Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Smartphones allow us to stay connected 24/7/365 and have changed the way that we function in our daily lives. However, as the amount of cool new stuff we can do with our phones increases, so does our data usage and consequently our cell phone bills. How can we still get the benefits of our phones while staying within our limits? Well, we’re glad you asked. There are definite ways to curb data usage and stay on top of what you’re doing now in order to avoid increased phone bills in the future.
The first step to reducing your usage and staying within your data limit is understanding what uses data and what doesn’t. To put it simply; anything that updates, refreshes, does push notifications or delivers information to you that is not already stored in your phone’s memory uses data.
Picture and video messaging
Skype and other video chatting services
Playing certain games (even after being downloaded)
Streaming videos (YouTube and Netflix)
Streaming music (Pandora and iheartradio)
And anything else that you need an Internet connection to do, uses up your data.
Even though a lot of things use data, don’t be alarmed. The data consumption of each of these activities is not equal. Streaming music, streaming videos, video chatting and GPS services are the culprits behind the majority of data overages.
What doesn’t use data are things that are already downloaded to your phone’s memory or stored on an SD card. So, if you have a movie downloaded to your phone, you can watch that movie backwards and forwards and it won’t use data because the device doesn’t have to connect to the Internet to access it. If you have an ebook downloaded to your phone, opening the book and reading it won’t use data because your phone doesn’t have to access the Internet to get to the book.
This rule gets trickier when it comes to playing games. Certain games update your high score and post it online or post your activity to Facebook. Others let you play with your friends or chat with them while you’re playing. All of those functions use data. So, even if you have a game downloaded to your device, you have to check with the app developer to see if it uses data while in play and if there is a way to shut that feature off or adjust it to reduce your data usage.
The number one tip to reduce data usage is to connect to WiFi as much as possible. McDonald’s, Barnes and Noble, Starbucks and FedEx stores all have free WiFi hotspots you can connect to while you’re on the go. Your job may have a public hotspot and most likely you have a WiFi router in your home (or are already stealing your neighbor’s WiFi).
If your device is connected to WiFi, you can do anything you want and your device will not use data. Now, you’ve probably been told to use WiFi whenever possible before. However, you probably haven’t heard the even more important follow up tip that most smartphone users don’t even know exists: turn your phone’s data off while you’re using WiFi. Yes, it is possible to disable data usage from within your phone’s settings. This is important because you don’t want your WiFi and your data turned on simultaneously. Having your WiFi and your data turned on at once can lead to an array of connectivity issues.
The most important reason to not have your WiFi and your data turned on at the same time is that even if connected to WiFi, your phone can still use your data. Your phone is designed to use your data services as its primary web access method. So, just turning your WiFi on, in some cases, will not keep your phone from using data. Other connectivity issues can arise if you have your WiFi and data turned on simultaneously. Your phone’s WiFi and data antennas can cancel each other out and you won’t be able to connect to the Internet using either method. In that case, turn your WiFi off, call your carrier’s customer service and they’ll be able to reset your phone’s data connection.
Turn Your Data Off
To turn your Android powered device’s data off the steps are as follows. (This will vary slightly depending on which Android version your device is running.)
From your Homescreen go to:
- Go to ‘Wireless and Network’ (if you’re running Android 4.0 or higher you’ll need to go to ‘More Settings’ or ‘More’ underneath ‘Data Usage’ first).
- Go to ‘Mobile Networks’
- Then look for ‘Use Data’, ‘Use Packet Data’, ‘Enable Always on Mobile Data’ or any other data packet indicator
- Simply uncheck the box next to it or toggle it off.
After you’ve done that, your data is turned off and your device will not be able to connect to the Internet unless using WiFi. You’ll still be able to make and receive phone calls and send and receive regular text messages. The only thing you can’t do over WiFi is send and receive picture or video messages. MMS messages can only be sent over your carrier’s data network.
Turning off your data packet is a good last ditch effort to save yourself from going over your data limit. If you’re nearing your usage limit and you only have a couple days left before your next bill cycle, turning your data off may be a worthy sacrifice if it means not adding additional costs to your next phone bill.
Close Down the Apps That Are Running in the Background
The next step in data reduction is to ensure that your apps aren’t using up your data while running in the background. Yes, your apps can use your data even if you’re not actively using them.
To check and see what apps your phone is running in the background on your Android powered device, from your Homescreen go to:
- Go to ‘Applications’ or ‘Application manager’
- Go to the ‘Running’ or ‘Running services’ tab at the top of your screen.
Your phone will display all of the apps that are currently running in the background of your device. There will be a lot of system applications that come with the device to keep it running properly. These system applications do not use data as they are a part of the phone’s operating system. What you’re looking for are all of the apps that you’ve downloaded from the PlayStore.
To close down these apps while they’re not in use:
- Select the app
- Hit the ‘Force Stop’ or ‘Close’ button on the next screen.
If you don’t use the app anymore or just want to get rid of it, you can select ‘Uninstall’ or ‘Delete’ to remove it from your phone and guarantee it will no longer use your data. And don’t worry about deleting anything critical to your phone’s operations. Your phone has built in safeguards and won’t allow you to delete or remove applications that it needs for operations or system maintenance. If an app has the ‘Uninstall’ or ‘Delete’ button highlighted, that means the phone doesn’t need it to function or run and you’re free to delete away.
Set Your Update Intervals Farther Apart
Like we said earlier, anything that updates or refreshes uses data. This last step is one that mainly pertains to emails, but can be applied to apps as well.
If you have your email inbox(es) setup on your phone, then you can adjust how often your phone checks your inbox to notify you of new emails. If you use your phone for mainly business purposes and have to know every time a new email comes in, then this step may terrify you. However, if it’s not critical that your emails update every minute, read on.
The longer the time interval between email updates, the better for your data usage. In most cases, you want to set this to update ‘Manually’ or ‘Never’. This way your inbox(es) will only update when you actually go in and check your emails.
To adjust your update interval:
- Go to your email ‘Inbox’
- Press your ‘Menu’ Key (for most Android devices, this is going to be the button on the bottom of your device that is to the left of the ‘Home” button.)
- Go to ‘Settings’
- Select the email you want to adjust
- Go to ‘Sync Interval’, ‘Sync Schedule’ or any other variation and select it.
- You will see all of the time intervals that are able to be set for you inbox. Select the one that best fits your needs.
The farther apart an update interval is, the better it is for your data usage. If one inbox is more important than another, you can set the update interval for that Inbox to be more frequent. The less important Inboxes can be set to be checked manually. Either way, adjusting this will have an impact on your data usage.
This principle can also be applied to your apps. This must be done on an app by app basis and some apps do not allow you to adjust their update settings. Using Facebook as an example, in order to disable notifications from popping up on your screen whenever you get a new message, comment or other activity, you have to go into the Facebook app itself.
- Open the Facebook app
- Select the ‘Menu’ button on the upper left hand corner
- Go down to ‘Account Settings’
- Select ‘Notifications’
Adjust your settings to reflect what you want to be notified for and what you do not. The less you have checked, the better it will be for your data usage.
Again, this must be done an app by app basis. Some apps will allow you to adjust these settings and others will not. Some of these settings will need to be adjusted from within the app itself, while others will allow you to adjust these settings through your phone’s settings. If you’re not sure how to adjust these settings, contact the app developer and they’ll be able to walk you through it.
Data usage is a constantly fluctuating reality of the smartphone. The apps that don’t use data now may use data in the future. But, by using these basic principles you can stay on top of your data usage and minimize it. For the majority of people, following these steps will solve your data usage nightmares. For others, the source of your data usage may elude you. When all else fails, contact your carrier to see what steps they can take in order to help you reduce your usage.
There are instances where large amounts of unexpected data usage (15+ Gigabytes over your normal usage) can indicate a software issue with your device. These instances are rare but are known to happen. In these cases, a replacement device or a master reset will have to be processed to fix the issue. Contact your carrier and they will tell you what options you have available if you believe this is happening to you.
At the end of the day it’s about enjoying your smartphone. Use what you must, but be smart about what you don’t need to use. Be sure to stay on top of what your phone is doing even if you’re not telling it to do it and you’ll be fine. And if all else fails, there’s always the flip phone.