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Everything you need to know about using a MicroSD card on Android

Storage space has always been an issue for smartphones, and while managing storage is getting a little easier thanks to some excellent cloud storage options, many still find it necessary to use a MicroSD card for all their storage needs.

Using MicroSD cards can sometimes be a little tricky. From balancing files to choosing the right card in the first place, there’s a lot to keep in mind. That’s why we’ve put together this guide — to help you figure out how to use MicroSD cards on your Android phone.

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Inserting the MicroSD card

Different phones have different methods for installing MicroSD cards, but by far the most common one these days on high-end phones is through the SIM card tray. To install the SD card, you’ll need a small pin or SIM tray opener. Simply push the pin into the small hole in the tray, and the tray should pop open. Place the MicroSD card on the tray in the appropriate spot, then slide the tray back into the phone, making sure it’s the right way up. It’s really that simple!

Portable or internal storage?

Android handles MicroSD cards in two different ways — as portable storage or as internal storage. In the past, all MicroSD cards have been formatted as portable storage, but in newer phones MicroSD cards can act as internal storage, too. The difference is pretty significant, and it could completely change how you use the card.

Portable storage, for example, is basically to an Android phone what a USB drive is to a computer. You can put files on it, then take the card out and transfer them to a computer without doing any damage to the phone’s software or how the phone works. If you want to be able to take the card out of your device regularly or replace it with other cards, this is the type of storage you’ll want to use.

Internal storage is completely different. Instead of the MicroSD card being used as a place to externally store files, the card is treated as an extension of the phone’s internal storage. In other words, apps, save data, and even things like background processes will be saved to the card — meaning that there will be trouble if you take the card out. When you use a MicroSD card as internal storage, the phone formats the card in a way that only it can understand — in other words, you can’t simply take the card out and put a new one in, because your phone won’t work quite right if you do.

So which one should you choose? Well, if you’re fine with moving your files around yourself and want the option of taking the card out down the line, you should go for portable storage. If, however, you want extra storage on your phone but don’t want to have to deal with file management, then internal storage will give your device a bit of a storage bump that the phone will manage itself.

Once you’ve decided how you want to use the MicroSD card, you’ll need to install it. Here’s how to do that.

Using MicroSD card as portable storage

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Installing a MicroSD card as portable storage is quite easy, as is using the card as such. Follow these steps to do so:

  1. Insert the MicroSD card into your phone. A notification will pop up indicating that a USB drive was detected. You’ll then want to tap on the Set Up button on that notification.
  2. You’ll be presented with two options — to use the card as portable storage or as internal storage. Select Use as portable storage.
  3. A new notification will pop up, and if you want to check out what files you have on the SD card, hit the Explore button. Alternatively, head to Settings > Storage & USB, and then tap the name of the SD card. You’ll then be taken to Android’s file manager, which will allow you to view and move files between your phone and the SD card.
  4. If you have an older Android device that doesn’t have a file manager, you can still use third-party apps to juggle your files. A great app for doing this is ES File Explorer, which you can download from the Google Play Store.

Transferring files from computer to SD card

Once your SD card has been formatted as portable storage, you can move files between the SD card and your Android phone’s built-in storage. You can, however, also move files directly to the SD card from your computer. Here’s how to do that.

Mac

Perhaps the easiest way to transfer files from your Mac to your SD card is by using Android File Transfer, which you can download here. Once the app is installed on your computer, simply plug your Android phone in to your computer with a USB cable, then make sure that the phone is connected to transfer files by pulling down your notification tray, and checking what the connection notification says. If it reads charging through USB, simply tap on the notification, and select Transfer Files. Android File Transfer should then automatically open up on your computer, and you can drag and drop files to the phone’s internal storage or to the MicroSD card by tapping on the storage option at the top of the Android File Transfer window.

PC

It’s slightly easier to transfer files to your Android phone and the SD card on that phone with a PC, simply because you don’t need to download the Android File Transfer app to transfer files. Simply plug your device into your computer with the USB cable, check to make sure your phone is ready to transfer files, and you’ll be able to access both the phone’s internal storage and the MicroSD card storage through This PC on your computer.

Using MicroSD card as internal storage

Using the MicroSD card as internal storage is equally as easy. Before following the below steps, you’ll want to ensure that you have a high-speed MicroSD card, as not all SD cards are the same. It can be worth a few extra dollars to buy a high speed SD card. If you’re not sure, don’t worry — Android will warn you if your card is too slow and may result in performance issues. If it does issue that warning, we recommend buying a newer, speedier SD card. Not only that, but even faster SD cards will likely not be as fast as the phone’s built-in internal storage, so you’ll probably be better off buying a phone with more storage in the first place if data transfer speed is something you’re concerned about.

It’s also important to note that during this process, the contents of your SD card will be erased. If you have anything you want to keep, you’ll want to move it first.

Here’s how to install the MicroSD card as internal storage.

  1. Insert the SD card, and when the notification pops up, hit the Set Up button.
  2. You’ll then be given the choice between using the SD card as portable storage or internal storage. Select Use as internal storage.
  3. You can then choose to move photos, files, and some apps over to the SD card if you want to. If you don’t, the data can be migrated over later by heading to Settings > Storage & USB, then tapping the SD card, pressing the menu button, and selecting Migrate data.

Made the wrong decision?

Don’t worry, if you want to switch your card from portable storage to internal storage or vice versa, you can still do so. Head to Settings > Storage & USB, and you’ll see the MicroSD cards you have installed.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If your MicroSD card is set up as portable storage and you want to switch over to internal storage, select the drive, then tap the menu button in the top right of the screen. Then, select Settings, and tap Format as internal. Keep in mind that this will erase the contents of the SD card, so make sure all of your important files have been copied to another location before you do this.

If you want to change from internal storage to portable storage, follow the same steps, but hit Format as portable rather than Format as internal. This will also delete all the contents from the SD card — meaning some apps may not work properly, and you may have to reinstall them in order for them to work. You may also lose some photos and files in this process — so we recommend backing up all your files to a cloud storage service like Google Drive before reformatting.

Best practices

There are a few other things you should keep in mind when using a MicroSD card with your Android phone. Here are a few of those:

Don’t move frequently used apps to MicroSD card

If you’re moving apps over to your MicroSD card, it’s best to move apps that you don’t use every day. That’s because your MicroSD card is slightly slower than your Android’s built-in storage, so apps might not open as quickly as they otherwise would — even though, after they’re open, they’ll be stored in RAM.

Never take the card out without ejecting it

If you formatted your MicroSD card to run as internal storage, then you’ll never want to take it out without first running through the proper processes, like formatting it to run as portable storage. Otherwise, apps may not work and you may lose files on your device.

Keep your files backed up

MicroSD cards generally have higher failure rates than other forms of storage. We recommend backing up the important files on your card to cloud storage like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.

Conclusions

MicroSD cards can be really helpful, but using them does require a little work sometimes. Hopefully, with these tips, you’re armed with more than enough knowledge to safely use a MicroSD card with your Android phone.