Thursday, September 3, 2015

Slow internet and/or using less data

Scroll the the bottom for a PDF of this blog

(UPDATED 4/17 with iOS 10.3.1, iCloud moved in Settings, iOS software download warning, email "load remote images", Messages, "low res images", added Amazon Prime settings)

While underway and anchored, we rely on our cellular phone data plan.  At marinas, internet can be slow to completely useless.  When we leave the country, we will be completely reliant on public wifi and local sim cards (see the blog post about internet or click here, planesboatsandbicycles.blogspot.internet)

Before you think this doesn't apply to you, have you upped your data plan lately?  Considered turning off the expensive home internet & tethering your electronic devices (I think this is the wave of the future, thanks to the FCC's antiquated rules)?  Has your internet slowed to a crawl on weekends, holidays, or snow days?  Planning a vacation out of the country?  Added kids to your plan (who are streaming videos & music)?  Need to get something done?  Try these tips.  They are far from complete (share your tips below), and change with each software upgrade, but it's a start.

Use wifi when available, obviously.  
Libraries, coffee shops, fast food restaurants and even grocery stores/Target/WalMart have public wifi now.  (I do app updates while grocery shopping).  Be aware of the danger of doing any financial transactions on public wifi.  That's a topic I won't address here, but do some research ie. some browsers have more security or use cellular when you can.

You probably know streaming music & videos are a no-no unless you have an unlimited data plan or an grandfathered T-Mobile Binge On plan.  (See blog post about how we watch tv: Standard-def TV/movies uses 1 GB/hour.  High-def uses 3 GB/hour (So a 2-hour movie would be 6 GB!  That's our whole cellular data plan!)  We download Netflix & Amazon for watching offline when we have access to public wifi (see settings for YouTube, Netflix, Amazon & Music below). 

Several of these steps can be completed on your laptop/browser, tablet AND phone.  These instructions are for iPhones (and carry over to the iPad).  You may have done some of these in the past, but:
  • They occasionally turn themselves back on (software updates?)
  • New apps may have default settings 
  • If you buy a new device or do a reset they will default back
SO I made myself a list.  There are some great lists on the internet, but they aren't always comprehensive.  It's amazing how many settings there are on a cellular phone, tablet or browser nowadays.

(Samsung pic)
Track data usage:  
Overage fees can be outrageous, but most carriers will now email or text as you near the end of your allotted data.  (While anchored out, we tether the iPads to our AT&T--update T-Mobile--iPhones.  One iPad has it's own Verizon data plan--we use that while moving to run the Garmin Bluechart/Active Captain, because it won't rollover when the data plan is used up.)  
  • Settings, Cellular, Cellular data usage (it doesn't reset, so you will have to do this manually, monthly).  Scroll to bottom and "reset statistics" (mark on your calendar to reset at billing cycle).  
Our carrier also has an app, but it requires logging in (Look.  SQUIRREL!).  

I recommend the app "My Data Mgr" (first pic above).  You set up your billing date and amount of data.  It will track cellular vs wifi & send you alerts if you go over your daily budget.  

(Samsung has a feature that allows you to set a mobile data limit.  When the specified limit is reached, it turns cellular data off until you come in & change the limit.  It keeps things from running away & using your whole plan!)

Turn off 4G:  
Crazy right?  The faster the downloads, the more data you're using!  Relax, you can turn it back on.  Settings, Cellular, Cellular Data Options, Enable Lte OFF.

Turn off email push/fetch:  
Do you need to read every email as it comes in?  Really?  At least change the "fetch" frequency:  Settings, Mail, Accounts, Fetch New Data, Push OFF.  Fetch, MANUALLY (it will check email when you open the app.  Watch that trigger finger)

Select which apps can use cellular
Settings, Cellular, Scroll down to "Use Cellular Data for:", choose OFF for those services that don't need to run over 3G or 4G.  Scroll down to Wi-Fi Assist OFF.  iCloud Drive OFF.  (Clicking on "System Services" at the bottom of the list will give a general idea of usage)

Turn off iTunes automatic downloads (reverse when wifi available).  NOTE:  As far as I can tell, the following may not stop an iOS software update which can be 4 GB!  I advise downloading over wifi as soon as possible (previously, I would wait a few weeks in case there were glitches but no more).  Turning on airplane mode overnight and/or not charging overnight (requirements that trigger the auto download) may delay it (downloads from Apple tend to push around 2:00 am)
  • iTunes:  Settings, Click on account name at the top, iTunes & App Store, Auto Downloads (select Music, Apps, Books, Updates, etc) select OFF.   AND/OR "Use Cellular Data" OFF.  iTunes Match OFF.  
  • Garmin BlueChart, Auto update (every 15 min) OFF.  
  • Laptop:  Apple logo, system preferences, App store, uncheck “automatically check for updates.”
Turn off app "push notifications":
Especially for social media and GPS apps. Go to Settings, Notifications, Select the app e.g. Facebook app, Switch "Allow Notifications" OFF.

Turn off Background App Refresh:  Hitting the home button doesn't necessarily stop the apps from receiving updates UNLESS:  Settings, General, Background App Refresh OFF--be aware this may affect anchor alarms or weather alerts through apps.  I shut off apps that I don't want to refresh.

Location services:
Settings, Privacy, Location Services, OFF or select by app.  Scroll to System Services at the bottom and select OFF, except emergency SOS, Find My iPhone & setting time zone. 

Disable cloud (reverse when wifi available):  Do you use iCloud, Dropbox, or Amazon cloud services?  (I use iCloud and Dropbox to keep my iPad, iPhone and laptop synced.)  Turn em off!
  • iCloud:  iPhone, settings, scroll all the way to the bottom, iCloud Drive OFF.  For iPad, (if tethering off of iPhone, it only sees it as wifi):  Settings, select account name at the top, iCloud, select apps to sync (Photos OFF, OR iCloud drive OFF).  Laptop:  Apple logo, System preferences, iCloud OR Cellular, scroll all the way to the bottom, iCloud Drive (use cellular) OFF
  • Dropbox (Laptop):  settings (bottom right/wheel), preferences, account, selective sync (choose files).  Also, Network, bandwidth, change download rate/upload rate.
  • Amazon cloud
Manually close certain apps (also good for a sluggish iPad/iPhone and improved battery life):
Make sure apps that use GPS (maps), video or audio streaming (Youtube, Radio, Spotify) or Skype are not actively running in the background after you exit out of them.  Do this by tapping the home button twice > apps that are open will appear on the screen > to close an app place your finger on the app and swipe up > once finished press the home button to return to the home screen.

Get rid of ads:  
Free apps are constantly refreshing ads that eat up your data (I didn't think of that!).  Switch to the ad-free version of the app (or turn on airplane mode or turn mobile data off before opening) ie. Words with Friends.  Install an AdBlocker to your browser & then keep reading...

Save data with Opera Mini for iPhone/iPad

Use a different browser:  (CAUTION:  The following may cause some websites not to load correctly ie. our library's ebook/Overdrive page).  Download a second browser (for use on the road or at anchor) and adjust settings to save data including turning off graphics. Opera (in "Mini" mode) or Google Chrome (with Data Saver extension) are good choices because they compress data and have settings to reduce image quality.  (Opera for the iPad has helped a lot with our slow marina internet and it's easy to switch back and forth between Turbo & Mini.)  Set your bookmarks to the mobile version of your necessary websites (or to the page you usually start at to avoid unnecessary clicking through pages)...

Use mobile sites:  
Remember these Blackberry people?  Sometimes your iPhone or iPad may be automatically using these.  Sometimes the app uses less data.  But SOMETIMES, using the m.facebook or through Opera browser is faster for me than the app.  It also gets rid of the ads!  Also can be used on a laptop ;-)  UPDATE 2:  Use  and check "hide images" to get a text-only version of a website.

m.Facebook page on iPad with Opera browser

Close unused tabs:  
They may be refreshing in the background (guilty)

Allow some cookies and caching:  
You've been told to block cookies and clear the cache for security reasons and to speed up your device.  However, by allowing some some cookies and caching will allow pages to load more quickly--just throwing it out there.

Save articles to read offline (also for the road warriors that airline a lot):  The Captain definitely needs to learn this one.  In the past, if I wanted to save a webpage, I would hit "print", then "save as a pdf" (on a mac).  (Then I had to remember where I saved it to.)
Here's an easier way is "save offline" (Duh):
  • In Opera for iPad:  click on "O", then "save offline" (allow page to finish loading first or it will be greyed out).  To retrieve, go to "speed dial", "saved pages".

iPad Opera "Save for offline"
  • In Safari, click the blue box with an arrow on the top right (next to the web address line--you use it to bookmark), then "add to reading list" (eyeglasses).  To retrieve, open the browser, click on the little book on the top left (next to web address line), then select the "eyeglasses" just below it.
iPad Safari "add to reading list"
  • Wiki offline.  We'll probably download this app to settle bets but I haven't bought it yet.  Mixed reviews.
  • Google maps offline (or app that does turn-by-turn directions while offline).  This is your homework.
  • I've also been known to take a screenshot to save a recipe for later. 
  • Save as PDF:  on a laptop, "print", "save as PDF".  On iPhone/iPad, click "share" in your browser menu (Safari toolbar > box with up arrow.  Opera, click the "O"), then "Print".  Do the pinch-out gesture. (two fingers together on the preview of the document, then spreading your fingers out on the screen.). Then "share" and choose email, DropBox, Add to iCloud Drive or another app.
Messages (texting on iOS):  Send photos through texts?  Settings, Low Quality Image Mode ON.

Google Maps (offline):  See separate blog post, cheapskates-on-move-saving-data-offline about saving Google Maps for offline.

Facebook or Twitter:
  • Turn off auto-play videos in Facebook:  (Facebook "More" or Twitter "Me"), account settings, Videos & Photos, Autoplay Off
  • (Better yet, get ride of those friends or groups who post a lot of videos.  You don't have to "unfriend" them, just click on the tiny little grey arrow in the top right of a post and "unfollow."  They can see your posts.  You can go to their home page (when you have wifi), but you won't see their posts/likes in your news feed.  It's also reversible.  They'll never know!)  You didn't hear this from me!
  • If app is slow, use Opera browser & (override javascript in browser?) or
  • Turn off background refresh & notifications (see above)
YouTube:  Surprisingly, the Captain uses this quite a bit.  "Overhaul a yamaha outboard", "Change your standing rigging", "Learn to sail", "Build a boat out of duct tape"

Changing YouTube video quality
  • On laptop or desktop browser:  Log in, go to your account name & click settings, playback, "I have a slow connection."
  • AND/OR before hitting play, click on "settings" in the bottom right of the video & choose the lowest quality (480 default, change to 240).  
  • (Try Opera browser & if app is slow)
  • YouTube Red allows you to save for offline viewing but not available in all areas and is $$$
Netflix:  You can change settings to save data and NEW, download for offline viewing!  They have an excellent "Help" page (link). See separate blog post: cheapskates-on-move-saving-data-offline_6

Amazon Prime:  Also saves offline.  (Much slower to download than Netflix but these settings will help).  Go to Settings, Streaming & Downloading, Streaming & Quality (change to "good"), Stream on Wi-Fi only ON.  Download Quality, Good, Download on Wi-Fi Only ON

Streaming Music:  
  • Pandora go to Settings, Advanced, Higher Quality audio off.
  • Apple Music:  (Software updates tend to erase my downloaded music which may trigger downloads over cellular).  Settings, Music, cellular data OFF
Use this checklist to reverse everything when you have access to wifi (software/app updates, cloud sync etc)

If you live on a boat:  
Remember, laptops have stronger antennas than iPads or iPhones--we keep forgetting this when we pull into a marina with slow internet.  OR use a wifi booster & then create a hotspot for your gadgets.

Traveling out of the country:  
I used to travel out of the country for business.  Here were the basics we changed before we touched down (many hotels only have wifi in the lobby or at the pool bar--that was my story, anyway--and it can be sketchy.)  Also, check your carrier's international plan (AT&T finally came up with a "30-day" international plan because of the number of complaints from their monthly plans.  Also, I believe their Mobile Share plan included international texting?)  Skype (audio only uses less bandwidth and is less likely to drop off), Facebook Messenger & Facetime (audio only over wifi) are your best bet (check your international texting rate & if your app will work over wifi).  Know before you go.  I've seen experienced travelers get hit with $200+ overages. 
  • Turn off email push/adjust fetch:  Settings, Mail, Fetch New Data, Push off.  Fetch, MANUALLY (it will check email when you open the app.  Watch that trigger finger)
  • Turn off cellular data:  Settings, Cellular, Cellular Data off
  • Turn off roaming:  Settings, Cellular, Data Roaming off
Apparently, I also should have:
  • Turn off cloud storage sync:  ie. iCloud (settings, iCloud), Dropbox (settings, dropbox, Use Cellular Data off) Amazon cloud or photos
  • Try the new feature "Do not disturb" (although it's a few chatty friends that were in my favorites that always called.  JUST DON'T ANSWER!  I know.  It's hard.  Email or text when you get to the pool bar, ahem wifi)
If you aren't sure, use Airplane mode (some of your apps, like the calculator will still work)

Leave a comment if you have more suggestions/corrections.  Here is a Dropbox PDF to store next to the chargers:

This post was inspired by Behan on s/v Totem (Opera.  Thank you!)

In fact, maybe you should have read her article.  It was less rambling:
Iridium Mail & Web app Bulletin dated Sept 26, 2014:

Also check out, & their book, The Mobile Internet Book.


  1. I can't thank you enough for this very valuable information. I've already made several changes that you suggested. Now, I just need to get back on my boat to see if things speed up a bit ! Susan

    1. Glad I could help. I learn new tricks all the time and it can get confusing!

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