Summer 2015: Reducing Mobile Data Usage

Nexus 7 landscape data usage

As a breed, 2015's smartphones have more powerful hardware components, higher megapixel cameras, higher and larger screens and faster network technologies. Unfortunately, over the years, the tariffs and contracts that our carriers offer have not always improved in line with our smartphones. Unlimited data tariffs are fewer and fewer on the ground and capped data plans are becoming the norm. Over the years, we've covered how best to manage our finite data plans on our Android devices, so let's take a recap to see how we can keep up the good work in 2015.

As an introduction to this article, I'd recommend readers revisit my Google Chrome data compression article here and the overview article here. These articles cover off using Google's own data compression system for the Chrome browser, which can reduce the data used by viewing web pages by around 35%, and disabling certain features over mobile data, such as synchronizing changes to documents marked for offline via the mobile network. Some applications are notable greedy of data, such as the Google Newsstand, and these have options to disable mobile data use. Stock Android also has the option to disable background mobile data from the Data Usage screen on an individual application by application basis. This is a great way to ensure that an application doesn't go through several hundred megabytes of data, but it often means we won't receive notificatins.

One of the most greedy Android applications is the official Facebook app, although many third party replacements are just as greedy: this is symptomatic of how the Facebook service operates and on first glance, there isn't too much that we can do about it if we want to receive notifications when we are not using the device. Except actually, we can. One option is to uninstall Facebook and use a webbrowser, perhaps getting our notifications via our email, but this is clumsy. Fortunately, the Google Chrome browser supports notifications from websites and this means that we can sign into Facebook using Chrome and then benefit from notifications via the browser rather than via an application. The experience is not quite the same as using the application, but all data may be compressed via Google's Data Saver option and we can still receive notifications. It's also possible to add the Facebook website as a browser favorite shortcut and drop it onto the home screen.

Google Play Store Gmail Auto Update

Another simple change to make is to prevent the Google Play Store from automatically updating applications over mobile data. The Play Store includes an overall auto-update toggle and individual applications can be set to automatically update independently of the toggle if you wish via the individual app entry in the Play Store and the menu at the top right of the screen.

Music and especially video are two of the greediest applications when it comes to data. If you use streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify or the Google Play Music on your device when out and about, these will use a lot of data. The ideal situation from your data budget perspective is to download music over WiFi before you head out, but this may not be possible or desirable. An alternative is to check the settings of your music application to reduce the quality of music streamed over the mobile data network.

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