December 18, 2017 at 3:33 p.m. PST
Netflix is one of the most popular video streaming services on the planet. This article demonstrates how to use less cellular data on Netflix.
Remember the days when you had to plan your life around the TV schedule? Thanks to Netflix and other streaming services, you can watch TV shows and movies whenever you want. Viewers can even binge watch an entire season or series, all at once.
Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a price. If you watch Netflix on your iPhone using cellular data, you may be unpleasantly surprised when your bill shows up. Video content can consume a tremendous amount of cellular data, if you’re not careful.
Let’s first take a look at how to find out how much cellular data Netflix is using. Then we’ll explore how to download Netflix videos and adjust video quality in order to conserve cellular data.
How to Check Netflix Cellular Data Usage
Streaming video uses up a lot of bandwidth. A typical HD movie can easily consume up to 6 GB of data. I only get 6 GB of data per month. Simply streaming one movie over cellular data can use up all of my allotted cellular data, subjecting me to overage charges.
Fortunately, iOS makes it easy to find cellular data hogs. Simply tap on Settings > Cellular and scroll down until you see Netflix. The amount of cellular data usage is displayed. Keep in mind, this statistic is cumulative and not based on your billing cycle. You can reset the statistics by scrolling down all the way to the bottom and tapping Reset Statistics.
You may have noticed switches next to each app. These switches control an app’s access to cellular data. If you are worried about using Netflix over a cellular connection, simply turn this setting off. You can always switch it back on again.
Download Netflix Videos to Conserve Cellular Data
Netflix recently added the ability to download select TV shows and movies for offline viewing. This comes in handy when you don’t have access to an Internet connection. It also makes it much easier to use less cellular data. Instead of streaming a video over a cellular connection, you can download it over WiFi and watch it later.
Before you download any videos, you may want to adjust downloaded video quality. By default, Netflix downloads videos at standard quality. This may be fine, depending on the resolution of your screen. These videos also take up less storage space. If you have a modern iPhone with a great screen and plenty of storage space, I recommend going for the best download quality. Tap on the “hamburger” button (three horizontal lines). The Netflix main menu will appear. Scroll down to the bottom and tap on App Settings. Tap on Video Quality in the Downloads section and set it to Higher. While you are here, you may want to turn on the WiFi Only setting for downloads. After all, you’re not going save on cellular data if you’re downloading videos with cellular data. The WiFi Only download setting should be on by default.
Downloading Netflix videos onto your iPhone is easy. First, launch the Netflix app. Next, tap on the “hamburger” button on the top left of the screen. The Netflix main menu will appear. Tap on Available for Download to browse downloadable videos. When you have found a video you like, tap the download button. It looks like an arrow pointing down to a line.
Watching downloaded videos is even easier. Tap on the hamburger button to display the main menu. Next, tap on My Downloads. Tap on one of your downloaded videos. If it is a show, you may be taken to a details screen with individual episodes. In either event, press the play button on a downloaded video to commence playback. Your video will start playing immediately. You can even put your iPhone in Airplane mode and the video will keep playing. It isn’t using any cellular data at all!
How to Delete Downloaded Netflix Videos
If you are downloading a lot of Netflix videos, they’re sure to pile up after a while. This will use up much-needed storage space on your device. No problem. It’s easy to delete Netflix downloads. Simply tap on the blue download icon and select Delete Download from the pop up menu. If you need to delete multiple videos, tap the Edit button on the top right and then tap the red X next to each video you wish to delete. You can also delete all downloaded Netflix videos in one fell swoop. Simply tap on the “hamburger” button and then scroll down and tap on App Settings. Tap on the trash can icon to delete all downloaded videos.
The download strategy takes some planning. I recommend downloading a few videos just in case you need them. The other problem is that not every Netflix video is available for download. Netflix licenses a lot of their content from third parties. Many of these videos are only available for streaming, due to the licensing agreement. Every Netflix original is available for download. Some third-party videos can also be downloaded. Unfortunately, if you can’t download the video you want to watch, you may have to burn through some cellular data. Let’s take a look at how to save cellular data by adjusting Netflix streaming quality.
Adjust Netflix Video Quality to Save Cellular Data
Netflix is one of the few smartphone video apps featuring adjustable video quality. Most video apps do this automatically, based on network speed. They offer the highest quality available, which burns through cellular data like a raging wildfire. I love HBO NOW, but I dare not use it over a cellular connection. There is no way to adjust video quality on HBO NOW and it is a massive data hog.
Before we look at how to adjust Netflix video quality, there is an important issue to address. Video quality is relative to screen size. If you have a large, flat screen TV, 4K video is almost a necessity. On a smartphone screen, one can get by with much less resolution. Your iPhone may be capable of Retina HD resolution, but your eyes cannot perceive the difference, unless you are related to a bald eagle. Going with a lower video resolution isn’t a compromise. You probably won’t even notice, unless you go for the lowest setting, which may be good enough.
The tech industry has done a great disservice with cynical design. Most smartphones offer superfluous specs when it comes to resolution. Apart from Apple, most smartphone manufacturers don’t even offer the highest resolution by default. It is solely for marketing purposes. Don’t worry if your favorite show isn’t streaming at the highest quality. You probably won’t even notice! If there is a small difference, it probably isn’t worth splurging on data hogging video quality.
Changing Netflix video quality is easy. First, tap on the “hamburger” button on the top left. The main Netflix menu will appear. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen and tap on App Settings. The App Settings screen appears. Next, tap on Cellular Data Usage and then pick the appropriate options. Unfortunately, this screen has changed for the worse over the years. There are only two options for cellular video quality. There’s no mention of how much data they use per hour. Online Netflix documentation still refers to the previous cellular data options, which are no longer available. If you are looking to conserve cellular data, choose the Save Data method. I can’t really elaborate on how much data this uses. Even if I test it, it may be a variable bit rate that differs depending on the type of video.
Downloading Netflix Videos is the Best Way to Use Less Cellular Data
While researching and writing this article, I learned that Netflix changed their cellular data options for streaming. They now only have two vague settings for throttling cellular data. Their online documentation is sadly out of date and hasn’t been updated to reflect changes in the app. That’s just sloppy release management.
Given that streaming Netflix over a cellular connection is a wildcard, your best bet is to download Netflix videos ahead of time. Keep a collection of downloaded videos on hand for when you don’t have access to WiFi. If you must stream Netflix over cellular data, the Save Data setting is your best bet. Just make sure to keep an eye on how much data you are using.