How to cut smartphone data costs

Smartphone penetration is increasing. Mobile handsets that lack advanced operating systems and audio/photo/video functionality are the “dumbphones” of today, and are less present at retail level and in the hands of every day users.

We’re not saying that everyone will soon be using iPhones and Blackberrys and HTCs, but the more basic cellular phone will be found less and less.

One of the reasons this is happening is that we are all becoming data-dependent. Whether we’re checking our work or home email, logging into MySpace, Facebook, MSN, or Twitter, our dependence on the net-connected world is increasing. And with that reliance comes the need to have the web go everywhere with us, and it’s that factor which makes the smartphone a near-constant companion.

But one of the problems with any smartphone is the cost of data usage, so if you’re considering grabbing a phone running Android, Symbian, Windows, or iPhone OS, here are some things you might want to watch out for to avoid unexpected charges.

Push and data syncing

Since we’ve got these smartphones, we may as well use them to receive up-to-the-minute information about what our friends are doing, right?

Well that’s where “push” comes in. A system better described as “always being delivered”, the idea behind push is that, because your information never stops coming, you shouldn’t have to tell your phone or computer to refresh in order to receive it. With push, your information – be it Twitter, Facebook, or email – is delivered to your handset whenever something new happens.

Turning off "Auto-sync" on Android phones or switching "push" to "fetch" on an iPhone can dramatically decrease your data spend.
Turning off “Auto-sync” on Android phones or switching “push” to “fetch” on an iPhone can dramatically decrease your data spend.

The problem with this is that news sites or social networking services are updating constantly. If you’ve got 300 friends on Facebook, that’s even more information that will be pushed to your handset whenever there’s an update. Then there are the the news, email, weather, stocks, horoscopes and other services you may be subscribed to.

More updates, more data, more costs, and if your plan doesn’t provide you with a lot of room to move, you’re in for a nasty surprise when the monthly bill is delivered.

You can avoid the by switching the push functionality off. You won’t lose net connectivity or updates, but you’ll be the one deciding when your services refresh, not the phone.