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.

Advertisements

T-Mobile’s free 2G international roaming is not bad at all

BARCELONA–I did something weird when I got off the plane in Brussels Sunday morning after a horrendously-delayed flight out of Dulles: I took the phone out of airplane mode.

T-Mobile 2G roaming

My usual routine on a trip to Europe has been to limp along on WiFi until I can buy a prepaid SIM (which hopefully will work right away but doesn’t always). But after switching my T-Mobile service from an old small-business plan to a slightly more expensive Simple Choice plan with free 2G roaming, I didn’t have to put up with that workaround.

What I didn’t know before this trip here for Mobile World Congress is if I could stand to spend that much time on an EDGE or slower connection. The limits of T-Mobile’s network in rural areas give me that experience more often than I’d like, and it’s not fun.

But when the alternative is either WiFi alone or having to find a store selling prepaid SIMs–sadly, the one in the arrivals area of Barcelona’s airport seemed to have closed when I arrived Sunday afternoon–slow but free can be not bad.

T-Mobile 2G roaming speed testBy “slow” I’m talking a connection that the Speedtest app clocked going no faster than .13 Mbps on a download, .24 on an upload. That’s nowhere near fast enough for sustained use or for work–Monday, I switched to faster bandwidth.

But in the meantime, that EDGE service provided sufficient bandwidth for my e-mail to arrive in the background, to read and write tweets (and even share a picture on Twitter, slowly), to get directions on Google Maps, to check up on Facebook and check in on Foursquare Swarm, and to browse mobile-optimized Web sites with a certain degree of patience.

I’m not alone in that judgment: Ars Technica’s Peter Bright mentioned to me on Monday that he was relying on T-Mobile 2G roaming, and avgeek blogger Seth Miller wrote in 2013 that this free roaming could very well be good enough for short visits.

And even if you’ll still buy a prepaid SIM at your first opportunity overseas, there’s a lot to be said for getting off the plane and not having to freak out over what it will cost you to exit airplane mode before that point.

Weekly output: Sprint-T-Mobile, Tech Night Owl, iMessage

I was a lot more productive than usual this week (much of that activity went into a project that’s not ready to post yet), even though I lost all of Monday to travel. Funny how that works…

3/25/2014: Dear Feds: Hang Up on a Sprint/T-Mobile Merger, Yahoo Tech

I still don’t know if Sprint is going to try to go through with what seems a phenomenally bad idea, but I wanted to go on the record about my dislike of further consolidation of the four big wireless carriers. I also thought this was a good time to denounce the idea that government regulators can manage away the risks of mega-mergers by imposing complicated conditions on the conduct of the combined firm; saying “no” is easier, cheaper and permanent.

3/29/2014: March 29, 2014 — Rick Broida, Daniel Eran Dilger and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I made one of my occasional appearances on Gene Steinberg’s Apple-centric podcast; we talked about the arrival of Microsoft Office on the iPad and my column on Sprint-T-Mobile.

USAT column on iMessage mess3/30/2014: iMessage: How to make it stop, USA Today

I’ve been hearing complaints from friends and acquaintances for at least the last year about how switching from an iPhone to a non-Apple device (especially if that switch happens after the loss or theft of the iPhone in question) causes text messages from friends on other iPhones to vanish. I finally looked into this for my column and found things were even worse than I’d thought: You can have messages go down a black hole even if you do things right, Apple’s documentation is woefully incomplete, and the company’s tech support can’t be relied on to play by even the undocumented rules.

Note that until we can get a revision in, the column describes one aspect of iMessage incorrectly: I wrote that iMessage-routed messages appear in green bubbles and regular texts show up in blue when it’s the other way around. If Apple fans seize on that error to call the rest of the column into question–well, they’d be wrong, but it’s still my job to get the details right.

Weekly output: Doug Pray, mobile-app monetization, mugshot sites, T-Mobile, ad-free Web-mail, Shared Endorsements

I managed to head into D.C. four of the five workdays this week, thanks to various meetings. That’s unusual. And that won’t be possible this week coming up, as I’m departing Tuesday morning for the Demo conference in Santa Clara.

DisCo Doug Pray post10/7/2013: Documentary Evidence: A Director Opens Up About Distribution, Gatekeepers and Piracy, Disruptive Competition Project

After a visit to Seattle, I wanted to watch a great documentary of the mid-’90s grunge scene, Hype!–but could not, as it had vanished from all the legitimate streaming and downloading channels. So I looked up its director, Doug Pray, and wound up having a great chat over e-mail about the state of movie industry from an indie perspective. I appreciate his honesty… and hope it doesn’t get in the way of him lining up a new distributor so I can see this flick for the first time since 1996.

10/8/2013: Mobile App Monetization Models, Enterprise Mobile Hub

This Twitter chat covered ways to cover a mobile app’s cost: showing ads to the user, charging the user, charging for an upgraded version of the app, or subsidizing it through other means.

10/11/2013: Mugshot Mess Provides A Reminder: You Don’t Want “Search Neutrality”, Disruptive Competition Project

I wrote a response to a couple of thought-provoking pieces: David Segal’s long NYT feature about sites that make it easy to browse mugshots of arrested suspects and also charge to have mugshots removed, then Mathew Ingram’s GigaOM post worrying about how quickly Google and payment processors moved to cut off mugshots sites after they started getting press queries about them.

10/12/2013: T-Mobile to eliminate international data fees, WTOP

T-Mobile announced that it would give its users free 2G data service overseas, and WTOP’s Kristi King sought out my input. My voice sounds sharper than usual not because I was in studio, but because I recorded my end of the conversation with a desktop microphone and then e-mailed the MP3 to King.

10/13/2013: Are any e-mail sites ad-free?, USA Today

A reader asked a question I’d answered last May, but enough things have changed in the Web-mail market for me to revisit the question. And this time around, Outlook.com’s $19.95 ad-free option looks a lot more attractive now that Microsoft’s service supports standard IMAP synchronization. The column also includes a brief explanation of Google’s new “Shared Endorsement” ads and a comparison of them with Facebook’s “Sponsored Stories.”

On Sulia, I posted a couple of reports from an Intuit press event and reception in D.C. (one on how it “ended up distracting the Mint team for the greater good of the company,” another on how its SnapTax app unintentionally makes a case for the direct e-filing that Intuit has lobbied long and hard against), scolded Facebook for taking away the option to hide your name from its search, reported some startups’ testimony about patent trolling, and noted how the advertised prices for CenturyLink’s new gigabit fiber service in Las Vegas understate what you might pay.

Nexus 4 long-term evaluation

About seven months ago, I turned on a new Android phone and started installing and configuring my usual apps. That’s not an unusual event for me, except this time it was a phone I’d bought for the sum of $327.94. I’ve been using this Nexus 4 every day since, so I’ve gotten to know this device a little better than the average review model. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Nexus 4 backBattery: This was my number-one concern–a loaner model had tested poorly in this area, and it was only after I found a loaner Nexus 4’s battery life workable during Mobile World Congress that I decided to go ahead with the purchase. Seven months later, I’m surprised by how rarely the phone’s battery has gotten into the red.

I’ve learned to put this phone on WiFi whenever possible (that extends its battery life considerably) and I’m more careful about recharging it if I’m sitting down than I once was. But this experience has me a little more skeptical about relying too much on any one battery-life benchmark. I mean, if a phone can make it through SXSW without dying or needing a recharge every few hours, its battery life can’t be that bad.

Android: I love using the stock Android interface, without any spackled-on layers of interface from a phone vendor and without any bloatware locked in place unless I root the device. I also love not having to wait more than a few days for an Android update to land on the phone. I’m trying to think of what would get me to buy a non-Nexus Android phone… still thinking… let me get back to you on that.

Camera: This is the weakest part of the phone, even if it’s not enough to induce  buyer’s remorse. The lack of optical image stabilization makes this 8-megapixel camera clumsy at most outdoor photos after dark, and its shutter lag is just bad enough to make taking pictures of our toddler or any other fidgety subject (like, say, a monkey) a trying task.

In this camera’s favor, it can take some great photos, and not just with the sun overhead. One of my favorite shots involved early-morning sunlight streaming into the National Airport; I suspect the aging Canon point-and-shoot I had with me would have had trouble balancing that exposure. The Nexus 4’s also done well with food porn, sunsets, panoramas and photo spheres.

Bandwidth: The Nexus 4 doesn’t have LTE, and I don’t care. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ routinely hits 15-Mbps download speeds in the Speedtest.net app. LTE can run faster still, but when my phone’s mobile broadband matches my home’s Fios access I’m not going to mope about the difference. (Those mean things I wrote about carriers marketing HSPA+ as “4G”? Maybe not so much.)

T-Mobile’s coverage is not what I’d get with Verizon. It can also be frustrating to have the phone lose a signal inside a not-large building. But I’m saving about $50 a month compared to what VzW charges. And since this phone is an unlocked GSM phone, I can also pop in any other GSM carrier’s micro-SIM card–as I did when I went to Berlin last month for IFA.

Storage: As the price I mentioned should have indicated, I cheaped out and got only the 8-gigabyte version. So far, that hasn’t been an issue–I still have almost a fifth of the 5.76 GB of user-available space free–but at some point I may have to delete some of the apps I’ve installed and then forgotten about. If I could pop in a microSD card, I wouldn’t have that concern. But I can’t.

Durability: Considering how beat up my older phones have gotten, I worried a little about buying a phone with a glass front and back. But I’ve babied this thing (I never put it in a pocket with change or keys) and after seven months it still looks pretty sharp. You need to hold it up to the light, as in the photo above, to see any faint scratches. I remain paranoid about dropping it–which may explain why I haven’t. Should I buy Google’s bumper case anyway?

Extras: You may not be surprised to read that after seven months, I have yet to buy anything with the Nexus 4’s NFC wireless. I have, however, used that feature to install apps, look up data and stage quick Android Beam file transfers. This phone’s Qi cordless charging has also gone unused at home, although I’ve verified that it works at a couple of trade-show exhibits.

Any other questions? I’ll take them in the comments.

Where T-Mobile provides 3G service for older iPhones

T-Mobile iPhone 3GT-Mobile announced today that it’s getting the iPhone. But in a practical sense, it’s “had”  that smartphone since it kicked off a network “refarming” effort last year to provide 3G and HSPA+ 4G service on the 1900 MHz frequencies used by the iPhone 5 and older AT&T-specific models, then started marketing itself as a better option for unlocked iPhones. Before today’s news, the carrier said it already had more than two million unlocked iPhones on its network.

T-Mobile’s Web site, however, doesn’t get around to identifying all of these iPhone-friendly markets–an important detail, since without it you’re stuck with slow 2G “EDGE” data service. (6:59 p.m. Engadget reports that new-production iPhones, T-Mobile’s own model included, will support a wider range of frequencies. I’ve revised the title to reflect that.) T-Mobile’s coverage map doesn’t break them out, and a FAQ page only says “Check at your local T-Mobile store for network status in your area.”

(The screen shot above comes from the iPhone of my friend Paul Schreiber, who’s been keeping me updated on where he’s seen 3G service.)

So I asked a company publicist and got this reply:

The following 49 metro areas currently have 4G service in 1900 MHz. This covers 142 million people.

1. Ann Arbor, MI

2. Atlanta, GA

3. Austin, TX

4. Baltimore, MD

5. Boston, MA

6. Cambridge, MA

7. Chicago, IL

8. Dallas, TX

9. Denver, CO

10. Detroit, MI

11. Fort Lauderdale, FL

12. Fort Worth, TX

13. Fresno, CA

14. Houston, TX

15. Kansas City, KS/MO

16. Las Vegas, NV

17. Los Angeles, CA

18. Miami, FL

19. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN

20. Modesto, CA

21. Napa, CA

22. New York, NY

23. Newark, NJ

24. Oakland, CA

25. Orlando, FL

26. Philadelphia, PA

27. Phoenix, AZ

28. Providence, RI

29. Reno, NV

30. Richmond, VA

31. Sacramento, CA

32. Salinas, CA

33. San Antonio, TX

34. San Diego, CA

35. San Francisco, CA

36. San Jose, CA

37. Santa Ana, CA

38. Santa Cruz, CA

39. Santa Rosa, CA

40. Seattle, WA

41. Springfield, MA

42. St. Cloud, MN

43. Stockton, CA

44. Tampa, FL

45. Tucson, AZ

46. Vallejo, CA

47. Virginia Beach, VA

48. Warren, MI

49. Washington, DC

Does that match your experience? Let me know in the comments.