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Phone Storage Buying Guide – Internal, External & Cloud Storage

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When you are in search of a good smartphone in the market, one of the important factors to consider alongside the battery and pricing, is the storage available in the smartphone. It is in the end, your own choice on how much storage you think you might be needing in the smartphone. Everything that comes in the smartphone, from the OS to every single audio or picture file, takes a place in the storage. The storage is required for everything you do in the phone, thus you have to make sure you are choosing a smartphone which has a good amount of storage available.

In the current market, there are different variants of the same smartphone based on the storage available, and you have to assess whether you might be using that much storage or a lesser storage version is good enough for you. That’s where the importance for the external storage is seen. To list it out, there are three types of storage for a smartphone – Internal storage, MicroSD external storage and the Cloud storage.

Look below for the explanation about each of the storage types for the smartphones, and you will get to know about the advantages and disadvantages, which are very important when you are out in a hunt for the best smartphone and considering storage as something important for not just storing files, but doing more than that.


Internal Storage

Phone Storage Internal

This is the storage type which you cannot touch or manipulate much, because this is the storage that comes built-in to your smartphone. Everything that comes pre-installed in the smartphone, i.e. the operating system, system files, pre-installed applications use the internal storage, thus you never would see the internal storage fully available (for example, a 4GB internal storage phone would actually have around 2.5GB internal storage available). Once you purchase the phone, whatever you download or install would be using the internal storage.

In today’s market, there are smartphones which come with even 4GB of internal storage, while the high-end devices have at least 16GB of internal storage. Out of this, around 25% is already used up, but the remaining 12GB isn’t any less for usage and for storing the audio, video, documents and the applications. But there would be a full stop for this some day, because this internal storage is fixed and you won’t have an option to do anything to it, except for removing the unnecessary files or apps to free up the storage.

The budget smartphones are what come with more issues of storage, because just around 2GB of storage is available internally for the user after the other half is used by the OS and apps. The other reason for worry, is that the basic apps such as SMS, Camera use the internal storage by default in the first stage, before transferring them to the external storage options, thus you always have to ensure that some free internal storage is available.

Internal Storage Advantages

  • Makes the content usage faster: The internal storage is always fast and you can load the files faster than you can when these files are played from an external storage. The lags that you notice in a smartphone when an external storage is used, is not seen when the internal storage is used.
  • Any type of file can be stored: The internal storage doesn’t come with any limitation when you talk of file types. After the operating system files and apps, remaining storage can be used for storing photos, music, documents and videos either by transferring from any other device or by downloading them directly into the Internal storage.
  • Apps installation possible: If we talk of Android phones, most of them come with ability to download and install apps only on the Internal storage, and if you choose to use any external storage option, that would be only for the files but not the apps. There are certain applications which could help in transferring the apps from internal to external storage, but there is again a lot of limitation to it. Thus, the internal storage is what would help you install apps.
  • Speeds up phone by caching content: While browsing the web, you would notice that sometimes the previously visited pages load faster with pictures opening faster if opened again. That is because most of the smartphone browsers cache the content of the web pages and make a cached version in the internal storage. When the browser understands that you are trying to open the same web page again, the cached version is opened, and thus it is faster because it would reduce the load time and the performance of the browser is increased and the data network usage is reduced.

Internal Storage Disadvantages

  • Storage used by OS: This is a fact which hits hard for especially the budget smartphones which come with a limited storage. The core files, system files for the operating system and the pre-installed apps eat up most of the storage, and sometimes this isn’t the case only with the budget devices, because even the iPhone 16GB comes with around 13GB available internal storage, while the Galaxy S4 16GB has a mere 9.2GB of internal storage available for the usage. When the company says a phone has 16GB inbuilt storage, it doesn’t mean it literally.
  • No option to expand or manipulate: The available storage is the only thing that can be changed, by deleting the files and apps. But the Internal storage cannot be upgraded. If you are buying a 16GB variant of the smartphone, that is it for once and all. You won’t be able to change the internal storage at all.
  • No backup: Unless you are doing it manually, the storage that comes internally in the smartphone isn’t backed up anywhere. This includes even the OS files, the applications that came pre-installed and the ones which you downloaded. If you lost the smartphone, the data cannot be recovered from anywhere.


External Storage (MicroSD Storage)

Phone Storage MicroSD

This is the storage which you can expand by using an external card, i.e. the MicroSD card which is the choice for the smartphones which support the storage expansion. Many smartphones these days come with the ability to expand the storage, and the only card supported by the smartphones due to its size, is the Micro SD card.

While the phones with high internal storage cost quite high, the Micro SD card storage expansion could be a good option for the users if at all the smartphone is supporting it. There are cards available from 2GB to 128GB now, and it depends on the allowance by the smartphone for the card you are purchasing. Most of the smartphones which allow the MicroSD card storage expansion, allow a maximum of 32GB card. But there are certain high-end devices which support even 64GB or 128GB cards.

If you are someone who is planning to buy a Micro SD card for the storage expansion, you will have to choose a higher class card, and not just pick one from the lot blindly.

SD Card Class Minimum Performance Application
Class 2 2 Mbps Recording SD video
Class 4 4 Mbps Recording HD Video (720p to 1080p/1080i)
Class 6 6 Mbps Recording HD Video (720p to 1080p/1080i)
Class 10 10 Mbps Recording Full HD 1080p videos, simultaneous recording of HD stills

It is always advised to go for a higher class SD card, i.e. Class 10 if you are choosing a storage for a high-end smartphone which is capable of recording High-definition videos.

External Storage (Micro SD Storage) Advantages

Phone Storage Adapter

  • Cheap storage option: There are several companies making the Micro SD cards, and thus you would be able to find some good options for the cards online and at the local stores. A 16GB Micro SD card from a well known brand could cost just around $15. If you are someone who doesn’t want to spend much in getting a higher storage variant for a smartphone, this option is better because you are getting the Micro SD cards for free.
  • Not the fastest, but not slow: When given an actual test, the Micro SD card won’t be able to match the speeds at which the functions could be done with the internal storage, but still, the card comes with about 90% speed of the inbuilt storage. This speed is for the Class 10 card.
  • Transferring easy among multiple devices: Transferring the content from one smartphone to the other is possible through the several wireless options such as Bluetooth, NFC but the MicroSD card is not a bad option and it too makes things easier if there is enough storage internally present in the phone for temporarily shifting the files from the card to the internal storage, before you pop in another Micro SD card to transfer the files to it.
  • Transferring multimedia files with Adapter: The multimedia files such as photos and videos can be easily transferred from a camera to your smartphone, using a Micro SD card. For example, if you are traveling and not carrying a laptop along, you could just use a SD card adapter and use the MicroSD card to capture photos using the camera. Take the Micro SD card out and place it back into your phone, and with such ease, you could view all the photos in your smartphone.

External Storage (Micro SD Storage) Disadvantages

  • Cannot be used always for apps: As said above, the SD cards aren’t compatible for downloading apps and installing them in the Android phones. In most of the cases, only the internal storage would be the place where the apps can be installed.
  • No backup: Just as is the case with the internal storage, you lose the smartphone and the data is gone. Ever worse, if at all the card gets corrupted either due to some unfortunate situation or because of virus, the data won’t be recoverable unless you have take a manual backup.
  • Less security: These days, smartphones have come with options for wiping the data remotely even if the phone is lost. That is quite good, but the wiping of data is limited to the internal storage, thus whatever is there in the Micro SD card remains there, and there could your important documents and files that the thief could catch hold of.


Cloud Storage

Cloud Storage

The third one to consider is the Cloud storage. The cloud storage doesn’t take any space locally, because all the data you are storing, goes into a web-based server called as Cloud, and thus, this is another type of external storage which doesn’t need any physical accessory. Earlier when the data network connectivity wasn’t at much pace, the cloud storage wasn’t much in demand because the user had to connect the phone to the data network in order to send the files to the cloud server. Now, because there are some good speed Internet connectivity options, the cloud storage is being considered as an option for storing files.

Although advantageous, the cloud storage still isn’t the best storage option available because of the few disadvantages which keep the demand limited. For the starters who wanted to start using a cloud storage option, Dropbox, Skydrive, Copy are a few apps which give you a limited free storage to start off with, thus you can try them before you think of upgrading to any paid better plans.

Cloud Storage Advantages

  • Automatic Backup: This is the big advantage of the cloud storage over the internal and external SD card storage, because the backup of the data is done automatically to the server whenever the Internet is connected. The files are stored online, thus if you lose the phone or any data, you can recover that from the web server.
  • Easy sharing options: The options to share the files are very easy, because most of the cloud storage service provide links for the files and folders, and you can choose whom to share the file with. The Synchronizing options make it even better, because if you have multiple devices, you can use the same cloud storage account and sync the data across these devices. A file that you upload from your mobile phone can be downloaded to a tablet device or computer, and vice-versa.

Cloud Storage Disadvantages

  • An active Internet connection is needed: The cloud storage always needs the Internet connectivity active for the data upload and syncing. While you are traveling and you don’t have an internet connection, the data syncing doesn’t happen and you cannot view the files that are stored in the cloud.
  • Uses bandwidth: If you are using a data network connectivity and the plan has limited download, you might always have to worry about the remaining data balance, because whenever you are downloading the files from the cloud, the data is used.
  • The speed is no where comparable to local storage: The storage options like internal storage and Micro SD external storage have excellent speeds for playing media, running files and apps, but the cloud storage is the slowest because whenever you wanted to watch a video that is stored in the cloud, you will have to download it and that takes time depending on the Internet speed and file size.
  • Security issues: The security issues with the cloud storage is with the third party trust. You are hosting your files with a third party service, which can get the access to your content. Same is the case with the government agencies which can access your content, even without you knowing about it. The final issue about security is the hacking, where the hackers could take control on the account if you bypass the security, and they can wipe all the data.
  • Expensive: When compared to the SD card storage, the Cloud storage is quite costly because you are bound to pay from $5 to $15 per month for some decent storage plans from the well known cloud storage services.


Comparison of Internal vs SD Card vs Cloud Storage

Feature Internal Storage Micro SD Card Storage Cloud Storage
Speed of access Fastest Fast Slow
Availability Always Always Needs Internet
Upgradability Cannot be upgraded Can be upgraded Can be upgraded
Cost for Extra Storage N/A Cheap Expensive
Files Suitable All All except Apps All except Apps
Sharing Options No sharing Yes, by swapping card across devices Yes, across multiple devices using same account
Automatic Backup No No Yes
Security Risky Risky Risky


Conclusion: Which is the best storage option to purchase?

We recommend the following options while choosing a smartphone based on its storage, and then buying an extra storage after purchasing the phone. Try to see if the smartphone has got an option of Micro SD card storage expansion, because that is the only thing which would help in the long run. The cloud storage any way would be available for any smartphone, you have to look for options which have the ability to expand the storage with the card.

The internal storage is the most important thing to look out for, initially. Try to purchase a phone which has at least 8GB of internal storage, so that you don’t face an issue while trying to install large apps or games. If the phone you choose doesn’t support the Micro SD card storage expansion, try to choose a 16GB or higher storage model if available, and don’t think hard about paying extra for that higher storage. If that does bother you, the phone you need to choose is the one which has the MicroSD card option.

The cloud storage is a good addition, but is still far from being called the best. The reasons for that are well known – expensive, needs internet connectivity always. It cannot be used as a replacement for any of the above options, but is good for those who do care about the privacy and loss of data if the phone is lost or got corrupted.


Calculate how much storage you need

This is very important if you are looking for the storage options before you purchase a smartphone, or before purchasing a storage option, i.e. Micro SD card or the Cloud storage. The below chart would make you understand how much storage you might need in your device.

Estimates below are based on fixed number given – 5MB for a MP3, 2MB for a 8-megapixel capture, 4MB for a 13-megapixel capture, 135MB per minute for a Full HD video, 100MB per minute for a HD video. The values given below individually take up the entire storage, i.e. 1600 songs can be stored in 8GB card when nothing else is being included.

Storage 8 GB 16 GB 32 GB 64 GB
MB in each (approx) 8000 16000 32000 64000
Photos – 8MP 4000 photos 8000 photos 16000 photos 32000 photos
Photos – 13MP 2000 photos 4000 photos 8000 photos 16000 photos
Songs – MP3 1600 songs 3200 songs 6400 songs 12800 songs
HD videos 80 minutes 2 hours 40 mins 5 hours 20 mins 10 hours 40 mins
Full HD videos 1 hour 2 hours 4 hours 8 hours


Which Micro SD card to buy

The Micro SD cards are divided based on two categories – capacity, speed.

  • Based on capacity – SD, SDHC and SDXC
  • Based on speed – class 2, class 4, class 6, class 10

There are a few smartphones which support the SDHC and the SDXC, and these include the recent high-end devices, where you see the phones supporting even 64GB Micro SD cards. The latest one, LG G3 provides support for 128GB card, which would add around $120 to the bill if you are choosing to purchase that.

It is fair enough if you purchase a 32GB Micro SD card as that is quite a lot of storage if you aren’t storing an album of movies. While choosing a Micro SD card and purchasing it, you need to check for the fakes and avoid them, because the card could become non-functional any time. There are several counterfeit SD cards sold both online and offline. There is a tool for Windows PC, called H2testw which would test for the authenticity for the card once you purchase it, and it is wise to purchase the cards from the brand showrooms, such as Samsung & Sony stores which sell smartphones and accessories.

The best brands to choose a MicroSD card from

There are several brands which are dedicated in making the storage solutions for gadgets. Some of them are well known not just for the long life, but also for the speed in file transfer and media playing. Here are a few well known brands.

  • SanDisk
  • Lexar
  • Samsung
  • Delkin
  • Sony
  • Strontium
  • Transcend
  • Kingston
  • Toshiba

There are again some specific cards under a particular brands which we may suggest, and for the high-end smartphones, the Samsung Evo 32GB card is the first choice, hands down. The other options to choose from, if you take pricing into consideration, are – SanDisk Extreme, SanDisk Ultra, Transcend Premium, Kingston Class 10 UHS-1, Toshiba Exceria microSD.


The best cloud storage services to choose from

There is already a vast competition between the different cloud storage services, but they are quite easily comparable because of the features provided, and the pricing for the larger storage options.

  • Dropbox2GB free initially, $9.99 per month for 100GB, $19.99 per month for 200GB, $49.99 for 500GB. It is an excellent cross platform service where you can sync the data across smartphones, tablets, laptops and there are some excellent sharing options available.
  • Google Drive15GB free initially, $1.99 per month for 100GB, $9.99 per month for 1TB and more. This is one of the most generous and trustworthy cloud storage services, where the 15GB initial storage too is quite enough but you are not asked much if you choose to upgrade too.
  • Microsoft OneDrive7GB free initially, $25 per year for 50GB, $50 per year for 100GB, $100 per year for 200GB. The OneDrive, earlier called as SkyDrive wasn’t really a good option, but Microsoft has made some serious changes to this, making this one of the best in the competition and just like the other options in this list, the OneDrive is a cross platform tool.
  • Box10GB free initially, $5 per month for 100GB. Box.com is another option which provides a fast and good service for storing the files in the cloud, and this comes with the apps for smartphones for the cross-platform syncing.

Final words – Choosing a smartphone with a good internal storage should be the first priority, and you need to look at the options whether the phone is having a MicroSD card slot for the storage expansion. If yes, choose a Class 10 UHS card for the good speeds. The cloud storage is the last option to look for, but if you are trying to store files on the cloud server, choose to save all the documents and important files on the web so that you can keep the files safe.

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