Data is such an important part of our modern lives, but it is also the most expensive component of our wireless plans, too. So how much data do you really need?
Be it because of automatic top up fees or having to recharge early, running out of data is one of the worst things most cellphone users will face. Well, other than a broken screen. A broken screen is pretty bad.
While we can't help you not break your screen, we can try and help you work out how much data you'll need.
Data usage for popular apps and services
Below we've got a quick overview of how much data you'll burn through in an hour of using a couple of popular apps and services, the risk of blowing through your data cap, and how much data you'll want if you're regularly sinking your data into that service.
It is worth noting that some carriers will provide access to certain services data-free, which can help you bring down your monthly bill.
Our suggested plans are based on using your service of choice for about one hour a day everyday for an entire month. If you're using more than one of these services regularly, consider opting for a larger allowance. Please note, these figures can vary depending on your own personal usage habits, as well as the phone you use.
|Data Per Hour||Risk||Suggested Plan|
|Online gaming||From 3MB||At least 1GB|
|Podcasts||Approx. 60MB||At least 2GB|
|Web Browsing||Approx. 60MB||At least 2GB|
|FaceTime||Approx. 85MB||At least 3GB|
|Approx. 80MB||At least 3GB|
|Music Streaming||Up to 150MB||At least 5GB|
|Snapchat||Approx. 160MB||At least 5GB|
|Facebook Video||Approx. 160MB||At least 5GB|
|Lossless Music Streaming (Tidal)||Approx. 640MB||Unlimited|
Approximately 60MB per hour
The amount of data you use when surfing the information highway will vary from website to website. Naturally, image heavy websites will take a bigger toll on your cap than text only pages. In a mixed test, we found that you can expect to use somewhere around 60MB in an hour of browsing.
Approximately 85MB per hour
FaceTime is one of the most popular video calling apps around - mostly due to the fact its preinstalled on every iPhone - and fortunately, it doesn't use too much data. We found you'll tend to go through 85MB of data per hour of video call time.
Approximately 80MB per hour for browsing, 160MB per hour for video
When using the official Facebook app, you can expect to use around 80MB of data per hour. This is slightly more than plain old web browsing, which isn't surprising, given how photo heavy Facebook is these days. If you're watching video through Facebook, you data usage will jump to around 160MB per hour, which is less than what you'd use when streaming on YouTube or Netflix.
If you're hoping to cut down on your Facebook data usage, make you can set videos to "never auto-play" under "Videos and Photos" in the settings menu.
Approximately 160MB per hour
If you were to spend an hour intently sending and receiving Snaps, you could expect to use about 160MB of data in that time. Sending or receiving a single Snap will use about 1MB of data.
Approximately 720MB per hour
It might surprise you, but Instagram is probably one of the most data intensive apps you have installed on your smartphone. In our tests, we consistently burned through 60MB in around five minutes, which works out to be 720MB an hour. In fact, we were so shocked to find out how much data Instagram was wasting, we repeated our test five more times and got the exact same results.
If you're just opening the app, quickly flipping through your timeline to see the latest photos your friends have posted, you shouldn't use quite as much data as we did, but if you're actively browsing Instagram checking out photos, stories, and videos, you can go through a lot of data very quickly.
Approximately 300MB per hour
If you're watching YouTube on your smartphone on a 3G or 4G network, you won't have access to any quality options. This is a good thing, YouTube is looking out for you. You can expect to use around 300MB per hour of video watched.
From 250MB per hour
Netflix has three quality settings for when you're on a mobile connection. Low will use 250MB per hour, medium will use 500MB per hour, and high will use 1GB per hour. Netflix does however let you save content to your phone for offline viewing, so if you're worried about using too much data streaming shows on your commute, you can always download an episode or two while you're connected to a Wi-Fi network.
Approximately 150MB per hour
Music streaming data usage will depend on the service that you're subscribed to. However, in most cases, you'll never use more than 144MB, which is when you're streaming music at 320kps (roughly 12MB a song). Spotify lets you dial down the quality to 96kpbs or 160kps, which cuts your hourly data usage to 43MB and 72MB respectively.
Apple Music only streams at a single quality - 256kps - which is equivalent to 155MB an hour.
Google Play Music tries to stream at 320kbps, but adjusts depending on the strength of your connection. If you're getting a weak signal, you may find Play Music is using less data per song.
If you've got a subscription to a lossless music streaming service like Tidal, expect to use around 640MB per hour.
Most music streaming apps let you download songs to your phone, which can help in conserving data on the go.
Approximately 60MB per hour
As a rule of thumb, we've found most podcasts are approximately 1MB per minute; if you're wanting to listen to a 40 minute podcast, expect to use about 40MB of data. This will vary depending on the exact quality the podcast has been encoded in - some podcasts are larger, some are smaller - but in general, podcasts aren't too data intensive.
If you don't want to use data listening to podcasts on the go, most podcasts apps will let you download episodes for future listening while you're connected to a wireless network.
From 3MB per hour
Games with online connectivity aren't normally too data intensive. In our testing, we found that both Hearthstone and Fire Emblem Heroes would use around 400KB in 10 minutes. More demanding games such as Pokémon Go can churn through a lot more data; in some cases, we've seen it use over 90MB in a day.
If you're looking to download apps over your mobile connection, its best to check out how large the app in question is before you start installing. Both the App Store and Google Play Store show app sizes, and will give you a warning if the app you're downloading is over a certain size.
While some apps are tiny, many day-to-day apps can demand a lot of data. The latest version of Facebook is a 170MB or so update, for example, and the latest version of Uber is around 125MB. While these won't break your cap if you need to download an app or an update on the go, we don't recommend doing so regularly. In most cases, we'd recommend saving app downloads and updates for when you're on a Wi-Fi network with a larger allowance.
How to check the data usage of other apps
On an iPhone, you'll need to reset your data usage statistics first. To do this, open the Settings app, tap Mobile, then scroll down to Reset Statistics.
After this, open the app you want to test, use it for as long as you want, then go back to 'Mobile' in Settings to see how much damage it's done. If the app is using too much data, you can toggle 'use mobile data for' to off. If you do this, the app will only connect to the internet when you're on a Wi-Fi network.
On an Android smartphone, open Settings, then tap Data Usage. You might not be able to reset these statistics, but you can scroll down to the app you want to monitor, make a note of the current number, then see how much more its used after you're done testing.