To stream or download…that is the question. Tech Talker Eric Escobar wrote this great blog about the differences between streaming and downloading, and we thought we’d share it with you. Look for another blog from us soon that elaborates more on how streaming is changing people’s use of TV technology. In the meantime, thanks to Eric for a great piece!

June 18, 2015,  Episode #177

This week, I’m going to compare streaming versus downloading. I had a lengthy conversation with my dad today trying to explain the difference between streaming and downloading. I thought this would make a great episode for those who are confused about it.

OK, first let’s define streaming and downloading. Downloading is when you take a file, whether it be a video, music, or some other data, and you copy it from a device or the Internet to your computer or phone. Downloading a file makes a copy of that file on whatever device you are using.

On the other hand, streaming is when your device receives data constantly. Think of streaming like your radio: you can listen to the content, but can’t save it (easily at least).

“So what are the benefits, and when would you use each of these, Tech Talker?”

Well, I’m glad you asked. You probably run into streaming most frequently with services such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, etc.

These services are great because they allow you a huge selection of content that you don’t need to have stored on your local laptop, desktop, or phone. You would have to have a mountain of hard drives to be able to download the vast amount of music and video these services have if you wanted to view it without the Internet!

This means all you need is an Internet browser to listen to or watch all of that content. The only downside is that streaming content requires that you use data—sometimes a ton of it! As a quick example, my two cousins were on a road trip with their parents and they both wanted to watch Netflix. They both watched different movies on their smartphones, which used their family data plan. In just over an hour, they reached their data limit.

This has to do with the fact that they were streaming video. Video is one of the most data-intensive types of content to stream. If you think about it, it makes sense: you’re viewing at least 30 pictures a second, along with audio. Watching Netflix on high resolution can burn through 2GB of data in no time at all.

Streaming music services aren’t nearly as bad because audio is not nearly as data intensive. You can listen to a lot of music before you reach your data limit!

Streaming excels when you’re on WiFi (or have an unlimited data plan) because then it doesn’t matter how much data you stream. It’s great when you have devices such as smartphones or laptops with solid state drives with little storage, because it means you don’t have to download the files directly to your device.

It’s also really nice because you can upload a video to YouTube, send the link to that video to anyone in the world, and they can watch it instantly instead of having to wait minutes to hours for the video to download before they can watch it. With this, you can watch the video before having to wait for it to download.

OK, so streaming is pretty great, right? It is, but it has some drawbacks. For example, I’m writing this podcast while I’m trapped on a plane without any WiFi or cell data. That means I don’t have access to any streaming music or streaming video, such as Pandora or YouTube.

Another caveat to streaming is that it sucks up quite a bit of battery life on portable electronics. Not only are you watching a video or listening to audio when you stream content, but you’re also using the WiFi or cell phone radio in your device constantly in order to communicate with the Internet. This uses a massive amount of power, so much so that after you stream a movie, I bet you can feel your device getting warm!

That’s a huge bummer, but it’s not limited to phones. There are plenty of other situations where you might not have great cell service, your data plan might be limited, or you might be in a remote place.

That’s where downloading comes in handy. Before I leave to go somewhere I know doesn’t have service, I’ll often download music and my favorite QDT podcasts to my phone. That way they are stored on my device and I don’t need any service at all to listen to them.

The same goes for video. I will download any video to my phone or laptop before I head out somewhere just in case I don’t have any reception or WiFi. Downloading is great, but it requires that you do it beforehand. It also requires that you have storage on your device to hold all of the content.

This downloading/streaming situation really comes into play when you’re using data abroad. Often when traveling abroad you will have a much more limited data plan than you would when you’re at home. I find this to be extremely dumb, and it’s completely dependent on the phone company, but I won’t rant about that.

If you’re trying to navigate using maps on your phone, your phone will normally “stream” maps to your phone. What this means is that as you navigate your map, your phone will download pictures of the map and data to your device, so that it doesn’t have to store a ton of map information you may never need. This is a pain, though, when you’re on limited data.

One thing I just discovered, though, is that using Google Maps, I can save large portions of maps to my device when I’m on WiFi, and then my phone won’t have to download them when I’m out and about. This is pretty sweet because it reduces the amount of data that I use. However, for it to be useful, it does require that you know where you are going before you leave.

With that, here are some of my favorite tips for streaming and downloading.

  1. Streaming uses data constantly, which can drain your battery and data plan pretty quickly depending on what you are doing.
  2. Streaming is great because it doesn’t require you to have any free space on your device, however, it does require you to have a connection to the Internet.
  3. Downloading is great when you know you won’t have service or will have a limited data plan.
  4. Downloading does require that you have space on your hard drive to store all of the content.
  5. Check for offline options while traveling to limit how much data you actually use when you are out and about.

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!