July 30, 2015
THE TELESTIAL DATA DIET – TIPS FOR DEALING WITH A HUNGRY SMARTPHONE
After many years of horror stories about billshock, people are slowly opening their eyes to the dangers of unchecked data use while roaming. The idea that a few hours of unchecked browsing could lead to thousands of dollars in charges was so horrific to some people, they refused to even use their phone while travelling. In recent years, domestic providers have loosened their iron grip on roaming rates and have started (slowly) to lower their rates in other countries. But there are still places in the world where roaming charges are prohibitively expensive, so it is worth keeping an eye on things.
However, it is not just roaming that is becoming the issue. As we have mentioned in previous posts, there are traps for the unwary at home as well as abroad – autoplaying videos, page bloat, malware – all these things can slow the browsing experience, eat through data allowances and drain battery life. Our smartphones are close to as powerful as a desktop computer these days, but we still take far more care over the security and performance of the latter than we do the former. It doesn’t have to be this way. You’ll need to put your smartphone on a bit of a diet, restricting it from certain temptations that don’t do it any good at all. But if you follow some of the tips in this post, both you and your smartphone will feel a great deal healthier as a consequence.
SMARTPHONE USER, KNOW THYSELF
For the most part, there’s only one person who uses your smartphone, and that’s you. Ten years ago, looking something up online on your phone might have been enough of a novelty for you to remember exactly what you were doing, but these days, it is as much a part of life as anything else, and it’s easy when you have a wifi connection to switch off. Knowing your own habits is a vital piece of the data use puzzle. Use a data calculator to estimate your daily, weekly or monthly mobile internet usage. The important information here is the amount of data you use, not the price – after all, you will be travelling, and will be subject to different rates. You can use past bills to see whether your calculations match up to the estimates. If you are using a Telestial SIM (and because you’re very sensible, of course you are), use the JT Travel App to see what things cost and check your usage is in line with expectations.
DISABLE GREEDY APPS AND FEATURES
Most smartphones also have a data usage tracker these days – simply navigate to Settings > Data Use. This will show how much data you’ve used in a graph, and for an extra line of defense against unexpected costs, you can set a limit on your phone here too. If you scroll down, you will also see exactly which parts of your phone have been using data. This is an excellent way of identifying and disabling apps that you don’t need or don’t want using all that data.
Just because you are not using an App, does not automatically mean that it won’t use any data. Apps are regularly updated, some as frequently as two or three times a week. This can use up several MB of precious data allocation on something you are not planning on using anyway. Limit their access to the web by setting them to only update over WIFI – again, something that can be found under Settings > Data Use. You can also tell your smartphone to cease some or all background data use – that is to say, things such as your location tracker that run in the background even if you are not specifically using them. There is an option to turn this off across the board, but it is better to go through your apps individually, as some of them can still be incredibly useful. There are other third-party apps that you can download which manage these apps in different ways, and giving you even more control. Alternately, you can download a data killswitch, a very simple App that turns absolutely everything off – similar to the difference between switching off the water supply at the mains instead of a tap.
LOSE THE BAD APP(LES)
There have been stories recently about a huge number of Apps in the Apple and Android app stores that are riddled with malware. It is estimated that 5000 apps have infected 20 million phones around the world. While the main goal of these apps is to make it look like the user is clicking on ads (at a rate of 7 per minute), the side effect is that your data allocation is used up very quickly without you ever knowing it, as this malware runs even when the app itself is closed, and could easily eat through 2GB of data in a 24 hour period. Go through your apps and check their reputation online. If it seems like it might be a problem or if it is an App you haven’t used in some time, get rid of it. There are always alternatives.
NO TIME TO PLAY
Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have begun to implement a policy of allowing videos to play automatically – and they are far from the only website that likes to do this. This is fine from the safety of a cable or WIFI connection, but for mobile users, it slows things down and can eat through your data loading videos that you don’t necessarily want to watch. Make sure these videos are not allowed to play automatically, either through the site’s homepage or app settings.
Now that it has been established that visiting an average page from one of the top 1000 websites costs you up to 2MB, it’s time to take greater control of your browsing. Not all sites will cost you that much, but there are many that will cost you significantly more, up to from between 9-12MB for the worst offenders. News sites are amongst the worst offenders, but really, any site with a lot of content that is regularly updated usually suffers from page bloat because of the amount of deals they need to make with advertisers to keep making money. While this is an issue that will become more important in the future, we are focussing on your vacation here, and so action needs to be taken. Consider looking at an alternative browser for your mobile device. The ones that come as standard work well enough, but they are not designed for a smartphone diet. Take a look at some of the others, taking note of the ones that are faster, lighter and optimized for mobile use. If you really want to slim down, consider a browser that takes out everything but the text.
Installing an ad-blocker on your device is also a very wise precaution. While ad-blockers and their use is becoming a moral issue, it does not change the fact that online advertising is, at its best, seriously inconvenient. Getting rid of ads while you are browsing abroad just makes good sense and will save you money on your data allowance. If you feel guilty about denying web publishers their revenue, download or purchase an app for that site, if there is one. Apps also have adverts, but they are under tighter control than with mobile browsing. Also, if you have paid for the app, you have paid the publisher and can rest easy that you are not putting them out of a job.
ALWAYS CARRY CACHE
Many of the things we do online don’t actually need to be done online. With a bit of time and planning, it’s possible to pre-load important, useful or other information onto your phone before you travel. Smartphones come with a decent amount of storage as standard, but higher-end models can come with as much as 32GB of storage space – enough room for several movies or a TV series, and plenty more besides. Maps can be pre-downloaded and stored. Unless you are streaming, music playlists can be prepared and added, as well as web pages that you might want to read later. The list goes on – so the biggest problem that a carefully curated mobile web cache could cause would be whether you actually have time to look at all this extra stuff!
By taking a bit of time to follow these steps and looking closely at your own mobile data habits, you can very quickly identify and eliminate problems, while at the same time giving you more power over your devices. Pretty soon, you’ll see that using data on your smartphone isn’t something to be despised or scared of, and you’ll be able to take control… without taking out a loan.