You don’t need Internet access for your phone to be useful. With the right amount of planning, you’ll have something to read, something to listen to, tools for getting around, and even access to Wikipedia and Twitter. All without a data plan.
Don’t believe me? Check out these apps.
We’ve talked about how you can ditch your mobile data plan to save money, but even if you’re not planning to do that, there’s a chance you’ll end up away from a connection at some point. Fear not — with the right apps installed, you’ll be able to get all sorts of use out of your phone without Internet access.
I didn’t have a smartphone until this year, and even now that I’ve got one, I’ve yet to pay for a data plan. The motivation is partially economic: I don’t like adding ongoing expenses to my life. But the other reason is most of the things I use my phone for work perfectly well offline.
Here are the apps that let me do that. They might not cover all of your uses, but hopefully it’ll be a starting point to get you thinking about whether you really need a data plan or not.
Read The News Offline: FeedMe
I spend a lot of time reading about tech and the world, and I’ve built up a massive collection of RSS feeds to let me do that. It’s basically my morning paper, just pulled in from a wide variety of sources. You should set one up too, if you haven’t.
My preferred way to read is on my Macbook, with a cup of coffee, at my kitchen table. When I’m on the road, though, I turn to the amazing FeedMe app.
This is a streamlined version of the official Feedly app, with one key additional feature I like best: full offline syncing. Set this up to sync, and you won’t even have to think about it: all text and images are synced to your phone, meaning you can go through your feeds without Internet access.
The app syncs with Feedly, InoReader, Bazqux, and The Old Reader, so if you have an account at any of those sites, you should grab this app.
Listening To Podcasts Offline: PlayerFM
There’s no better way to make a long trip short than to turn on a podcast you love, but way too many podcast players for Android require an active Internet connection to play back your shows. PlayerFM is an attractive free podcast app with no ads and an extensive catalog of shows to browse.
Even better: it gives you online access to the latest episode of all your subscriptions, and you can optionally configure it to download even more.
We’ve talked about the best Android podcast managers, but to me, none of them worked quite as well as this one. Give it a spin. If you prefer music to podcasts, there are plenty of solid options for offline music apps on Android.
Travel Offline: Google Maps
It’s maybe the single biggest change smartphones have made in our lives: we’re never lost anymore. You might think living without a data plan would change things, but it really doesn’t if you’ve prepped enough. I’ve shown you how to download offline maps in Google Maps for Android, and you should absolutely use this feature.
Things have only gotten better since that article, with support for looking up locations within your offline maps and support for directions. There are some kinks to work out, and many prefer other apps for just that reason, but to me, this is all the offline map functionality I need. It might be for you too.
Bus and Train Schedules: Transit App
Of course, if you’re trying to get around in the city, directions aren’t enough: you need to know when the bus or train is going to come. Offline Google Maps won’t give that to you, but Transit App will. We’ve explained why this app is awesome before, and a big part of that is ease of use — just open the app, and you’ll see when public transit will arrive at stops near you.
A big part of the appeal is the live tracking, which requires an Internet connection. But if you’re not online at the moment, Transit is still a useful way to see the official schedules of transit lines near you, since it still shows you these when you’re offline. It’s even better if you’ve already set Google Maps to download your current city — Transit uses Google’s service for its built-in map, and offline content is supported.
I live near Portland, Oregon and use this every time I head into the city for work. If this app supports the transit system near you, you can expect the same functionality without anything in the way of setup.
Read Wikipedia Offline: Kiwix
Ever since The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, it’s been every geek’s dream: a handheld guide to all human knowledge. Internet access gives you that, but when you’re away from a tower, Kiwix is the next best thing. It downloads all of Wikipedia for you.
We’ve talked about tools for downloading Wikipedia before, but none that fit in the palm of your hand. Give this one a shot.
Internet via Text Messages: SMSmart
Imagine if you could check out recent tweets or even read current headlines, all without a data connection. SMSmart makes this possible by using text messages to request and receive data. If you have an unlimited texting plan but no data, this app is perfect for you.
I suggest setting this up while online, and only using it when all else fails. But it’s a great way to access just a few pieces of the web while on the road without a data plan. You’ll have quick access to directions, Wikipedia excerpts, Yelp, and even Twitter.
We talked about a few other tools while exploring ways to use the Internet without a data plan, but this was by far the most complete option. It’s probably not a good idea to use outside the US, though, unless you have an unlimited texting plan for contacting that country.
How Do You Use Your Phone Offline?
We’ve outlined more than a few clever ways to reduce mobile data usage over the years, but we always love to learn more. What apps do you use to make your Android phone more useful offline? Let’s talk about more such apps and tips in the comments below.
Oh, and remember: when all else fails, try to find free WiFi. I personally like to stand outside a Starbucks for a while as all my offline apps refresh — let me know any other tips you might have.