The Complete Guide to Using a MicroSD Card on Your Android Phone


While streaming and cloud storage has helped, it’s an unwritten rule that you’ve never got enough storage space on your smartphone. Storage sizes have soared in the last few years, with some phone brands briefly offering a staggering 1TB of space. But with our ever-increasing hunger for 8K video and high-resolution images, it’s safe to say phones will have to continue upgrading their storage sizes into the future.

With this being the case, it can be a struggle for an older or cheaper phone to keep up. Thankfully, a microSD card slot can help. While something of a dying breed, microSD card slot-equipped phones do still exist, and they continue to be an excellent way of boosting your available storage space. Here’s everything you need to know about using a microSD card on Android.

Do I have a microSD card slot?

Image of a Galaxy S8's MicroSD card slot with a PIN tool nearby

It’s sad, but the microSD card has become something of a relic of the past — which means your phone isn’t guaranteed to have one, even if it’s the latest or greatest phone from Samsung or Google. Google’s Pixel range has never supported microSD cards (preferring to lean on Google’s own Google Drive for additional storage), while even Samsung has been drifting away from microSD card slots on its newest flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

However, some phones do still come with microSD card slots. Your best way of knowing for sure is to check any documentation you may have received with your phone, or your device’s manufacturer’s website. Websites like GSMArena may also be able to help.

Portable or internal storage?

It used to be that you could choose between setting your microSD card as internal storage (which means your phone treats it like its native storage), or portable storage (which means it’s more like a USB stick in a computer). Unfortunately, support for setting a microSD card as internal storage has waned strongly, and it’s fairly rare to find it on a smartphone these days.

This means you’re probably going to be forced to use your microSD card as portable storage — which isn’t much of an issue, if we’re being honest. You can still put documents, music, and other files on there, and it makes it a lot easier to transfer to, since all you need to do is take out the microSD card (after properly unmounting it from your phone, like a responsible person) and insert it into your laptop or desktop computer.

So what’s the advantage of using it as internal storage, if you have the option? Well, it means your phone has more storage to play with, and it can use it to save apps, data, and even things like background processes. But on the flip side, this means 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, if you have the option? 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.

Installing a microSD card

Different phones have had different methods for installing microSD cards through the years, but most manufacturers have settled on installing them through the SIM card tray.

To install the microSD card, you’ll need a small pin or SIM tray opener — your phone usually comes with one, so check your box if you still have it. 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!

Using a microSD card as portable storage

Installing a microSD card as portable storage is easy. For most phones, it’ll be as simple as inserting the microSD card. Your phone will detect it and automatically set it up as portable storage.

However, if you have a phone that allows your card to be used as portable or internal storage, you’ll have to set your card up as portable storage. Follow these steps to do so:

Step 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. You’ll be presented with two options — to use the card as portable storage or as internal storage. Select Use as Portable Storage.

Step 2: 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.

Step 3: 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 Files by Google, which you can download from the Google Play Store.

Transferring files from a computer to a microSD 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

As you might expect, Apple’s MacOS and Google’s Android don’t play well natively. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to fix that.

Step 1: First, download Android File Transfer.

Step 2: Once the app is installed on your computer, plug your Android phone into your computer with a USB cable.

Step 3: If you get a Can’t Access Device Storage warning, then you need to change some settings quickly. Some newer phones will immediately supply a pop-up asking whether you want to allow access to phone data. If you get that, tap Allow.

Otherwise, pull down your notification tray on your phone and check what the connection notification says. If it reads Charging through USB, tap on the notification and select Transferring Files.

Step 4: 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 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.

Step 1: Plug your device into your computer with the USB cable.

Step 2: Like the Mac instructions above, make sure your phone is ready to transfer files by checking the notification.

Step 3: Once enabled, you’ll be able to access both the phone’s internal storage and the microSD card storage through This PC on your computer.

Using a microSD card as internal storage

Using the microSD card as internal storage is easy, but limited, as we discussed above.

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, as it means your storage will be faster to access when you’re using it. 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.

Step 1: Insert the SD card, and when the notification pops up, hit the Set Up button.

Step 2: You’ll then be given the choice between using the SD card as portable storage or internal storage. Select Use as Internal Storage.

Step 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 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.

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