and that everything should be back to normal soon. As of this writing, my picture messaging isn't working as it should, and I don't know when it will.

Google Fi's biggest weakness

Look, I get that there are often hiccups and issues when activating new service. I've sold many phones and dealt with numerous activation issues in my career. It happens!

But my experience thus far shows the biggest weakness of any wireless carrier that attempts to forgo retail locations and uses a direct-to-consumer approach instead: Customer service.

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It took almost three weeks for me to get a SIM card due to a lost shipment. If I was waiting on, say, an AT&T SIM card, a 10-minute drive is all I would have needed to make.

When trying to troubleshoot my messaging woes, the chat process was cumbersome, with long pauses between me providing information and getting a reply from the representative. It was a two-and-a-half hour process from the time I first submitted my support chat request until I disconnected and deleted the app.

Google will, hopefully, get the messaging outage sorted and everything working as it should. But I don't need this phone number. I signed up for service in order to test and share my experience, and right now, I can't help but wonder how much patience someone (who is trying to save some money) would need to switch to Google Fi.

iPhone XS and iPhone XR cheat sheets

Previous and related coverage:

Google's Project Fi 4G is now available on most Android devices and iPhone

Google is also changing its 4G data and telephony service name from Project Fi to Google Fi.

Google's Project Fi adds three new phones to its lineup

The new phones span the low-end and high-end.

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