Increasingly sophisticated phones and data-hungry applications make it easier than ever to blow through your cellphone plan’s data cap…and incur nasty overage charges. Read on as we show you how to manage your data use.
Just a few short years ago it would have been almost unheard of to blow through multiple GB of mobile data. Now apps have ballooned in size (it’s not uncommon for apps and their updates to exceed 100MB in size), and with streaming music and video becoming more popular, it’s easy to burn through your data cap in a matter of days.
How to Check Your Data Usage
Before anything else, you need to check your data usage. If you don’t know what your typical usage looks like, you have no idea how mildly or severely you need to modify your data consumption patterns.
The easiest way to check past data usage is to log into the web portal of your cellular provider (or check your paper bills) and look at what your data usage is. If you’re routinely coming in way under your data cap, you may wish to contact your provider and see if you can switch to a less expensive data plan. If you’re coming close to the data cap or exceeding it, you will definitely want to keep reading.
You can also check your current month’s usage right from Android. Navigate to Settings > Wireless & Networks > Data Usage. You’ll see a screen that looks something like the first screen here:
How to Keep Your Data Use in Check
There are two kinds of data sinks when it comes to mobile devices. First, there’s the obvious user-driven data consumption, or “foreground data”. When you watch a high-quality video or download a new album, you’re directly contributing to increasing your data usage for that month, assuming you’re on mobile data and not Wi-Fi.
Obviously, to use fewer foreground data, you need to consciously stop downloading, streaming, and browsing so much.
Less obvious to most people, though, is the fairly large amount of behind-the-scenes data churning through your connection—the “background data”. Polling for Facebook updates, high-frequency email inbox checks, automatic application updates, and other background activities can put a real dent in your data allotment if you aren’t careful. Let’s take a look at how we can curtail some of this.
First: See Which Apps Are Using Data
First, let’s investigate which apps are actually generating notable amounts of background data. Head back to Settings > Wireless & Networks > Data Usage to see your apps, in order of data usage. You can tap on individual applications to see a more detailed view. Here we can see the foreground and background usage:
This will help immensely in the steps below. If you know which apps are using the most data, you know which apps to focus on fixing.
Use Android Nougat’s “Data Saver” (Android 7.0+)
Android 7.0 Nougat introduced a much more granular way to take the reins on your mobile data with a new feature called Data Saver.
Basically, this allows you to limit background data used by apps, but whitelist anything that want to have unrestricted access. This means background data is disabled for every app by default, then you can pick and choose where to grant unlimited access.
To get started, pull down the notification shade and tap the cog icon to jump into the Settings menu.
Under the “Wireless & Networks” section, tap the “Data usage” entry.
Just beneath the Cellular Usage section you’ll find the “Data Saver” option. This is where the fun starts.
The first thing you’ll need to do toggle this bad boy on using the little slider at the top. A new icon will show up in the status bar as well—to the left of the other data icons (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Cellular, etc.).
Keep in mind that once you turn this on, background data access will be restricted for all apps. To change that, tap the “Unrestricted data access” box.
This will bring up a list of all currently-installed applications on your phone. By toggling the respective app’s slider to “on,” you’re essentially allowing it to have unrestricted access to background. Thus, if you want things like Maps, Music, or Facebook to always be able to get the data they need, make sure to toggle those to “on.”
And that’s all there is to it. It’s worth keeping in mind that this only applies to mobile data—all apps will remain unrestricted while on Wi-Fi.
Limit Background Data, App by App
If you’d rather not use another app to perform these tasks, you can do a lot of manual settings tweaking yourself to reduce data.
To start, go back to your home screen and open one of the apps that’s using too much data. See if it has any settings designed to restrict data usage. Rather than use Android to restrict Facebook’s data use, for example, you can jump into the Facebook app and turn down the frequency of push notifications or turn them off altogether. Not only does turning off notifications and constant polling cut down on your data use but it’s great for extending your battery life.
Not every app will have these kinds of settings, however–or have as fine-tooth control as you wish. So, there’s another option.
Head back to Settings > Wireless & Networks > Data Usage and tap on an app. Check the box labeled “Restrict Background Data” (in Nougat, this is just a switch called “Background Data”, which you’ll want to turn off instead of on). This will limit its data usage from the operating system level. Note that this only applies to a mobile data connection–if you’re on Wi-Fi, Android will allow the app to use background data normally.
Turn Off All Background Data
If that isn’t enough, you can also turn off all background data with the flip of one switch—this reduces your data usage in most instances, but it can also be inconvenient as it doesn’t differentiate between data sippers and data hogs. From the Data Usage menu you can press the menu button and check “Restrict Background Data”. This will turn off background data for all applications.
Turn Off Background App Updates
Google realizes how precious your mobile data is, so app updates–which could arguably use up more of your data than anything else–will only happen automatically when you’re on Wi-Fi, at least by default. To make sure this is the case (and that you didn’t change it somewher down the line), head into the Play Store and open the menu. Jump into Settings, then make sure “Auto-update apps” is set to “Auto-update over Wi-Fi only.”
A quick note before we continue: as we talk about restricting background data usage, we want to make it very clear that these restrictions only apply to your mobile data usage; even if you heavily restrict an application it will still function normally when you are on Wi-Fi.
Use Chrome’s Data Saver
If you surf the web a lot on your phone, Google Chrome’s “Data Saver” mode can make it less of a blow to your data cap. Basically, it routes all of your traffic through a proxy run by Google that compresses the data before sending it your phone. Basically, this not only results in lower data usage, but also makes pages load faster. It’s a win-win.
You were likely asked to enable Data Saver the first time you loaded Chrome, but if you decided not to do it at the time, you can enable it after the fact by opening Chrome, jumping into Settings > Data Saver, and sliding the toggle to “On”.
Data Caching Is Your Friend
There are a lot of other areas you can cache data, too. Always be thinking about how you can offload your data usage to Wi-Fi before you’re out and about.
For example, we know this is so 2003, but there’s something to be said for downloading your music, podcasts, ebooks and other media to your device from the comfort of your home (and Wi-Fi connection).