Keep Bill Shock at Bay!
Low-priced, budget data plans can offer a fairly cheap way to get internet access, but they also mean penny-pinching users have to keep an eye on their data usage. Nobody likes having to deal with bill shock, so here are a few tips and helpful tools for reducing your data usage on Android devices. Happy browsing!
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Check Your Data Usage
First of all, you need to be aware of how much data you're using in a given period in order to properly estimate your data needs. You can use the built-in data usage checker in Android's Settings>Data usage selection (in the Wireless & Networks section of settings) to display a graph of your data usage over a given period of time, as well as how much data particular apps are using. This should give you a fair idea as to how much you use over a month, as well as which apps are the data hogs.
Turn Off Autosync
The Android Power Control widget allows you to tweak or switch off battery-guzzling features of an Android device when you don't need them (such as the WiFi radio and GPS features), but it can also be used to switch off Auto-Sync, which prevents apps from checking for notifications, chat messages, newly received emails, and otherwise syncing (and consuming) new data. You can reduce data consumption by turning off Auto-Sync (the icon just to the left of the Brightness button). Just be aware that you're sacrificing immediate notification in doing this (you can still turn it on and off intermittently over the day, or manually sync your apps).
Google Play Autoupdate Settings
Another potential data guzzler is Google Play's auto-updating of your apps. While keeping your applications updated to the latest versions is generally recommended, updating and downloading new apps (such as graphically intensive games) can require large amounts of data transfer. Depending on the version of Google Play, you can turn off auto-updating when not on WiFi, or even turn it off altogether (which is also useful when you want to backup a version of an app in case an update is buggy).
Restrict Background Data Use
A more draconian method (and one that is not highly recommended) is to Restrict Background Data Use (which can be done in Settings>Data Usage). This restricts apps from using data in the background, but can also break functionality with a lot of apps and widgets, so use with extreme care.
Reduce Cache Dumping
An Android optimization tip that's sometimes bandied about is clearing your application caches to save space, especially on low storage capacity devices. This can, however, adversely affect your data usage with certain applications (such as browsers or social networking apps). For example, clearing your Google+ or Facebook cache might seem like a good idea now, but it will also mean that the next time your social networking app syncs for data (like new posts from friends or circles), it's very likely that it will need to redownload such things as profile pictures and other connected media files.
Avoid ad-supported games
Many ad-supported games are available for free on the Google Play Market, but there are very often hidden costs involved. Even if a game isn't "freemium," ad-supported games will still take up a portion of your data cap every time it loads up a new banner ad or promotion. If you're watching out for your data usage, skip ad-supported games where possible, or game only in a WiFi hotspot. Better yet, you can show the developers of a good game some love and purchase the ad-free versions of games you really love.
Avoid Streaming Media (when not on WiFi)
Streaming media services allow users to access their multimedia content wherever you are on the go. Cloud music services from Amazon and Google, as well as video website YouTube and other content providers give you access to tons of videos and music anywhere you've got a data connection. Of course, because you're downloading and playing media on the fly, you're going to eat up a sizable chunk of your data cap if you're away from a WiFi hotspot. If you really must listen to a particular album or watch a movie during a long commute or train ride, consider uploading a copy to you device, rather than streaming it through your mobile connection.
For users looking for a more advanced data counter app than the one built-in to Android or provided by your telco, Onavo Count is an excellent free solution that lets users track your data usage. Set your monthly data cap, define a billing period, and the app will do the rest, tracking your data usage on a per-app basis. You can be warned if you're hitting close to your limit, and a predictive feature can tell you if you're likely to hit the red based on current usage patterns. There's also an option to restrict certain apps to WiFi-only, which is perfect for data hogging apps such as streaming media.
My Data Manager
My Data Manager is another data monitoring favorite, reliably tracking your monthly data usage and telling you when you're coming close to your data cap. Per-app breakdowns allow you to get down to how much data individual apps use, track app usage over time, and set notifications as you approach your limits. Unfortunately, it doesn't haveOnavo Count's ability to limit apps to WiFi-only data consumption.
Use a light browser (Opera Mini)
Another method of reducing your data usage is to use a light browser, such as Opera Mini, which compresses incoming data (such as images and media) in order to reduce the amount of data you're actually downloading to your phone. For a slight decrease in image and media quality, you get a respectable amount of data savings (and the app is happy enough to inform you just how much data you've saved through its features).
Use a light browser (TextOnly)
For those that really like to cut back, TextOnly offers an extremely spartan browsing experience, paring away everything but the raw text of a given web page (with an option to view the page with all the bells and whistles included). While this can occasionally lead to strange formatting, or the loss of images that may be critical to an article or piece, it can massively reduce the amount of data consumed by browsing on the go. Still, it is a VERY spartan way to experience the internet.
While most Android devices have some sort of network detection features included, WeFi Pro takes that to another level by sniffing out free WiFi networks in the area and automatically connecting you to them. What's more, WeFi Pro's social features allow you to geotag free WiFi hotspots to share with users online, as well as take advantage of hotspots shared by other users. The app even automatically turns on your WiFi radio when near a user-tagged hotspot. All in all, WeFi Pro is an interesting, crowd-sourced way to take advantage of WiFi when on the go.
We've featured Droidwall before in our list of apps for rooted android phones. Besides its obvious role in securing your device as a firewall app, Droidwall also allows you to limit apps from accessing networks, thereby reducing your data usage.
Pre-cache or Offline maps
Another culprit when it comes to mobile data usage is navigation and mapping applications that sync with online databases. If you need to reference a map on the go, try pre-caching it if your mapping app supports it (like Google Maps). Additionally, you can try using offline maps such as MapDroyd, a free offline maps app with downloadable map packs for use even without a data connection.
We wrap up with one of our favorites, Onavo Extend, a data compression app that helps users with a capped data plan extend their data usage by compressing incoming images, texts, and other information (much like Opera Mini) before sending it to their Android device. It also offers a break down of each apps' data useage so you can track how you spend your monthly data allowance. If you're a smartphone user with a capped data plan, Onavo Extend is a great way to get more out of your data plan every month and save you from onerous overcharges.