Cr48: How much Netflix can you get on Verizon’s free 100MB mobile data?

Finally!  Netflix for the Cr48 Chromebook!  I was starting to think that this day would never come!

This single application may have the potential to make Google’s Chromebook venture relevant for so many more customers now.  As another nice bonus for Chromebook customers, Google provides 100MB of free mobile data from Verizon per month for two years to each customer in the US.  With Netflix now available, my curiosity kicked in and demanded that I test whether it was possible to watch even just one movie or TV episode purely on Verizon’s free mobile data allowance.  So, how much Netflix can you get in 100MB?

Well, the short answer is: not much.  This really didn’t come as a surprise to me, having worked with computer audio/video for years.  Even with an optimal encoding method, there is still a lot of data to transfer for a decent, TV quality audio/video stream.

The long answer is: only about 13 minutes.  My wife and I prepared for this test by adding a TV episode to our Netflix queue while still connected to our home’s wireless network.  Then, we disconnected from the wireless, connected to Verizon’s mobile network (3G), placed a hot slice of pizza into one hand each, and then clicked on the queued episode.  About 12 and a half minutes later there was a network error and the video stopped dead in its tracks.  (Interestingly, the audio portion continued to play flawlessly for another minute or so, leading to the unrelated conclusion that the video stream is buffered independently of the audio stream.)

I will admit that I didn’t have a full 100MB to test with, as I had used just a tad bit prior this month, leaving me with 92MB.  Running the math, 92MB / 13:00 minutes = about 7MB/minute*.  So, what does this data rate mean with regards to watching a complete show?  Let’s look at some estimates, just for fun.  According to our estimate of 7MB/minute…

  • an episode of Spongebob Squarepants (24 minutes) would require about 170MB,
  • an episode of HGTV’s Design Star (44 minutes) would require about 308MB, and
  • Gone With the Wind (3 hours 58 minutes) would require about 1.66GB (1,666MB)

So, while Netflix on Chromebooks and 100MB free Verizon mobile data per month are both great features…they aren’t going to be all that great together.  My hopes were that this would be a fantastic duo of features for use in keeping passengers occupied on a long trip in the car, but it doesn’t look like that idea will work out so well.  (At least not with the free 100MB.)

I found mention in many places online of Verizon offering an unlimited mobile “DayPass” for $15, but every link I followed to their site seemed to be broken as of the time I did my research for this post.  So, I guess I’ll have to pursue other means of in-car entertainment.  :/

Expect a more general review up of Netflix on the Cr48 sometime later this month.

* Note, of course, that this rate may vary wildly based upon the quality of the audio/video stream.  From a visual standpoint Netflix seemed to downsample the stream when I switched to mobile data, so I’m going to consider my 7MB/minute estimate to be reasonable and realistic, at least for the sake of the rough estimation used here.