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.

Installing a MicroSD card

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

integral memory largest microsdxc yet 512gb microsd card notification
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

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.
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