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Managing Android Data Usage

If you’ve spent much time as a smartphone owner, you know the feeling of using up your cell phone plan’s monthly data allowance before the month is over. It’s especially frustrating if you aren’t even sure exactly how it happened. Fortunately, at Phone Medics Plus, we’ve got some ways you can take control of your phone’s data usage and keep from going over your limit. In our last post we talked about some of the ways to do that on your iPhone. Today we’re going to talk about how to manage your Android device.

Data Limits

Android has a fantastically helpful feature for managing your data usage built right in. If you go into Settings, then tap Data Usage, Billing Cycle, and Data Limit and Billing Cycle, you’ll see a series of options to help keep you from going over your monthly allotment of data. You can put in the details of your cell phone plan - how much data you’re allowed per month, and when your billing cycle renews - and see how much data you’ve used in the current cycle. You can also set up warnings, so that your phone will let you know if you start to approach your monthly limit. There’s even an option that allows you to disconnect your phone from your cellular network once you hit the limit.

Background App Usage

Android’s ability to have apps keep running in the background is fantastically handy, since using our phones often requires switching quickly between apps (fun fact: Apple didn’t add multitasking to iOS for quite some time after it was added to Android, which made multitasking a major Android selling point for a couple of years). Unfortunately, though, Android’s ability to run apps in the background means that those apps also have the ability to use up your cellular data in the background. Fortunately, you can manage which apps can do so. To do that, head into Settings, then tap Data Usage. There you’ll see a summary of your data usage for the billing cycle and a list of your installed apps in order of how much data they’ve used. If you tap on an app, you can see information on how much data it’s used in the foreground (i.e., when you’re actually using it), and in the background. If you think it’s using too much data in the background, then you can restrict it to only using cellular data in the foreground.

Update Over WiFi

Automatic app updates can be a major data hog. While you generally want to make sure your apps are up to date, you probably don’t want to use up your precious cellular data to do it. To make sure your apps only update when you’re connected to wifi, open up the Play Store, tap Menu, Settings, and Auto-Update Apps. There you’ll see a series of options for when to let the Play Store download updates. If you want, you can set your phone not to download updates automatically at all, but that generally isn’t advisable. The best thing to do is to set it to automatically update over wifi only. That way you can stay up to date without using up any of your cellular data.

Check Your Auto-Sync Settings

Awhile back we talked about how to make sure the data on your Android phone was backed up so that if something happened to your phone, the stuff on it would still be safe. In that post, we talked about using Google’s automatic syncing feature. The thing is, though, that you have to be a little careful with what you backup this way. Google automatically syncs your account data any time in changes, including when you’re using a cellular network. What that means is that if you’re auto-syncing apps or services that don’t necessarily need to be updated that often, then you might be wasting cellular data. To sort this out, go to Settings, then tap Accounts. There you’ll see a list of all the apps and services on your phone that take advantage of Google’s auto-syncing feature. When you encounter an app that doesn’t need to be synced automatically, just turn it off.

Chrome Data Compression

Given that it’s a web browser, and as such designed specifically to access the internet, Chrome’s potential to eat up your data allowance is enormous. Fortunately, Google is aware of the risk, and offers you the ability to reduce Chrome’s data consumption dramatically. When you enable Chrome’s Data Saver feature, the browser will reroute all of your internet traffic through a proxy server owned by Google. As it passes through this proxy, the content is optimized and compressed on its way to your phone. The result is that your phone uses a lot less data, and web pages load faster. As an added bonus, turning Data Saver on also activates the built-in Safe Browsing System. This feature checks the web pages that it loads for malware or other harmful content, and blocks malicious pages.

To turn on Data Saver, open up Chrome, get into the settings, and scroll down until you see Data Saver. On the Data Saver menu screen, you’ll see a button in the upper right corner that turns the feature on. Once its on, Data Saver begins tracking its performance, and shows you a graph of the data it has saved you.

Download Content to Your Phone

In addition to all the standard communication tasks we use our phones for - calls, texts, emails, social media, etc. - most of us also use our phones for things like entertainment, navigation, and more. Some of us barely use our cars’ built-in radios these days except as a way to play the music from our phones over our speakers, and a lot of us use our phones to watch movies and TV shows. We also use our phones to navigate - when’s the last time you saw someone using a standalone GPS unit in their car? Or a paper map? The bad news is that all of that music, video, and map data streaming to our phones can eat up a ton of our cellular data. The good news is that a lot of these apps offer the option to save data by downloading that content to our phones.

If you like watching movies or shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu, you can download most of their content directly to your device while you’re on a wifi connection, then watch it later. The same goes for the premium versions of music services like Spotify and Pandora.

When it comes to navigation, Google Maps and third-party apps like Waze offer you the option of downloading map data for a region to your phone so that you can navigate without using cellular data, while other apps like Maps.ME are designed to be fully offline navigation apps. To download the map for an area to your phone in Google Maps, open up Google Maps and tap the menu icon in the search box, then tap Offline Maps. To download your area, tap Custom Maps, select the area you want to download in the map screen, then tap Download.

Datally

So far we’ve talked a lot about the different settings you can tinker with to save your data. While that’s a great way to manage your data usage, there’s actually a simpler solution out there for Android phones. In late 2017, Google rolled out a new app called Datally. Datally is meant to be a one-stop-shop for managing many of the settings and features that control your phone’s data usage. It allows you to see which apps are using the most data and restrict their data access, set daily data limits so you can budget your data usage, and shows you apps you don’t use often that might still be using your data. It also will show you a list of nearby wifi networks and give you a map so you can find the closest one. There’s even a guest mode so that you can put limits on how much data a friend or family member can consume if they borrow your phone. Datally available for free in the Google Play Store and is compatible with devices running Android 5.0 or newer.

Bonus: Better Performance and Battery Life!

Like we said above, all of these changes that we’re suggesting you make to your phone’s settings are meant to reduce your phone’s use of its cellular data connection, but they come with another benefit, too: improving your phone’s performance and battery life. As you might expect, everything you do on your phone that uses cellular data also uses other system resources, and it uses electricity. So, for example, when an app is allowed to use data in the background, it’s going to put a dent in your monthly data allowance, but it’s also going to use your phone’s memory and processor. It’s also going to use up some battery power, since your phone’s processor, memory, and cellular antenna all require electricity to work. By restricting that app from using data in the background, you free up system resources for other apps, and you reduce the amount of power that’s being drawn from your battery, thus increasing your phone’s overall performance.

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