As the average webpage/image/file on the internet has grown, most folks' monthly allowance for mobile bandwidth has gotten smaller. (Exceptions: Sprint users and those grandfathered into an unlimited plan.) Today, it's extremely easy to use a gigabyte of data in a month. The quantity will just keep rising—and with it, the potential for massive monthly bills.
So what are the best ways to put the brakes on the neediest data hogs? Here are the nine most effective changes you can make to get the of your daily data usage.
Connect to Wi-Fi Whenever Possible
Duh. This is obvious. Common sense. Idiots already do this. But for the sake of posterity, being connected to Wi-Fi as much as you can is the quickest way to remedy your data consumption problem. If the places you frequent most—home, work, friends' places, bus stops, train stations, bars, cafes—have open connections, you should hop on those. They're the places you'll inevitably pull your phone out at and finding those networks is something you should be conscious of at all times.
Ignore the Idiot Box
Also a mildly obvious idea, but streaming video is the number one culprit when it comes to encroaching on your monthly data allotment. A five-minute YouTube video sucks up 5-10 megabytes. A single 22-minute TV episode on Netflix takes away 100 megabytes (at least). Movies, even more. Simply put, don't do it unless you're on wi-fi. And if you must, don't make a habit of it.
Yes, the average music file can be smaller than the average video file of the same length. But you probably listen to music while you're out of the house much more frequently than you watch videos, so it can be more of a data suck if you're not careful. If you stream something like Pandora or Spotify on your drive to work every day, an hour of music will eat up 50-70 megabytes of data (and that's not even at the best audio quality). Here's the solution: Unlike streaming video, you can cache music to your phone if you pay for a streaming music service. Save a few albums to your phone before you leave the house, and listen to those while you're out. Plus, then, you don't have to deal with the hassle of dead zones and music cutting out.
Many of us have been trained to be constantly checking our social networks. Every so often, we run through our Facebook, our Twitter, our Instagram, our Tumblr, etc., etc. What seems like a fairly lightweight activity can actually consume 5-10 megabytes of data each time you check into one of those services (especially if you're clicking links and photos). Do that a few times a day over 3G for a month, and you could be wasting a couple of gigs of data on this alone. Instead of going full bore with these when you're not on wi-fi, maybe pick one or two essential social networks that you have to check frequently.
Read It Later
When you come across a link that isn't essential reading right that second, bookmark it or favorite it for later (that could be a few megabytes saved right there). Same goes for photos, though these are somewhat unavoidable on Facebook and Tumblr. This nearly halved the amount of data I was using with each run through a social network.
Lose the Extra Page Weight
If you frequently fire up your web browser on the go, consider keeping an app like Opera Mini handy. To keep file sizes low, Opera Mini will render and compress pages on its servers before sending it over to your phone. Whereas a fully rendered page in Safari will consume 2-3 megabytes, the average Opera Mini page only weighs in at 200-300 kilobytes.
Sharing Is Not Caring
It's great to be able to share your photos on those social networks you spend all your time checking, but does every goddam thing you eat need to be uploaded in real time? Instead of furiously rushing to get your duckfaced mug up on your wall, just wait until you get home (or at least onto a wi-fi network), before you start uploading media. The average Instagram/Twitter upload consumes around 200kb of data. Sending a photo to a friend over iMessage can use up 0.5-1.5 megabytes. Videos can use up tens of megabytes. If you can help it, snap now, and upload later.
Trust Your Natural Sense of Direction
According to Verizon, turn-by-turn navigation uses an average of 5 megabytes of data for every hour it's operational. Most of us don't need turn-by-turn navigation for our daily routines, but some of us (especially in a city like LA), are addicted to it for everything else. If you're really desperate to cut down on data usage, relying on an emailed or printed list of directions could save you a 100 megabytes of data in a month—not insane, but helpful nonetheless.
Pull Your Email, Don't Push
This is really for the most desperate of people. Email probably won't suck up thaaaaaaat much data for people, and for those of you who do receive lots and lots of email, you probably can't afford to ignore it. But still, you can opt to fetch your email manually instead of having it automatically pushed to your phone, which can save a couple hundred kilobytes here and there. If it's the end of the month and you're on the brink of going over your limit, the few megabytes you potentially save here could make the difference.