These are all the ways you can save data and monitor your data usage

Check how much data you’re using and control how it’s used with these simple tools.

Most people don’t need an unlimited data plan. With contract data plans offering up to 10GB per month and off-contract plans from carriers both big and small, there is a data plan that works for almost everyone and chances are using one will save you money. Add in free hotspots from your carrier or even your cable TV company and the need for an expensive unlimited plan gets even less.

Don’t pay for data that you aren’t using!

There is a small adjustment you need to make if you go this route: watching how much data you use. Your carrier will either slow your data down to 3G speeds, let you run up large overage fees or just cut you off when you’ve out of data. None of these is a great experience, and neither is buying too much data every month because you’re worried it will happen. Luckily monitoring how much data you use is pretty easy, and so is managing how you use it.

Monitoring your data usage

Step one is finding a way to check how much data you have used during a billing period. There are several ways and they are all effective. Pick the one that suits you best.

Get the total from your carrier

This is the best solution for knowing how much data the carrier thinks you have used. It’s important to realize that how much data your phone says you used might not match what your carrier says. And they are the ones who decide when you’ve used it all.

You can use the web browser on your phone to log into your account at the carrier’s website and they might have an app you can install that tells you about your usage for the billing period. Not all carriers will have an app for your phone, and even if they do it might not keep track of your data usage, but it’s worth checking for. Take a look at your carrier’s website or in Google Play and see what’s offered.

A word of warning: While great at giving you access to your account, carrier applications can do a lot more. Sometimes they can be a little intrusive, especially if they came pre-installed. Be sure to read everything you’re agreeing to when you install or first use one.

From your phone settings

Android comes with a way to check how much data you’ve used during a billing period. Some features can vary from phone to phone, but every phone will have a way to see how much data has been used during a set time period. You’ll usually find this in your settings menu under Wireless & networks. Look for an entry called Data usage.

For this to be useful you’ll need to tell your phone when a new billing period starts. Since it’s monitoring how much data moves through the phone itself it doesn’t ask your carrier for the numbers. The way Megabytes and Gigabytes can be rounded and calculated mean it can be slightly different from what your carrier says, but usually not by very much. It’s a good way to see if you’re close to using your monthly allotment.

When you open the Data usage setting you’ll see an entry to set up the billing cycle. Tap on it and enter the starting day of the month and it will reset on that day every month. Remember, it can’t go back and check what you might have used before you set it up!

Now all you need to do to check how much data your phone has received is look in the settings.

Third party apps

Google Play has well over a Million apps and there are quite a few that can be used to check your data use. You can see a list of them all here. We’re unable to recommend any particular app over the other but most of them work the same way and will give the same numbers. Remember that these measure data coming into your phone from your carrier and the numbers won’t be exactly the same as what you’ll see on your bill. But they’ll be close, just like the number found in the settings.

As with any app, you need to look at feedback and permissions before you install an application that can look at the data coming in and out of your phone. While we like checking from the Android settings instead of another app, they can offer features like widgets and custom alarms so it’s worth looking.

Controlling data usage

If you find that you are using more data each month that you would like, there are ways to decide which apps can use data while not on a Wi-Fi connection, as well as settings in most apps that let you control how much data is being used.

Data Saver

Android 7 makes watching how data gets used easily with a super-functional tool called Data Saver.

On the Data Usage screen, you’ll see Data Saver listed. Tapping on it allows you to toggle data saver on and off. When Data Saver is on you’ll see a notification reminding you about it. You need to know it’s on because unless you change the settings it will stop every app and service on your phone from using any data unless you have it open and are using it.

That’s great, but to get the most from Data Saver you need to tell it about apps that are allowed to use data if you want them to. That’s easy, too. Tap the entry that says Unrestricted data access and you’ll get a list of everything on your phone that can use data. You’ll know what some of the things are and others will be things Android does you might not have ever heard about. Beside each entry is a switch: Turning the switch on means that app or service is allowed to use data without you asking for it.

Once done, when Data Saver is turned on only the apps you selected can get data from the internet while they aren’t open on your screen. This can make a dramatic difference when your phone is idle in your pocket. Remember, things like your email or Twitter apps aren’t going to get any notifications if you didn’t whitelist them because they aren’t allowed to refresh and check for them. You’ll still get text messages and phone calls, though.

App settings

Many apps that can use data in the background have a setting that controls how data is used in the background. If you aren’t using a phone with Android 7 this can be a great way to get those data hog apps under control.

Every app will be different, but if an app lets you decide what and when it can refresh you’ll find it in the settings of the app. Look for things like Background refresh or Automatically update and turn things down or off as needed.

If all else fails, you can still tell Android to cut off background data on a phone not yet running Android Nougat. Head back to the Data usage screen and tap on an app that’s been using data. A screen for the app will open and you’ll see an entry labeled Background data with a switch beside it. Turn this switch Off to not allow the app to use data unless you’re on Wi-Fi. You’ll need to do this for each app you want to check.

The kill switch and Airplane mode

In the settings of your phone, you’ll also see a setting to turn off the cellular connection completely. you can do this to actually disable the cellular radios so your phone doesn’t even try to connect.

You also have what’s called Airplane mode. This shuts down your connection to everything, but you are able to turn Bluetooth and Wi-Fi back on after you enable Airplane mode.

While not a great long-term solution, these are easy ways to stop using data altogether with one switch.

Third party apps

Advanced users might want to look at third-party apps that try to restrict how apps can use data. Apps like Greenify can reduce your data usage significantly but aren’t that easy to use. Most of the ones that actually work as advertised require you to root your phone as well.

Root apps can save your data but might be complicated to use.

Any time you manually control how apps can use background data, whether through Android N’s tools or an app like Greenify, you need to remember that any app or service which requires a data connection isn’t going to work if you break that connection. If you don’t know what an app is or what it does, you’re better off leaving the setting for it alone until you find out if it can be safely changed.

Updated June 2017: We made sure all the information was correct for the latest phones.


Using these tools you’ll be able to take charge of how much data you use each month. That’s a great way to only pay for the data you’re actually going to use versus paying your carrier for nothing!

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Tronsmart Encore S2 and Encore S4 review: Inexpensive Bluetooth headphones with some compromise

If you’re looking for some inexpensive Bluetooth headphones that actually sound pretty good, Tronsmart might have the solution.

Tronsmart is usually known for chargers and other power delivery products, but it also has a small line of Bluetooth headphones, made for a variety of activities. I was sent two pairs of the five options available: the Encore S2 and Encore S4. Here’s how they measure up to what’s out there.

Tronsmart Encore S2

The Encore S2 is one of Tronsmart’s two “sport” headphone models. This one features a neckband that sits loosely around your neck, with two earbuds attached to cords. I used these every day for about a week and a half in the gym to see if they lived up to the “sport” headphone moniker. Here’s what I found.

Sound quality

Despite the size of the earbuds, the Encore S2 has surprisingly great sound. The bass is low and much warmer than I expected. It’s also incredibly present, which is unusual for “entry-level” headphones like these. The bass is so present in fact, however, that it sometimes muddies up the midrange, which can be a little distracting if you’re actually trying to listen to your music. If you just need a pump-up jam in the gym, though, it’s great.

The high end is where these ‘buds falter for me. The high end just isn’t as crisp as it could be, and if you listen to a lot of rock, much of the more treble-y tracks can get lost in the mix. That being said, for the $24 price tag, the Encore S2’s sound is more than passable and even downright enjoyable.

Fit and design

If don’t love bass — a lot of bass — you may want to give these a pass.

I took this heavily into account, since these are billed as “sport” headphones and came up with mixed feelings. If you’re a runner, you probably won’t like these headphones. I had never worn headphones with a neckband before, so I was skeptical at best, and after a couple cardio sessions, was less than impressed.

I have a fairly slender neck, and the constant jostle of the loose neck band is distracting. It would also twist around my neck sometimes while running, which meant I had to constantly adjust it, and it was just a pain in the ol’ hindquarters. You can tighten the restraints on the earbud cords, but then it all just feels constricting.

With that said, the earbuds themselves fit quite nicely in your ears. They’re the variety that sit in your ears, with the speaker shoved into your ear, which I prefer over the classic, all-speaker design. If you have smaller or larger ears, there are differently sized tips in the box.

The back of each earbuds is magnetic, which helps prevent tangling, but the cords are already connecting to the neckband, so it’s kind of unnecessary, and the magnet is quite weak anyway.

Somewhat peculiarly, the volume controls/pairing button/call controls are on the left side of the neckband, which isn’t a huge deal, but annoying when you’re used to what most headphones are like. And you can’t flip them around, since each earbud is designed to fit in a specific ear.

Battery life

In a word: excellent. From such a compact set of Bluetooth headphones, you should expect nothing less, but, again, for the $24 price tag, the battery life on the Encore S2 is great. I used these in my hour-long workouts for over a week without having to charge them, so the billed 12-hour battery life is legit.

Should you buy them? Maybe

If you’re looking for an inexpensive pair of Bluetooth headphones that sounds great for its class and can likely last you a week on a single charge, then absolutely snatch these up. If you’re looking for them as workout headphones, I’d keep looking. While the earbuds themselves stay securely in your ears, the neckband is a nuisance, and the lack of discernable controls on the headphones themselves makes it difficult to change volume or answer a call on the fly.

See at Amazon

Tronsmart Encore S4

The Encore S4 is Tronsmart’s noise-cancelling Bluetooth offering, which features a thicker neckband with earbuds attached to cords. I used them every day for about a week while working from home.

Sound quality

With a sophisticated sheen and a $50 price tag, I expected these headphones to sound a bit better than the Encore S2 model, and I was right. The low end is rich, the mids are present, and the high end is discernable, though only just so. It appears that Tronsmart has sacrificed treble for bass in its earbuds, which is probably fine for most folks, but if you’re trying to pick out a hi-hat pattern in a rock tune or some other treble-y elements, you’re rather hard-pressed.

I found the bass dropped out quite a bit when the active noise-canceling was turned off, which was a little annoying, since noise-canceling uses quite a bit more battery, but for the sake of audio quality, I left it on. Like the Encore S2, these ‘buds likely won’t please audiophiles, but for most people and for that price tag, they do sound quite good.

Active noise cancellation

These earbuds are fantastic value, and sound surprisingly good.

First and foremost, we must realize that earbuds with active noise cancellation will never be as good as proper cans. So if you’re thinking you can spend $50 on these and them work just as well as the Bose QC35 headphones, you’re gonna have a bad time.

With that in mind, I set up a fan in my home office to test things out when it was a little cooler outside, and I had the air conditioning going on the hotter days (I’m seated right next to the vent). Even with the fan right next to me, I really had to strain and concentrate to hear it above my music. Turn the noise cancellation off and it was the only thing I could hear, so did these headphones do their job? Absolutely.

They even managed to drown out the TV a little bit, which my wife was watching in the other room. I’ve yet to try these on a plane, but will have to opportunity in a couple months, at which point I’ll update this review.

Fit and Design

The thicker neckband of the Encore S4 is actually more comfortable than that of the Encore S2 because it feels substantial, but when you put it on, you barely feel it, and it stays in place. That’s not to say it stays in place while you run, but it’s perfect for sitting and working or even walking around.

The earbuds are an even better fit than the Encore S2, and you get the various tips in case your ears don’t accommodate the “regular” ones. Again, though, the controls are on the left of the neckband. It’s hard to get used to, but you can at least feel the buttons on this model. The switch for active noise cancellation is a little difficult to move, but that’s a minor annoyance.

Battery life

Just great. Tronsmart bills the Encore S4 with 20 hours of battery time, and I got that and then some. It wasn’t 20 continuous hours of use, of course, but I made it through three days of work (roughly 8 hours a day) without needing to charge them. The larger battery does make for a thicker neckband, but that’s alright.

Should you buy them? Yes

For inexpensive active noise cancellation, Tronsmart does a great job of providing focused listening in a good-looking package, with great battery life and well-fitting earbuds.

See at Amazon

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How to buy things with Google Home

Google makes it easy to shop using your voice.

It seems as though every year our lives get even busier than they were the year before. Between your commute, working, hitting doctor’s appointments, making it to the gym, and ensuring everything gets done on time, it can be hard to figure out the best time to run out to the store. That’s where Google Home wants to make things a bit easier for you.

You can set up voice purchasing and even reorder items that you’ve ordered previously. It only takes a few minutes to set up voice purchasing, and we have the details on how to do it right here!

How to set up purchasing on Google Home.

  1. Open the Google Home app.
  2. Tap the menu button(it looks like three horizontal lines in the upper left corner of the screen).
  3. Tap More Settings.

  4. Tap Payments.
  5. Tap Get Started.
  6. Tap accept after reading the Terms and Conditions.

  7. Tap to choose your default payment method.
  8. Tap Next.
  9. Tap to choose your delivery address.

  10. Tap Next.
  11. Tap the toggle to choose the Google Home that can make payments.
  12. Tap Done.

How to make a purchase using your voice.

  1. Say “Buy [product]”, “Order [product]”, or “Purchase [product]” to make a single order.
  2. Say “Buy [product] from [store]”, “Purchase [product] from [store]”, or “Order [product] from [store]” to order a specific product from a specific store.
  3. Say “Reorder [product]” to reorder a single item that you have purchased previously.

Questions?

Have you set up purchasing through Google Home? Do you have a question we didn’t answer? Be sure to leave us a comment and let us know about it below!

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Try hands-free mode on the Amazon Tap with a certified refurb for $70 today

With Prime Day rapidly approaching, the team at Thrifter is back again with a great deal on an Amazon Tap!

The Amazon Tap sits in the middle of Amazon’s Echo lineup, and if you’ve been looking to grab one for your home or the office, today is the day. Amazon is running a bunch of one-day sales leading up to Prime Day, and this one scores you a certified refurbished Amazon Tap for just $69.99, a savings of $40 from its normal price. What makes the timing of this deal even more important is that Amazon plans to offer voice exclusive discounts on Prime Day, meaning you’ll need an Alexa-enabled product to take advantage of them.

Amazon states the certified refurbished Amazon Taps have been tested and will look and work like new. If these sell anything like the Echo Dots did, this deal won’t last all day. If you aren’t already a member of Amazon’s Prime service, now is also a great time to sign up for the free 30-day trial. This will not only allow you to grab a discounted Amazon Tap today, but also take part in all the Prime Day fun that is right around the corner.

See at Amazon

For more great deals be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

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What big carriers won’t tell you about prepaid alternative carriers

Being informed is great for us, but big carriers would rather keep you in the dark when shopping for phone service.

There are plenty of reasons to use an MVNO instead of one of the four major network providers here in the U.S. We have talked about many of them and most center on the service to cost ratio and how an MVNO can usually be a better value for most people. We think that value is a big consideration — who doesn’t love paying less without getting less?

There are a few little things that carriers won’t mention about MVNOs that can make using one even more attractive. Here are a few things you won’t hear about when you see a commercial from the Big Four.

These are the cheapest data plans you can buy in the U.S.

They are MVNOs themselves

All four carriers have at least one MVNO that is part of their corporate entity. They can incorporate them individually and appoint someone else as a company CEO, but when you follow the money back to the bank it’s going to the same account in the end.

All four carriers run one or more MVNOs.

They have several reasons for doing this. One is that if they didn’t, they would risk losing more customers to smaller companies that operate independently as MVNOs. For example, Virgin Mobile USA and Boost Mobile are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Sprint Corporation. Together they have about 11 million subscribers. Sprint can’t afford to lose revenue from 11 million accounts, and the revenue from Boost and Virgin USA goes directly to Sprint.

What is an alternative carrier?

Sprint also has its own Sprint-branded prepaid service. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that it owns Boost or Virgin USA, but it lets them act as if they were their own MVNO because they can offer different plans at different prices marketed to all types of customers. You can feel good about saving money on Boost instead of paying more for a Sprint plan, even though you are on a Sprint-owned plan and network.

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Sprint counts everyone with a Sprint postpaid plan and one of its MVNO subscribers in its subscriber count every quarter because it’s all the same company. It sees the value in an MVNO for the same reasons we see the value: to get more for less. It’s not just Sprint: AT&T and T-Mobile both run their own MVNOs for the very same reasons. (Verizon offers prepaid service, but only as part of its main brand. It also sells its service to other alternative carriers.)

You are paying for things you don’t need or use

If you have a post-paid account with one of the four major operators in the U.S. you are paying for things you don’t use. You don’t use them because you don’t need them.

Customer service, international “extras” and other plan perks aren’t free. Neither is the cost to develop and maintain extra services the companies offer like live TV broadcasts or cloud storage accounts or NASCAR sponsorships. The cost of all these things, as well as corporate facilities and accountants and lawyers, come from you and me. It’s part of our monthly bill and a big reason why you pay more for a data plan than you would through an MVNO. Many of us make use of some of these services, but think about the ones you don’t use and are still paying for.

An MVNO buys bulk data from these same carriers at a highly discounted rate. It can pass those savings on to you because it isn’t building billion-dollar corporate headquarters or paying millions of dollars to be an internet television service provider. It deals in phone calls and data plans. That’s what it sells you and that’s what you are paying for.

Hardly anyone needs huge data plans

Someone is going to comment that he use hundreds of gigabytes per month on his unlimited data plan. I’m sure that’s true, and it’s great that there’s an option to do it. But the simple fact is that most of us don’t use very much data, and the smaller 1GB or 2GB plans are all we would ever need. We still want to help save you money if you need unlimited data, though.

Which unlimited plan should you buy: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon?

This doesn’t diminish anyone’s need for 100GB of data per month. If you need that much, stick with one of the Big Four and their unlimited plans. But if you don’t need a shared family plan with 10GB of data for your family, you don’t have to pay for it. An alternative carrier usually offers small data packages or services that can be maintained by paying for calls and texts that you can top up with data as you need it. This can mean substantial savings over the course of a year compared to even the smallest “smartphone” data package from a postpaid carrier.

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They use the same wires as an MVNO

T-Mobile (for example) has the same network footprint as MetroPCS (which is an MVNO that’s really part of T-Mobile like we talked about earlier) or any other MVNO that uses T-Mobile’s network. It doesn’t split the network into different areas when it sells wholesale data to another company.

A carrier only has one network and it’s the one it also sells to MVNOs.

If a carrier tells you it has a bigger network footprint that an MVNO that uses its network, it’s because it is paying another carrier to use its data network in some places. This is more common that you think, and even the U.S. telecom giants that are AT&T and Verizon have agreements with other carriers for places where their networks needs some help. If you are in one of these areas, some features of the plan you pay for aren’t going to work, and your data speeds may be diminished, but it’s still better than a dead spot. And cheaper than network expansion.

This isn’t a bad thing. Plenty of people travel all over the place and need service to follow them, and roaming agreements between companies help make that happen. But for the majority of its network coverage map, the service and data connection is the same as an MVNO that uses its network.

They love MVNOs as much as we do

Selling bulk data to an MVNO is very profitable for a big carrier. It doesn’t need to do anything extra when selling wholesale data to an MVNO so it means it is getting more (money) for less (work).

Big carriers have to maintain the network for their own customers. They have to expand the network for their own customers. They have to improve the network for their own customers. These are real costs, and selling data to an MVNO helps the bottom line because there isn’t anything they need to do after they sell it.

They can even make more money by offering things like billing services and in-store sales for an MVNO as an extra service. And after all that, your MVNO can still offer service cheaper than the company it is buying it from. Makes one wonder just how much profit is in every megabyte of data the Big Four sells, doesn’t it?

An MVNO isn’t making deals with hardware companies

At least not as many deals and not the same kinds of deals.

For a long time, AT&T was very interested in getting you to buy an iPhone every year. That’s because it had a special deal with Apple, and for that deal to be profitable it had to sell a whole lot of iPhones. That’s great for Apple and AT&T, but not so great for you and me.

A Galaxy S7 works great on an MVNO, but nobody is pressuring you to buy one.

That hasn’t changed now that everyone can use a Galaxy S7 on any network (it’s awesome on an MVNO, by the way!). Apple, Samsung, LG and everyone else works with the major carriers to find ways to make even more money, and employees are directed to do certain things to help make it happen.

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When you sign up for service from an alternative carrier, you might find a deal on an older model phone or a refurbished phone, but nobody is there to steer you towards a specific brand or model. MVNOs are interested in selling you good, cheap phone service. Not the next big thing from Samsung or Apple.

And that next big thing from Samsung or Apple will work just fine if it’s what you really want.


Alternative carriers are businesses and designed to make money. They aren’t out to be our friends or to operate at a loss. But there are plenty of reasons why they can make money by selling the same service for a lot less, and the Big Four carriers don’t really want to talk about them.

Updated June 2017: Made sure all the information was still great and current.

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Three UK zero-rates some streaming services with new ‘Go Binge’ feature

New Three subscribers can stream from Netflix, TVPlayer, Deezer and SoundCloud without eating into their data allowances.

Three UK has followed the lead of T-Mobile over in the U.S., with a new offering that zero-rates data from certain streaming services, so they don’t count against customers’ data allowances. “Go Binge” (even the branding is remarkably similar to T-Mo’s BingeOn) is included as standard for new and upgrading Three customers on SIM-only, “Advanced” handset and mobile broadband contract plans with allowances of 4GB or more per month.

Existing customers will need to change to a new, more expensive plan to take advantage of Go Binge. Three says Go Binge can be used with its “Feel at Home” roaming service, which allows customers to roam at no extra cost in 60 territories around the world.

Three has hinted that more services will be added in the future.

The number of services supported by Go Binge is pretty limited right now — only Netflix, TVPlayer, Deezer and SoundCloud at launch — so it’s disappointing to see staples like BBC iPlayer and Spotify missing the boat. However Three says it’s “always looking to add more services” — and for what it’s worth, BingeOn also started small, adding more supported services over time.

So despite the big marketing push behind Go Binge, it’s starting out relatively small, both in its base of supported streaming platforms, and the customers who’ll be able to take advantage of the feature — remember, none of Three’s current subscribers will benefit unless they upgrade or switch to a more expensive contract. It’s also unclear how Go Binge will coexist with Three’s unlimited “All You Can Eat” data plans in the long term — free streaming could eventually be used to coax subscribers off unlimited plans.

Three does at least appear to have dodged the bullet of downgraded video quality, an area of controversy for T-Mobile in the early days of its unlimited streaming offering. Jonathan Morris reports that streaming quality on Go Binge won’t be restricted in any way.

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Protect your LG G6 for just $15 today!

The LG G6 packs super slim bezels and a whole lot of screen, which means you likely will want to keep it protected. Case-Mate’s Tough Mag case offers two layers of protection without a whole lot of bulk, and right now you can pick one up for just $15.

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