Here's the deal:
Using too much cell phone data can rack up a lot of frustrating and unwanted costs.
Although overage charges are becoming scarcer these days, some plans will still charge you when you go over your monthly allotment. Even if you're not charged, you're just as likely to have your data speeds throttled and slowed to a crawl. If you're on a prepaid or pay-as-you-go plan, you might be out of luck until next month or until you refill.
We've got your back.
In this article, I'll show you how to reduce your mobile data usage on both iPhones and Android phones, using five easy strategies. We'll first walk you through how to determine how much data you're using and then suggest simple changes you can employ that will help reduce how much data you use. Lastly, we'll point you in the direction of our data usage calculator so you can see how much data you need and what cell phone plans offer them.
5 Ways to Reduce Your Mobile Data Usage - In This Guide
Don't Let Data Determine How You Use Your Device
It's not too tough to hit your mobile network's data cap. Consider this - according to Business Insider, just an hour per day of streaming music on the high-quality setting can amount to over 4 GB per month. Add in social media, YouTube videos, emails, and other apps such as games and you could have a serious data consumption problem on your hands.
Don't worry, though - there are ways to cut your mobile data usage without sacrificing too much in terms of your favorite activities on your mobile device.
The first step to reducing your mobile data usage is to find out how much you're using to begin with.
Here are five ways to take control of your data usage. Following these tips will not only help you avoid overages or throttling, but you may even be able to scale your plan back and save money on your monthly bill. Considering that cell phone bills can run well over $100 a month, it only makes sense to do everything you can to minimize the hit to your wallet.
1. Track Your Data Usage
The first step to reducing your mobile data usage is to find out how much you're using, to begin with. Did you know you can find that very information just by looking in your device settings? This built-in feature is easy to overlook, yet is available for both iPhone and Android devices.
How to check mobile data usage on iOS:
Settings --> Cellular --> Cellular data usage
Within this menu, you will also see a breakdown of how much data each of your apps is using. This analysis can be extremely helpful in tracking how much you're using and which apps to target for reduction techniques.
You do need to make sure, however, that you reset the statistics at the end of each billing period. If you don't, you'll get a general idea of your greediest data-slurpers over the life of your phone, however, you won't know how much each uses in an average month. I like to set reminder alerts in my phone's calendar for tasks like this, that way you can "set it and forget it"...until next month, that is.
How to check mobile data usage on Android:
Settings --> Wireless & Networks --> Data usage
If you have an older version of the Android OS this device setting may be found through a slightly different navigational path, however, it should be very similar and simple to locate.
The beauty of Android devices is that not only can you see how much data you've used during the current month's billing cycle, you can also check past cycles as well as program the date on which you want the statistics to reset. Individual app usage info is also available on your Android phone, just as in iOS.
2. Take Advantage of Settings & Apps
Now that you know how much data you're using in an average billing cycle, you can better manage your usage app by app. There are several things you can do to decrease usage just by customizing your phone settings.
You're probably wondering: how can my phone settings affect my data consumption? It's easy to assume that only high-use activities like streaming music and HD video chomp down your gigabytes. The truth is that any time an app does anything, even if it's just your mail app auto-syncing new emails, it uses an internet connection. Internet access means using data (not to mention battery life).
Now: decreasing the number of times your phone makes an internet connection is just one way to make sure your cellular network provider doesn't hit you with overage charges. There are also apps designed specifically to help you track and control data suckers.
You've got several options for reducing mobile data usage on your iPhone or iPad:
- Edit data-leaking widgets: From the main screen, swipe right then scrolls down to "Edit" to remove lock screen icons you don't want.
- Disable automatic downloads: Settings --> iTunes & App Store --> Turn off "Use Cellular Data"
- Disable iCloud Drive cellular access: Settings --> iCloud Drive --> Turn off "Use Cellular Data"
- Customize background app refresh: Settings --> General --> disable background app refresh on desired apps
- Customize your mail settings: Settings --> Mail --> turn off "Use Cellular Data" and/or "Load Remote Images"
- Disable WiFi Assist (automatically uses cellular data when WiFi is spotty): Settings --> Cellular --> turn off "WiFi Assist"
- Turn cellular access off by individual app: Settings --> Cellular
If you're at the end of your current month billing cycle and really getting down to the wire on your remaining data, you could also turn off cellular network access for Apple Music. I'm sure, however, that you're hoping it doesn't come to that.
The Android OS also offers some handy features you can use to limit unnecessary internet access:
- Set a data limit: Settings --> Wireless & Networks --> Data Usage --> Set Data Limit (within this menu you can also choose when to receive a warning as you approach your limit).
- Restrict background usage: You'll find a list of your apps in the above menu. Click on the app you wish to restrict from using background data, like social media apps. Keep in mind that you won't receive notifications for apps you've restricted, and some system apps will stop running.*
- Compress data in Chrome: Open Chrome and go into your settings. Scroll to the bottom and enable Data Saver. I personally don't notice any appreciable difference in image quality using this option. When you go back into Settings, you can even see how much data you've saved since turning it on.
- Disable auto-updating: Keep your apps from updating automatically when you're on a cellular connection. Open your Play Store menu then go into Settings --> Auto-update apps --> Auto-update apps over WiFi only.
- Customize mail syncing: If your mail is set to auto-update too often, decrease the frequency or shut it off in your mail app's settings.
- Disable other syncing: Go into Settings then Accounts and turn off anything you don't absolutely need to auto-sync.
*A note on Android 7.0 Nougat: If you have a newer device, you can whitelist apps rather than restricting background data one by one. Go into Settings --> Wireless & Networks --> Data Usage --> Data Saver. Toggle the slider on, then click "Unrestricted data access". From here you can toggle on sliders for each individual app that you want to have unrestricted access.
On Both Operating Systems
- Disable autoplay videos on social media apps: The option to disable autoplay videos is accessible within your Facebook app, Twitter, and Instagram app settings.
- Use data-saving apps: Download apps like Opera Max or Neopard - these help you automatically shave down your usage.
- Disable push notifications: On iOS, open Settings, and Notification Center, then disable push notifications on your chosen apps. On Android, go into Settings, Applications, then Application Manager. Choose an app, then tap Notifications and disable from there. You can also access app settings on your mobile device through the app store or Play Store.
- Use apps like Onavo: Onavo Extend for iOS intercepts data from your wireless network and compresses it before it reaches your device. Onavo Count, also for iOS, helps identify data-sucking apps so you can pinpoint the leaks. Onavo Protect - for both iOS and Android - protects your personal information, plus stops apps from eating up data in the background. Onavo Extend and Onavo Count are only available for iOS.
Just using these tips alone should lower your data usage by a considerable amount. As a bonus, adjusting your phone settings also saves battery life. We're not done yet: there are more ways to preserve those coveted GBs.
3. Make WiFi Your Best Friend
TechCrunch reported last year that 70 percent of internet traffic is comprised of streaming services, with YouTube perched at the top of the mobile data use heap. Stream just an hour of videos on YouTube or Netflix and you could burn through more than 400 MB. If you're on a limited data plan, that is not good news.
Did you know that your cable or internet provider may be your key to free WiFi on the go?
You can choose to lower the resolution within each streaming app, however, if you prefer to watch streaming video in HD your best bet is to restrict your viewing to WiFi only. You should also be saving app downloads for WiFi. Spending the evening at a friend's house? Be sure to nab their WiFi password. It's an extra step, but one that could save you big.
Use your Internet away from home: Did you know that your cable or internet provider may be your key to free WiFi on the go? Some providers, like Comcast Internet, include the use of their WiFi hotspots as long as you're subscribed to their cable service. Verizon also offers such a perk. Simply go into your WiFi networks while out and about and find your provider in the list. You'll then be able to sign into the network using your cable television account info. This is a major score because it means you won't need to waste data using a personal hotspot on your phone.
4. Take Your Streaming Offline
Offline music and streaming video are some of the greatest inventions since sliced bread, at least in terms of saving mobile data. You already know these activities (I'm looking at you HD video) eat up your allotment like there's no tomorrow. But did you know some services are available for download? Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, and pay video services like YouTube Red allow you to download content for offline viewing or listening. Even Netflix hopped on the bandwagon in late 2016, finally offering its long-awaited offline viewing option.
Read More: What are the best streaming services? You can read our review of the best streaming sites to find out.
5. Keep Your Background Clean
You know that little button that allows you to see which apps you have open? Hit that to view and close apps you're not currently using. Even if you're not actively doing something within these apps, they are running in the background, happily chomping through your data like Pac-Man gobbling up power pellets.
Also, don't forget to power your phone down once in a while and wipe the cache data (to do so, follow your model's instructions for rebooting in recovery mode, which is where you will find this option). Even though it's not necessary to turn your phone off more than once a year, according to experts, wiping cache data not only shuts down everything that's running but it also frees up a little of your phone memory.
Reduce Your Mobile Data Usage Recap
It goes without saying that you should turn off roaming data while out of the country unless you have a plan that allows you international data. You're no doubt also aware of the fact that using tethering or turning your smartphone into a personal hotspot are also great ways to rip through your data like a wildfire in a drought.
However, if you saved all that you could, you may just need to expand your data plan. You can gauge how much data you actually need with our data calculator. After, you can compare unlimited data plans from the major wireless networks.