How To Keep Track Of Your Smartphone Data Usage

Worried about going over the data limit on your mobile phone and running up a big bill? With the right apps, you can keep track of what you've used and avoid any nasty surprises.

Photos by Roland Tanglao and Daniel Hackney

In Australia, the chances of bill shock are lower than they used to be, thanks to the Telecommunications Consumer Protection code (TCP code) that has been progressively introduced since October 2012. Since September 2013, your provider has been required to send a text message or email notification when you have used 50 per cent, 85 per cent and 100 per cent of your available data.

That's a useful basic way of keeping track, but there's one big restriction: the notification has to be sent within 48 hours. Potentially, by the time you learn you've used half your data, you could have used all of it. So you may want to consider additional options.

Check With Your Carrier

How Can I Avoid Using Too Much Smartphone Data?

The first thing to do is check with your carrier and see if it has its own usage tracking application or web site. While these will often include a similar "48 hours" caveat, they're still a handy tracking resource. We've linked to apps for the biggest carriers below: if your provider isn't on this list, check its site. Even if there isn't a separate app, you may be able to track usage by logging into your account data:

Set Up Access Limits

How Can I Avoid Using Too Much Smartphone Data?

If you want to ensure you don't exceed those limits, you can also set individual data caps on your device if you're using Android. Here's how to configure it:

  1. Open your phone's app drawer, then go to Settings.
  2. Under settings, select "Data Usage".
  3. Tap the checkmark next to "Set mobile data limit," and tap the red line on the data usage graph to set your cutoff.
  4. To save even more bandwidth, you can tap the settings icon in the upper right and choose "Restrict background data." Scroll down to see which apps on your phone use the most data, or to change the warning threshhold.

When you hit the cap, mobile data will cut off entirely until you re-enable it. Wi-Fi will still work normally.

iOS won't let you set a hard cutoff, but you can check how much data you're using at any time. Here's how:

  1. Open Settings, and then tap "General."
  2. Under General, tap "Usage," then "Cellular Usage."

From there, you can see how much 3G or 4G data you're using. In this case, you'll have to rely on your carrier's alerts to warn you when you're about to hit your data cap on iOS. Alternatively, you can pick up a third party data management app that will do the rest of the job for you.

Download Data Management Apps

If you want a more robust data management tool than either iOS or Android provide, you have a couple of options. Some of those apps even help you compress your data so you use less per billing cycle. Here are a few to try:

Onavo Count and Onavo Extend (Android/iOS): Onavo's free apps are both designed to help you get more from your data plan. Onavo Count shows you how much data you're using, and shows you how much data each of your apps uses individually. It's available for iPhone, and it's our favourite data usage tracker for Android, even though Android does a good job at tracking data on its own. Onavo Extend takes the idea up a notch and actually uses Onavo's local and remote proxies to streamline and compress the amount of data the apps on your phone use. We've mentioned Onavo Extend for Android, and it's available at Google Play, and in the iTunes App Store. Both apps give you comprehensive graphs and reports on how much data your apps are using, how much each app is using, and they'll warn you before you hit your usage limits and kill mobile data if you use too much — even on iOS.

Data Usage (iOS): Data Usage is our favourite data usage tracker for iPhone, largely because it's packed with options and features. You can set data usage limits by day, week, or month, and while the app will set you back $0.99, it has lots of features that will help you keep track of your data usage. You can get notifications when you're approaching your caps, and it walks you through the setup process to make sure you're getting accurate information.

Dataman Next (iOS): $1.99 gets you Dataman Next, a more basic data usage tracker, but perhaps one that's more useful for beginning users, or people who may be put off by all of those graphs and charts. If you want a way to give a child or a non-tech savvy family member a one-glance method of telling that they're close to their cap, this is an app that can tell you.

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Comments

    I use Data Lock. You can set a daily limit eg. 50mb that when it gets used up automatically turns the data off for you. You can switch back on manually but at least you get alerted if you are sucking up the data quickly.

    It would be nice if you included Windows Phone in this article since it's now the third largest mobile OS.

    Data Sense is built in to the WP8 GDR2 update (Amber). It tracks your daily usage and you can set a limit with warnings when you are coming close. It also has the option to automatically disable background data when you are approaching your monthly limit.

    It also shows the breakdown of what you are using on mobile vs WiFi and which apps are using the most data.

    Biggest problem is the difference between actual data usage and how the carriers charge you for data. Per 1Mb billing is a prime example.

    On Android I use myUsage to create meter widgets.
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.cmengler.myusage&hl=en

    I find the meter is enough, I rely on myself to manually turn the data usage off.

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