It’s 2023 and I’m still using an SD card on my phone: what can I do and how is it different from my phone’s storage?

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If you have an Android phone with a tray to insert a microSD, a world of possibilities opens up before you: these are the main advantages and limitations


Although they are seen less and less in new phones (especially if they are high-end), there are still a good number of mobile phones with an SD tray (in practice, microSD, but from here on we will abbreviate to SD for simplicity), a way to have more storage space. The trend points to extinction in the medium term, although for the sake of simplicity manufacturers can offer you more integrated storage at a price significantly higher than that of a card. But all that glitters is not gold, since there are cases in which relying on an SD for certain tasks has a toll to pay. What is it like to use an SD card on an Android mobile today?

The process for inserting and using the card has not changed: remove the tray, insert it and return it to its place. A message appears showing you two options: Scan or Eject. With a standard Android mobile, Google Files starts and shows you the contents of the card, which you can open with compatible apps. Likewise, you can copy content from the device to the card and vice versa. Roughly, the same as when you insert a USB memory into a computer. There is small print.

Two possible uses: “internal” secondary storage or removable drive

From Android Marshmallow it is possible to use an SD card almost as if it were part of the mobile’s internal storage or as a portable and removable storage device. Of course, it is not available for all makes and models. You will find this option in ‘Settings‘ > ‘Storage‘ and there, in the SD card option (in my case, by swiping), ‘Format‘.

The Default option is format for portable storage, thus treating the card as what it is, a removable portable drive, allowing you to move files to or from it. This option is ideal for, for example, saving your photos and videos and taking them to other devices. Of course, the information is not encrypted.

However, those Android phones that allow you to use the SD or internal storage or portable storage device will have another option.Format for internal storage‘, which completely erases the drive and transforms it into secondary storage. In this case the unit will be encrypted and control will be carried out by Android. Let us explain: even if you see it as a separate drive, you will not be able to explore it independently or move files. Thus, Android will choose where to install future applications that you download or save (normally, in the one with the most available space, although you can modify it).

So, Do I use the SD as a removable external storage drive or as a second memory on my phone? In general, the first option is recommended in most situations, the second being restricted to two cases: your phone has little free space and you have a really fast card (thus, a UHS-I A2 is a good option). In this case, you will not be able to remove the card to open it in another device to extract data without formatting it, erasing all the information in the process.

Assuming your SD will now be like internal storage more free of your control, what comes next concerns using a card as a portable external storage drive.

Install applications on the card: procedure and limitations

We have already seen how to convert an SD into something like another internal memory of the phone, so if you choose to leave it as a removable external drive, There is also the option to install applications and games although with nuances and limitations (both in apps and in the phone’s customization layers).


First, you won’t be able to do it directly: first you will have to install them on the phone and then on ‘Settings‘ > ‘Applications‘, enter the one you want to change and ‘Storage‘, modify it. But you won’t be able to do it with all of them, although this option depends on the development team that created it. Thus, apps like Telegram or Instagram do allow it, but others like WhatsApp or Spotify do not. If you take a look, you’ll discover that there are plenty of heavy-duty apps (like games) that you can do this with.

Eye, than an app be left changing storage to SD doesn’t mean you have to. The reason? Speed: The internal storage of the mobile phone is generally much faster than the best SD cards, so moving demanding games is not a good idea from a performance point of view.

Save media to SD card

In general, mobile phones that have the SD option as a removable storage unit allow you to save photos and videos to SDThis is the case of Xiaomi or Samsung mobile phones.



An interesting question in these times of the streaming era has to do precisely with the possibility of save content offline for example, watch a Netflix series while you are traveling on a plane without internet. As we detailed above, it will depend on the development team, although in general it is possible: Spotify, Amazon Music, Netflix (here you go how to do it), Amazon Prime Video… although there are exceptions, such as HBO Max, that doesn’t allow it. So if it is your primary objective, it is advisable to check the compatibility of the app and look for a good fast and high capacity card for your mobile.

Other potentially interesting applications as candidates for switching to an SD are Google Maps (remember that it allows you to download offline maps), Amazon Kindle or Google Chrome.

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