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We’ve compiled a list of what you need to know about iPhone plans before you buy, and also a guide to mobile data that should be of some help when working out which plan will best suit your expected data usage. However, one of the best ways to prevent bill shock from data usage is by taking advantage of data monitoring applications available to download from the App Store.
The biggest US carriers – Sprint, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile – all offer data and voice/text tracking tools through their official websites. These offer additional options such as being able to access billing information and make payments directly from within the app, but unfortunately they don’t offer real-time spend alert information – the amount of data you have apparently used could, in fact, be up to two days old.
However, the good news for customers is that there are several third-party apps that claim to be able to offer real-time data usage information, including what you’ve used and how much you have left before the end of your billing cycle, and can even send alerts when users pass certain percentages of their data allowance.
- Monitors usage for both cellular data and WiFi.
- Shows data usage in either graph form or as a list that includes the date and location.
- Includes speed testing feature for networks and websites.
- Can stay running in the background and use GPS for real-time data use monitoring.
- Optional usage alerts can be sent when customers reach specified amounts of their plan limit.
- Highest rated app in the App Store.
The main plus for this app is that it’s quite exhaustive. It gives users the option of checking either cellular data or WiFi, calculating the amount used for today and the month so far and how many MB they have left. It is fairly easy to read, with data amounts used presented in a number of ways - as a percentage, a graph and through a lime green percentage ‘compass’ that strongly resembles a speedometer. When you first download and open the app, you’ll be prompted to enter your data cap, billing cycle and how much data you’ve used so far that month (assuming you’re aware of it). Users have the option of switching on or off data limit alerts and real-time data use monitoring, but be warned: the real-time option accesses location services and will continue to run in the background after you’ve hit the ‘Home’ button. This will greatly increase the accuracy of the data tracker, but will also increase your battery use.
It also includes a speed-test for WiFi and cellular connection and for websites, which is a nice touch but not something necessary to keep track of monthly data usage.
Overall, it’s a great option for keeping tabs on your data usage. The green-and-black interface may be a bit much for some users, but it contains all the information and features you’d expect from the most popular data usage app for iOS (and some that you probably don’t). Best of all, it’s completely free.
- Shows both cellular data and WiFi usage.
- Shows amounts uploaded and downloaded.
- Clearly shows percentage of data used and billing cycle details.
- Has the option of setting automatic percentage alerts .
DataMan is easily the simplest option of the apps reviewed. Its ‘Usage’ screen is basic, just offering the percentage of data used, amount in MB downloaded and uploaded for both cellular data and WiFi, and the dates of your billing cycle. It also gives the users the option of up to four alert thresholds to prevent going over data limits. Like the other apps, it’s a matter of simply inputting your billing date and monthly data allowance and DataMan takes care of the rest.
As a general app to keep an eye on your data use, DataMan is clear, easy to read and use (seriously, there’s nothing confusing about this product), and won’t eat up your battery by running in the background. The only negative is that it may not be as up-to-date as its more complex competitors, but for someone just wanting a general guide as to how much of their cap is left and nothing more it’s an effective option.
The makers of this app, X Vision, also offer similar VoiceMan and WiFiMan apps.
- Shows both cellular data and WiFi usage.
- Has an easy to read progress bar that shows percentage of data used so far in current billing cycle.
- Calculates ideal usage.
- Calculates likelihood of going over plan allowance.
- Shows monthly total and amounts used today, as well as average amounts used.
- Features usage notification option .
- Includes usage history.
The imaginatively named Data Usage app is a nice compromise between the modesty of DataMan and the information overload of Data Usage Monitor. As with Data Usage Monitor, users can switch between percentages and statistics for both cellular and WiFi use. It clearly displays both the percentage and amount of data you’ve used, how many days left in your billing cycle, and the daily average data amount to use. Data Usage lists a lot of helpful additional information, giving users an estimate of what they’ll use that day and if they are likely to go over their plan allowance, and includes a usage history that can be exported to your email inbox or converted into a chart. It's similar to Data Usage Monitor in the way it utilizes location services to continuously track data sent and received in real-time; again, this feature can take its toll on your battery life, so users have the option of switching it off if they're happy to sacrifice accuracy and up-to-date statistics.
- Monitors both cellular and WiFi usage
- Able to view past usage history by hour or day
- Predicts future usage and recommends daily usage caps
- Allows users to set notifications for when certain percentages of their cap have been reached
- Location-based tracking showing where data is used
- Displays usage history graphs for current, past and future use.
DataWiz was designed by Princeton University’s EDGE lab through university research funding, so is free to download and academic overachiever-approved. The first thing you’ll notice is how clean and sleek the interface is, especially compared with some of the more cluttered screens and garish colour schemes offered by competing apps. The set up process is simple and using the app is quite intuitive; unlike the information overload of, say, Data Usage Monitor, it gives you basic percentages in graph and pie chart form, and users are able to switch between percentages and the actual amount of data in MB used with a quick tap of the screen.
Like other apps in this article, you are able to set up multiple alerts for when you’ve hit specified percentages of your data plan. The main screen allows you to see your use for today, for the week and for the month, which can help users narrow down where they’re burning through data and get a scope of their daily usage. Interestingly, you can also call contacts from within the app and view data use history by location through the app’s GPS capabilities.
Data Usage and Data Usage Monitor share many of the same features. While DataMan is the simplest and clearest of the apps we've tried, it doesn't offer quite as much detail as the others, and some users may prefer a more comprehensive tool to check how they're managing their data plan. Both of the more detailed apps have similar screens and for most users will be quite intuitive to navigate and understand, and each has in-app help features and plenty of settings to customize or turn on or off. When it comes to deciding which is best, Data Usage Monitor may have the edge - and it's currently the most popular available from the App Store - but DataWiz is overall a lot cleaner and easier to navigate, and like Data Usage Monitor is free to download (and mercifully free from irritating in-app ads).