When you’re thinking of apps that slurp up your data allowance, the likes of Netflix, YouTube, and Stan probably come to mind. After all, video is pretty demanding when it comes to data.
So it might surprise you to hear that Instagram can easily use more data than all of those. In fact, it’s probably one of the most data intensive apps installed on your smartphone. It’s a real thirsty bish.
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Across multiple tests, we consistently burned through anywhere between 60MB to 90MB in five minutes of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram feeds. That’s a lot. For comparison, the Netflix mobile app uses about 250MB of data per hour on “auto” or 170MB per hour when you turn on “save data”. Spotify uses 140MB per hour when you max its audio quality.
We don’t often associate social media with heavy data usage, but it makes sense when you think about it. Instagram is just photos and video. Apps like Facebook and Twitter are more text based.
Obviously, your data usage will vary depending on exactly how you use Instagram and how fast you’re scrolling. But if you’re actively browsing Instagram photo, videos and stories you can burn a lot of data quickly.
You can easily use as much as 500MB browsing Instagram for just half an hour a day. That’s about 15GB a month.
Since everyone is a bit different, we crunched a couple of key numbers. On average, you’ll use around 0.5MB for every photo or video you scroll past in your feed, and about 0.4MB for every story you look at. Uploading a photo will take between 2MB to 4MB depending on the photo in what device you took it on. When it comes to video, it will depend on the length.
Instagram does have a data saver mode, but this relates to video only. Switching it on prevents Instagram from pre-loading video on a mobile connection, but it won’t reduce the quality or file size of photos.
You can find this setting by going to your profile tab, tapping the hamburger menu in the top right-hand corner, and select ‘settings’. Tap ‘account’, and you’ll find the ‘data saver’ toggle under ‘cellular data use’.
If you want to further reduce Instagram’s data footprint, try to use Wi-Fi whenever you’re creeping on an ex, FOMOing over food porn, or just looking at cute animal pics. Alternatively, if you know you use Instagram a lot on the go, you could consider a new phone plan.
SIM-only plans are better value than ever these days. Here’s a couple of postpaid options with at least 20GB:
Out of these, Belong’s plan is worth paying attention to. $40 per month gets you 30GB on a no-contract plan, which also comes with data rollover. This means you can save any unused data for a later date. If you manage to stockpile a good chunk of data and want to save money, you can always drop down to Belong’s $10 plan until you burn through your data bank. Belong is powered by the Telstra wholesale network.
If you want access to the full Telstra network, Big T will do 60GB for $59 per month. If you manage to burn through your entire allowance, the plan also includes “Peace of Mind” data which gives you unlimited data capped at speeds of 1.5Mbps and no excess usage fees. While that’s kind of slow, it’s still more than fast enough to help you get your Instagram fix. This plan requires a one-year commitment, however.
Here’s a couple of prepaid options with at least 20GB:
Optus’ deal is a standout here. You’ll get 35GB for $30 on your first three recharges, and 10GB per recharge thereafter. However, since it’s prepaid, you can walk away whenever. What makes this plan interesting is Optus’ new prepaid roaming pack.
If you’ve got an Optus prepaid SIM, you can get a $20 roaming add-on with 10GB of data for Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the USA. Perfect for when you need to spam holiday pics. This pack has a five-day expiry, but that works out to be $4 per day. Talk and text are still charged at pay-as-you-go rates, however.
Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia’s phone and internet comparison website.