The new iPad hasn’t been in customer hands for a full month, yet there are already a ton of people going over their 4G LTE data limits and not happy about it. Part of it is new gadget overuse and part of it is because some downloads use more data over 4G because the connection is speedier.
Keeping track of how much data you’ve used in a month isn’t exactly easy with the iPad. There are apps from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint for the iPhone, plus the ability to get texts as you approach your data limits. iPad users have to log in to their accounts or dig into the settings three levels down.
Good thing there are a few good apps for monitoring data usage that keep the information up front so you won’t miss it or forget to check.
The best app I’ve found is Data Usage by developer sigterm and costs $0.99 ($1.99 for the Pro version). It offers a deep well of features, though you don’t have to use every one. Most U.S. customers won’t have a need for the Wi-Fi monitoring aspect, for instance.
Data Usage will keep track of how much data the iPad uses over 4G and 3G and will warn you as you approach the data plan limits. You’ll have to input your data limit and billing cycle dates yourself, but once you do you won’t have to open the app again if you don’t want. An app badge (the number in red that appears at the corner of the icon on your Home screen) reflects how close you are to your limit in percentage values. If it says 40, you’re used 40% of your data. If it says 75, you’re at 75%.
For people who want to dig in deeper there are options for setting a daily or weekly quota as well. The app also includes predictions based on your own behavior that indicate how much data you’re likely to use and how likely you are to go over your limit. Useful if you’re trying to decide if you want to step up to a more expensive plan. Though it runs in the background, data usage won’t kill your battery.
While Data Usage can help keep you from exceeding your limits, it can’t stop you from doing so. There are a few simple tips to keep in mind that can help you avoid overage charges.
Don’t leave Cellular Data on all of the time. Turn it off until you need it, but leave Wi-Fi on. This will keep apps from using data in the background when you need to keep usage down.
Use Wi-Fi whenever possible. Most people connect the iPad to their router at home and at work (if allowed) but may not know that free Wi-Fi may be available where they travel or even other places they spend a lot of time.
Many chain stores and eateries offer free Wi-Fi access such as Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Panera Bread, McDonald’s Cosi, and Qdoba, to name some of the biggest. Public libraries often have free wireless access as well. Customers with an AT&T iPad have access to the carrier’s Wi-Fi hotspots across the country, often found in airports, hotels and the like. Your cable provider may also have free hotspot availability.
You can find free hotspots with the iPad itself using apps like Wi-Fi Finder.
Avoid high data activities when you’re on 4G or 3G. This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but apparently plenty of you out there burned through your data in a flash by downloading or streaming video over 4G. This is one of the fastest ways to use up data, especially if you watch a full-length movie. Streaming music also uses up a significant amount of data. According to Verizon’s data calculator, streaming 2 hours a day will use about 3.5GB a month alone. Occasional streaming isn’t as big a deal, but if you’re keeping a tight rein on megabytes don’t make it a regular habit.
Bottom line: save downloading large files and streaming media for when you can access Wi-Fi.
These are the three best things you can do to avoid going over your data allotment. But remember that since data plans for the iPad are month to month, you can change them if you find that you regularly use more data than you thought. Just remember that, for some plans, it’s not worth buying the extra data even if you do regularly go over. See our post comparing data plans for more details.