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Not all smartphones have slots for microSD cards, but for those that do, they can be a real storage lifeline when space on the handset itself is full. A microSD card can sometimes double, triple or even quadruple the storage already available, relieving the strain on the phone and opening up the opportunity to do more with the device. For phones that can support 200GB cards, the storage options are almost limitless.

Not all phones can handle 200GB, however. Flagship Android phones, especially those that came to market in 2016, are generally the only ones that do, whereas past flagships were limited to 128GB (the LG G4 is an exception). Mid-range and affordable handsets that start out with 16GB of storage or less may have lower limits, even down to 32GB.

Using a card also applies primarily, though not exclusively, to Android phones and tablets. Apple iOS devices don’t have built-in memory card expansion. BlackBerrys generally do.

Making use of extra storage

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Sliding in a new microSD card will be recognized by the phone right away (a card with existing data on it may need to be formatted, which erases it), except it won’t automatically shift storage over, or make the card the default storage option. For example, if you want photos and video that you shoot with your phone to save directly to the card, you would need to go to the settings within the camera app and change it from “internal” to “removable” storage.

Other apps for creating content may require the same treatment, whereas in other cases, any extra data is attached to the app itself. Streaming music services that let you save songs for offline listening do this, as do games and other apps that save progress or data you’ve inputted. Thankfully, those music apps do usually offer the option to save offline data to a card. Spotify and Google Play Music are good examples, offering the choice under their respective settings.

You may not need to go full stop and move everything to save to the card, though it does depend on what’s taking up all your space to begin with. For instance, photos and video take up a lot of room if you shoot often, and having all that go to the card automatically can free up significant storage for other things. So, what if you want to move all your existing images and clips to the card to get even more freed up?

Android doesn’t make this seamless, unfortunately. Moving files around does require some patience and the right tools. While Android 6.0 Marshmallow does make it possible to merge the internal and removable storage together, it’s up to you if you want to go that route. Handling it separately works, too, though removing the card for any reason naturally takes all of the data stored on it away until you put it back in.

Moving files

There are a couple of ways that I do this, personally. Other methods are available, but I’ll focus on two in particular.

Using a computer (Windows PC or Mac), you can download and install a free app called Android File Transfer. This app usually starts up when you connect an Android phone or tablet to the computer. In cases where it doesn’t, you may get a notification on your mobile device indicating that it’s charging via USB or asking if you want to enable file transfer as well. Tap “Yes” and the app should then start up.

With a memory card already in the device, Android File Transfer will have tabs for the internal storage and the microSD card. The simplest way to move files over is to copy them to the computer and then copy them again to the card. Not exactly intuitive or graceful, but it works. You can then delete the original files from the internal storage. No matter what, don’t move any Android system files.

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Another option is to use a file management app on your phone or tablet directly. One I like to use is ES File Explorer, though there are plenty others to browse through on Google Play. Using this app, I can see images, music, movies, documents and apps. To transfer one or more files within any of those folders to the microSD card, I hold down on one item, select others if I want to, then tap the three dots on the top right, choose “Move To” and tap the microSD card. Admittedly, there is a small setup process required to actually make the card selectable, but it’s not difficult.

Either of these methods would make it easy to transfer an entire library of photos and video to the card. There could be others, and if you have one that works for you, go for it. If you’re transferring gigabytes worth of data, consider doin git overnight because transfer speeds could take awhile.

Transferring apps

There has been some confusion over this because the experience isn’t consistent across devices. I wasn’t able to easily transfer apps to a card on an HTC 10, and I have experienced similar roadblocks on Samsung devices, too. It seems to be simpler to do on some devices compared to others.

Preloaded and system apps can’t be moved at all, so those are basically untouchable. There is a risk wherein moving apps and games to the card could make them inoperable. Not only that, but updating them could automatically move the app back to internal storage. Given the issues I’ve personally encountered, I choose not to transfer apps (unless they are huge games over 1GB) and focus instead on having content stored on the card instead. By moving photos, video, streaming music caches and documents to the card, I have an abundance of space for apps on 32GB of internal storage.

Card speed

The speed of today’s memory cards makes them more than viable for media playback and fast transfers. I’ve used cards as low as 16GB to as high as the 200GB Lexar microSDXC high-performance card pictured in this post. I tried the Lexar on three different phones and encountered no functional issues, though I do wish Google could cut down the steps to make the card accessible.

As I noted earlier, you would need to make sure what size card your phone or tablet can handle. A device that is made to take a 32GB, for example, won’t be able to handle a 200GB one if it can only handle microSD cards with the SDHC designation. Devices that can handle SDXC should be able to go as high as 2TB, so 200GB shouldn’t be a problem.

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

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