Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

In February 2022, Google announced in a support post that Chrome Lite mode—previously named Chrome Data Saver—would be removed in a future version of Chrome for Android. The feature had been designed with the intent to reduce bandwidth usage while browsing. (Similarly, Google’s Chrome Data Saver extension for computers had been discontinued a few years ago.) The post suggested that the move was made due to decreases in mobile data costs, along with unspecified improvements to Chrome that “minimize data usage and improve page loading.”

However, mobile data affordability remains a concern in many places around the world. And even if you have a 5G phone, an unlimited mobile data plan and live in a major city with excellent 5G network coverage, data savings settings may help improve perceived performance and speed even on the most modern devices.

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Try one—or all—of the tactics below to reduce mobile data usage. Note that while these steps specifically address Android device and app settings, many of these adjustments are also applicable to other mobile and desktop systems.

Enable Android system Data Saver settings

Android includes a system Data Saver setting (Figure A) that restricts some network access to Wi-Fi, rather than mobile data. To enable this, select Settings | Network & internet | Data Saver and then move the Use Data Saver slider to the right. A small indicator displays at the top of the screen. Additionally, you may adjust which apps may use mobile data while Data Saver is enabled by going to Settings | Network & internet | Data Saver | Unrestricted data, then move the slider to the right for each app, as desired.

Figure A

Screenshot of Android Data Saver app, with setting configured to Use Data Saver. System text on screen reads “To help reduce data usage, Data Saver prevents some apps from sending or receiving data in the background. An app you’re currently using can access data, but may do so less frequently. This may mean, for example, that images don’t display until you tap them.”
Enable the Android system level Use Data Saver setting to reduce data usage.

Select data-saving settings in apps

Some apps offer a specific data saving setting. Typically, this setting reduces the resolution of video and/or images. For example, you may select data saving settings (Figure B) in:

  • YouTube | tap on your profile (upper right) | Settings | Data saving, move slider to the right;
  • Google Meet | three horizontal line menu (upper left) | Settings | Limit data usage, move slider to the right; and
  • Twitter | tap on your profile (upper left) | Settings and privacy | Accessibility, display and languages | Data usage, move slide for Data Saver to the right.

For any app you use often, check the settings for a data saving option.

Figure B

Screenshots of settings in YouTube (left), with Data saving mode on; Google Meet (middle), with Limit data usage on; and Twitter (right) with Data saver enabled.
Configure data-saving settings within apps, such as YouTube (left), Google Meet (middle) or Twitter (right). 

Configure apps to work offline

Another way to minimize data usage is to sync content to your device and turn off network connections while you work offline. Once you’ve finished your work, reconnect to the network so apps may sync your changes.

The Google Docs, Sheets and Slides apps each offer an offline setting. With each app, tap it to open it, then tap the three horizontal line menu (upper left) | Settings, then move the slider next to Make Recent Files Available Offline to the right (Figure C, left). Files you have recently worked with will be synced for use offline. (Alternatively, you may select any Docs, Sheets or Slides file to sync offline. From the files in your app, tap the three vertical dot menu in the lower right under a file, then select Available Offline.)

Gmail, similarly offers data management options (Figure C, right). Open the app, tap the three horizontal line menu (upper left) | Settings, then tap your Gmail account, scroll down to the Data Usage section. Select the box next to Sync Gmail. Tap Days of mail to sync, then select the number of days to sync and tap OK. You might want to tap Images and set it to Ask before displaying external images.

To manage your Network & internet settings, tap the system Settings | Network & Internet. From there, you may turn on Airplane Mode, as well as control your Wi-Fi and cellular connections.

Figure C

Screenshots: (left) Google Docs with Make recent files available offline selected, and (right) Gmail, with Sync Gmail selected and Days of mail to sync set to 30 days.
You might also sync content to your device, such as with Google Docs (left) or Gmail (right), and then work offline. This eliminates network data use while you work. The system will sync changes when you reconnect to the internet.

Consider an alternative browser

If you prefer a browser that specifically seeks to reduce data usage or block content on Android, you might consider options other than Chrome. For example, you might try Firefox, from Mozilla, and install the uBlock Origin Add-on (Figure D, left), which you may configure to block a variety of content. Or, if you are less concerned about privacy, you might try Opera Mini, which reduces data usage (Figure D, right) by routing traffic through Opera’s servers to deliver web pages that require less bandwidth.

Figure D

Screenshot of (left) Firefox’s Add-ons screen, with uBlock Origin at the top of the app’s Recommended Add-on list, and of (right) Opera Mini’s Data savings setting, configured to High, with Images set to Medium quality.
You might install a browser that allows you to restrict content, such as Firefox with the uBlock Origin Add-on (left), or reduce data via a remote system, such as Opera Mini (right).

Control delivered data via VPN or DNS

Finally, you might also consider installing and configuring either a VPN or custom DNS app. In the case of a VPN, all your network traffic will be routed to your selected VPN service. Similarly, when you configure a custom DNS provider, DNS requests will route to your selected DNS service. Specific filtering options may vary with the service you select. For example, ProtonVPN’s NetShield (Figure E, left) relies on DNS filtering to either block malware only or to block malware, tracking and ads, while (Figure E, right) offers a wide-range of custom configuration options (see How to gain more control over DNS with NextDNS: 5 steps for more details).

Figure E

Screenshots of ProtonVPN (left) with NetShield set to block malware, tracking, ads, and NextDNS (right) with Use custom configuration enabled to “Block ads, trackers and malicious websites, get in-depth analytics about your internet traffic, and more.”
Many VPN and custom DNS apps help reduce data usage by blocking specific types of content, as shown here in ProtonVPN (left) and NextDNS (right).

What’s your experience?

Have you previously relied on Chrome Lite mode or Chrome Data Saver to reduce data usage on Android or other devices? Have you found one (or more) of the steps above to be effective in minimizing bandwidth and streamlining your app experience? Or are you fortunate enough to have access to up-to-date devices that you use in locations that support fast networks? Let me know how you and your colleagues manage mobile data usage and performance, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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