How to manage a data limit on your Android phone

When you buy your Android phone you will normally get a data allowance as part of your deal. This allowance enables you to use up to a set amount of data each month, often ranging from 500MB to unlimited.

Android data usage wifi

If you’re lucky enough to have an unlimited deal then you need not worry about how much data you use. High end devices like the Galaxy S5 or HTC One will often come with these. But if you have a limit then you will need to ration your usage—go over the limit could see you hit with excess fees to pay for the extra data.

The easiest way to stay within your limits is to keep an eye on what you are using your data allowance for. Streaming via Netflix, for instance, will burn through a 500MB allowance in not much more than half an hour, while you can probably manage a solid few hours of music streaming with Spotify.

How to use less data

If you’ve got a small limit, it’s best to avoid streaming services altogether, and stick to web, email and social networking. You can stretch your allowance further for web browsing by using the Opera Browser, which has a feature called Off-road mode that compresses data and webpages before they are downloaded, using less of your bandwidth in the process.

Opera mobile offroad mode

You should also leave wi-fi turned on, and make use of any open networks you can find (in stores, hotels etc) since Android will default to using wi-fi ahead of mobile data whenever it is available. Wi-fi will also use less battery power than mobile data does.


Precautions aside, though, you will still need to monitor your data usage to make sure you don’t exceed your allowance.

You can do this in Android by setting data limits, and you’ll be warned whenever you are close to reaching them.

Set up a data allowance in Android

To set up a data allowance got to Settings > Data usage.

Android data usage

Here you will see a chart showing your data usage for the month, and below that you will see how much data each individual app has been using (in order of data hungriness).

Tap Set mobile data limit.

You’ll now see two lines on the graph. The red one shows your hard data limit, and the black one (the colours may differ depending on the device you are using) enables you to set a point at which you will be warned that you are nearing your limit.

Drag the red line to match your data limit, and the black one to a point maybe 10% lower.

When your data usage hits the warning level you will be alerted to the fact that you are nearing your limit.

When your usage hits the red line mobile data will be turned off automatically and your apps will only be able to go online when there is a wi-fi connection available.

Stop an app using data in the background

Tap on one of the apps below the graph to get even more info on that app’s data usage, including whether it is using data in the foreground or background.

Data usage apps

If an app is using a large amount of data in the background you can turn this off by tapping Restrict app background data. This will stop an app using mobile data, but not wi-fi. It’s good to do this for apps that you don’t need running in the background, but not for streaming apps like Spotify that need to use data even when you don’t have them open.

Data usage

View wi-fi data usage

If you wan to you can also see how much data you are using on wi-fi networks.

Although this is less important it can be a useful way of seeing which apps are using a lot of data in the background. This can be a cause of battery problems, so is a good place to check if you ever find your battery is draining faster than you would expect.

Wifi usage

Wi-fi data is hidden by default. To activate it tap the menu button and select Show Wi-fi.


Android phones are generally very data hungry, with lots of apps set to download information through the day and night.

By looking in the Settings section for each app you can usually control and limit how often these apps will go online, in order to restrict the amount of data you can use.

However by setting up a Data limit you will guarantee that you can never exceed your allowance, and so avoid any potential bill shocks in future.

Android Tips and Hacks