Useful data-conserving apps for Android?
December 20, 2010 3:25 PM   Subscribe

I live in a country where mobile data is expensive. I have a shiny Android phone and wireless broadband at home. Can you recommend some useful Android apps which operate in a way that minimises mobile data usage?

I own my phone outright and I have a pre-paid mobile plan. (Note to US MeFites - I'm aware that you might consider this a less than sensible choice. In my country, it's a rational response to the shitty range of options available). I'm don't mind paying for mobile data when I need information urgently, but I don't want to use more than is absolutely necessary. I plan to use my home wireless network and trusted public hotspots as much as possible.

I'm looking for apps which will download data when a wireless connection is available, and store it locally on my phone for when it's not. For example, with Tweetdeck, I can refresh my follow list just before I leave the house, and then read it on the bus for free. I'd love an app which stores a map of the city on my phone, so I don't have to download it from Google each time. Can you recommend anything like that, or apps which operate in a similar way?

(I'm mainly interested in practical apps which give me useful information or help me work more efficiently - not so keen on dancing snowmen etcetera. Warnings about apps which seem useful, but are actually data hogs, are also welcome.)
posted by embrangled to Technology (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by HuronBob at 3:33 PM on December 20, 2010

Best answer: If you have (or decide to get) root access to your phone, DroidWall is designed for you. It's an app that lists all your other apps, and allows you to selectively enable or disable their access via cellular vs wifi.

(It's also useful for completely disabling all internet access to apps that have no legitimate reason in your interests to access the internet, yet might do so anyway)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:36 PM on December 20, 2010

Response by poster: Does "getting root access" mean something similar to jailbreaking? I'd definitely consider it, since my phone is full of crapware and I'm a bit creeped out by apps which want to know my location. But I'm wary of bricking my phone. Is it a reasonably idiot-proof process for an Android noob?
posted by embrangled at 3:41 PM on December 20, 2010

I have an iPod touch which, of course, has no mobile data, only plain old wifi.

I found a lot of offline maps in the app store -- a few are free, but the paid ones are very reasonable ($2-5 CND). I use my offline map of Toronto all the time.
posted by jb at 3:42 PM on December 20, 2010

AlpineQuest will store offline maps for you, so you don't use data.

FWIW, I pay $30 / month with optus for 200MB data and $180cap, which keeps me nicely connected, and I easily stay within my data, even with the odd skype call over 3G thrown in.
posted by defcom1 at 3:48 PM on December 20, 2010

But I'm wary of bricking my phone. Is it a reasonably idiot-proof process for an Android noob?

The method and difficulty depends on the phone and the carrier. With a Nexus, for example, the owner has root access out of the box. The G2 at the other end of the spectrum, involves a multi-step procedure because it has an auto-self-repair function in hardware to restore a altered phone back to the carrier's specs, and messing up can brick the phone.

So perhaps look into what's involved with your model of phone. I wouldn't decide without reading up a bit about it first.

I would think it would take not much money to get someone experienced to do it for you. But if you were to do that, ask them to do it with you there, walking you through what's happening, so you learn a bit about it.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:00 PM on December 20, 2010

On T-Mobile you don't even have to root it, just go into Settings > Applications and check "Unknown sources." Their tech support will help you go further than that if you want to.
posted by rhizome at 5:12 PM on December 20, 2010

Evernote will save notes taken on the mobile locally, then sync them with the cloud (and back down to a computer) when you get into WiFI range, and vice-versa. Keeps you fron using mobile data. Settings>WiFi Sync Only.

For other stuff, I'd start with experimenting with having your mobile data network settings set to Disabled by default, or gaining specific control over which apps can use mobile data and which can't on your device (may require 'rooting' your Android device).
posted by bartleby at 5:40 PM on December 20, 2010

Unrevoked will root some Android phones pretty easily and painlessly. XDA has subforums for each Android phone with rooting instructions usually pinned to the top of the 'development' sub-subforum. Androidforums does the same, and there's a lot of overlap. (These are also good places to post questions like "Can you help me find applications that.......")
posted by K.P. at 6:06 PM on December 20, 2010

Oh and if you want to go that route and can handle a few "Use the search/read the FAQ you stupid noob!" answers, you might want to ask at either/both places if the accepted method will work for you. Sometimes there is a lag between new firmware releases/updates and root methods being updated. "Hi guys, I have a [phone] on [carrier], software#, firmware#, [radio-version]. Will the rooting method at [link] still work for me?" This data is usually in Settings>About this phone or somewhere similar.
posted by K.P. at 6:12 PM on December 20, 2010

Best answer: With appologies for not really answering your question: TPG resell Optus's mobile services without contracts at silly low prices. Consider swapping to their $10 per month plan for 250Mb and stop worrying about mobile data use (or their $19 per month cap with 1Gb of data, and really stop worrying about data use). Plan details are here.

I use the hell out of my android phone, but have wifi at home and work, and the 250Mb plan is plenty for me. I just make sure if I'm doing a bunch of app updates or something really data heavy I do it at home. These phones are so much better when you don't have to think about data use.
posted by markr at 6:25 PM on December 20, 2010

Best answer: The new version (5) of GoogleMaps for Android uses Scalable Vector Graphics (basically a mathematical instruction of where to draw lines) instead of bitmaps (small tiled images required for every few zoom levels) to draw the maps so it's much more efficient.

As well as using around 70% less data than previous versions, it can also store more of your local area on the handset. Maps will automatically start caching the areas you visit the most when your device is plugged in and connected to WiFi (e.g., the nightly charge).

Since GoogleMaps is included by default, choosing to uninstall googlemaps, and then re-install it from the Market should get you the up to date version.
posted by dirm at 8:52 PM on December 20, 2010

Regarding Google Maps, I have an HTC Desire HD and I just selected it from the market and it installed right over the top of the old version. No uninstall needed.

The only oddity was that the market thought that it wasn't installed and therefore labelled it incorrectly. However this seems to be a common issue with all the pre-installed applications.

(One of those polish things that Apple understands and Google/HTC doesn't quite get)
posted by mr_silver at 3:30 AM on December 21, 2010

I am pretty sure the most recent release of Google Maps for android allows you to download the maps for offline use.

Also it would help slightly to know which model of phone you use.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:17 AM on December 21, 2010

Response by poster: Many thanks for all your suggestions. I tried MapDroyd and it's a great interface, but unfortunately the landscape and street maps don't quite line up, which dumps most of my suburb into the sea. I'll download the new Google Maps and see how that goes. I'll also look into getting a cheap data plan of some sort.

On the off chance that anyone is still watching this thread, can you recommend a good offline budgeting app? I'm frugal and I mostly spend in cash, so I don't need anything with bank account tie-in like Mint.
posted by embrangled at 9:58 PM on December 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I signed up for a cheap data plan and stopped worrying so much about my usage. Also, I've found Expensify absolutely perfect for budgeting/expense keeping.
posted by embrangled at 2:13 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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