Difference Between Streaming and Downloading

Key Difference – Streaming vs Downloading

The key difference between streaming and downloading is that streaming is dependent on the internet connection and the connection speed while it does not require storage. Downloading, on the other hand, needs hard disk storage but does not depend on where you are or your internet connection.

When a file like a video, music, or data is copied from one device or the internet to another device like a phone or a computer, it is known as downloading. When downloading a file, a copy of the file is made on the used device.

Streaming involves a device receiving data in a consistent manner. Streaming of content is similar to listening to radio. The content can be listened to but cannot be saved in an as easy manner as with downloading.

What is Streaming

Streaming is done on services like Hulu, Pandora, Spotify Youtube and Netflix. These services have a huge amount of content that can be viewed without the need to store it onto laptop or desktop hard drive or phone. This content includes music as well as videos. The advantage of streaming is that you will only need an internet browser powered by the internet in order to listen or watch content. The downside of streaming is it will use up a lot of data. Videos are easily the most data intensive and they consume a lot of data, especially while being used in streaming. It is equivalent to watching many pictures per second with the addition of audio. If the video consists of high resolution, it will consume even more data.

Audio, on the other hand, is less data intensive and will consume fewer data comparatively. So you will be able to listen to a lot of audio when compared with videos.

When using an unlimited data plan or when using wi-fi, streaming will consist of optimal quality. Smartphones and laptops with little solid state drives take advantage of such a feature as there is no need to download the video in order to watch it.

With the help of streaming, a video can be uploaded on to YouTube and watched instantly anywhere around the world.Although there are advantages of streaming there are also drawbacks. One of the key drawbacks is when you are stuck on a plane without Wifi or cell data streaming can become useless. This will bar streaming access to music as well as video sites like Youtube and Pandora.

Streaming also consumes a considerable amount of power, especially on portable devices. A consistent connection with wifi or cell phone radio is needed to connect to the internet while listening to audio and video via streaming. This will consume a lot of power from the device, and you will be able to feel the device getting warm while streaming a movie. There are also situations where there may be no call service; you may be stuck in a remote location, or you may have a limited data plan that may restrict your streaming capability.

Main Difference - streaming vs Downloading

What is Downloading

Downloading becomes handy when streaming is not a possibility for a variety of reasons as mentioned above. Downloading music and videos to the phone will enable you to access the data without the need of reception services. If Wi-Fi reception is not available in a location, files like videos can be downloaded onto a phone or laptop. Downloading requires storage on your device.

When data is used abroad, downloading and streaming come into play. When you are aboard, the available data plan would be limited when compared with when you are at home. When viewing applications like Google Maps, data is streamed to the device. Pictures of maps will be downloaded onto the device instantly as you do not need to store these maps. This can be a great struggle when on limited data. With Google maps, there is an option where you can save these maps while on Wifi and not need to download it using your limited data. This will limit the amount of data that is being used, but you will need to know where you are going in order to make use of this feature.

Difference between streaming and Downloading

What is the difference between Streaming and Downloading?

Features and Characteristics of Streaming and Downloading

Location of Data

Streaming: The data is stored in another device.

Downloading: The data is stored on the same device that it is to be used on.


Streaming: An internet connection or reception is needed to play video or the music.

Downloading: An internet connection or reception will not be needed as the file will be stored on the device.


Streaming: Streaming can be compared to listening to the radio

Downloading: Downloading can be compared to listening to downloaded songs on an iPad.


Streaming: Streaming will not consume storage. Ideal if storage is minimal on the particular device.

Downloading: Downloading will consume storage.


Streaming: Streaming is dependent on the reception or the internet connection. When traveling by airplane, when you are in a remote location or when data quality is low, streaming is usually useless.

Downloading: Downloading is not dependent on the internet connection and will work anywhere.


Streaming: A video can be watched instantly. There are instances where videos can be streamed as well as downloaded at the same time.

Downloading: The file may take some time to download before it can be used, watched or listened to.


Streaming typically requires a high-speed connection. Streaming is dependent on the quality of the reception and its availability. It does not require space but may not be ideal when traveling. Downloading is not dependent on where you are or on the internet connection. The downloaded file can be used anywhere you go to.

 Image Courtesy: 

“Streaming Music – Music Service – Smartphone” by Blue Coat Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

“Downloading: WeTransfer” by  Rob Enslin (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr