Understanding and Managing Android Storage
Last Updated: November 2, 2014
One of the common problems encountered with Android tablets and phones is the lack of storage space.
Android devices come with Internal storage i.e. an Internal hard disk.
This is usually between 4-32GB depending on your device.
Many devices also have a SD card port where you can add external storage using SD cards, usually up to 64GB
Even with external storage the amount of file storage space on a tablet/phone is incredibly small when compared to a basic laptop/PC which tend to have around (250GB to 1TB).
Most people will encounter the insufficient storage space message, and will need to take steps to avoid running out of storage.
In this tutorial we will look at the different types of storage available and how to free up, and get more storage.
Storage And Memory (RAM)
Your Android device has two very different types of storage.
The first type is RAM and is the storage space used by Apps when they are running.
This is typically between 500MB and 2GB with 1 GB being typical.
This is often known as working memory and any data stored is lost when you turn off the tablet.
[outline]A shortage of RAM means that your device will run slowly.[/outline]
The second type of storage is hard storage provided by SD technology and is the equivalent of hard disks that are found on PCs.
All android device come with internal storage.
The more internal storage the more Apps and data you can fit on your device without having take measures to increase it.
The Internal storage is provided by an internal SD card, and is used for the following:
- Operating system
- User data
Android divides your available internal storage into partitions of different sizes.
When viewing the storage space with the in built storage viewer/manager most of these partitions aren’t visible.
The screen shot below shows my Nexus 7 storage using the storage space App and also the in built tool located in settings>storage.
Notice how the in built tool doesn’t include the operating system space.
As you can see from the screen shot I have 7GB of space left and have used around 6 GB (13.24GB -7GB).
[outline style=”yellow”]With my android (version 5.1) All of the remaining storage space is available for Apps and user data.[/outline]
The screen shot below shows the storage space on an older tablet running android v 4.2.2.
This time the tablet is showing 3 partitions and not 2. They are: Reserved, Apps and Data.
On this older tablet part of the storage was reserved for Apps and App data only . This is usually called Internal storage but sometimes the term photo storage is used.
The other part is for user data e.g.photos etc which is often called SD storage.
The problem with this arrangement is that if the Apps partition becomes full you can’t install any new Apps even though the data partition had lots of space.
[outline style=”yellow”]This tablet is frequently giving me insufficient storage space messages when I try to install large Apps even though I appear to have lots of free storage space[/outline]
Storage Space Naming
Like me you have probably been confused by the how Android, and the various Apps name the storage space and partitions.
From what I can gather these are the commonly used names and their meanings.
- Used to cover the entire physical internal storage .
- Also used to mean the storage space available only to Apps (older android versions).
- Also used to mean the storage space available to Apps and data (newer android versions).
The term is generally used in file managers, and used to refer to the space available for user data i.e. photos,music etc.
This storage area is accessible to your PC/Laptop when connected with a USB cable.
Note: SDcard storage is always located on the internal SD card.
Refers to storage space available on a physical external SD card inserted into an SD port on the device.
Checking Your Current Storage Use
Android has a built in tool for showing storage allocation.
It shows you how much free storage space you have and what is taking up the existing space.
From there you can decide how best to mange it.
Go to Settings>Storage. This is what I see on my 16 GB Nexus 7 Tablet
You can see the amount of space used, and the free space still available.
If you scroll down you can see a usage breakdown based on type e.g. Apps, video,audio etc
If you press on Apps for example you are taken to the Apps manager where you can manage your Apps.
If you are running out of storage space you will need to free up some space or increase it.
Freeing Storage Space
The most common ways of freeing up/recovering storage space is to:
- Deleting App Data
- Move Apps to External SD card
- Delete unused Apps
- Delete Large Files like movies, pictures and music
Deleting App Data
Apps have to types of data associated with them they are App data and cached data.
Deleting cached data is a very quick and easy method of freeing up storage space in a hurry. Many Apps cache a lot of data so that they run faster.
You can delete all cached data or you can delete it on an App by App basis.
Deleting cached data is safe but you may find that offline content is gone when you do so, and you will need to connect to the Internet to refresh it.
Some Apps store setup information as part of the App data and so Deleting App Data is not advised as you will need to re-enter setup information to use the App.
Moving Apps and Photos to external storage
To move an App to external storage go to Settings>Apps and press the App you want to move it should open and display a screen similar to the one below.
If the SD card option is shown highlighted then it can be moved. If it is grayed out then it can’t be moved.
To move it to the SD card press move to SD.
Once done you should see that a move to tablet option is now available if you want to move it back.
In the screen shot above the SD card is the external storage SD card.
Deleting Unused Apps
You should also delete any unused Apps which will recover storage space, but it isn’t likely to be that much.
[outline]However in the case of older tablets with the separate App partition this is usually the solution to insufficient space message when trying to install new Apps.[/outline]
See Understanding an managing Apps for details.
Deleting Large Files
For most people music,videos and pictures will be the big storage users.
If this is the case then you will need to move them off your android device, and onto some form of external storage.
The easiest and most practical method is to move them to your PC. See How to transfer files from Android to a PC using USB.
However another popular method and my preferred method is to move them to cloud storage. See below
Once you have copied the movies, pictures etc to your external storage you can delete them from Android.
Increasing Storage Space
A shortage of hard storage means that you will not be able to install new Apps or take photos etc until you free up space or increase the storage space by using external storage.
Note: you cannot increase the internal storage space, you can only free it by moving or deleting Apps,photos or videos
The most common type of external storage is provided by an external SD card.
However your device must support an SD or Micro SD slot. External SD cards offer between 4 and 64GB of extra storage space.
External storage space will be shown when you view your storage space using the Android storage manager.
You can also use external storage for your photos and videos and also to install some Apps, however not all Apps can be installed or moved to this storage.
External Cloud Storage
All android devices will allow you to use cloud storage space. The amount of cloud storage space you can use is unlimited, and is the best way of increasing the storage space available on your device.
This type of external storage can not be used for installing Apps and will not show when viewing your local storage.
It is however very flexible and gives you access to the moved data from any location provided you have an Internet connection.
See using Using Google drive on ANdroid for more details.
In Android Marshmallow (6.0) Android introduced a new feature called adoptable storage.
This allows you to take external storage and use it like Internal storage by adopting it.
However once adopted you cannot remove it, and the storage is much slower than Internal storage.
The consensus on the Internet seems to be not to use this feature unless you are desperately short of internal storage. See this article
Understanding Storage Units
For those of you who are confused by the way storage is measured here is a quick overview of Gigabytes (GB )and Megabytes(MB) and some examples to help you make more sense of it.
1GB =1 thousand MBs and 1MByte =1million bytes.
Heavy users of storage space are video files and photos.
Examples: A typical photo might use 2MB which means that you could store 500 photos on 1GB of storage.
An AVI movie might use 500MB which means that you could store 2 movies on 1GB of storage.
Light users of storage space are documents e.g word and pdf files,books etc and emails.
Examples: A document like a letter might use 100kbytes which means that you could store 10 on 1MB and 10,000 on 1GB.
An email without attachment uses around 10KB. Therefore you could store 100 emails on 1MB and 100,000 on 1GB.
Common Questions and Answers
Q- I get Storage Errors When Installing Apps from Google Play what can I do
A- If you try to download an App of file from the Google play store and get the Insufficient Storage error like the one shown below:
On Cheap/inexpensive and older Tablets that have only allocated a small space for Apps this is a big problem.
Try clearing the cache and/or removing unused Apps.
Q- I am trying to remove an App but there is no uninstall option what can I do?
A- Some Apps that come with the tablet don’t have an uninstall option you just have to leave them.
Related Tutorials and Resources:
- Understanding tablet basic specifications
- Understanding the Android File and Directory Structure
- Understanding Android photo storage
- Video transfer files to PC using USB