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11 killer Android features you aren’t using, but should

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Restrict background data, app by app

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Sometimes apps don’t need to be gobbling up so much data in the background.

Because Android allows apps to wake up in the background and perform activities, there’s always the possibility they’ll send and receive mobile data without your knowledge. When you’re on a low-capped data plan (or you’re just coming up on the cap) this can be an issue. Luckily, the Android Data Usage menu in your phone offers information on what’s using data in the background, and could save you from extra charges.

Below the graph of overall data usage mentioned above, you’ll find a list of all your apps organized by how much data they’ve used, starting with the most greedy offenders. Tap on any single app for details on the split between foreground and background data. If you find an app using a lot of bytes in the background, you can scroll down to the bottom of the details page and check the option to restrict background data. Note, however, that this option is only available on devices that hook into mobile data plans.

Also keep in mind that some apps won’t work as expected with this option enabled, so only use it for apps and services that aren’t respectful of your mobile data connection.

Use Owner Info to make it easier to reclaim a lost device

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Share your owner information to help do-gooders return your phone.

Having a pattern or PIN lock on your phone or tablet is always a good idea, but what happens if you lose the device, and a good Samaritan finds it and wants to return it? How is he or she supposed to know who it belongs to? Well, hidden inside the Owner Info menu, there’s an easy way to provide your identity.

The Owner Info feature will be in the Security section of the main system settings, or under Personal > Lock screen and security on newer Samsung phones. You can add any info here you want, but an email and alternative phone number are safe bets. Just check the option above the text field to have the Owner Info displayed on the lock screen. Be aware, OEMs that heavily customize the lock screen (cough, cough—HTC) sometimes do away with this feature.

Start recognizing tethered phones as hotspots

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It’s time your phone start treating tethered handsets with the respect they deserve.

Android devices have long included native tethering support, and most carriers have finally gotten comfortable enough with tethering to allow users on capped data plans to use the feature without paying extra. That said, an Android device connected to a tethered hotspot doesn’t know it’s using mobile data. All it sees is a Wi-Fi access point, and that can pose problems.

If you’ve set your apps to auto-update or have files automatically backed up over Wi-Fi, you could accidentally blow through most of the hotspot’s data plan in a few minutes. To avoid this, you should be teaching your devices which Wi-Fi networks are actually mobile hotspots. This will apply system-wide settings for mobile data even though, for all intents and purposes, your phone thinks it’s connected to Wi-Fi.

In the Data Usage menu, use the overflow menu button to select Network restrictions. The screen that comes up will list all the Wi-Fi networks synced with your account data. Simply flip the toggle next to the ones that are hotspots, and your device won’t abuse the data. This feature dovetails nicely with the background data restriction mentioned above.

Priority Notifications

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Don’t let your phone boss you around with notifications when you don’t want them.

Android 5.0 Lollipop added notifications to the lock screen, but that’s not the only change to Android’s traditional great notification system. You can use the priority notification system to hide content from the lock screen and control which apps can bother you and when. While awesome and powerful, this system is complicated to set up.

Notifications modes (sometimes called interruptions) on most Lollipop devices are split into all, priority, and none. None means you get no notifications, not even alarms. Priority mode allows alarms as well as whatever apps you’ve deemed important. Then there’s all, which is standard notification mode. In your Sound and notification settings, you can edit which apps have priority status, and allow priority exceptions for calls or text from certain numbers. You can switch the three interruption modes by hitting the volume toggle and tapping the None, Priority, or All indicators.

Once you get the interruptions configured, you can set up recurring interruption mode in the notification menu. This is a way to have the device toggle on none or priority mode on a schedule, for example each day at bedtime. On most devices this is called “downtime,” but sometimes it’s labeled “do not disturb.” These are very useful features, so it’s worth a few minutes of your life to set things up.

Extend (or shorten) your lock timeout

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Is your lock screen timeout too aggresive? This screen provides relief.

Android offers a ton of security settings for locking your device. You can choose a PIN number, password, or pattern lock, or even opt for the esoteric face unlock option. Using a lock is essential for keeping unsavory characters from accessing your data if you lose your device, but it can be a pain to unlock your hardware every single time the screen shuts off. Luckily, virtually all Android devices have a feature to fix that.

In the Security menu of most devices (again, Samsung tucked it in the My Device menu) is an “Automatically Lock” option. Note, this item only shows up if you have some sort of screen security set up. Here you can designate the amount of time that triggers your device unlock—all the way from instantaneously to 30 minutes on some phones. A longer duration will allow you to wake your device instantly if it hasn’t been asleep for long. Also, the power button can often still be used to lock instantly, if you like—that’s a checkbox right under the timeout option (though it’s not on all phones).

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