Smartphones are no longer just about voice, text and e-mail. They are work tools, entertainment devices, social media hubs, and mobile links to the web. But there is just one thing holding us back from freely enjoying all these activities: our data plans.
As unlimited plans go the way of the woolly mammoth, staying within prescribed data limits has become the key to an affordable phone bill. This is even more important as we continue to add devices and share data among various plan members.
Fortunately, phone manufacturers and wireless carriers are starting to add tools that can help us manage data consumption and avoid those costly overages. Here are a few suggestions on how to slow down your data usage and stay within those strict monthly limits:
Download (and upload) on Wi-Fi only
If you regularly download movies, songs, or any other large files, wait until you can use your home Wi-Fi or another alternative to your cellular network. The same applies to uploading all those photos and videos to Facebook and Twitter. Uploading or downloading 10 photos a day can use as much as 1GB of data a month. Most smartphones will now ask you whether you want to wait until Wi-Fi is available when you try to transfer files. Take the hint and get into the habit of saying “yes.”
Update apps on Wi-Fi only
Apps are constantly updating themselves and, if you have a lot of them, those updates can make a difference to your monthly data consumption. Most smartphones will allow you to select the option of only updating apps when a Wi-Fi network is available. On Android phones, visit Google Play and go to Settings. Make sure that the auto-update option is set to “Auto update apps over Wi-Fi only.”
Turn off auto-sync
Most smartphones are set to automatically sync with a number of different external services. These can be cloud storage services like iCloud, Google Drive and Dropbox, or individual apps like Google+, Calendar and Facebook. This auto-syncing can start to use up a lot of data, particularly if it involves syncing photos and other data-heavy files.
While turning off auto-syncing completely defeats the purpose of cloud storage and backup, temporarily disabling auto-sync when it’s not required can be a good data saving option. On Android phones, select Settings, Data Usage, Menu and then uncheck Auto-sync data.
Understand which apps use the most data
The key to managing your data usage is understanding which apps are doing all the data guzzling. Sometimes it will be obvious, like when your kids decided to watch a movie in the back of the car, but sometimes it can be less clear. All recent smartphone operating systems now offer a data usage summary, which details which apps are using the most data. If you are not a chronic movie-watcher, music-streamer, or Facebook updater, then it’s likely to be something as mundane as e-mail or web browsing. Whatever app turns out to be your #1 data guzzler, make a mental note to change how you use that app, either cutting down on overall use or, again, waiting until a Wi-Fi network is available.
Pre-load streaming apps
A number of data hungry apps now offer the ability to pre-load content, so you can download on Wi-Fi rather than stream via cellular network. Nokia Drive and Nokia Music are just two examples of these pre-loadable apps. With Nokia Drive, you can pre-load maps to save data during navigation, and with Nokia Music, you can download your favorite playlists to listen to along the way!
Set up data notifications
Another key to managing your monthly data is knowing how much you have used at any given moment. Most carriers now allow you to set up notifications when you have reached 50%, 75% or 90% of your monthly allowance. Even if you can’t cut back on your data, it gives you the opportunity to retroactively move to a higher data tier, which is a lot cheaper than paying overage charges.
Set data limits
If all else fails, setting strict data limits will make sure you never go over your agreed allowance. You can usually do this through the Settings option on your smartphone or by setting up a pre-paid account with your carrier. If you set data limits on your smartphone, make sure you are using the correct usage cycle, as it’s your carrier’s monthly usage cycle that’s important, not the calendar month or any other cycle assumed by your smartphone’s operating system.