New Pixel 3a Sucking Up Data Like a Crazy Data Sucker-Upper
September 21, 2019 9:22 AM   Subscribe

I recently replaced my Samsung Galaxy 5S with a Google Pixel 3a. The other phone on the plan is also a Galaxy 5. My old Galaxy 5S is disconnected and off. Up until I switched phones we were using - on average - 1200 MB data. In the first month of the new phone, we used over 16 GB. This is not sustainable. Help!

Here's what I know:

* We use the Sprint Network via Ting. Nothing has changed on that front.

* We have Wi-Fi at home that worked perfectly with the old phones. This new phone does not connect perfectly to it - I'll say that 75% of the time it's connected with no trouble. 25% of the time it either does not connect at all (mainly in the living room, which sounds like a "dead zone" problem to me) or it has "authentication error". The "authentication error" messages have tapered off but I am still getting them occasionally.

* I have Wi-Fi at work and it connects to it perfectly. I use trusted Wi-Fi networks whenever it is reasonable to do so.

* I use my phone for internetting (chrome), playing Jetpack Joyride, getting podcasts through Pocket Casts, morning wake-up alarms through Alarm Clock Extreme, taking pictures with the camera, getting email through Gmail and work notifications through a work app (vital), GPS for driving, and Mapmyrun for mapping my runs. I don't spend 23 hours a day streaming cat videos. I don't have any music on my phone. Sometimes I listen to the radio through my phone (MPR app) but I'll stop doing that.

* I have purchased a case for it but it has not arrived. My Pixel is currently naked.

Things I have tried:

* Turning on the Data Saver option.

* Going through every app and disabling "Background Data: usage of mobile data in the background". I left this option on for my work app and email. I did this a week ago and it does not seem to be making a huge difference. Plus, I don't want my apps to stop functioning properly.

* Making sure that the phone is set to "download on wifi only".

* I went to the "App Data Usage" setting to see if there was a particular app that was sucking up all the data. It looks like Chrome (the browser) is the major culprit, followed by "Removed apps and users" (I deleted a bunch of fun but unnecessary apps), and then to a lesser extent the other apps I have. It looked to me as if it was simply a list of apps I use in the amount that I use them (therefore, no particular one that stands out).

* I just went into the Developer settings (oh god it was so scary) and did what these folks recommended:

Q: The issue I am experiencing is, while I am connected to WiFi, my phone seems to still use mobile data. What can I do to fix this?

A: It looks like Google has changed the settings with a recent update, you can now disable it by enabling Developer Mode and switching "Mobile data always active" off.

If you enable developer mode by going to Settings -> System -> About Phone, and tapping the "Build number" entry repeatedly until it is enabled. Then if you go to Settings -> System -> Developer Options -> Mobile Data always active (setting is under Networking near the bottom of the list) and use the switch to disable it.

Things I am thinking about trying:

* Getting a Wi-Fi booster so that our home network extends to the Dead Zone in the living room (on that note, does anyone know how to pick a wi-fi booster?)

* Resetting the Router to see if that helps with the occasional "authentication error"s

* Flushing my Pixel 3a down the toilet and going back to the Galaxy 5S, which is still limping along but it's better than spending hundreds of dollars a month on data. Any thoughts about why a brand new phone gets shittier wi-fi coverage than my 5-year-old phone?

Any thoughts? I am terrified at the thought of spending THIS MUCH on data every month. Herr Duck's Galaxy 5 is also on its last legs and he was considering a Pixel 3a as well, but is holding off until we figure out what the problem is.
posted by Gray Duck to Technology (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Also: we are considering moving the Wi-Fi router from the basement laundry room to a more central location, like the kitchen. We don't really need super strong wi-fi in the laundry room.
posted by Gray Duck at 9:37 AM on September 21, 2019

"I have Wi-Fi at work and it connects to it perfectly."

Pixel 3 owner here. It seems to me that since the phone connects to your work WiFi fine, the problem probably isn't the phone. It's maybe the quality of your home WiFi.

Consider upgrading your router, if it's been a while? The booster also sounds like a very good idea, if you've identified a consistent dead zone.

Also, since you mentioned GPS and run mapping: if your internet provider offers WiFi outside your house through hotspots that cover your town, add that as a trusted network to join. (Make sure that Google VPN is enabled.)
posted by marteki at 9:43 AM on September 21, 2019

Double check and make sure your Pixel isn’t broadcasting a mobile hotspot. Also, check to see how often apps are syncing to the cloud. Some apps sync almost constantly.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:48 AM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've used about 1.85 GB this month on a Pixel 3a, on Sprint (and 4 GB of WiFi data). I am not a particularly light user. So your usage seems really high.

I have made no substantive adjustments to my settings. Frankly based on your apparent comfort level I wouldn't advise that you mess with developer options.

Photos is the data hog on my Pixel, and has used almost a GB in that period. You can turn off cellular data backup in the app, and that's worth trying.

It sounds like you're using a lot of somewhat hungry apps. I would strongly suggest deleting everything but your stock apps, and forgetting then re-adding your WiFi network. Use the phone for a day like that (the stock android alarm clock works fine, and you can do without the rest for a day), and see if that changes your data usage. Also update your OS.

Also, are you getting rid of cards? I have compulsively closed unused apps since the Palm Pixi days, but I'm always surprised by how many people don't do this.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:51 AM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I turn off location in my phone, only allow background with a few things. I use firefox as my browser. I log on to email off the web, same with facebook. I shut down all notifications. Then my phone isn't always busy in the background. I go to sites when I have a need to. My phone isn't constantly updating weather, location, looking for wifi, online with sites to notify me instantly, incessantly. I have unlimited data but use only about 5 gigs.
posted by Oyéah at 9:55 AM on September 21, 2019

I've had a Pixel 1 for about a year now. After reading this thread, out of curiosity I checked my WiFi data usage for the past few months and noticed that around the first of September it went from between 3-7GB up to 16GB! The main culprit was almost 10GB by "Google"...whatever that means. I've turned on Data Saver and disabled the Google app's background data usage. That might be worth a try for you as well.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:28 AM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use "my data manager" to see what was ducking data, and Netguard to manage data / wifi connections for each app. Instagram can only connect on wifi cause it's a data hog.
posted by Ftsqg at 11:16 AM on September 21, 2019

The main culprit was almost 10GB by "Google"...whatever that means.

Probably the Android 10 upgrade.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:51 AM on September 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Are you using Google Photos by any chance and take lots of videos/photos? Pixels come with high quality Google Photo storage by default. I'd double check the photos app under neath Backup & Sync and ensure that "Cellular Data Backup" for photos and videos is unchecked so that it only backups when you have Wifi.
posted by Karaage at 12:06 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

It just occurred to me that you're saying this is 16 GB shared data - did you actually look at what the Pixel says it's used, and compare that to the Samsung? The new phone is probably the culprit, but it's worth double-checking.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:55 PM on September 21, 2019

Android 10 was released on Sept. 3, 2019 (Engadget), and it was around 10gb if I recall correctly (I have an original Pixel, and recently got the Android 10 update, too, which warned me of the download size).

10 also changed some settings for location information (I set everything to "don't share my location," or "only use location when in use"), but that shouldn't be a serious data drain. Still, probably worth checking out ("Location" setting -- search for it if you don't see it).

Also, to see what apps are using data, look for "Mobile data" and click on "App data use" to see a breakdown of how much mobile data each app has recently used.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:47 PM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hi all, just wanted to post an update.

- I have been out of town on vacation for the last two weeks. I did an experiment in which I left my data OFF and only used wi-fi when available. At the end of the vacation I checked my data usage for that time - zero. So there's one data point - when I turn data off, it's actually off and there's no mysterious data-sucking that I can't control.

- My phone had not been updated to Android 10 when I posted this Ask. It updated to Android 10 while I was on hotel wi-fi, so that's taken care of (and did not use any data).

- It is indeed my phone that's causing the trouble. Herr Duck's phone does not show any unusual data activity, it's the same as my old one.

- No mobile hotspot was being broadcasted. I went thru my apps and turned off auto-sync on all of them other than those I need for work. Those didn't appear to be the big data-sucks anyway. I do not use Google Photos. I also turned off the "location" setting and turn it on when I need it (like when I'm using the GPS).

- Since returning home I have left data off unless I have no wi-fi connection. It's a pain in the ass but I really can't afford to pay for dozens of GB of data a month.

So, my next steps are to get a new router and move the router to a central area of the house. The one we have is about 7 years old and it's hidden in the laundry room. My phone's billing/data cycle starts up again next week so I will be experimenting to see which changes make a difference. I'll update when I have some answers!

Thank you all!!
posted by Gray Duck at 9:39 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

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