What fits in a megabyte these days?
June 14, 2013 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm using my first smartphone ever -- a secondhand iPhone 4 - on a prepaid plan. I generally leave cellular data turned off because most of my day is spent in range of WiFi, and because data transmission on my otherwise cheap prepaid plan is very expensive: $0.99/MB. I have no idea how much data is transmitted in the course of typical online activities. What's it take to, say, download a few emails, perform a Google search or open a basic, non-video-laden web page?
posted by jon1270 to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How long is a piece of string? There's really no way to know without looking at the details.

A "basic non-video-laden web page" can be anything from 5KB to 500 KB, for instance.

Try loading a page into your browser (on your computer at home, not on your phone) and then save the whole page to disk inside a temp directory. Then see how big the directory is. You might be surprised just how much cruft is involved in most modern web pages these days.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:45 PM on June 14, 2013

There are apps that will monitor how much data you're using. ( I don't have an iphone so I can't recommend any specific ones, though.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:04 PM on June 14, 2013

Consider creating a page of links that take you directly to mobile sites that strip away most everything but the basics. It saves a ton of bandwidth.

You can create your own at that Pageorama site or any site that lets you create a page of links.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:09 PM on June 14, 2013

Best answer: According to my phone, I've used 20 MB in the last week, and I hardly do anything. That's email, a few searches, and a handful of MetaFilter loads.

In the Android settings you can set mobile data usage limits and warnings. AT&T has a prepaid voice $25/mo plan (no contract) that lets you buy chunks of data for $.10/MB in the smallest denomination.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:09 PM on June 14, 2013

Holy mother of god. That's highway robbery for data. I have Straight Talk and they offer unlimited data along with unlimited voice and SMS, and it's all coming in at $45 a month. Unless you're paying next to nothing for the voice and SMS, you'd be better off getting a prepaid plan that includes data.
posted by mullingitover at 6:48 PM on June 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh and to answer your question, my cellular data usage generally clocks in at around 500 MB per month, and I'm on wifi about 90% of the time.
posted by mullingitover at 6:55 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is hard to use less than 10MB in a week. That's some emails and a few maps. Phones are not set up to be parsimonious with data.

I was in Cannes for a week with a 10MB plan at an outrageous price for overages. I managed to hold down my usage to 11MB by leaving the data turned off most of the time, and rarely checking email unless I was hooked up to wireless.

I think you will find going without a data plan not to be cost effective.
posted by musofire at 6:56 PM on June 14, 2013

Best answer: I am a super-low data user, because like you I am within range of wifi 90% of the time, and I have my apps set to not ever do anything with data without my explicit say-so.

I am on my phone company's lowest data plan ($7 a month), and according to Onavo Count, on average I only use 2% of it. Still, I have used 22.3 MB in June so far. Again, according to Onavo Count, their average user (who is probably more concerned about data usage than most people) has used 111 MB by this point in the month.
posted by lollusc at 7:11 PM on June 14, 2013

Best answer: This is extremely variable. You could get away with that if you use your data wisely I think - only turn it on when you need it. I think your best bet here is to get Opera Mini (which compresses web pages so you use less data), offline street map app (there are quite a few), an offline wikipedia app (Minipedia) and setting mail to only get mail when requested (and turn off remote images). You can monitor your data usage by checking General | Usage | Cellular Usage - reset your data every billing cycle to be on top of things. But the real answer to this is: get a better data plan.
posted by Brent Parker at 9:39 PM on June 14, 2013

I work from home and I have a 500MB plan. Generally speaking I use about 80% of that plan per month, when I use the phone for maps and email when out of the house.

Your best best is to disable mobile data. My wife's smartphone doesn't even have a mobile data plan and she does fine.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:41 PM on June 14, 2013

If you look at the Network tab of the developer tools in the Chrome web browser, it shows you how much data is transferred when you load a web page. I'm seeing this tiny, mostly text Ask Metafilter page is 89.5 KB (about 1/10 of a MB).

I read recently that the average web page size is going to be 1 MB in the near future. If I were you, I would leave mobile data off all the time, unless it was an emergency. $0.99/MB is ridiculous.
posted by zixyer at 10:32 PM on June 14, 2013

Who is this $0.99 cent provider? I would like to know who to boycott.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:21 PM on June 14, 2013

Just for comparison, I use about 1200Mb a month.
It costs me $19 (£12).
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 12:41 AM on June 15, 2013

AT&T has a data usage calculator. No idea if it is accurate however.
posted by Erberus at 2:11 AM on June 15, 2013

Best answer: The iPhone tracks the amount of data sent & received over 3G. You can see it in the Settings app, roughly under General > Usage > Cellular Usage. (I think it has moved around a bit in recent iOS updates but that should be roughly right.) So you can do some tests for your usage if you're willing to spend some money doing it.

I'm with the others--$1/MB is ridiculous and quickly becomes not-cost-effective compared to a plan that includes data.
posted by mvd at 3:32 AM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: $0.99/MB

Holy mother of god. That's highway robbery for data.

Who is this $0.99 cent provider? I would like to know who to boycott.

This is PagePlus, BUT the particular plan I'm using is really designed to be almost exclusively for voice and texting, and for those the rates are extremely reasonable. Pre-smartphone, I've been able to just dump an $80 infusion into my account every six months, and that's covered all my voice and (minimal) text needs nicely.

The same company has other plans with much cheaper data rates, but they all have fixed monthly charges. Maybe I should've articulated this up front, but the main reason I'm asking this question is in hopes of figuring out which, if any, of their monthly plans would make sense for me. Their baseline monthly plan is $12 for 250 minutes / 250 text/picture messages and 10MB of data, plus $0.05/min for voice overages and $0.10/MB for data overages. The next step up is $29.95 a month for 1200 min., 1200 texts and 250 MB, which also cuts the data overage charge down to $0.05/MB.

Assuming my use of voice stays about the same, it would make sense to step up to the $12 monthly plan makes sense if I use even 2 or 3MB of data. But the $29.95 plan only makes sense if I'm up around 150MB. If I leave cellular data turned off most of the time, and use some of the suggestions above to minimize data use when I do turn it on, my guess is that I'll stay well under that threshold.
posted by jon1270 at 4:46 AM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, just for kicks I switched off all the apps I had running in the background, reset the built-in usage counter, turned off WiFi, turned on cellular data, and opened a few web pages. Specifically, I opened a browser, which started on a page in a different forum. From there I opened my MeFi profile (bookmarked), opened the list of questions I've asked, and from there went to this page. I then shut off cellular data and checked the usage. The usage counter shows 150KB sent and 942KB received, or just over a dollar's worth. That certainly is nuts if I'm going to use data outside of emergencies, so I think I'll set up the $12/month plan and see how that goes.

Thanks, everyone.
posted by jon1270 at 5:10 AM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: A little more analysis, in case anyone happens to read this who's considering a PagePlus plan. If your use of voice and text is like mine - about 300 minutes of voice and fewer than 250 texts per month, then the $12 plan, even with overage charges, is cheapest up to about 165MB, at which point it's worth stepping up to the $29.95 plan. The $55/month plan only makes sense above 750MB, and the $69.95 plan (5GB/month) takes over as the best choice somewhere around 2.4MB. There's a weird in-between $39.95 plan, but it's geared towards people who talk and text a whole lot but don't use much data.
posted by jon1270 at 10:54 AM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: and the $69.95 plan (5GB/month) takes over as the best choice somewhere around 2.4 MB GB
posted by jon1270 at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2013

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