How to Track and Manage Smartphone Data Use - Page 2

By Joseph Moran | Posted April 18, 2012

How to Monitor Smartphone Data Consumption

So how can you keep tabs on your smartphone data usage? At a bare minimum, logging into your account on the carrier’s Web site periodically is a good way to track how much data you’ve used so far in the current billing cycle. A carrier's specialized smartphone app, such as My Verizon Mobile (iOS/Android) or myAT&T, is usually a more convenient way to get this same info, and an even more convenient way to get it is by dialing *DATA# on AT&T or #DATA on Verizon to receive it via text message.

Whether you get it via Web, app or text, there are two caveats you need to know when getting your data usage information from the carrier. First, the reported figure may not reflect your most recent activity -- it can be anywhere from several hours to several days behind. Second, the figure represents your smartphone's aggregate usage; since it's not broken down by app or activity, it can’t tell you which ones are the biggest consumption culprits.

Fortunately, you can obtain detailed, real-time data usage statistics from your smartphone. For example, both My Data Manager for Android (free with ads and $4.02 without them) and Onavo Count (free) will tell you how much data individual apps are using, track your historical consumption, and notify you when certain thresholds are reached.

DataMan Pro ($1.99) does much the same thing for the iPhone, and there’s also a free version of DataMan, though it doesn't break data usage down by app.

My Data Manager Android app

Figure 2: Third-party apps such as My Data Manager for Android can break down your data usage by app and warn you before you hit your limit.

If you have one of the (relatively few at the moment) phones with the new Android 4.0 mobile OS (a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich), be advised that ICS includes comprehensive data usage info and notifications built-in.

The iPhone also includes a data usage meter built into iOS, but it's not terribly useful since it only tracks the total amount of data sent or received since the last time it was reset -- which for most people will be never. Still, it can have some value if you get in the habit of resetting it on the first day of your billing cycle.

Limit or Shift Your Consumption

So what can do you do when you find yourself approaching your monthly transfer limit and looming overage charges or a throttled connection?

For starters, you'll want to minimize your use of mobile apps and services that tend to be the most voracious data hogs. Video streaming like Netflix or YouTube is an obvious culprit, but even streaming audio from services such as Pandora or Spotify can add up quickly over several hours.

Downloading new apps (or updating existing ones) is another big consumer of data, and if you're the type that frequently posts photos to Facebook or other online services from your smartphone, remember that uploads count against your data transfer limit.

One service you generally won't have to worry much about is email, since text doesn't use a lot of data and attachments are generally not downloaded automatically. But if you get a torrent of daily email and/or have multiple mail accounts configured on your phone, you might want to consider temporarily turning off push email and downloading new mail manually.

Of course, a good way to have your cake and eat it too is not necessarily to give up any of the aforementioned activities, but only engage in them when you're connected to a Wi-Fi network at home, work, etc. Just remember to configure your smartphone to connect to these Wi-Fi networks in advance, so they'll be available for use in lieu of the 3G/4G connection.

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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