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What is expandable memory?
For many phones, the storage onboard is what you get, and that’s it. Phones with expandable memory allow you to add storage if you find you need it in an easy and inexpensive way.
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When you’re looking into purchasing a new smartphone, you’ll notice a number in gigabytes listed after the phone model. For example, an iPhone XS is sold in three variants: 64GB, 256GB and 512GB. That amount of gigabytes (GB) listed refers to the amount of core storage on the device.
As we all take more photos and videos on our smartphones, we tend to fill up that available storage rather quickly, at which point you’ve got to either offload some apps or videos to free up some space.
A phone with expandable storage via microSD cards makes it easy to bump up the storage on your phone via the use of tiny microSD cards.
What is a microSD card?
A microSD card is a tiny fingerprint sized storage device that can be inserted into a smartphone with expandable memory capabilities. Most cards offer somewhere between 32GB and 512GB of storage capacity. The current SDXC card format (which not every phone will support) supports a maximum size of 2TB. Though 2TB are not commercially available yet, they might not be far off. Nintendo's latest console, the Nintendo Switch supports up to 2TB microSDXC.
Which phones have expandable memory?
Modern handsets with support for microSD cards are listed in the table below:
We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you're interested in before making a decision.
Does my phone support expandable storage?
Before you start (and, indeed, before you even purchase a card), the first thing to do is check that your phone actually supports expandable memory.
The bad news if you’re a fan of Apple’s iPhone line is that none of them do. Apple has never supported microSD card expansion directly for any of its phone or tablet products. That includes the iPhone 8, iPhone X and iPhone XS handsets. On the Android side of the fence, the general rule is that microSD expansion will be supported by most phones.
On the Android side of the fence, Samsung briefly dipped its toes into the fully sealed, non-expandable space with the Samsung Galaxy S6, but it reversed that position with the Galaxy S7 and has continued to offer expandable storage for its phones since.
Most other Android phones support memory expansion. It is also worth checking whether or not your phone of choice supports newer higher-capacity microSD formats.
The SDXC standard should be supported by most new phones, but older handsets may be limited to smaller capacity cards. There's no point in purchasing a higher capacity card if it won't work with your phone.
How do I put a microSD card in my phone?
Insertion of the microSD card will vary by phone model, but there are two main approaches to it. Many metal body phones offer a microSD card slot on the side of the phone, similar to the SIM card slot, and in some cases presented in the same carrying caddy. In this case, inserting your microSD card is a simple matter of popping open the tray with a fingernail or a supplied SIM tool (or in a pinch, an unfolded paperclip or pin) and dropping the microSD card in. Phones with removable batteries often place the microSD card slot in with the SIM card
Phones with removable batteries often place the microSD card slot in with the SIM card slot and may require removing the battery in order to change or add a microSD card. If that describes your phone, you are much better off properly shutting your phone down before yanking the battery out and adding your microSD card.
What about Nano Memory (NM) cards?
In 2018, Huawei unveiled a new type of memory card specifically for its smartphones. Dubbed "Nano Memory" and abbreviated to NM, these memory cards function identically to regular microSD cards but are slightly smaller and only usable in Huawei's devices.
Along with only supporting Huawei devices, NM cards are limited to a maximum of 256GB capacity and only support speeds up to 90MB/s. Not only can you find larger and faster microSD cards, the price of NM cards is currently considerably higher than equivalent microSD cards. Unless the standard is picked up by other smartphone manufacturers, the long-term success of NM memory remains up in the air.
My phone doesn’t support expandable memory. What can I do?
There are a couple of avenues worth exploring if you’ve got a handset with no microSD expansion capabilities. The first and most obvious is to take stock of what you’ve got on the phone, working out where you can save space by offloading content.
If you’ve never backed up your photos to your computer, that can save considerable storage space, as well as being a good general backup precaution. If you’ve got heaps of applications that you rarely or never use, delete them. Most apps can be downloaded again from app stores if you need them again.
Consider also offloading some content like photos, videos and music to streaming or cloud services. Rather than having a large music library loaded on your phone, use a service such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music or Google Play Music to deliver your tunes. Be aware however that this means you’ll be using data for each song play, which can add up in cost terms if you’re not connecting via Wi-Fi. For these people, we would recommend a high-usage mobile plan.
Why don’t I have all the storage my phone says I should have?
One thing you’ll quickly work out is that a phone with 32GB of storage doesn’t actually give you 32GB of available space to store your files and apps on. That’s partially down to a quirk of the way that data is counted, but mostly because the quoted figure for a given smartphone relates to the entire amount of available storage on the device.
That storage has to include the operating system as well, which eats up storage space all of its own, especially if you opt for a model with a lot of preinstalled applications.
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