Figuring out data plans for smartphones can be very confusing if you actually try to break down file size based on activity. It is hard to predict how much data you’re going to use when you don’t know how much data specific activities actually use.
For example, a song that you stream can use as little as one megabyte, or as much as 50 megabytes depending on the level of compression. Most will not take the time to research the minutiae of data usage, but you really should. Many fall prey to the marketing from big cell providers, and simply buy too much data for peace of mind and the ability to stream endlessly.
There is a large group of you readers who actually use insane amounts of data, but the reality is most consumers use 1-2GB per month. The need to pay for unlimited plans, or high data capped plans is unnecessary if you do your homework and use WiFi to your advantage. T-Mobile has great unlimited plans, with unlimited streaming of music and videos which keeps things simple.
If you can download the music and videos to your devices beforehand, you may actually save money while getting better quality from your multimedia. AT&T and Sprint also offer unlimited data plans, but the cost might outweigh the usage if you’re an average consumer.
You can estimate how much data you will actually consume by using data calculators from the big four providers.
Cost of unlimited data
AT&T recently rolled out unlimited data to its customers who subscribe to DIRECTV for $100 with unlimited text and voice. If you do not need unlimited data, and use what most consumers do, you can get the 2GB plan for $55 per month and save $45. Over the course of a year, that works out to $540. Over two years it works out to $1080 in savings, which is the cost of a premium smartphone and tablet combined.
If you are the type who does prefer to stream endless music and videos, then obviously those types of plans work best for you. Unlimited data plans are also great for families with kids that are constantly streaming videos and downloading apps.
You can download videos, music, and app while on WiFi to minimize data usage
YouTube, Amazon Instant video, Google Play Music, TIDAL, and Spotify are sources of data usage for millions of us. All of these apps allow downloadable content which in turn will reduce your need for data.
Download music from Google Play Music
- Open the Google Play Music app
- Touch an album or playlist.
- Touch the Download icon
Just because you can stream unlimited doesn’t mean you should. Set photos to backup over WiFi only to cut back on data usage as well.
Take advantage of your expandable memory slot if you have one
Phones like the LG V10, Samsung Galaxy S7, and HTC One M9 come with expandable memory slots. For less than $20, you can add 64GB of memory to your device which is enough space to hold about 60 hours of video. If you need more, get a 128GB or 200Gb microSD card.
You can also use portable USB drives which store data and stream through an app if data is limited or expandable memory slots are not available.
SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick 64GB
- The flash drive reinvented for your phone, tablet and computer
- Wirelessly save and access your photos, videos and files. Connect wirelessly or simply plug into a USB port.
- Stream HD videos and music up to 3 devices at the same time
Set alerts and limits on data
If you are running Android Kit Kat or later you can monitor how much data you use within the Settings app.
Go to settings, and look for data usage. The actual location will vary depending on who manufactured your device. You can set the date range of when you want to start tracking data usage to match up to your billing cycle. Setting a mobile data limit is also available, where it can shut off usage once you reach a threshold that you set.
There are a lot of tools available to help you conserve data. Google Maps are available offline which can cut 150MB per hour when using GPS navigation. Advertisements also account for a massive amount of data usage when browsing the web, and can be removed altogether by installing a simple ad blocker.
Do your homework, and use the available calculators to determine how much data you actually need. It may save you hundreds of dollars per year and you can even consider switching to Google’s Project Fi which charges just $10 per GB of data.