Data caps are a hard reality for many customers on a majority of carriers, and managing that data usage can be tricky. Even on prepaid plans, hard and soft data caps are put in place for carriers to
make a bit of extra money ensure their network is optimized for all of their customers. Unless you don’t mind facing ridiculous overage charges or buying top up cards six times a month, keeping up with how your data is used is important for any smartphone user. In this guide we’re going to go over a handful of apps that do a great job of giving you an easy way to track your data usage and keep you from going over your limit. Head on past the break to get started.
It’s worth mentioning that Google has added data tracking to Android 4.0 and above, but not all phones are running current versions of Android. Even if you have a 4.x device, many of these apps offer tools and features that Google’s own implementation is lacking.
My Data Manger is an extremely robust application that gives you a handful of ways to track your data usage. One of the most unique features it offers is its ability to give you a forecast usage for the month to give you a hint on if you need to slow down your data usage to make your data limit last through the month. It even allocates a recommended amount of data for you to use on a day-to-day basis to give you an idea on how much music you can stream on your ride to work or how many YouTube videos you can watch on your lunch break. The app supports setting up how much data you’re allotted in your plan and how often and what day the billing cycle resets so you can keep it in step with what you’re carrier is seeing. If you’d like to set up a hard cap with the app, you can do that too; the app supports up to two monthly alarms for data usage, and a single daily alarm. There are options for all three of these alarms to turn your cellular data off once you reach a certain limit. The app also has settings and plans you can set for separate roaming data if you roam often on your carrier’s network.
Aside from the basic data monitoring and alarms, My Data Manager also offers a handful of other ways to see how you’re using your data. One of my personal favorite features is the ability to stick an ongoing widget in your notification shade to see where you’re at for the month. Since you’re going to be checking notifications on your device often, it’s a great way to constantly be reminded where you’re at with your data. The app also has several different graphs and filters built in for seeing exactly what apps are chewing up data. You can sort apps from how much data they used in a month down to how much data they use per hour, and even based on what percentage of your data plan they’re using up. Other graphs in the app let you see graphs and pie charts letting you know what apps are heavy on the data at a glance and which days you used the most data. For a free app, My Data Manager is hard to beat.
Update: My Data Manager has been updated to version 4.0 with a redesign. Here is our review.
Onavo Count is an extremely powerful data monitoring app that essentially acts like a portable data usage counselor. You set up your data cap, the day the billing cycle resets, and Onavo handles the rest. It monitors your apps in the background and watches data usage, letting you know when apps start to hog data. The “App Watch” screen lists all of your active applications and specifies how much data each application is using to give you an idea of the heaviest data hogs. If an app does start to use up an abnormal amount of data in the background, Onavo will give you an alert to proactively stop the app. It also sends alerts for high data usage for your billing cycle, roaming data notifications, and features several ways to slow down your data usage. Onavo will allow you to restrict certain apps to only use data on WiFi and will shut off your mobile data once you hit a certain limit.
Where Onavo really shines is its advice features and crowd sourcing features. Onavo makes a usage profile based on your data usage and can give you recommendations on how to minimize your data usage, and it can even give you tips on what the best value plans for data are on your particular carrier or similar carriers. If you could cut your data plan in half to save some cash every month, Onavo would tell you whether or not that would work based on your monthly usage habits. The crowd sourcing is also a pretty unique feature; Onavo users can mark apps as unsafe or as data hogs to give you a heads up about high-risk apps when you download it. Aside from all of those selling points, Onavo does feature a handful of great widgets to stick on your homescreen for quick access to your data usage each month.
Another excellent feature in Onavo is a companion app called Onavo Extend. Essentially, the app uses some pretty nifty data caching on your SD card and data compression to stretch how far your data goes. It claims to offer up to 5 times more data usage per month, which will vary depending on how you tend to use data, but since both apps are free, it’s definitely worth checking out.
3G Watchdog has been a popular app since much earlier iterations of Android because of its simplicity and effectiveness. It’s not the prettiest application on the list, but it’s a very lightweight application that works extremely well. Watchdog constantly monitors your data usage in the background and offers a status bar notification to keep you alerted to how much data you’re using. Like with the other applications, it can also alert you when you’re about to hit your monthly limit and can shut off your mobile data entirely once you’re past your limit to avoid those nasty overage charges.
One unique feature to 3G Watchdog is how it breaks down your mobile usage; it separates received and sent data per day, so you can see if apps are consuming more data from downloading files, or if they’re hogging data from things you’re sending off, such as picture uploads. Unfortunately, you can’t break down the usage into individual apps, but it’s still very handy to see what kind of behavior is using up the most data.
Data Usage Defender is a Swiss Army Knife of data usage monitors, especially for rooted users. On the surface, it has what most other monitoring apps offer; efficient background monitoring, two widget styles, etc. It runs in the background and places a notification in your status bar letting you know how much data you’re using based on the plan you’ve set up in the app. You can set alerts when you hit a percentage of your data cap, similar to other applications on this list.
Data Usage Defender really turns into a toolbox once you get into the nitty-gritty monitoring of apps. You can view your apps and see how much mobile data and WiFi data they’re using, including their download and upload amounts. The app will also show your daily data usage, including what time of the day the most data was consumed. If your device is rooted, you can access a firewall section of the app, which will allow you to block any application from accessing data on either a mobile network or WiFi network. If you want Facebook to only run over WiFi and Twitter to only run on mobile networks, it’s easy to set up. On top of that, there’s a built in speed testing app built into Data Usage Defender so you can figure out exactly how fast your network’s are, and how fast you can chew through your data cap if you aren’t careful.
You can also use Data Usage Defender to control some network system settings, like turning mobile data or WiFi on or off. The last really unique feature it offers is a floating speed widget. It’s essentially a small pop-up that you can drag around your phone’s screen that constantly tells you the speed of your current data connection. If your phone isn’t doing anything, it obviously shouldn’t be very high, but if the speed starts to dramatically increase when you aren’t doing anything, it’s a great heads up to start trying to find an app hogging data in the background. If you’re looking for an app to manage a ton of things on your device, (and you’re rooted) this one’s definitely worth checking out.
These last monitoring apps are carrier-specific, so not everyone will be able to use them, but they offer a functionality that none of the other apps can do, so they’re worth mentioning. Developer Hoeksoft has two sets of usage widgets for Verizon and AT&T that links directly to your account and provides extremely accurate data usage in widget form. Since the other applications on this list can only monitor data that’s been used while they’ve been installed, it isn’t always 100% accurate, especially if you install it halfway through a billing cycle. These widgets avoid that problem by keeping data synced with what you see in your Verizon or AT&T accounts. As an added bonus, there are three widgets for monitoring minutes, data usage, and texts, so it goes a bit beyond just simple data management. If you’re on a shared data plan, these also make it much easier to keep up with how much data everyone on your account has used.
Unfortunately, there are caveats with these apps. The only way you can use these is if you are a postpaid AT&T or Verizon customer, so if you’re on another carrier or using a prepaid plan, these won’t work for you. If you’re on a contract with either of these carriers and don’t mind spending 2 bucks on accurate data monitoring, these are worth checking out.
These are my favorite apps for keeping up with data usage and staying under the frustrating data limits. Are there any apps we missed that you use to track your data usage? Let us know in the comments.