With Windows Phone 8.1 and newer, Microsoft offers an integrated Data Sense functionality that helps monitor and optimize your data usage so that you don’t exceed your monthly allotment. Data Sense is available in Settings and as a standalone app as well.
Note: Data Sense is moving forward to Windows 10 for phones, but also for PCs and tablets. I’ll be looking at this evolved version of Data Sense in a future article, but it works similarly to the version in Windows Phone 8.1 today.
Here’s what you need to know about Data Sense.
Data Sense Settings
You should visit Data Sense in Settings first.
Your carrier could block it. Like some other high-profile Windows Phone features, your carrier has the option to block Data Sense and replace this utility with its own app. This hasn’t been the case with the carriers I’ve used here in the US—AT&T, Cricket, T-Mobile and Verizon—but it could happen.
Find Storage Sense. Data Sense is a Settings app. In Windows Phone 8.1 and 8.1.1, you will need to scroll down the unsorted list of Settings apps to find it. In Windows Phone 8.1.2, you will find Data Sense under Settings, Network + Wireless.
Data Sense needs to be configured before it’s useful. To do so, launch Data Sense and tap the Set Limit button. Then, in the Set Data Limit drop-down that appears, select from “none specified,” “one time,” “monthly,” and “unlimited.” For the examples here, I will use “monthly,” since I’m on a monthly data plan.
Then, you need to choose the monthly reset date (the date at which your data limit re-ups) and the monthly data limit in MB or GB.
Consider restricting background data if you have a low data limit. You will see two options below the Set Limit button, “Restrict background data” and “Restrict background data when roaming.” The second of the two is just an on/off toggle, but if you enable the first one, you can choose between “When I’m near my limit” or “Always.”
It will be inaccurate during the initial billing period. Because you will have used some of this month’s data before you configure Data Sense, the utility will be inaccurate until your billing period restarts at the next month.
This feature isn’t particularly useful if you have multiple phones on your account. I have three phones on my account, for example, and Data Sense can only monitor the data you use on that one phone.
Data Sense app
Once Data Sense is configured through the Settings app, you can use the Data Sense app—via your All Apps list or pinned to the Start screen—to keep track of your data usage going forward.
Pin Data Sense to the Start screen. You should consider pinning Data Sense to the Start screen so you can access it quickly and, via its live tile, keep track of your data usage at a glance.
Get an overview. When you launch the Data Sense app, you get a nice overview of the data remaining and the number of days left in the current billing cycle.
Dive deep. Select the Usage view, however, and you get a much more detailed view, including how much data each app is using, with the heaviest data users at the top of the list, and data usage split between cellular and Wi-Fi. This view will become more relevant over time as you use the phone more.
Map nearby Wi-Fi. If you’re using too much cellular data and want to find nearby free Wi-Fi, open the app bar menu in Data Sense by tapping “…” (More) and then choose Map Nearby Wi-Fi. This will launch the Maps app and provide you with a view of nearby free Wi-Fi hotspots.
You can also access this feature, called the Data Sense Wi-Fi Guide, from Local Scout or Wi-Fi Settings. Or, you can simply configure the Maps app—not HERE Maps—to always display nearby free Wi-Fi hotspots by navigating to More, View Options and checking Show Nearby Wi-Fi. (A related feature called Wi-Fi Sense will automatically connect your phone to many free public Wi-Fi hotspots too. I will be writing about Wi-Fi Sense soon.)