Picking the right data plan can be like being a contestant on “The Price is Right”—how can you get the most bang for your buck without going over? It’s a tricky balance to strike, but knowing what type of smartphone user you are can help provide clarity in making the right decision.
See where you fall on the spectrum:
User type: Data-driven. Addicted to apps or games like “Candy Crush?” Love to stream videos on your phone or listen to Spotify all day? You’re likely blowing through more data than you think. Just one app or game download could take up 4MB, while an hour of streaming HD video can eat up 900MB, and an hour of streaming music requires 30MB. With that in mind, choosing an unlimited data plan rather than tiered pricing is probably your best bet. That way, you can avoid any caps on your data usage—and paying those pesky overages on your bill.
User type: Middle of the road. The average North American smartphone user consumes 752MB of data per month—and that number is expected to rise to a whopping 6GB monthly by 2017—according to 2012 research by Cisco. Wondering how to estimate your use and see if you fall above or below the current average? Use the data calculator/estimator provided by your carrier or MyRatePlan.
If you’re like most Americans using around 750MB monthly, a 1GB plan may be the ticket. Per month, that’s about five hours of streaming music, three hours of streaming video, 60 hours of Web surfing, 60 social media posts with photos, 20 apps/game/song downloads and 1,000 emails sent/received with minimal attachments.
User type: Lo-fi and loving it. If your smartphone isn’t permanently attached to your hand, congratulations — you’re about to save some cash! And you may be able to get away with a 250MB plan, provided you don’t do much Web browsing and mostly use your phone for text and email communication (without a lot of attachments). Another consideration is how much Wi-Fi access you have. If you spend almost all of your time at home or in an office where you can stay connected to Wi-Fi, that may also enable you to skimp on your data plan. (Data usage doesn’t “count” when a user is connected to Wi-Fi.)
When in doubt, it’s always better to overestimate so that you don’t end up overpaying in the end. Still not exactly sure how to pinpoint the right plan? Keep an eye on things for a few months to see how much data you really use, says tech expert Kris Ruby, president of Ruby Media Group. “Be sure to download the apps your carrier makes,” she advises. “They make it incredibly easy to monitor how much data you’re using on a monthly basis.”
Jen Jones Donatelli is a Los Angeles-based journalist and author who specializes in all things lifestyle—including digital life. Her work has been published in/on Variety, MSN, Redbook, Livestrong, Every Day Connected and many more.