How to track your data usage
If your Android smartphone runs Lollipop or later you can manage your data usage without a third-party app. Depending on your device and OS, you can go directly to Data Usage from the main Settings page or by going to the Wireless & networks section. You can then see how many gigabytes of data you’ve used over the past month as well as the previous months.
You can also move start and end dates to match your billing cycle. Scroll down to see which of your apps are using the most data and how much; This would include games that serve up ads, email and web browser apps, GPS apps, and other apps that may work in the background.
This section is where you can also toggle mobile data on and off, limit mobile data, and set up alerts. Limits can be as low as 1GB and as high as you want. Restricting your data usage means that once you reach that limit your mobile data will be turned off; however, you will get a pop-up warning with an option to turn it back on. Alerts also let you know, via pop-ups, when you have reached the specified limit. You can also set both warnings and limits if you want to reduce usage gradually.
Top Three Data Tracking Apps
While many wireless carriers offer data tracking apps, we chose to focus on three third-party apps: Data Usage, My Data Manager, and Onavo Protect. These apps are well-rated in the Play Store and provide features beyond what is included in your Android device.
You can use the Data Usage (by Obites) app to track both data and Wi-Fi usage and set limits on each. After specifying your quota when you call the app, you can choose to disable data when your limit is reached or not. You can also set it up so that when your data is reset at the end of the billing period, the app will automatically re-enable mobile data.
The app also has an option to set up notifications at three different thresholds; For example, 50 percent, 75 percent, and 90 percent. The app has a progress bar that will turn yellow, and then red, once you reach your limit. There’s a lot you can customize here.
Once you’ve selected your settings, you can view statistics, including how much data (and Wi-Fi) you’ve used each month and how likely it is that you’ll exceed your limit, as well as your usage history month so you can find the pattern. Data Usage has a very basic-looking, old-school interface, but it’s easy to use, and we love all the customization options.
My Data Manager (by Mobidia Technology) has a more modern-looking interface than Data Usage, and it enables you to set up or include a shared data plan. This is great if you suspect that someone is using more than their fair share or all you need to be aware of your use. You can also track roaming plans, which is helpful when traveling abroad. The app can detect your carrier and then will explain what your plan is if you don’t know it. For example, you can text Verizon.
Next, you set up your plan (contract or prepaid) by providing the data limit and the first day of your billing cycle. There are more custom options than my data manager’s data usage. You can set your billing cycle to the hour it begins and ends, set up free usage time-blocks on the account for the period when your carrier offers free data. For even more accuracy, you can select apps that don’t count against your data allocation, such as the App Store. (This is called zero-rating.) There’s also an option to enable rollover if your carrier lets you carry unused data from previous months.
You can also set an alarm for when you reach or near your limit, or if you have “a lot of data left”. There’s a map view that shows you’ve used your data and an app view that shows how much each is consuming in descending order.
Onavo Protect Free VPN + Data Manager is a third option, and true to its name, it doubles as a mobile VPN to protect your web browsing. In addition to encrypting your data and keeping it safe from hackers when you’re on public Wi-Fi, Onavo also alerts users to data-heavy apps, limiting apps to using Wi-Fi only, and preventing apps from running in the background—and driving up your data usage. Note that the company is owned by Facebook if it concerns you.
Tips to reduce data consumption
Whether you use the built-in data tracker or a separate app, you can reduce your usage in a few different ways:
- Use Wi-Fi whenever it’s available and only allow your apps to update when your device is connected to Wi-Fi.
- Many apps, like Spotify, let you download songs so you can listen offline.
- Keep an eye on your most data-hungry apps, like ad-supported games, that are also likely to drain your battery.
- Airplane Mode, which disables all connections, can come in handy not only while in flight but when you’re in places where you won’t be using your device for an extended period of time, such as when you Be in the movies.
Some carriers offer plans that don’t count music or video streaming against you. For example, T-Mobile’s Binge On plans let you stream HBO Now, Netflix, YouTube, and many more without eating into your data. Boost Mobile offers unlimited music streaming from five services, including Pandora and Slacker, with any monthly plan. Check with your carrier to see what they offer.