The apps that finally pushed me past my data plan’s limit

For the first time in years, maybe ever, I maxed out the data plan on my phone. Fortunately, racking up 3.68 gigabytes of data when I’d only paid T-Mobile for 3 GB didn’t cost me anything–the leftover data from earlier months socked away in my Data Stash covered the overage, and I still have more than 5 GB in the bank.

Android data usageBut the experience did remind me that you can burn through mobile bandwidth surprisingly fast. And since I’m always asking readers who have had the same experience “what apps did you in,” I should answer the same question myself.

So here are the top 10 offenders listed in Android’s Data Usage screen:

• Twitter: 1.91 GB. This one stands out not just because it’s at the top of the list–that’s a quasi-obscene amount of data for a social network originally designed to function over SMS. Tapping that entry revealed that Twitter ate up almost half of that data, 855 megabytes, while running in the background; I guess that’s why Android has a “Restrict app background data” control.

• Chrome: 723 MB. This didn’t surprise me much, since I haven’t switched on this browser’s Data Saver option. I’m glad it’s there, though.

• Facebook: 244 MB. I expected more, considering how I spend almost as much time in this app as I do in Twitter. The developers at the social network may deserve a little more credit for keeping their app quasi-efficient in its bandwidth use.

• Android OS: 109 MB. Picture me shrugging as I realize how little this entry just told me.

• Gmail: 92.6 MB. I thought this would be higher, considering I have this app syncing three different e-mail accounts.

• Google App: 63.11 MB. This is all Google Now, right?

• Google Play services: 62.55 MB. Here we have another catchall item–this Android library does chores for a vast variety of apps on a phone.

• Vine: 55.79 MB. While Twitter’s primarily text-based app binged on bandwidth, its video-only offshoot sipped this little. Picture me once again shrugging.

• Snapchat: 53.13 MB. I don’t even use this app in any meaningful way (a fuller account of my Snapchat incompetence will require a separate post), so I don’t know how it burned through that much data.

• Flickr: 48.02 MB. This would have been vastly higher had I not set Yahoo’s photo-sharing app to upload photos only over WiFi. The Play Store accounts for a tiny share of my bandwidth for the same reason.

If you don’t mind sharing, what apps top your own phone’s data-usage screen? I realize that in iOS, you can’t get a month-by-month breakdown (the upcoming iOS 10 doesn’t fix that, to judge from the peek I got at it last month), but even the running total iOS keeps should still yield some useful insights.

Weekly output: patent trolls, Apple Music (x3), robots, digital fluency

I had more to show for myself than usual on this holiday-shortened week, and I can thank Apple and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe for much of that.

6/30/2015: Why The Tech Industry Hates Patent Trolls, and You Should Too, Yahoo Tech

I’d written and filed this column two weeks earlier, then shelved it so I could turn around a post on LastPass’s security breach. I’m glad we could finally get this thing out, but I fear that not many people read it on the day that Apple Music launched.

WTOP on Apple Music6/30/2015: Apple Music, the newest player in a crowded streaming field, WTOP

Washington’s news station interviewed me about my first impressions of Apple’s new music service. I emphasized how limited Apple Music’s device support is compared to that of Pandora or Spotify–even factoring in Apple’s upcoming, unprecedented shipment of an Android app for the service.

7/1/2015: CE Week Report: Are Robots Limping Forward or Finding Their Stride?, Economy

João-Pierre S. Ruth wrote up last week’s CE Week panel on robots and was kind enough to give me the last word in the story.

7/1/2015: Will Apple Music Kill Your Data Plan?, Yahoo Tech

I had thought that this would be an easy story to write, but then I realized that Apple had not bothered to document the bit rates used by Apple Music’s streaming–which are significantly higher than Pandora’s bit rate, though not as high as some coverage would have you think. I also had to batter my way through some math, an experience that reminded me how many decades it’s been since my last math class.

7/2/2015: We Do Need Digital Fluency, But We Don’t All Need To Code, Yahoo Tech

I’d written this reaction to the previous Friday’s event with McAuliffe at one of Capital One’s Tysons Corner offices on Monday, but my editors elected it to hold it for a slower time in the week. That made sense to me.

7/5/2015: Some restrictions apply to Apple Music song matches, USA Today

I wrote and filed a different Q&A column on Thursday, then decided that Apple’s undocumented imposition of DRM on matched copies of your own music was a timelier topic. That delayed the start of my long weekend until around noon Friday, but in the bargain I have a completed column in the can that we can run whenever I get around to taking a vacation.

Weekly output: e-book DRM, Vudu Disc to Digital, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, data caps, OLED battery life

I’m finally done with the hell of tax prep and resuming something close to my usual level of productivity–after taking off Thursday to see the space shuttle Discovery arrive at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center.

4/17/2012: Overlooked E-Book Chapter: DRM Makes Monopolies, CEA Digital Dialogue

The Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five major book publishers–followed by a round of traditional-media coverage of the DoJ’s action that ignored how “digital rights management” restrictions distort that market–persuaded me to revisit the topic I last addressed in my penultimate Post column. If I keep rewriting this thesis enough times, will I eventually see publishing-industry executives agree with it?

4/19/2012: Get Higher Def From (Some of) Your DVDs, Discovery News

Much like last week, I enjoyed coming up with an artsy photo for a post. This one critiques a Walmart service that provides digital copies of your DVDs and Blu-rays. It’s a dubious value for same-quality duplicates, but I can see myself paying to get HD versions of movies I own on DVD. Walmart just needs to let me make the purchase without having to trek to one of its stores–and I write this after completing the transaction on the first try, unlike my fellow D.C.-area tech blogger Dave Zatz.

To reinforce every single stereotype of East Coast Liberal Media Elite Bias: This was the first time I’d set foot in a Walmart in maybe nine years. (Look, I hate driving for 30 minutes to do routine shopping. That’s the same reason I’ve yet to set foot in a Wegman’s.)

4/20/2012: A Tablet That Talks To Your TV — Or Tries To, Discovery News

I might have gone easier on this Android tablet–at $250, it’s not a bad deal and is vastly more competitive than the first Galaxy Tab I reviewed–had Samsung not made such a strong sales pitch for its universal-remote app at demo in New York a couple of weeks ago. And if that app had not failed so badly in my own testing, even relative to my own snakebite history with allegedly universal remotes. If I hadn’t already been pushing the word count on this review, I also would have dinged Samsung for using a proprietary USB cable. (I didn’t ding the new iPad for that either.)

4/22/2012: What’s eating your phone’s data allowance?, USA Today

The front end of this column, explaining which apps and services might take the biggest bite out of a data quota, benefited from one of my last acts with the Galaxy Nexus phone before returning it last week: taking a screengrab of its data-usage report. The second half, relating a battery-saving tip for phones with OLED screens that I picked up while reporting a post about smartphone screen sizes for CEA’s blog, was also informed by a final test on overdue review hardware.

In the coming-soon category, I have an interview with former federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra in the May 2012 issue of Washingtonian. The print copy is now on sale but the story isn’t online yet, so look for a link to it in a future weekly-update post.