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Android Storage Running Low?

12 ways to free up space on your smartphone

When I bought my Android smartphone, I went a little crazy using the cool video features, ripping through the 32Gb storage in a flash. People who game, download a lot of apps or take video may be hungry for space, especially if they opted for a lower-storage phone to save money. If you are feeling the memory squeeze, here are some great cost-effective ways to access more storage for your Android smartphone.

1. Limit the Size of Photos and Videos
Avid picture and video taking takes up a ton of storage. One reason is camera resolution has increased dramatically on phones. But do you really need to shoot at the highest quality when taking a daily selfie with your dog? Check the default settings and choose a lower resolution (or frame rate for video), then change it selectively for important pics or videos.

2. Stream, Don’t Store
Music libraries, video clips and movies take up a huge amount of phone storage. To save space, access these types of files through a service such as YouTube or Netflix. Keep in mind that streaming can eat up data fast if you are not using a WiFi connection. Set up a data usage alert to make sure you don’t go over your allotment and get unexpected overage charges.

3. Get Rid of Bloatware and Data
All phones through major carriers come pre-installed with a variety of apps that most people do not need or want. The easiest way to see the complete list, and delete the ones you don’t need, is in the Settings > Apps menu. You can sort the list by size to see which ones are taking up the most space and delete away. Apps can always be reinstalled later, so if you haven’t used it in a while, clear it off.

For the apps you want to keep, periodically clearing the data that the programs store will free up more space. For Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later, tap on Storage, then clear the data. Doing this may lose your history in game apps, unless your data is backed up separately such as through a Google Play Games account. You are clearing any and all settings that go along with that app and basically starting over as if it were the first time you installed it.

4. Clear Your App Cache
Wiping out phone cache, the little bits of memory computers store each time an app is opened, can be deleted app by app. In most phones, you can clear cache by going into Settings > Apps. From there, click on the app whose cache you want to clear. Then, under Usage, select Storage, then Cache and the Clear cache button, if available.

Person recording a concert video on cell phone

5. Add a MicroSD Card
While smartphones with MicroSD capability are getting harder to find, there are still a few great Android phones with a slot.  A MicroSD card is an easy and cheap way to add storage space to your device. Cards do vary in read and write speeds, but you should be able to snag a good quality Class 10 64Gb card for about $30.

If you plan to keep the card installed permanently in your phone, format it as internal storage during the setup process. The phone system will then automatically copy some apps and data onto it. Just keep in mind that it will be formatted to the device, so the card won’t work with your PC or other devices. Alternatively, format it as portable storage, to be able to remove it when transferring files, or to take it out and re-use it when you get a new phone.

6. Back Up to the Cloud
It’s always a good ideal to back up essential data from your phone, and the cloud is a convenient place. Google Photo will relieve image file space by providing unlimited storage if you are willing to limit photo resolution to 16 megapixels and video resolution to 1080p. Higher resolutions can be saved, but the storage counts against your Google Drive quota. Install the Google Photo app, and set it to automatically back up your photos and videos. If an image hasn’t been backed up yet, a cloud icon with a line through it will appear at the top.

Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox are other free cloud storage spaces where you can back up any kind of files. With files saved in an alternate location, you can worry a little less when deleting them off your phone.

7. Use USB OTG
If you don’t have a MicroSD slot or a cloud connection to back up files, the solution may be as easy as inserting a USB drive into your phone. A USB adaptor came with my last Samsung phone, and I wondered what else I could connect with it. Turns out it’s a lot. USB OTG stands for On-The-Go. Just hook up the connector and attach a memory stick or removable hard drive. Tap the Android system notification labeled USB drive, and transfer files off your phone. You can also access files the other direction, such as playing stored videos on your phone. OTG works with other USB peripherals such as keyboards, mice, game controllers and much more.

If your phone didn’t come with an adapter, you can get an OTG connector for about $5 on Amazon. Just make sure to check whether your phone supports USB OTG or not by using this simple app first.

8. Good Housekeeping
This may be a no-brainer, but if there are files you can live without on your phone, get rid of them. That huge pdf service manual you downloaded to fix a problem? Delete. You can always download it again. Go to Settings > Device Care > Storage and take a hard look at data in the User data area. Your Downloads folder is another place to check.

9. Delete Old Messages
It drives my husband crazy, but I do not delete old messages because I often have to refer back to them for work. You can either delete old messages, as he does, or archive messages as I do, and keep the ability to access them. Either way will free up space on your phone.

From the Messages app:

  1. Open the Messages app
  2. Touch and hold each conversation that you want to archive or delete
    1. Archive
      To put the selected conversations into your archives, tap Archive. Archived conversations disappear from the Home screen, but you can still read them.
    2. Mark All as Read
      Tap More, Mark all as read.
    3. Delete
      To delete the selected conversations from Android Messages, tap Delete. Deleted conversations are removed from Android Messages, but not from any other messaging apps on your device.

10. Check Social Settings
If you scroll through social media and videos automatically start playing, that will eat up storage space. Facebook has a data saver setting that will reduce image sizes and turn off auto-play videos (you can still play videos by tapping on them). Check your other social apps to find similar options to reduce storage space.

11. Get Help From a Storage Master
Many phone manufacturers include storage manager apps to do some of the above-mentioned functions to help sort and delete unused files. Samsung has Clean Master in Settings under Device maintenance. LG has Smart Doctor. You can also download a free manager app, such as Google’s Files Go. One nice thing about Files Go is it not only gives you a neat breakdown of files so you can see what can be deleted, it also provides an in-app option to back up files to the cloud.

12. Perform a Factory Reset
This is a last resort, but if you are having serious issues, you can wipe out all data at once on your phone and start fresh by doing a factory reset. Just make sure anything you do want to save is backed up to a storage device or in the cloud first. Reset your device in Settings > Accounts and backup. A factory reset is a good idea if you are selling or donating your phone to prevent unwanted people from accessing your data. Make sure to also remove the memory card and sim card.

Some of the steps mentioned assume you have a newer smartphone running the latest Android operating system updates. Learn how to check your Android version here.

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