Ever wonder just how much data your streaming apps use? Here’s the good news: For the most part, the differences aren’t that extreme between most apps when you’re viewing the same type and quality of content.
There are still some outliers that are worth knowing about, especially if you’re concerned about how much data you’re eating up on your home internet or cellular plan. While your Spotify might not be causing you to pay any annoying overage fees, the 4K Netflix stream you leave on in the background while you work each day might be worth rethinking. Here’s a rundown:
Music streaming apps
Every music streaming app uses variable bitrate streaming, adjusting the quality of the music on the fly based on your connection. Users can usually set a desired playback level, too, if you want more control over the quality of your music.
Here’s how much data you can expect Spotify, YouTube Music, Apple Music and Amazon Music to use per hour, on average, based on the audio quality:
- Low (48-96 kbps): approximately 43MB per hour
- Normal (128-160 kbps): approximately 72MB per hour
- High (192-320 kbps): approximately 115MB per hour
Note that not all apps stream at the same bitrate, which does affect the averages between specific apps, but it’s negligible since bitrate isn’t the only measure of quality or file size. Other factors like the sample rate, bit depth, file type, and codec also affect how big a file is (and how good it sounds), and therefore how much data is used to stream it.
For example, Spotify uses the same bitrates listed above, while Apple Music streams at 64, 126, and 250 kbps, but uses a different file type and audio codec. However, streaming an hour of music at high quality on either app will use roughly 40MB of data.
The only notable outliers are Amazon Music and Tidal:
- Amazon Music normally uses the same bit rates, but the service also has an “HD” quality tier that uses 330MB per hour, and and “Ultra HD” level that can use as much as 720MB per hour.
- Then there’s Tidal, which streams music at 96 kbps, 320 kbps, 1411 kbps (635MB per hour), or 3000 kbps (1.35 GB per hour). This one really eats through data plans.
It’s also worth noting that streaming music videos through Spotify or YouTube Music will also increase your data usage compared to simply listening to streamed audio files. Speaking of video…
Video streaming apps
Video streaming is more complicated than music streaming since obviously both video and audio quality are factors here. However, each of the major services uses up roughly the same amount of data.
Here’s are the average amount of data per hour you can expect to use while streaming Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Disney Plus:
- Low 240p-320p: 300MB per hour.
- SD 480p: 700MB per hour.
- HD 720p: 900MB per hour.
- HD 1080p: 1.5GB per hour.
(Note: these figures only apply to mobile devices. Video and audio quality will be different on desktop, TVs, game consoles, and set-top boxes.)
Anything above 1080p video is generally difficult to find for mobile devices, but there will only be more phones that support 2k and 4K UHD resolution as time goes on. If a service offers 2K video as an option on mobile, you can expect to burn through roughly 3GB per hour at that quality, while 4K UHD uses 7-8GB per hour depending on the app. Those numbers could be even higher if watching in HDR at higher-than-normal frame rates.
The YouTube app’s data usage is different than other video streaming services for one key reason: frame rates.
Most of the content you find on other video streaming services plays at 24 or 32 frames per second (FPS), but YouTube videos all hit either 30 or 60 FPS. More frames means more data, so a 1080p video (a high pixel rate for a sharp picture) at 24 FPS eats up less data than a 1080p video at 60FPS, even if they’re the same length. YouTube also supports a wider spectrum of video playback, from 144p up to 1440 QHD on some mobile devices.
Those higher frame rates and resolutions mean the amount of data individual YouTube videos use up can vary wildly. Luckily, the folks over at Android Authority ran an exhaustive test of YouTube’s numerous resolution and frame rate options.
Here’s how much data YouTube uses based on what quality and frame rate you’re using:
- 144p 30fps: 30-90MB per hour
- 240p 30fps : 180-250MB per hour
- 360p 30fps: 300-450MB per hour
- 480p 30fps: 480-660MB per hour
- 720p 30-60fps: 1.2-2.7GB per hour
- 1080p 30-60fps: 2.5-4.1GB per hour
- 1440p 30-60fps: 2.7-8.1GB per hour
Based on these figures, it’s possible that YouTube is the most data-hungry streaming app on your phone. You might want to check the app’s data usage in your device’s settings if you’re consistently over-shooting your monthly data allowance.
How to keep your mobile data low while streaming
Streaming apps clearly pose a risk to your data plan, but there are many ways to limit how much data your apps actually use.
The most obvious is to stream only while connected to Wi-Fi. As long as your home internet provider doesn’t have data caps, you can stream on Wi-Fi without incurring extra fees. You can even try downloading your favourite music or videos for offline viewing, so you don’t burn through your mobile data unnecessarily.
You can also check the following links for ways to adjust audio and video quality, as well as data use settings within each app covered:
- Amazon Music
- Apple Music: on your iPhone, go to Settings > Music > Cellular Data.
- YouTube Music
- Amazon Prime: Open the app and go to My Stuff > Settings > Stream and Download settings > Stream quality
- Disney Plus
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