Q: Michelle writes, I was wondering about ways to lower my data usage on my iPhone. I always seem to go over my limit, and then I am slapped with another monthly charge. What things can I turn "off" or put away unless I need them, and how do I do it?
A: Thanks for your question, Michelle. iPhones and Android phones can eat up a data plan like a 5 year old with an unattended candy bowl. Unless you're on an unlimited data plan, you have to keep an eye on what your phone is downloading and sending, or it'll end up taking a bite out of your wallet.
Periodically check your cellular data usage on your iPhone by opening your Settings app, and tapping General, Usage and then Cellular Usage at the bottom. On that screen you can see how much data your phone has sent and received. Each month, at the end of your billing cycle, tap the Reset Statistics button to clear out the counters and start over.
Knowing how much data you're using in the first place will help to stay you on track. Now, here's a few tips to keep your cellular data usage low. First of all, don't download or stream any video or audio unless you are connected to a Wi-Fi network. Those NPR, Netflix, Hulu and PBS Kids apps will devour your cellular data. I'm not saying don't use them! They're great apps. Just make sure to use them when you are connected to a Wi-Fi network if you're trying to save your cellular data.
And, if you have streaming video or music that you just have to watch or listen to over 3G or 4G, go for the Non-HD version or the lower quality version. That will save you a bunch of data, too. If you use Spotify, make your playlists Available Offline so that the next time you're away from home they'll play from your phone instead of over the Internet. The same thing is true for Amazon Cloud Player and the Podcast app; make sure to download your songs and new podcast episodes to your device before you leave the house. Also, and it's probably obvious, but make sure to only download new apps and updates when you are on a Wi-Fi network too.
Also, try reducing the number of times that your phone downloads new email. On the iPhone, open your Settings app and tap "Mail, Contacts, Calendars" and then, Fetch New Data. Turn off Push, and change Fetch to Manually or, at most, Hourly.
Finally, If you see that you're getting close to your limit, or you just want to save your data plan for later in the month, turn your cellular data off. On the iPhone go to the General menu under Settings, tap Cellular and then tap the Cellular Data on/off switch. You'll still get phone calls and text messages, but you won't be able to browse the web and none of your apps will access the Internet either unless you are connected to a Wi-Fi network. You can also turn off Cellular data for specific built-in functions like iTunes, FaceTime, and Personal Hotspot in that same menu.
Android phones have a lot of the same features. You can, for instance disable mobile data and only use data when you're on WiFi. But there's something even cooler that Android phones with version 4.0 or better can do. Open up your settings and go to the Data Usage menu. There is a checkbox there that says 'limit mobile data usage'. Check that and it will put a default cap of 5 GB. You can change the cap by touching the data usage graph below that option.
Alternatively, there is an option to have it alert you when you reach a certain amount of data. So Android gives you a lot of great options for monitoring your data usage. Individual Android apps also often have settings that will restrict them from using data unless you're on Wi-Fi.