If you’re like most people, you don’t have unlimited data and you don’t want to go over your data cap. Phones with Android Jelly Bean contain powerful tools for tracking your mobile data usage, setting phone-wide limits, and identifying the apps that are sucking down the most data. You can prevent these apps from using data entirely to save your precious data allowance and avoid cell phone bill shock.
This is all integrated into the latest versions of Android and doesn’t require any third-party apps. The Data usage screen here was added with Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, but more features have been added in Jelly Bean 4.1 and 4.2.
Viewing Data Usage
To access the Data Usage screen, open your Android phone’s Settings screen, and tap Data usage under Wireless & Networks. You’ll see a graph displaying how much mobile data all apps on your phone used over a period of time. Specify the “Data usage cycle” time period that your carrier uses to determine your monthly data usage and you should see the amount of data you’ve used in the past billing cycle.
As the Data usage screen notes, the information here is measured by your phone and your carrier may measure data usage differently. In particular, if you reset your phone to its factory default settings or switch to a new phone part-way through your billing cycle, you’ll have incomplete information here.
Setting Mobile Data Limits
You can tap the Set mobile data limit checkbox to restrict the amount of mobile data your phone can use over a billing cycle. For example, if you have a 5GB limit before your carrier starts charging you overage fees, you can ensure your phone doesn’t go above 5GB of data in a month.
After tapping the checkbox, drag the red line to a point on the graph to specify a limit. As Android recommends, consider using a conservative limit – if you have a 5GB limit and limit your phone to 5GB, you might go a bit over by your carrier’s estimation, resulting in some overage charges. You may want to set the limit to a bit lower than your actual limit.
When your limit kicks in, you’ll receive a notification and mobile data will be disabled for the rest of the data usage cycle you specified.
Setting a Warning
You can also set a data usage warning by dragging the orange line to a point on the graph. When your mobile data usage reaches the warning level, you’ll receive a notification. This can help you keep track of how fast you’re using data.
For example, if you have a 5GB mobile data limit, you can set a warning at the 3GB level. If you get a warning only a week into the month, you’ll know you need to slow down your data usage to make it through the rest of the month.
Disabling Data Entirely
You can also disable mobile data entirely by setting the Mobile data slider at the top of the screen to Off. This will prevent your phone from using mobile data anywhere; you’ll only be able to access the Internet on Wi-Fi. This ensures your phone won’t use any mobile data in the background, and it’s particularly useful if you pay dearly for each bit of mobile data you use on a pay-per-use plan or if you want to make it through the rest of the month and you’re already near your limit.
If you do need to use mobile data, you can always re-enable it from this screen, do whatever you need to do, and then disable it again.
Restricting An App From Using Data
Android helps you view and control which apps can use mobile data. If you scroll down on the Data usage screen, you’ll see a list of apps that used mobile data in the current billing cycle, ordered by the amount of data they’ve used.
Tap an app to view more information about its data use. “Foreground data” identifies the data the app was using when it was open and you were actively using it. “Background data” identifies the data the app was using in the background. For example, Gmail downloads new emails in the background, Twitter downloads new tweets, a podcast app downloads new podcast episodes, and so on.
If an app is using too much background data and you’d like the app to stop, you can tap the Restrict background data checkbox on this screen. The app won’t be allowed to use mobile data in the background; it will only be able to use mobile data when you’re actively using the app. The app will still be allowed to access the Internet on Wi-Fi networks.
To really control the amount of data an app uses, you’ll want to modify that app’s settings. For example, if Twitter is using too much mobile data, you can open the Twitter app and control how often Twitter downloads new tweets. You could set Gmail to only download new emails when you sync manually. Many apps contain settings that allow you to control how the apps use mobile data.
More Data Usage Settings
You can tap the menu button at the top of the screen to view more options. Note that some of these settings may only be available on the latest version of Android Jelly Bean, 4.2.
- Data Roaming: Enabling data roaming will allow your phone to use mobile data when roaming, such as when you’re visiting other countries. This can incur extremely high additional charges in some situations – some people have been shocked to see a bill for tens of thousands of dollars – so ensure the roaming fees in an area won’t cause you to go bankrupt before you do this. For example, some carriers offer roaming plans that help decrease the costs of roaming.
- Restrict Background Data: This option prevents all apps and services from using data in the background. Apps that depend on background data won’t work how you’d expect them to – for example, Gmail won’t automatically download new messages in the background if you enable this option.
- Auto-Sync Data: By default, your emails, calendar events, and contacts automatically sync in the background. You can disable this to prevent background data usage, but you’ll have to manually sync (for example, by tapping the Sync button in the Gmail app to sync your emails).
- Show Wi-Fi Usage: Enable this option and you’ll see a Wi-Fi tab on the Data usage screen. You can then see which apps used the most data on Wi-Fi. This can be useful if you have a home Internet connection with bandwidth limits.
- Mobile Hotspots: If you’re tethering your Android phone or tablet to another device, you can specify Wi-Fi networks that your Android will treat as mobile data. This is particularly useful on tablets. For example, if you have an Android tablet and you’re tethering it to your phone, you can open the Data usage screen on the tablet, tap Mobile hotspots, and identify the phone’s Wi-Fi connection as a mobile data connection. You can then use the Data usage screen on the Android tablet to monitor and control your tablet’s use of the tethered connection as if it were a standard mobile data connection.
Do you have any other tips for decreasing your data usage? Share them in the comments!