How to Stretch Your Smartphone’s Data Plan


eHow Tech Blog

Stretch your data plan

You know the old saying: You can never be too rich or too thin or have too much data. Yep, that’s the saying. Don’t bother looking it up; I’m definitely right.

I can’t help you with the first two, other than to suggest lottery tickets and crazy diets (one of them has to work, right?), but I can definitely help with the third.

See, most of us are on some kind of fixed data plan. Maybe you get unlimited* data every month, the asterisk meaning you get only a certain amount of high-speed data. Maybe you’ve switched to an MVNO like H20 Wireless, surviving on 500MB per month so you can save money. Or maybe you’re a Ting user who pays based on your actual usage.

Whatever the case, there’s every reason to look for ways to stretch, to get more data than you’re actually paying for (or pay for less data without actually getting less). Wouldn’t it be cool if you could turn, say, 500MB into 1GB? Or lower your monthly bill by switching to a cheaper plan? It’s possible, and not just by using Wi-Fi whenever possible. With a few tricks and tools, you can actually get more bang for your data buck.

Monitor your usage

Knowledge is power, so the first thing you should do is figure out how much cellular data you’re consuming each month — and which apps are consuming the most of it.

Android data usageYour monthly bill (or account page) should reveal your monthly totals, and if you’re paying for a 2.5GB data plan and using only, say, 750MB, you should downgrade to a 1GB plan — or perhaps even 500MB, if you leverage some of the tips below. (Obviously if you’re on some kind of “unlimited everything” plan, downgrading may not be an option. But it’s still good to know your numbers.)

As for the apps, Android users can head to the Settings menu and tap Data Usage. Then scroll down to see which apps are the hungriest. (You should also see an option to “Set mobile data limit,” which can be helpful if you want to avoid data overage charges.)

In iOS, likewise tap Settings, then Cellular. Scroll down and you’ll see an alphabetical list of your installed apps and how much data they’ve consumed. At the bottom of the list, you can tap System Services for a rundown of the built-in apps.

Again, this is just to help identify the big data-consumers. There may not be much actionable here, but perhaps you’ll spot some data-hungry apps you rarely or never use, and can therefore delete.

Apps to the rescue

Onavo ExtendThe real trick to stretching your data plan is letting apps do some of the heavy lifting. For example, Onavo Extend (available for Android and iPhone) works in the background, routing all your data through Onavo’s servers. Thanks to some thoroughly amazing compression technology, you end up using less data overall — with no performance hit or other noticeable issues to speak of.

Indeed, if you use just one tool to reduce your data footprint, make it Onavo Extend. It’s free.

But not the only option. Opera Max (currently in beta for Android) also uses data-compression technology to help extend your data plan. And Opera Mini, a mobile Web browser for Android and iOS, promises data savings of up to 90 percent. It’s also widely regarded as one of the best mobile browsers, so it’s not exactly a hardship switching from Chrome or Safari.

KickbitIf you still find yourself needing more data than your plan (or budget) will allow, consider earning extra with a little sweat-equity. Kickbit for Android is a free app that gives you extra data in exchange for watching videos, completing surveys or signing up for trial offers. It’s currently compatible with phones on Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon (sorry, AT&T subscribers).

Finally, if you’re concerned about surpassing your monthly data cap (and incurring overage charges), well, there are apps for that as well. XVision’s DataMan Next and DataMan Pro (iOS) provide real-time usage stats and warnings if you’re approaching your limit. There are plenty of similar apps for Android; My Data Manager is one very popular option.

So that’s it for my list. Have you discovered any other tips or tools to help stretch your data plan? If so, hit the comments and share your brilliance with the Interwebs!

Image credits: Kickbit, Google, Onavo, Mobidia Inc

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