How-To Geek

Five Ways to Free Up Space on Your Android Device

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Android phones and tablets can fill up quickly as you download apps, add media files like music and movies, and cache data for use offline. Many lower-end devices may only include a few gigabytes of storage, making this even more of a problem.

The less space you have, the more time you’ll have to spend micromanaging the internal storage. If you find yourself regularly running out of space and needing to manage it, consider getting a phone or tablet with more storage next time around.

Use Android’s Built-in Storage Tool

Modern versions of Android have a Storage pane that will show you exactly what is taking up storage on your device. To find this, open the Settings screen and tap Storage. You can see how much space is used up by apps and their data, by pictures and videos, audio files, downloads, cached data, and miscellaneous other files.

Tap an option here to see exactly what’s using up space and delete it. For example, you could tap Apps to see a list of apps using up the most space and remove them. Tap downloads to view your downloads list where you can remove files and tap cached data to clear the data of all installed apps. Use the other options to view which files are taking up space and remove the ones you don’t want.

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When dealing with apps, bear in mind that the app itself, its data, and its cache all add up to the total space used by the app. For example, if you have Spotify installed and you’ve cached lots of music offline, Spotify may be using over 1 GB of space. You could clear Spotify’s cache to forcibly remove this all, or launch the Spotify app and tell it to cache less data for offline listening. Any app that caches data for offline use will function like this. In the screenshot below, Google Play Music is only 40.66 MB in size on its own, but it’s storing 2.24 GB of cached music.

You can see how much space an app is using for those data files and remove the cached data for an individual app by tapping it in the Apps list, accessible by tapping Apps on the storage pane or by tapping Apps on the main Settings screen.

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See Which Folders and Files Are Taking Up the Most Space

Android’s built-in tool is helpful for visualizing the space used by different types of data, but not the exact amount of space used by individual folders and files. For this, you’ll need a third-party app like the excellent and free DiskUsage. Install it from Google Play, launch it, and you can scan your device’s file system.

Use the visualization to see which folders and files are taking up the most space. You can delete them right from within the Disk Usage app to free up space. For example, you might see a leftover folder from a game or app you’ve uninstalled. That app should have removed that data, but you can do it by hand with this app. Select a folder or file, tap the menu button, and tap Delete to remove it.

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Bear in mind that you could delete files that apps depend on here. Don’t delete data belonging to an app unless you’re willing to lose that data. In many cases, the data should be synced online in some way and you should just be able to re-download the data if you need it.

Add an SD Card and Move Data There

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Many Android devices still ship with microSD card slots, although they are becoming less and less common on newer devices. If your phone or tablet does have a microSD card slot, you can purchase a microSD card and insert it into your device to gain more storage. The storage you gain can hold music, videos, pictures, and other media files–and, in some cases, even apps (see the next section). Some apps may allow you to move their cache locations to the SD card, too.

If your device already has an SD card, this is a good option if you want more storage. MicroSD cards are fairly cheap, so you can upgrade and get a lot more storage for a fairly low price. A quick look at Amazon shows 32 GB cards for $10 and 64 GB cards for $19.

After installing the SD card, format it as portable or internal storage (if your phone has Android 6.0 Marshmallow), then connect your device to your computer and move your music, media, and other files to the SD card’s free space.

Move Apps to the SD Card

Depending on your phone and version of Android, you can also move apps to the SD card to free up space.

Android Marshmallow users can do this by formatting the SD card as internal storage. Then, the SD card will be seen as local storage on that device. The system will determine which apps make the most sense to move to the SD card, then go ahead and move them over. You can’t discern between true internal storage and an SD card formatted for internal use, so there’s now way to manually move individual apps over. (You also won’t be able to move the SD card between devices anymore, unless you erase and re-format it.)

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If you are running a pre-Marshmallow version of Android, you can move some apps using Android’s built-in features, or move any app by rooting your phone and partitioning your SD card. You can find instructions for both of those methods in this guide.

Move Photos to the Cloud

Photos can take up a lot of space on a modern smartphone. Rather than storing them all on your phone, you could use an app that automatically uploads photos you take to an online account like Google Photos, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Flickr, or something else. Google Photos is integrated into the “Photos” app on your Android device and offers unlimited storage of photos. You can access them from within the Photos app or at photos.google.com on any computer.

However you do this, you can then use the Photos app on your device to remove the copies of photos stored on your device itself, potentially freeing up gigabytes of space. You could also just copy those photos to your computer and back them up the old-fashioned way, too. The best part about using this method is that you can still access all of your photos through the Photos app, regardless of whether they’re stored locally or in the cloud. It’s seamless (and brilliant).

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If you don’t like Google Photos, you can also do this with other apps, like Dropbox.

The same trick could work with other files taking up a lot of space on your device—for example, you could upload a large music collection to a service like Google Play Music and stream it back to your device over an Internet connection, caching the files you need instead of storing your entire collection on the phone.


At the end of the day, these tricks will only go so far–so for your next phone, make sure you have enough storage for all your files. But in a pinch, these tricks should help you get a little more space to fit the stuff that matters.

Cameron Summerson is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys on the 'net, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, chugging away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.


Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/5/16

  • StevenTorrey

    App caches do need to be manually cleared every couple of weeks. When the phone refuses to download photos to FB with the note, 'not enough memory'--then app caches need to be cleared. CCLeaner is also available for Android and will clear the phone of excess.

  • DMcCunney

    I have Android tablets running 4.2.2 Jellybean and 4.4.2 KitKat. Both are low end devices aimed at the budget market, and limited storage is an issue.

    Both can take an external microSD card, and both have a 32GB card inserted. That's fine for data. Apps are another matter.

    Internal storage is partitioned, with some allocated as apps storage where programs live, and some allocated to an internal SD card. Some apps can be partially installed on the SD card. Whether they can is a matter of how they were designed by the developers. But even with apps that could be being placed on the external card, space was very rapidly exhausted.

    The solution was rooting. The problem with storing apps on an external card is running them from the card. SD cards come formatted as FAT32. It's well understood, widely implemented, and can be read from and written to by just about any OS in use. But programs can't be run from FAT32 under Android, because Android is a Linux based OS, and Linux requires metadata to run programs, like the app's owner and permissions. FAT32 has no place to store the needed metadata.

    When a device has been rooted, you can do what I did: pop the card from the device, put it into an adapter, and access it from Windows. I used a freeware Windows utility to re-partition the card, and carve out a 2GB slice formatted with the Linux ext4 file system. I put the re-partitioned card back in the device, and rebooted. Android saw the new filesystem on the card and mounted it.

    From there, I could use a freeware app from the Play Store called Link2SD. Link2SD can move an app from internal storage to the Linux partition on the microSD, and place a symlink to it in the root filesystem. Linux follows the symlink and loads and runs the app. By default the app is moved, but you can optionally relocate the app's cache and any libraries the app might use as well.

    The older Jellybean device had 787MB of app storage by default. I have everything including the kitchen sink installed and relocated to the card, and the device still thinks it has over half of internal storage free. Everything works fine.

    You must be rooted to use this approach (and you void your warranty) because you are doing system level modifications. How you root your device will vary depending on what device you have, but if you can do it, many things become possible.

    The note in the article appears to misunderstand the issue with KitKat and external card. KitKat will still let you store data on the card. What changed was the security model. Previously, an installed app could read/write any location of the card. KitKat enforces app level permissions. An app can only read from and write to its own directory on the card, and can't look at anything else. This caused problems for apps like file managers that need to see the entire card. If you're rooted, there's a fix for that, too. (Curiously enough, my KitKat device claimed it wasn't needed, do whether the restricting is applied seems to depend on the device manufacturer.

    Dennis

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