In today’s hyper-connected world, nobody would dream of living without 24-hour internet access. The downside of having the world at your fingertips is that constantly exceeding your mobile data allocation can be an expensive business. So how can you calculate how much data you really need on your mobile plan and what you should be paying for it?

Everyone’s data usage varies, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It comes down to your personal online habits and preferences. If regularly watching YouTube videos is your thing, you’ll burn through a lot more data than if you simply use your smartphone to check your email and for the odd Google search.

Like most things, data usage can quickly add up without you realising it. If you have an iPhone with an 8-megapixel camera, for example, uploading a single photo at full resolution on Facebook or other social media platforms can use up to 1.5MB. Upload a whole album of photos, and there goes a big chunk of data.

How much data does the average user consume?

The average Australian mobile phone handset internet subscriber used around 630MB of data per month in 2014, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Based on this finding, opting for a mobile plan with a minimum of 1GB of data would be the safest choice.

It’s important to remember, however, that data usage is only going up. In 2013 the average monthly usage figure was around 250MB per month, which means there was a 152% increase in the average usage within one year. With the upwards trend only likely to continue, the 2015 figure will be higher still.

What are the telcos providing?

No mobile phone plan in Australia includes unlimited data, but over the years the telcos have increased their data inclusions to keep up with growing usage.

These days most mid-tier plans around the $50 per month range come with between 1GB and 4G of data. That should cover the needs of the majority of users, but again heavy download usage such as video streaming can easily blow that out.

For $70 a month or more, you can upsize your limit to between 7GB and 10GB of data, and if you’re willing to fork out as much as $130 a month, you can score 20GB. That should cover even the heaviest of usage, allowing for a fair amount of video and music streaming.

How can I keep track of my data usage?

Before you decide how much data you’re likely to need, it’s a good idea to monitor your existing usage. Luckily, smartphones make that easy with data tracking tools already built into your phone.

On both iPhones and Android phones, you can find your data usage in the Settings mode, while Window Phone users have a data usage app called Data Sense that allows you to pre-set your existing plan allowance and monitor your current mobile and Wi-Fi data usage.

Telcos are also willing to help by providing tracking tools, either via a mobile website, or increasingly via a specific app for your smartphone. Keep in mind, though, that these can be slow in updating, sometimes being as much as 24 hours behind actual usage.

Considering that as we become more heavily reliant on our smartphones, our data usage is likely to increase, it may be wise to give yourself a buffer when calculating your monthly usage. And banish those over-the-limit data blow outs once and for all.

How much data do you use, and are there any plans you find to be great value? Share with us in the comments!

Bessie Hassan is the Consumer Advocate at finder.com


The time has come. Your old smartphone has given up the ghost, or perhaps your contract is up for renewal. Time to buy a new one. But the market is saturated with smartphones these days. Phone manufacturers like to throw a lot of terms at you, talking about how their mobile is faster, or quad-core, or has a 20-megapixel camera, and so on and so forth. It can get confusing very quickly!

I’m not going to discuss iPhones here – there’s only so many choices you have when it comes to those!

The most important thing is to assess your priorities. What are you looking for in a smartphone? This will generally fall into one of a few categories. One thing to note is that for all the talk about one phone or another performing better and getting better benchmark results for its processing speed and memory, you will hardly notice those numbers in day-to-day use. Most phones are based off similar processors–it’s the items below that count.

Price

What is your budget? A company’s flagship smartphone with all the bells and whistles will cost anywhere around $600 to $800 dollars. If you’re willing to settle for a last-gen phone (that is, their flagship from the previous year), you can get it down around the $400 to $500 range. To be super-thrifty, there’s also the very basic smartphones you’ll see being sold at Woolworths and Coles (supermarkets in Australia) for anywhere between $40 to $100. They’ll make calls and allow you to do basic internet browsing, but aren’t great for much else.

Then again, price may not be an issue at all, in which case, you can simply pick the phone that best suits your needs from the other categories.

Battery Life

As manufacturers pack more and more technology into their smartphones, it also means this technology requires more power. And this can suck your smartphone dry before you even get home from work! Don’t trust what manufacturers claim the battery life to be. This is normally done under ideal conditions where they can squeeze every last minute out of the battery. Just because a smartphone is newer doesn’t mean it has better battery life, either! Some phones have so many features, the battery actually runs out far quicker than the competition.

GSMArena has a fantastic little tool that compares the battery life of most recent smartphones. You can set how long you normally spend on calls, browsing the web, and watching videos each day, and it will give you an estimate of how long you can expect the phone to last, as well as a comparison to other phones.

This may be an important factor to you if you work (or relax) somewhere with no easy access to a power point. But if you work at a desk and your leisure time is mainly spent around the house, it might not matter much at all.

Screen Size

What kind of screen size are you after? A large one to better browse the web and watch videos with? Or a smaller one where you can easily reach across the screen with your thumb for ease of one-handed typing?

Then again, perhaps it’s all the same to you–just as long as you can check your emails and hold the phone to your ear without looking too stupid, it doesn’t matter.

Camera

Lots of megapixels does not necessarily mean good photos. Most phones will be able to take decent photos in daylight. And if the main purpose of your photos is for social media such as Facebook or Instagramming, almost any mid-range smartphone will do just fine.

You only really need to consider the camera if you intend to take a lot of low-light photos, or use it as your main point-and-click camera. Even then, most phones still can’t stand up to a decent camera once the lights go down. Look for ones with big sensors, and check for reviews that compare photos taken by different phones.

(Protip: Typing “<Phone 1> vs <Phone 2>”  into Google works wonders. As does using the word “shootout”.)

Storage

If you’re someone who loves loading music and videos onto your phone (or maybe you just take a lot of them!) check if the phone has a slot for an external SD card. Without one, most phones only go up to about 32 or 64GB – and you’ll pay for every extra bit of space. Also, some phones can take up to 7GB (!) of space with the operating system and default applications that can’t be removed.

So if you’re a happy snapper or movie fiend, consider carefully if you should find a phone with an SD card slot instead. They’re much cheaper and easily expandable if you find you really need that extra space.

Other Features

Perhaps you love listening to music from your phone’s speakers. Perhaps you want to be able to write accurately on your phone with a stylus. Or perhaps you simply want a gorgeous, super high-definition screen. Weigh all these ‘wishlist’ items up carefully, and determine how important they are to you. It’s very likely you’ll have to sacrifice something else you want–the camera quality, perhaps, or the screen size–to get it. Think about how much you’d really use those features, because while they may seem nifty at first, the shine wears off quickly. Would it be an important part of your daily routine? Or just a nice-to-have?

Once you have your priorities ordered, then go forth and search for the phones most highly ranked in your top two categories. You can then decide what sacrifices you’re willing to make in the other categories, and go from there!

How did you choose your current smartphone? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

photo credit: sinkdd


Dear Miss Techie,
After anywhere between six months to a year, my mobile and laptop batteries never last as long as they used to. The battery power drains far too quickly and I’m out of juice before the working day is over. Am I doing something wrong? How do I stop this happening?
Thanks, Powered Down

Ah, batteries. Both the best thing that ever happened to us, and a downright pain when the charge runs out right as we absolutely need to use whatever they’re powering.

You may have heard the common advice of letting your batteries drain out completely before you recharge them. Not these days. Newer batteries (made of lithium ion, if you want to show off) no longer need this. In fact, it actually makes your battery lose its charge faster!

So, then, what should you do? Here are some quick, simple tips.

  1. Don’t wait until your battery’s nearly dead before you recharge it. Once the power’s at 10-20%, plug it in and start charging.
  2. Don’t leave your battery plugged in for hours after it’s fully charged. When you notice the battery’s at 100%, unplug it. Otherwise,  you’ll find that your battery losing power much more quickly than it used to.
  3. Don’t let your battery overheat. Keep your battery at room power, especially when charging. This means not charging it in a stuffy, ill-ventilated room in the middle of summer, or on your car’s dashboard when the sun’s shining directly on it. (Miss Techie has experienced having her mobile stop charging and flash an ‘overheating’ warning before. Not recommended.)

It really is that simple. There are other small things you can do, like leaving your battery at about 40% power and keeping it in a cool place when you’re not using it. But by and large, these three simple tips will help your battery last much longer!

Miss Techie

Featured photo credit: Takashi(aes256)

Leanne Yong, a.k.a. the other Miss Techie, is the Tech Editor of Leaders in Heels and an aspiring author currently working in the field of IT consulting. She loves games, gadgets and technology in general.