10 ways to save money on mobile data

7. Chunk-check your email

Depending on your email system – be it Gmail, Hotmail, or an Exchange Server through work – your phone might be constantly querying the server to see if any new mail has arrived. Similarly, the server will ‘push’ new mail to your phone the instant it arrives.

Emails generally don’t use much data, and most phones have a default setting that doesn’t download large attachments over 3G or 4G networks, but a constant stream of mail can nibble away at that data allowance.

The phone’s various email settings will allow you to set longer intervals between email checks. But an even better setting is to only accept manual email updates. So when it occurs to you to check your mail, you tap a Send/Receive” button.

Not only does this cut down on background data-drain, it also stops you compulsively checking your phone every 45 seconds for mail notifications… doesn’t it?

6. Know your free site rights!

The latest marketing trick to convince you to switch mobile networks is the offer of various sites and online services that don’t count toward your data allowance. The most obvious of these are social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

It seems straightforward: any browsing or updating you do to Facebook or Twitter doesn’t count as a download or upload. End of story.

Well, not quite. There’s a trap. In the case of Facebook, your basic Newsfeed and the browsing of profile pages is free, but third-party apps such as games or other novelties – where additional data has to come from another server not controlled by Facebook – count as normal websites.

So stalking your ex-partners via mobile Facebook: free. Playing Farmville: not free.

5. Turn off location services

It’s great that your phone has GPS. So many interesting ways to use it! Quick, parking cops are about – alert everyone in a 5km radius! The downside to all this, apart from the GPS receiver chewing on your battery, is that most smartphone GPS functionality is heavily dependent on a net connection.

What can be more surprising is how many apps use location settings, and how many of them keep an idle eye on your location all the time. Forget privacy and battery life issues: many of these apps will also be pinging servers online for bits and pieces of data.

It’s mere kilobytes at a time, but when this goes on all day every day, you’d be surprised how the data adds up over the course of a month.

The solution? Turn off the GPS. If you’re not navigating or checking in, there’s no need for it. And we don’t know about you, but we’re still not 100% comfortable walking around all day with an active locator beacon in our pants.

Apps that use location services can be pinging servers all day, every day, and chewing into your allowance.


4. Turn off automatic updates and delete old apps

Apps are great fun, but they do take liberties with your phone and your data connection. Specifically, many apps want to update themselves all the time. To apply an update, the app must first check with a server to see if an update is available, then download it, then install it.

Some phone operating systems require the user to accept all updates manually, but others will update in the background. Before you know it, you’ll have downloaded 50–100MB of data.

You can turn off automatic updates in phone settings, but these apps will still keep checking the server for updates and then ask you to install them manually.

Data usage by apps is a murky area. It’s usually tricky to tell when they’re connected to the net or what exactly it is they’re doing. So it’s important to delete old apps once you’ve finished being amused by them. This frees up space on your phone, cuts down on battery drain, and most importantly, stops more little nibbles being taken out of your data allowance.