Android introduced the ability to use external storage as internal storage a few years ago, but this ties the SD card and phone together. If something goes wrong, you won’t be able to get back whatever data was on the card.

Why Would You Format an SD Card or USB Drive as Internal Storage?

If you format the SD card or USB drive as internal storage, your phone’s original storage and the added storage merge into one giant pool. This means applications that don’t normally support saving data to external storage can take advantage of the extra space. It also means you don’t have to manually move apps back and forth between your phone’s storage and an SD card.

This also applies to Android TV boxes. The SHIELD TV ships with either 16GB or 500GB of storage, with the larger version being $100 more than the smaller one. I personally need a bit more than 16GB, but it’s cheaper for me to buy a USB drive and format that as internal storage. That gives me enough room for all my games but still saves me money compared to the larger tier.

When you format the drive or card as internal storage, it gets encrypted and treated as part of the phone’s storage. Anything that was on the drive is erased when it’s formatted, and trying to remove the drive could cause your device and apps to crash since some of the files they need aren’t where they should be.

Can You Recover Data From the External Storage Formatted as Internal Storage?

Probably not. If the SD card or USB drive is removed, you’ll get a notification saying you need to put the card or drive back into the device. If you do put the card or drive back in and your device recognizes it correctly, everything should go back to normal. Your apps will open as they should, and all your photos and videos will be there.

But, you can’t just put the drive or SD card into another phone or your computer to look at whatever files may be there. Since it’s encrypted, you can only use it on the device with which you set it up as internal storage. Trying to plug the drive in somewhere else won’t work, and if you ever want to use the drive in another device, you’ll need to reformat it first. Finally, if the card or drive dies inside your device (unlikely as that may be), you’ll probably need to factory reset your device to get it working again.

How To Prevent Losing Your Data

Even if your SD card or USB drive is working fine, take a few minutes to back up your most important data to a cloud provider. You can have photos and videos back up automatically, so you don’t even have to think about backing them up on a regular basis.

You can always download digital purchases like movies and TV shows again in the future, and if your favorite game doesn’t support cloud saves, it’s not the end of the world to play through it again.

Using an SD card as internal storage is great, but take a few minutes to back things up just to be safe!

Profile Photo for Tom Westrick Tom Westrick
Tom Westrick has been writing about technology professionally since 2014, but he started poking and prodding at electronics as a teenager. His work has been published on Android Central, iMore, and Windows Central. When he's not writing, Tom is a Tier-1 Help Desk Technician, songwriter, and guitar player.
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