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[Android] Burning through mobile data? Try doing these…

mobile data and battery usage... one of the same.

Real Talk: Mobile data usage is expensive.

One day you’re casually browsing the net and the next, nothing is working, and you get a message from your provider (Spark, Skinny, Vodafone, 2 Degrees, The Warehouse, etc) happily letting you know you’ve smashed through your data, and to top up.  Like what the actual…?!
You were just browsing Instagram checking out those eyelashes that girl has on fleek, why phone, why must you do this to me, again.
We have all been there. 

In recent years, mobile data usage has skyrocketed.
Apps have become more data hungry and are constantly pushing new versions for an update. Earlier, web surfing used to be mostly in text. Now, video streaming services have gained widespread popularity, and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have also integrated video services as a mainstream appeal. It has become increasingly difficult to reduce data usage on Android.

Fun Facts before we get started

  • 3G doesn’t mean mobile data.
    It is just the type of connection – remember browsing the internet on 2G, or the Telecom XT network? …no? Okay, I get it… I’m old… shhh! 🙁
  • Faster connection = Higher battery usage.
    Browsing fast is awesome, we know, but with great speed comes great responsibility. You’ll burn up tons of usage on 4G without even realising it.. but more on this later.
  • Mobile data drains your battery faster than wifi.
    It is one of the biggest battery killers you can do with your phone!  This is because the wifi antenna uses significantly LESS power than your mobile antenna.
  • A WiFi symbol on your phone doesn’t confirm you’re on wifi internet.
    The symbol just states you are connected to a router (the box that gives you WiFi). If there was a broadband outage, for example, you could be connected to your home WiFi, get full bars, but not be able to browse (or browse unknowingly using mobile data)
  • iOS uses less than Android.
    Sorry, Google users… while your devices allow lots of customisation, there are many more backend features within Android (and 3rd party apps) that make the devices consume more. 
  • Never Hotspot a laptop unless absolutely necessary.
    The laptop doesn’t know your phone is on mobile data – it just ‘thinks’ it’s on an unmetered wireless connection – and will update all of its software for the day (if it wasn’t able to do it in the morning). One update could be 200mb – it all adds up.

Best ways to save mobile data on Android

So how do you keep your bill low while out and about, without compromising on data? The answer is to be smart with your smartphone. 

Limit your data usage in Android Settings.

Setting a limit to your monthly data usage is the easiest thing you can do to avoid using surpass amounts of data without your knowledge. You can limit your mobile data usage on Android via the Settings app. Head over to the Settings and tap on DataUsage>>Billing Cycle>>Data limit and billing cycle. There you can set the maximum amount of data you intend to use in a month. Additionally, you can also opt for automatic disconnection from the network once the data limit is reached.


Have you ever found yourself exceeding your data allowance on your phone or tablet? Perhaps you thought everything was okay but didn’t realize that you had exceeded your data limit until the bill arrived.

Some apps keep consuming mobile data even when the smartphone is not in use. Background data allows you to keep your apps monitored and updated while multitasking or when the screen is off. But every app doesn’t need to use background data at all times.

Go to Settings >> Data Usage and you can see the statistics for which app is consuming how much of data.

Tap on an app, and you can see both the foreground and background data usage of that particular app. Foreground data usage is the data consumed by the app when it is actively used by you when open. Background data is the data consumed when you are not using the app, and the app is running in the background. It requires no action and occurs automatically. This can include things like automatic app updates or sync.

If you find that background data is too high for an app and you don’t need the app to stay in the background at all times, tap on “Restrict app background data.” This ensures that the app will consume data only when it is opened and thereby use fewer data.

Capping Mobile Data on Android

The first step you should take is to use Android’s built-in tools to set up a limit on your mobile data. You can do so in Settings > Network & internet > Data usage. With data enabled, tap Billing cycle.

Here, you can tap Set data warning and/or Set mobile data limit and then specify each. Although not as accurate as your carrier’s metrics, it should be enough to ensure you don’t exceed your limit. You can also enable the Data saver option on this menu to use fewer data overall.


Google Chrome is one of the most popular Android browsers. It has an inbuilt feature that can significantly reduce data consumption on Android.

When data compression is turned on, all of your traffic is passed through a proxy run by Google. Your data is compressed and optimized before being sent to your phone. This results in lower data consumption and also speeds up the loading of pages without any significant change in web content.

To use data compression, open Chrome, tap on the 3-dot menu on the upper right corner, tap on Settings and scroll down to Data Saver. There you can tap on the upper right corner to toggle Data Saver on.

Turning data saver on also implements Chrome’s Safe Browsing System to detect malicious pages and protect you from malware and harmful content. As you can see in the screenshot above, Chrome managed to save 17% of data over the period of one month.


You can revisit that settings panel in Chrome to see how much data you’ve saved over a period.

Minimize Browser Data Usage: If Web browsing is the data-hogging culprit, it’s no surprise. Some Web sites have yet to be optimized for mobile, while others eat into data with bulky advertisements.

The simple answer to these woes is data compression. With it, a Web page is first compressed in the cloud before being sent to your phone, significantly reducing the download size.

There are some drawbacks, however. First, even though your data is encrypted and anonymized, the browser must still process your activity while it compresses it. Not everyone is comfortable with that. Secondly, sometimes compression means sacrificing quality, leaving you with slightly altered Web pages.

Even so, the option can be worthwhile for anyone on a tiered plan (or times when you’re on a slow connection). Opera, a much-loved browser, is one such app that offers compression. Just head to the Settings menu to enable it. After some use, Opera will tell you just how much data you saved.

Alternatively, Chrome Beta includes a handy new data compression feature, but you’ll have to enable it. To do so, head to Settings > Bandwidth Management > Reduce data usage. Going forward, you can revisit that settings window to see how much data you’re saving.

Update apps over Wi-Fi only

One of the most effective ways to reduce mobile data consumption is to disable automatic app updates in Play Store. Go to Play Store and tap on Menu>>Settings>>Auto-update apps. Make sure that you select “Auto-update apps over Wi-Fi only.” Alternatively, you can choose “Do not auto-update apps,” but it’s not recommended since you’ll have to remember from time to time to update your apps manually.

While you use your phone, a lot of activity happens in the background. Whether you have apps open or not, they can call home to sync data. Google Play or the App Store check for updates, your email app looks for new messages, social media apps pull new posts; the list goes on.

All this data adds to your mobile internet usage. We’re not even talking about apps updating—just the data they sync. Whatever apps you use with a regular requirement for data are costing you money.

You can disable some apps that sync at Settings > Users & accounts. Here you’ll find apps that sync various data, such as your contacts. Check each one and disable switches as you see fit. Google services under your main account are the bulk of your options here.

Other apps need syncing disabled on an app-by-app basis. To block an app from using mobile data completely, go to Settings > Apps & notifications > See all [X] apps. Select an app and choose Data usage, then disable the Background data slider.

Limit your use of streaming services

Streaming music and videos are the most data-hungry content, as well as high-quality images. Try to avoid these when you are using mobile data. You can opt to store music and videos locally in your storage or download them when you are on connected to WiFi. While streaming on mobile data, you can decrease the quality of stream to lower your data usage. Youtube consumes a lot of data, so, make sure you lower the video resolution while using mobile data on Android.


Use of data-hungry apps can seriously affect your data consumption while on your mobile network. You may not realize that Google Photos app might be syncing your photos in the background every time you click one. Social media apps like Facebook and Instagram consume a lot of data. Try to avoid watching videos and GIFs in those apps.

Try to use alternatives to some apps that will still perform the required functions while consuming fewer data. For example, Facebook Lite is a highly lite alternative to the Facebook app. Moreover, it saves battery life and data usage. TweetCaster is a similar option for the Twitter app.

7. Cache Google Maps for offline use

Did you know that you can save maps in the Google Maps app? Caching Google maps for offline use can save both your time and data. Once a map is downloaded, you can even navigate when the phone is offline just by using your GPS. This proves to be handy for daily commute and when you are travelling, as you can never be sure whether some places will have network coverage. It is a good idea to download the map of your home area and regions you frequently travel to.

So, next time you are on Wi-Fi, open Google Maps, go to Menu and select “Offline Maps.There you can tap on “Select your own map and zoom in or out to select the area you want to be available offline. Once you’ve decided upon the area, press “Download.”

8. Optimize Account Sync Settings

Your account sync settings are to auto-sync by default. Keep auto-sync disabled for data-hungry apps like Facebook and Google+ which use sync services to sync files like photos and videos, consuming a lot of data in the process.

Google constantly sync’s your data when a change is made. Most of these sync services might not be required. This background sync service affects both your data consumption and battery life.

To adjust your sync setting open the go to Settings>>Accounts. There you can fine tune sync settings for different apps. To optimize Google sync, tap on Google and turn off the options you don’t require. For example, I don’t need Google Fit data, Google Play Movies, and Google Play Music to be synced. So, I toggled them off while keeping the other services on to be synced.


Dual-SIM Phone

Although less common than standard single-SIM phones, dual-SIM devices let you take advantage of two mobile networks or price plans. This might come in handy, for example, if you have a work phone and a personal mobile device.

The work phone might offer mobile internet as part of a package, while your personal device might have a low limit for mobile internet. You want to avoid breaching the limit, so you can rely on the work phone for mobile internet.

With a dual-SIM phone, however, you can use both SIM cards in the same phone, thereby removing the requirement for separate devices. This is more convenient and provides your employer’s mobile internet allowance on your own phone.


Various apps use compression technology to reduce your data usage. You actually might already use some of them, without realizing the impact.


First on your list should be Google Chrome. Regardless of how you might feel about Google, Chrome has a built-in data-saving tool, which you’ll find at Settings > Data saver.

Download: Google Chrome for Android (usually pre-installed) | iOS (Free)


Similarly available for both platforms, Opera Mini is built around low data usage. Data saving is enabled by default and appears in the app’s main menu. Unlike Chrome, you can adjust various data saving features, such as setting the quality of web page images. 

Download: Opera Mini for Android | iOS (Free)


This Android tool only works on Samsung devices, but is certainly worth having. Not only does it save data and improve Wi-Fi security, Samsung Max also protects your privacy and reduces the data use of background apps.

Download: Samsung Max for Android (Free, Samsung only)

Forget Mobile Internet: Use Wi-Fi!

Want to save money on mobile data charges? Then you need to change the way you think about accessing the internet through your phone. Your smartphone features two ways of getting online: mobile internet and Wi-Fi.

You probably use Wi-Fi often: when shopping, on the train, enjoying coffee, at home, or at school. Free Wi-Fi is often available in city centres, shopping malls, transportation hubs, and the odd remote location that is beyond the reach of the mobile internet.  All of this highlights one major point: you should use Wi-Fi wherever it is available.

Did you know that FREE WIFI can be found all over New Zealand using Spark's 'Free Wifi" service? It comes free with any $20 prepaid or On-Account plan.
You can find out more here:
NB: This reference is not endorsed by Spark - we are actually Vodafone customers lol


On a similar note, consider your cloud storage. It’s always a good idea to have a cloud sync set up with your phone. Perhaps you need to upload photos automatically, or access documents in Google Drive. Whatever the case, you should ensure that these services don’t use your mobile data. Instead, configure them to use Wi-Fi only.

For instance, if you use Dropbox, go to Settings and find the Offline header. Here, tap How to update and ensure that Wi-Fi only is selected. If you take a lot of photos with your phone, find the Camera uploads section, and under How to upload, again select Wi-Fi only.

Apple users can disable iCloud syncing on mobile data via Settings > Cellular > iCloud Drive. Ensure the slider is off to only sync on Wi-Fi.


This solution is so useful, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it already. Instead of streaming audio from your preferred service, just download your favourite tracks to your phone from your PC.

Most phones ship with at least 32GB of storage these days, which is enough for a collection of your favourite music.

While you might own a smartphone with low storage, these commonly feature a microSD card slot for adding more space. The only difference is that you should copy the MP3s to this storage, rather than your phone.

Once you’re done, use your phone’s built-in audio player to enjoy your music. No internet required! Alternatively, upgrading to the paid version of Spotify, Apple Music, and other services let you download music to your phone.

Spark NZ offers Spotify Premium at 50% off when you're on one of their plans. 

Do You Really Need to Be Online?

Ask yourself: do you really need to get online?

Social networks feel immediate. Emails often give you the impression that they require an instant reply. Online messaging is another communication method that supposedly demands fast responses. Then there’s the addictive news gathering, gossip seeking, and more hysterics that make up the modern web.

None of these is 100% necessary.

You can get to the end of the day without checking the showbiz news or sharing a hot take on Twitter. So if there’s no Wi-Fi, and mobile internet is expensive, just stay offline. It’s refreshing.

Bonus Tips and Tricks to reduce mobile data usage on Android:

Whether you prefer toggling a few settings, using a browser that compresses your data, or realizing you don’t actually need anything but public Wi-Fi, using less data will save you money.

  • Download large files when you are on Wi-Fi.
  • Do not clear your System Cache unless you have no other way to free your space.
  • Turn off mobile data when not required.
  • Turn off notifications for apps that you don’t need to be notified.
  • Set longer update interval for home screen widgets that are frequently updated.
  • Manually cap mobile internet
  • Enable data compression
  • Use Wi-Fi instead of mobile internet
  • Use a dual-SIM phone
  • Stop apps from automatically syncing
  • Ensure cloud apps only use Wi-Fi syncing
  • Stop streaming music

Going without data doesn’t prevent you from having fun. Check out the best offline mobile games for when you don’t have a connection.

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