Managing Mobile Data: Overview

My 2013 Nexus 7 is the LTE model and I have an inexpensive monthly data plan providing me with an allowance of 1 GB. My carrier does not charge me if I exceed my allowance and instead throttles my data speed, so even though there’s no cost if I overuse my data, it makes the device difficult to live with.

I’m therefore keen to make the best use of data on my Nexus. But how best to maximize your data allowance?

Let’s take a look at my data usage over the last couple of weeks.
Data Manager Summary
As you can see, my biggest use of data is Google Docs. This is very much as I would be expecting as I use Google Docs for all of my writing and I have the application set to synchronise data across both the mobile data and WiFi networks. However, 134 MB of data over two weeks seems a little high, so let’s take a look under the hood.

By tapping onto the entry for Google Docs, I can see the breakdown of data usage between foreground and background. Foreground means when it’s the application showing on the screen and accounts for around 40% of the 134 MB; background is when it’s not showing and amounts to 60%.
Google Docs Data Breakdown Summary
What this means is that when I change a document on another device, which is marked for offline access on my Nexus 7, Android automatically synchronizes the changes across.

As an approximate figure, if I were to disable Google Docs synchronization over the mobile network, I’d expect to reduce my data usage by around 40 MB a week or an approximate 160 MB a month. By default, synchronization over mobile data is disabled for this reason, because Docs can be quite greedy.

I’ve always been inside my allowance and I enjoy the convenience of having my documents readily available so I keep the option turned on.

On this screen you also have the option to restrict background (mobile) data for any particular application listed. This may be used as a blunt instrument to control what apps have access to the data network but it’s useful when an application’s settings don’t allow you to ban it from using mobile data.

The other entries in the list show much smaller data usage over the period. Each of the top data users shows significantly more data used when the application is running rather than in background mode, even Google+ and Twitter, the two social networks I use.

Google have designed their services to be efficient users of data when used on the Android platform. I use Gmail and Google Calendar throughout the day and neither appears high up in the list of data users.

I’ll take a look at individual applications in another article, but media is typically a high user of data. Video tends to use more data than music and with this in mind, I make some considerations for data use. Where possible, I’ll download my media over a WiFi network. Streaming over the mobile network is relatively greedy in both data and battery terms, whereas over WiFi it tends to use much less power.

Google introduced a data usage tracker in Android from version 4.0 and later, which you can set to warn you or suspend data use when your cap is reached. I’ve found that Android tends to exaggerate the data used and so this should keep your costs down (but please check, if you set a limit and you’re still charged, neither I nor AndroidSocialMedia are responsible).

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