What Is Low Data Mode in iOS 13 and Should I Use It?

I don’t have an unlimited amount of cellular data to play with on my iPhone. This means that I am always stressed about going over the limit and charging high fees from my mobile service provider. That’s why micromanaging my cellular data usage all the time is often a real downer.

But iOS 13 changed all that with the new Low Data Mode. The name is pretty much self-explanatory – enabling it will make your iPhone consume less data bandwidth. Surprisingly, while Low Data Mode can be used for cellular data, you can also enable it when using your iPhone over Wi-Fi networks.

Understandably, you must be scratching your head as to exactly how Low Data Mode works once it’s enabled. iOS 13 misses out on explaining this explicitly. So, after using said mod on my iPhone since the iOS 13 beta was first released, here are my views on how it works.

How Low Data Mode Works

What surprised me after enabling Low Data Mode was that it didn’t really hinder my experience using my iPhone. For example, I continued to receive notifications on time. iMessage seemed to work flawlessly on my iPhone, and apps authorized to use cellular data continued to function normally. At least, that was the general impression at first.

Low Data Mode does its job under the hood and it takes a while to notice subtle changes. For example, I found that the Photos app automatically pauses uploads to iCloud. It needed my explicit permission to start syncing my photos and videos again. Even then, I was only able to do this for 24 hours, after which I had to give permission again.

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As for iCloud itself, I’ve noticed that system backups no longer happen automatically. I had to start them manually. However, tasks that don’t usually require a lot of bandwidth – like bookmarks, notes, and reminders – synced seamlessly to my iPad via iCloud.

And then there’s the App Store. I found the video autoplay option disabled even when allowed to play. The same goes for automatic app updates – they were also in limbo. Performing manual app updates also required me to ‘confirm’ my actions. But this is the first time I’ve seen how much each app update measures up. Some may be minor compared to iOS 12 and earlier.

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The other areas where I noticed things were different was Apple Music, where tracks weren’t streaming at their best quality. However, I tend to download songs locally before listening, so that didn’t really matter. FaceTime was also affected, as the quality of video calls dropped a bit.

In general, I’ve found that iOS-specific apps exhibit a strange limitation when it comes to cellular data usage. The same was true when I enabled Low Data Mode for Wi-Fi. On the other hand, I haven’t seen any noticeable changes in third-party apps, probably because they aren’t optimized for Low Data Mode yet. For example, YouTube doesn’t normally stream in HD like on my iPhone and didn’t seem to care.

However, enabling Low Data Mode has restricted Background App Refresh functionality. Apps running in the background – both native and third-party apps – didn’t seem to update as usual. This proved problematic when using apps like Apple Maps and Google Maps.

Should I use

If you have a limited cellular data connection, you should consider turning on Low Data Mode. I’ve never exceeded my monthly quota since I activated it on my iPhone. However, I still have to keep an eye out when using third-party apps as they don’t lag behind Low Data Mode like Apple’s apps and services. This may change when third parties start integrating their apps with iOS 13.

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The ability to also use Low Data Mode on Wi-Fi is a nice touch, but disabling it is the best thing. It’s not a good idea to have certain functions like iCloud backups restricted on both cellular and Wi-Fi.

If you have bandwidth caps on your home Wi-Fi connection, turning on Low Data Mode can help you better manage your monthly quota. With poor quality Wi-Fi connections preventing you from doing anything, enabling Low Data Mode can make things more bearable.

How to Enable Low Data Mode

Low Data Mode needs to be turned on separately for both cellular data and Wi-Fi. As for the latter, you have to manually enable the functionality for each connection. This is pretty nice as you don’t have to enable it for all the Wi-Fi connections your iPhone connects to.

Enabling the feature requires doing some research using the iPhone Settings app. If you’re not familiar with the process, here’s how to enable Low Data Mode for cellular and Wi-Fi connections.

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Cellular data

Stage 1: Open the iPhone Settings app, tap Cellular, then Cellular Data Options.

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Step 2: Turn on the switch next to Low Data Mode.

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Stage 1: Open iPhone Settings, tap Cellular, then tap the “i” shaped icon next to the Wi-Fi connection for which you want to enable Low Data Mode.

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Step 2: Turn on the switch next to Low Data Mode. Your iPhone will remember this preference even after you disconnect from the Wi-Fi hotspot.

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When you turn on Low Data Mode, your iPhone will start using less bandwidth. If you have it enabled for both cellular data and Wi-Fi, don’t forget to perform iCloud backups manually and app updates periodically.

Useful But Could Be Better

Low Data Mode is one of the best additions to iOS 13, although it may not sound as exciting as dark mode. It really helps you stay under your monthly quota without having to micromanage everything. That said, I wish Apple had done a better job implementing Low Data Mode.

For example, there could be more granular control options over the types of activities you want restricted. With the adoption of Haptic Touch on all iOS devices, we were hoping to switch to Control Center. Hopefully, the feature will be improved in the next updates.

Next: Working with the Files app on iOS 13 is a real pleasure. Here is a handy compilation of the best Files app features.