7 ways to manage smart phone data usage during the holidays

'Twas the holiday season, and smart phones were on,
Not a byte was remaining, the data was gone.
On Facebook, on Youtube, on Twitter and Skype.
There's just so much to do in this digital life.

It's easy to burn through the 2GB (that’s 2,000 megabytes) monthly allowance of typical data plans. That’s especially true during the holiday season, when there are so many things to see, share, and buy on mobile devices. And some activities you might think are data hogs usually use less than a megabyte of data per minute: surfing the Web, using maps and navigation, and sending e-mail (without attachments). Here are seven things you can do—and not do—to get the most out of your data allowance and avoid overage charges.


1. Use Wi-Fi. The best way to stretch your data allowance is by using Wi-Fi whenever it's available, especially for the biggest data hogs. (Just don’t use a public network for banking or other sensitive transactions.)

2. Keep track of your data usage. Most smart phones have an app installed by the carrier, typically called something like "My Verizon Mobile" or "My AT&T,” that lets you manage your account. Use it often to monitor data usage. Most carriers will send you a text alert when you're running low.


3. Watch video streams. An HD-quality video stream consumes almost 6MB per minute. Streaming one video a day from YouTube for a month, or a single HD movie, could eat up 700MB of data—or more than a third of a 2GB budget. It's best to watch video over Wi-Fi. But if you can't wait till Wi-Fi is available, use the phone's settings to reduce the resolution of videos you watch.

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4. Make video calls. Face-to-face video calls, using the front-mounted camera found on most new smart phones, can eat up a hefty 2.5MB to 3MB a minute. Chat for 20 minutes once a week with your daughter who's away at college, and you would use up at least 200MB of data per month.

5. Upload video. Can't wait until a Wi-Fi network is accessible to upload that high-def video from your phone to Facebook? Think twice: A 3-minute video clip in HD (1080p) can be as large as 300MB or so. At the least, reduce the resolution to minimize the hit.

6. Listen to streamed music. Streaming favorite tunes to your phone from a subscription music service, a collection stored in the cloud, or an Internet radio station eats up a megabyte of data per minute. Listen for a half-hour of commuting on weekdays and during a few 20-minute workouts per week, and you've consumed 700MB of data in a month. Consider reducing the bit rate of streams (via settings) and storing music on the device rather than streaming.

7. Play connected games online. Shooting it out with other players in high-octane online games is way cool—and way costly. With every minute of play requiring a megabyte of data, a half hour of play three times a week will easily burn through 400MB of data per month.

Bottom line

If your phone has a data monitor, check it periodically to make sure you don’t overdo it. Use Wi-Fi whenever it’s available. Better still, put the phone down and get together with friends and family face to face.

Happy holidays!

—Mike Gikas

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