How to Conserve Data on a Smartphone

Nearly everyone I know has a smartphone of some kind. They might have an iPhone, a BlackBerry, an Android device… it doesn’t really matter. They’re all smartphones and they all can offer very similar functionality; they also all require a decent mobile data plan if you want to get the most out of what they can offer. However, just like the minutes and number of text messages on your plan, it is possible to go over your monthly data allotment too.

So, unless you have a truly unlimited data plan (which doesn’t really exist), you might want to know how to conserve your data usage on a smartphone. I only have a 500MB option on my plan, but it seemed like enough for me… until I went over that allotment a couple of months ago.

Turn Off Background Operations

As you may recall, I picked up the Palm Pre 2 smartphone a short while back. It was during my first full month with the device that I went over my data plan’s monthly allotment. This is because I was still growing accustomed to how the phone worked and what it did.

What I didn’t realize was that the phone was performing full backups on a nightly basis. This is a full backup of everything on the phone, including contacts, pictures, app information, and everything else, so you can imagine that this adds up very quickly. If you want to conserve data on your phone, you’ll want to be mindful of “background” operations like this, as well as any other apps that are “pinging” the server periodically for information, like e-mails, tweets, Facebook updates, widget updates, and so forth.

Lengthen Intervals Between Updates

“But what’s the point of having the smartphone widgets if you don’t get them to work automatically?”

Fair enough. You got a smartphone so that you could use it like a smartphone. However, you can still conserve a considerable amount of data by lengthening the intervals between these automatic updates. Do you really need the weather widget on your Android homescreen to check for new weather reports every 30 minutes? Probably not. Look around to see how you’re using your data and where you can cut back on the updates.

Disable Data When Sleeping

This has a little to do with disconnecting from the matrix, but it also has to do with saving data. When you’re out and about during the day, it only makes sense to leave your mobile data connection active. This way, you can surf the mobile web, check your e-mail, and so on.

That said, you don’t really need this data when you’re all rolled up in your bed for a good night’s sleep. Most phones have the option of turning off a mobile data connection entirely when you don’t need to use it and, well, the hours you spend sleeping are a good time to save some data. In fact, I only used on-demand data on my old Nokia E71 and I used a lot less data as a result.

Use Wi-Fi When Available

When you are out to lunch or commuting to the office, it makes sense to leave your data connection active. However, if you know you’ll be sitting at the same place for an extended period and that place happens to have an available Wi-Fi access point, it makes sense to use that Wi-Fi (assuming your phone has this connectivity option).

For instance, I work primarily from home. When I am home, I will oftentimes leave my phone connected to a USB cable on my computer (so it stays charged) and I will activate the Wi-Fi connection. This way, data the phone receives is via Wi-Fi and, thus, does not take away from the monthly data bucket I have with my wireless provider. You can do the same at work, at home, or at the coffee shop.

Keep Data-Heavy Usage to a Minimum

This is going to sound obvious, but it’s still worth stating. If you really want to cut down on the amount of data you use, start cutting back on the applications that use a lot of data: video streaming, tethering, Internet radio, etc. I’m not saying that you need to cut them out entirely, but it pays to be mindful of what you’re doing.