Keeping track of how much data you've used, and how much you expect to use, each month is tricky. Unfortunately, it's also pretty important if you don't want to pay expensive overage fees, or have your connection dropped to a barely-usable speed.
Usage varies depending on what you're doing and how often you do it. Your own personal habits are just as important to take in to account as the size of your plan, and the online services you use.
We took some of the more-common online activities for phone and tablet users, and measured how much data they ate up. Some of the results seem pretty low, but when you factor in repeated use across a month they can add up pretty fast.
Note: these figures are likely to vary depending on your own personal usage habits, as well as the phone you use.
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Basically nothing (about 50KB per message)
An email with no attachment uses up so little data that even folk on a 300MB or lower plan needn't worry too much. The specific size of each email varies depending on its content and length, but we found 50KB to be a rough average.
To put this in perspective, if all you did was send text emails, you'd need to send around six thousand in a month before you approached a mere 300MB. Twenty thousand to get near 1GB.
As for attachments; they can vary hugely. Your email service should notify you of the size of both outgoing and incoming attachments, so you know exactly how much data they'll take up.
Approx. 2-6MB per photo (depends on camera and settings)
The size of your upload depends entirely on the photo itself and on the service you’re using. If your camera takes 8-megapixel photos (like on an older iPhone), then you’ll be using about 1.5MB to upload each pic to the web, assuming you're uploading it at full resolution. The higher the image resolution or the more detailed the photo, the bigger the file size. Modern cameras can get pretty hardcore with their file sizes.
If you're uploading to Instagram, and using the in-app camera function, your uploads are much smaller, thanks to the way the app compresses the data.
In any event, unless you’re uploading a huge number of photos it shouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure that if you have any auto-upload settings for a cloud storage service that you have it set to update over WiFi only if you’re planning to go snap-happy.
1 - 2MB per minute
Facebook is fairly low on the usage scale thanks to its news feed. You don’t always have to be loading a new page or a full-screen photo, you can usually tell what’s going on just by glancing at a heading and moving on.
Important note: It's a good idea to disable auto-play videos in the app settings.
For most sessions we didn't exceed 1MB-2MB per minute. On a couple of occasions we managed 3MB/min over an extended period. This was usually thanks to clicking on data-heavy articles with embedded GIFs or videos.
The average Facebook user apparently spends around 8 hours per month online. That adds up to 720MB at 1.5MB per minute, if you only access your feed using your phone.
2.5MB per minute (but highly variable)
Your web surfing usage depends entirely on the kind of browser you are, and the sites you frequent. If you bounce between GIF-laden BuzzFeed articles then you're going to use up a lot of data. Those GIFs don't come cheap, and, because of their lack of text, you tend to burn through content like that pretty quickly before moving on to the next one.
Other pages use barely anything and encourage you to stick around for a long time. Minimalist news sites or blogs tend to be the more popular options in this category.
Avoiding any video streaming, we tended to go through between 1MB and 4MB per minute over any decent length of time.
The average user reportedly spends around 48 hours per month browsing the web. Luckily, most of this is done on a laptop or desktop. At 2.5MB per minute you'll hit 1GB in under 8 hours, so try to use WiFi if you're a habitual web-surfer and prefer the mobile approach.
Most casual games we tested used around 1.5MB per minute; roughly the same as Facebook. However, games with a significant online component can have far heavier usage.
The unfortunate truth is that every single game is completely individual. If you're an avid gamer and keep hitting your cap each month, try checking your system settings to see which apps and services have consumed the most data. Both Android and iOS have this option built in to their most recent updates.
1 - 2MB per minute
Most music streaming services, like Spotify, use around 1-2MB per minute for standard sound quality. That’s not too much, except that this rate holds constant for the entire time that the music keeps playing.
That half-hour trip to work will use in the vicinity of 30MB there and then 30MB home. Do this for all 20 work days in a month and you’ll burn through well over 1GB of data; possibly 2GB depending on the service you use and the quality at which you stream.
60 - 100MB per hour
Streaming a podcast is not quite the same as streaming music. The reason being that each time you start listening, it buffers the entire file, or at least a significant portion of it. Depending on the length of your podcast, this can exceed 100MB. The problem with this is that if you want to stop listening and pick it back up at a later date, you may have to buffer the whole thing again.
Let's say you listen to a 100 minute podcast that is 100MB in size. If you stream it in four separate 25 minute segments, you can end up using 400MB to listen to that 100MB file once through.
This isn't always the case, but it's still common enough that it's better off to avoid it if possible.
The best way to cut down on podcast usage is to download your podcasts, either over WiFi (where it won't affect your cap), or over cellular. Even if you take the latter option, you're at least only downloading the file once, instead of multiple times.
YouTube and video streaming
2.5 - 6MB per minute
Streaming video is one of the biggest data killers you can have. Taking the average of several YouTube videos, we found that Standard Definition (SD) took up between 2-3MB per minute and High Def (HD) went as high as 6MB per minute on a 720p display.
6MB might not sound like much, but it adds up. If you have a small 200MB plan then you’ll use up the whole thing in under half an hour watching YouTube in HD. Try to stick to SD and avoid watching video if you're getting close to your data limit, or didn't have a big one to begin with.