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Tips for Cutting Back Android Data Use

written by: •edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 10/11/2011

Learn how to reduce the amount of data usage on your Android phone. These tips will help you to stretch your data allowance further and reduce your chances of getting unexpected bills at the end of the month.

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    If you are not on an unlimited data plan with your cell service provider, you could get hit with a huge monthly bill unless you get your data use under control. With some providers not even offering an unlimited plan, you will need to learn how to configure your Android phone to minimize data usage. There are many techniques you can employ and we'll show you what to do by simply changing some settings on your phone.

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    Use Wi-Fi

    First and foremost, the best way to cut down on data usage while still enjoying the online capabilities of your phone is to utilize wireless Internet connections whenever available. Not only will this cut down on your data use, but you'll most likely get faster performance. For example, I have a Wi-Fi connection in my own home and use it to download apps and updates instead of going over the 3G network. Downloads are much faster this way, plus I'm using my own network instead of the cellular provider's service.

    On your Android, go into the Settings menu, then enter the Wireless & networks submenu and add in the information for Wi-Fi networks in places that you frequent. This could include your home, office, coffee shops, or anywhere. Once you're within range of that signal, switch your phone to Wi-Fi.

    Note: I've found that on my Samsung Galaxy S, the battery drains much faster when Wi-Fi is left turned on and it searches for available networks. You may have better performance depending on what type of Android you have and network availability, so experiment if necessary.

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    Change Refresh Intervals

    Unless you tell it otherwise, your phone will automatically check for new email, Facebook posts, and other online updates on a regular basis. Even if it detects nothing new, some data will still be exchanged during the authentication process. If, for example, your phone checks for new email every 30 minutes, that's 48 checks per day and the data it uses can add up quickly.

    Gmail Gmail - If you use the Gmail app, you will have to turn off the Auto-sync option and manually refresh the account to check for new email. This is great for keeping data usage down because it will never check unless you tell it to. In order to change this setting, open Gmail then hit the Menu button and go to the Accounts screen, then hit the Menu button again and go to Account Settings, then uncheck the box for Auto-sync. From then on, whenever you go into Gmail, just hit the Menu button and tap the Refresh button to check for new email.

    Email - If you use the Email app on the phone, such as for setting up an Exchange account or something besides Gmail, you can change the refresh interval to a maximum of once per hour, or set it to Never and manually refresh. When creating the account, you'll have this option. Otherwise, open your account, then hit the Menu button and go to Email check frequency and change the interval there.

    Facebook - With all its image data and content, the Facebook app can really suck down some kilobytes. Open the app and then hit the Menu button and go to Refresh interval and change the time to 4 hours, or go all out and set it to Never. After that, just open the app and hit the Menu button, then tap the Refresh button to check for updates manually.

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    Limit Streaming Apps

    As discussed above, changing refresh intervals on apps that are regularly updated will greatly reduce your data usage. However, some apps operate using streaming data and that can make you very quickly reach your cap. The best examples would be Netflix and YouTube, which stream video and audio that can take up hundreds of megabytes. Internet radio apps like Pandora also pull a steady stream of data as they operate, and are to be avoided if you have a limited data plan.

    Also watch our for apps like fantasy football services that update every few seconds on game nights. Another one to be careful of is anything to do with stock markets like the Bloomberg app or any kind of real-time stock ticker. The main thing to keep in mind is that unless you are accessing data stored on the phone, like a photo in your gallery, then it is most likely getting the data from the Internet and every bit of it counts against your data usage.

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    More Tips

    In addition to changing app settings and being careful about which apps you use, there are some general practices that you can employ which will help you reduce the amount of data being sent to and from your phone.

    • Instead of emailing photos directly from your phone, wait until you get to a computer and then use a USB cable and transfer them to the PC, then manually send them.
    • Keep your GPS turned off until you actually need it.
    • If you want music, manually copy the MP3s to your phone and play them locally. You won't have to worry about bandwidth that way, and the sound quality will be better.
    • In the Browser, go to the Settings menu and uncheck the box for Load images to reduce the graphics that download when viewing web pages. This might make some sites look strange, though.

    If you have any data saving tips and tricks that you'd like to share, please use the comment section below.


  • Image credit: Gmail envelope icon by Sasa Stefanovic, GPLv3
  • Information based on author's personal experience with the Samsung Galaxy S.