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These Android apps can secretly suck up your prepaid data

Your phone needs an internet connection to do just about anything. That could be a Wi-Fi connection where how much data you're using isn't a concern for most — but you could also be sucking up those vital megabytes of cellular data.

This is exactly why you bought a data plan, so you could do just about everything with your phone. But some apps can be total data hogs. Identifying and taming them is easy once you know where to look!

Twitter

Twitter is a great way to see topical (and sometimes funny!) short clips and videos. As you scroll down your timeline you'll see them peppered in with tweets, and if you notice them playing on their own, it's eating a lot of data. The reason they can autoplay is that they are being downloaded in the background even before you scroll to them.

You can fix this in the settings:

  • Open Settings and Privacy by tapping on your account photo.
  • Open Data usage and tap Video autoplay.
  • Set it to Wi-Fi only or Never.

Google Photos / Google+

Backing up all your pictures and video is pretty awesome, and we recommend you use Google Photos to do just that. But if you don't have things set up correctly, auto-upload may be eating your data. Check and make sure you're only uploading on Wi-Fi.

  • Open the Settings from the menu.
  • Look for the Back up & sync menu item, and tap it.
  • Make sure Cellular data back up is disabled so photos and videos don't upload in the background.

Instagram

Instagram is all about sharing media, and like Twitter, those photos, videos, and content from Stories will autoload in the background unless you shut this off in the settings. This can add up!

  • Open the Settings and look for Cellular Data Use.
  • If it's set to Default you're preloading all the content.
  • Choose Use Less Data to stop preloading content and save some data.

Widgets

Widgets are a live look at a slice of an app. Some can use a lot of data if you don't dig into the app settings and tame things down.

This is especially true of widgets for apps like news readers or anything with a live feed. The more often a widget refreshes, the more data it will use.

Open the app associated with the widget and find its settings. Look for things like refresh rates or data usage in the settings and see what you can adjust.

Facebook

Facebook will do the same thing as Twitter and Instagram when it comes to media in your timeline. Reading ahead and preloading the content can make for a great experience, but it comes at the cost of data usage; not to mention using more of your battery to do it.

  • Open the menu and scroll way, way down to find the App settings.
  • Tap and look for Videos in News Feed Start With Sound and toggle it off.
  • Further down in the settings find Autoplay and you can set it to autoplay on Wi-Fi only.

Netflix

Netflix only uses data when you're using it and know you're using data. But you can dramatically lower how much by changing the Cellular Data Usage setting. And don't forget you can now download some videos from Netflix to watch later.

This is Netflix-specific, but it's not a Netflix-only problem. Any app that streams video can kill your data plan if you don't manage the quality settings.

  • Open the settings and find Cellular Data Usage.
  • Choose the setting that suits you best based on the amount of data it uses.

YouTube

The YouTube app will also stream video at a few different quality settings, some of which can put a dent in your data for the month. You can change these settings if you need to save some data.

  • Open the Settings and tap the General section.
  • Under Limit mobile data usage, set the quality limit you want to use.

Hangouts/Duo/Any video chat app

Two-way video conferencing can (and will) eat your data. The video is compressed and usage is usually cut down as much as possible, but you're still using a lot of data to chat over your favorite video app.

Most apps of this type don't have user-adjustable quality settings and do a good job compressing things to be as efficient as possible. If you see a setting to limit data on mobile, be sure to enable it.

It's just important to know that they can gobble up the data while you're using them. Try to stick to Wi-Fi.

Your turn

What are your tricks for saving data when you're on a prepaid plan? Let us know in the comments below!

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

26 Comments
  • I work at a cellular store, and the biggest data culprits are always Facebook, Snapchat, and IG. Mainly Facebook because of the autoplay videos over cellular. That slays data.
  • Just get unlimited and don't look back
  • It would be nice if it was truly Unlimited
  • unlimited throttle...
  • Only for City folks. Live in a rural area and can use all the Verizon unlimited data I feel like...
  • You mean possible deprioritization
  • this is for people who can not afford it
  • I always tell people to switch off auto sync of emails as well as auto app updates to save data.
  • There's an option in the Google Play Store app to auto-update over Wi-Fi only (Settings, Auto-update apps). I'm surprised Jerry missed this.
  • Thanks Sprint Truly Unlimited Plan!...No complaints here on my Grandfather Plan!
  • But you have to be in that one spot on your street that has a connection!
  • I get good Sprint coverage almost everywhere I need it. Even had unlimited talk, text and data while I was in Japan for $5 a month, thanks to Softbank's ownership of Sprint.
  • Reddit kills my "unlimited" data faster than anything. I've used 25gb on Reddit in the past 2 week just having autoplay videos on. I know t-mobile will de-prioritize me at around 30gb(?) so this is killer. I surf reddit maybe an hour per day only. I have since turned off autoplay videos.
  • Being a Fi subscriber, I've learned to shut off my data when not in use. I rely mostly on WiFi, and turn on my data only when I truly need it. $45 per month for 2 lines.
  • For me Google Services is the big one. I restrict background data and it saves me at least 1GB a month.
  • Music streaming apps in general are my biggest enemy and it's tricky because services like GPM and Slacker Radio only offer "offline" radio streaming with premium plans. GPM and Amazon Music will let me download my library for offline use without a premium plan but I have to remember to switch to offline music, since they separate offline and streaming music. To make things even more complicated, there are streaming quality settings that help save data but even at the lowest data settings I can burn through 300 mb in 8 hours of streaming.
  • Another thing with Twitter is the data sync. I have mine for daily so when I go into it I just refresh whatever part of I am currently looking at. Social media apps are the worst enemy for data users. One reason why I only use twitter is because there is a lot of text compared to snap (obviously) and instagram.
  • Don't forget 'always on wifi.'
    Known more as a drain on battery time, it can also impact data usage if you have the 'combine wifi/cell for faster downloads' checkbox ticked in settings.
  • Just use the browser, forget the apps, you can control what the browser does.
  • I use Google's Triangle app and love it for data control. Everything is blocked for mobile data except white listed apps. Any other apps used will prompt me to allow the app to use data for either 10 mins or 30 mins and then will turn data back off automatically. You also can white list the app when you open it by choosing to allow data always.
  • Airplane Mode! Additional bonus of being able to take off my tin hat.
  • For apps like facebook & twitter, there are wrapper apps like Tinfoilhat that use the mobile website, and add some options or features to help control things. And it is standalone, so they don't see what you do in your browsers. I especially like the kill button. If you use Tinfoilhat, the slide out menu is from the right side. Just FYI.
  • My biggest culprit each month is always PocketCasts - easily reaching over 10GB unless I'm on Wifi all the time. I could turn off mobile data downloads, but luckily I get 20GB for £16 / $21.
  • Chuckles, I'm showing my age here but I don't have any of those!
    🎩
    👀👂
    👃
    👅
  • Unlimited data for the win.
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