Digital storage on personal devices: How much is enough?

In the last few decades, our personal devices have metamorphosed from clunky, immovable personal computers to light laptops, tablets, and smartphones. And there's some good news

Updated: Aug 7, 2017 11:31:57 AM UTC
Image: (for illustrative purposes only)

With so many choices today, it is often unclear to consumers how much digital storage they really need. In this article, I’ll try and break down storage in simple terms, to understand what should be considered when you buy a new device.

In the last few decades, our personal devices have metamorphosed from clunky, immovable personal computers to light laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Smartphones today have more computing power and storage capacity than the huge supercomputers from the 1980s and 1990s. During the 1990s, the typical storage capacity for a PC was measured in megabytes (MB). In fact, just before the turn of the millennium, technology experts were debating whether anything more than 2GB (yes, gigabytes!) of disk storage for a desktop was even necessary! Fast forward 20 years, today we have at least ten times the storage on our smart phones One terabyte or 1024 GB is how much we can easily tote around.

So how much storage do you need? The pat answer is “it depends”. It depends on factors like - The kind of device and how you use it
- Is it work-only or an all-in-one?
- Do you have more than one device?
- Your budget

However, the good news here is that storage capacities have been increasing exponentially while prices have been steadily declining. What this means is that by spending a little bit more, you get a lot more storage. Photos, videos, music, apps and games are the top contenders for storage on our personal devices and some usage scenarios around these should help paint a clearer picture about your storage choices.

According to an InfoTrends report, 1.2 trillion photos will be taken in 2017 and 79% of these will be taken on a smartphone. Smartphone cameras are getting better every year, and the increasing resolution means photos of stunning clarity and detail. It also means that the size of each photo is larger, ranging between 2 and 4 MB. Using 4MB as a rough benchmark, 10 photos a day would fill up a 16GB smartphone in about one year. So, if you have a growing family, pets, are an avid traveller or just a keen photographer, it’s best to err on the side of more storage, especially since your phone will need storage for other interesting pursuits as well. Fortunately, there are plenty of reasonably priced options to expand phone storage; flash memory in the form of microSD cards can be easily installed on smartphones to dramatically increase capacity.

Videos take up a lot of storage, whether you shoot them yourself or watch them for entertainment. If you tend to shoot video footage regularly, keep in mind that 1 minute of moderate resolution footage starts at 60MB, but quickly balloons up to 375MB for higher resolutions like 4k. If you download videos or movies, they can take up between a few MB for short videos, to several GB for a full movie. So, if you want to have a stash for offline viewing, then it’s best to go as high as possible on your smartphone (64GB+), tablet (128GB+) or laptop (1TB+) because unless you are scrupulous about cleaning up unwanted files, they add up very fast.

If you are a music buff and like to have a wide range of music available, your best option is a cloud based service that allows you to access your music from any device. However, in the absence of high-speed and inexpensive internet connectivity, you still want to be able to access our music; keep in mind that an average 4 minute song takes up about 5MG. You could easily fill up a gigabyte with a moderate collection of 200 songs. If you listen to downloaded podcasts, they can quickly fill up several gigabytes on your smartphone if you aren’t careful about deleting them after you are done listening.

Apps & Gaming
There’s an app for almost anything you can think of. If you like having a wide variety of apps on your smartphone or tablet, each can take up between 50 to 300 MB depending on their design and purpose. Since apps will continue to add value to our lives, it’s prudent to allocate a generous amount of storage for them.

If you are a casual user of games, you can plan for about 20 to 50 MB for your smartphone. However, if you are an avid gamer, go for the highest storage you can afford, because serious gaming requires serious storage. Each game can take up 10 GB and much more for Virtual Reality offerings. That 1TB laptop will fill up fast!

In general, most tech-reliant consumers today have at least 2 gadgets that they bounce between — a smartphone and a tablet/laptop. Your primary gadget and how heavy a user you are of the above storage-hogging pursuits will help decide the optimum storage option. It is also telling that storage estimates from even a few years ago seem laughably low today. As technology continues to take over our lives, more of our life artefacts will reside in storage. Today there is a wide range of memory and storage products that allow you to quickly and reasonably expand storage on practically any device. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to get as much storage as your budget allows given that storage technology continues to churn out cheaper, faster, lighter and more spacious options.

- By Khalid Wani, Managing Director Sales, Western Digital, India

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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