With the ever-deepening attachment we have to our smart phones, the problem of using up our limited smartphone data is a constant worry to many users. With smartphones now available in the not-to-expensive entry level price point, now teenagers and pre-teens are using the power of the internet for gaming, watching streaming videos, and listening to streaming music through apps like Pandora. Our smartphones are expensive enough, and when a user blows through their limited amount of data, they can be hit with more charges to cover the excess data used.
Over the last several months mobile phone carriers have discontinued to offer their unlimited data plans, instead creating a more detailed tiered manner of pricing, with additional data typically charged at $10 per gigabyte. As of June 28, Verizon has officially changed the game once again by introducing Share Everything Plans which has been met with considerable outrage from customers. The Share Everything plans are a direct response to the increase in data, usage that is steadily increasing as more and more people use their smartphones significantly more. While the other major wireless companies have not yet announced similar changes, without a doubt they are watching very closely to see what kind of success — or failure — this earth-shattering change brings to the company.
The editors of the LA Times explain this change best, “But the heart of the plan is higher charges for using Verizon’s network to transmit data, which is what customers have increasingly been doing since the advent of Apple’s iPhone.”
Even before this game-changing move by Verizon, the four major wireless carriers had started to inform their customers when they were close to using up their data, “Last fall, all four US wireless carriers agreed to send some type of automatic data usage alerts to subscribers… the newest flavor of Android’s mobile operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich, comes with its own data-monitoring application.”
With the market undeniably saturated with smartphones, and with the popularity of these phones seemingly in the stratosphere, what can users do to keep tabs on their smartphone data usage? Fortunately, there are several app developers who have tackled this problem head on, helping to counteract the extreme measures taken by Verizon and other carriers in an attempt to capitalize on the explosion of data use from smartphones.
5 ways to keep tabs on your smartphone data usage
Don’t use FaceTime or Skype on cellular networks!
When Apple released the iPhone 4 the revolutionary app, FaceTime, was introduced to the world with glowing success. Even better, it could only be used on a wireless connection meaning users weren’t in danger of eating up their limited amount of data per month. With the release of iOS 6 quickly approaching, this will no longer be the case and FaceTime, for the first time, will be available over a cellular network, much like Skype.
The mobile phone operators have sufficiently reigned in the use of free programs such as Skype by having the program eat up a user’s data, oftentimes leading to increased bills to cover the additional data used. The best way to ensure that a user doesn’t use excessive data is to refrain from using these apps when on the cellular network. Although, if one needs to use video conferencing, FaceTime is certainly the best way to do it as “the FaceTime app doesn’t use as much bandwidth as other video services.”
Stay away from streaming programs when not on WiFi
Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, and anything on the cloud need to be avoided at all costs when on the cellular network. One movie on Netflix can eat up a month of data allotment, and keeping that in mind can help a user to keep track of their data. When adding in e-mail, Facebook, and streaming music, a user can go over their data limits without even realizing it. By connecting to a WiFi network the threat of using all of your data is greatly lessened.
Three Apps You Can Use to Keep Track, as tested by Lauren Goode of AllThingsD.com
Onavo Count, a free app available on the Android App Store monitors the data used by the Android mobile device, helping to user to keep track of how much data has been used, and can be used in conjunction with Onavo Extend which shrinks the data downloaded. Onavo Extend is available on by Android and Apple devices, with one caveat: it is not compatible with Verizon’s iPad 2 or iPhone 4.
Onavo Count alerts users with a single progress bar at the top, which shows users how much of their data they have used, offering that the tester is “Doing A-Okay,” when she had used half of the 30 MB allotment. There are some drawbacks to the program, but with its easy to use interface, it is easy to forgive a lack of a listing of specific Data Hoggers programs.
My Data Manager is available for both Apple’s iOS – phone and tablet — and all Android operating devices and is free for both. This app lets you alter the settings so that the user can choose their plan type, how they’d like data measured, and when the billing cycle ended all to help ensure a plans data limits are not crossed. The interface is clean, allowing side-to-side swiping instead of overly cluttered and confusing screens. A potential drawback is the overwhelming nature of the various tabs and menu options, which Goode felt were not necessary to the success of the application. But, the drawbacks to the program are quickly outweighed by the innovative, albeit only Android compatible, ability to shut down data services when a certain threshold is passed.
Data Usage is offered in the standard app, for 99 cents, as well as a Pro version for $1.99 and is heavy on the numeric information that could easily overwhelm a technology-nervous user. Both Data Usage and Data Usage Pro are only available in the Apple App Store, for both the iPhone and the iPad, and breaks down data into sent and received.
Unlike the other programs, Data Usage looks at past usage to alert customers if they are likely to be charged with overage fees based on their historic patterns, and there are many options for notification when usage of data is nearing a certain threshold. There is one drawback, Data Usage needs to be ran right before the phone or tablet is turned off or rebooted or there could be a discrepancy between data used and data calculated which could inadvertently lead to overage charges.
Smartphones are an integral part of our life, and with the tablet market quickly expanding, the likelihood of going over the allotment of data given to each user by the mobile phone carriers is more and more likely to occur. By adapting and understanding where the data is being used and how to track the usage of data shockingly high mobile carrier bills can be reduced and kept under control.