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Why internal storage still beats a microSD card

When it was announced that MicroSD cards were making a triumphant return to the Samsung Galaxy S series, many exploded with excitement. However, there is still a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding the value of MicroSD cards. Here I explain why internal storage is still better than external memory. 

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Here's why microSD cards aren't a real alternative to internal storage. / © ANDROIDPIT

The misconception

I don't wish to patronize here and I’m not suggesting this is big news. Rather, some people genuinely aren't aware of it and Android 6.0 Marshmallow has confused the situation somewhat.

You might think that buying a handset with 32 GB of internal memory and adding a 32 GB microSD card to is the same as buying a 64 GB smartphone. It's not

This important. It is always cheaper to add external storage, and thus tempting to do so, but it’s just not as effective. Why? To explain this we must look at life before and after Marshmallow.

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Marshmallow provides more detailed views of all memory types. / © ANDROIDPIT

Pre Android 6.0 Marshmallow

On devices that don't run Marshmallow, the kind of data that can be stored on the microSD card is different to what can be stored in your phone. You can store movies, music and image files easily, but app data (including sometimes large game files) is trickier.

You can’t, for example, install an entire app or game onto a microSD card. You can move part of the data there, but that's all.

Because of this, even with a 128 GB memory card stuffed into a 16 GB device, you could still find yourself frequently running out of storage space. So, first and foremost, microSD cards are more limited in terms of the type of data they can store, while internal storage can hold any data.

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MicroSD cards can be used for good. / © ANDROIDPIT

Post Android 6.0

Google has made an attempt to unify the MicroSD / internal storage experience in Android Marshmallow with a feature known as Adoptable Storage. With this, you can use a microSD card just like internal storage. The caveat is that once you do this the microSD card can only be used in that device, and removing it can cause all kinds of problems.

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Devices with a microSD card slot will be able to format an SD card as internal storage. / © ANDROIDPIT

Though it may act the same as your device's internal storage, it's still not quite the same.

The speed at which your device reads and writes information to storage mediums affects overall performance.

Traditionally, accessing data on external storage mediums was almost always slower than the dedicated drive. With Adoptable Storage, this is still mostly true: the unification of these two storage mediums will have an adverse affect on overall read and write speed. 

But to make the situation even more complicated, performance may improve in rare cases. 

On the HTC One A9 and confusion

With the HTC One A9, a MicroSD card can actually improve the phone’s read and write speeds. It depends on the type of SD Card, but when using the SanDisk Extreme Plus 64 GB in our One A9, the overall read and write speed actually increased. Truthfully, it was not to any visible degree, but worth mentioning all the same. 

androidpit HTC One A9 Format internal storage
Using a high-performing microSD card in the One A9 is probably a good thing. / © ANDROIDPIT

On the Galaxy S7 and confusion

The Galaxy S7 has made matters worse because its MicroSD cards don’t make use of the Adoptable Storage feature, despite the fact that the S7 runs Marshmallow.

Based on current information, it seems that SD cards in the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge will act the same way as external storage does in the traditional Android sense, that is, they can only store photos, videos, app data, and other such files.  

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The Galaxy S7 brought microSD card functionality back. / © ANDROIDPIT

Where does this leave us?

Android Marshmallow has attempted to bring the warring factions of internal and external storage together. There is currently a ceasefire: these storage forms are playing nice. If you take advantage of Adoptable Storage, your MicroSD card will act just like internal storage with few downsides. But some families, such as LG and Samsung, haven’t implemented Adoptable Storage.

For now, I’d still advise against buying additional storage if you want the same function as internal storage, unless you know your device supports Adoptable Storage and don’t mind a potentially adverse effect on performance. Additionally, external storage mediums are prone to corruption, and who knows what the long-term effects of persistent data transfer will be when microSD cards are used like internal storage. 

If you just want another way to store pictures and videos without clogging up your internal memory, a microSD card will still do just fine. 

It's still a hotly debated topic, so where do you stand on external vs internal storage? Give me your thoughts in the comments. 


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  • Nice article. My experience with a Moto G3 was awful. I started with a Kingston C10 card, and using it as internal storage was terrible loss performance. Card said it was 45MB/s but the testing on my devices was like R:10MB/s W:4MB/s
    I now bought a Sandisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/s and it's better, although speed testing shows R:28MB/s W:32MB/s
    It is also true that even using the card as Internal Storage, you CANT move any app to the card, most of them has to live in the phone.
    Formatting the SD as external storage increase the performance of course (as all the apps runs from the phone) but with my 8GB device is almost useless.
    Also dont try to wipe cache data if you use your card as internal storage, cause after that the apps that lived in the SD card will dissapear and cause all kind of troubles

  • You state that adoptable storage may slow the system down, and give only an example of it speeding up. Hmm. I won't go through the entire article, but what would your Fifth grade teacher say?

  • My Samsung s7 edge internal storage is nearly full but I have a 128gb micro sd in it but since the upgrade there is no sd card to show what apps are on it or anywhere to move apps to the sd card, so what do you do now

  • Good article. For those wanting more detailed information (albeit in less organized form) - check out the links below.

    Search for these threads (I can't post links as a new user here):

    This is the definitive thread on Adoptable Storage on reddit which has been used to correct many articles which initially appeared and incorrectly thought Adoptable Storage was the solution in all cases:

    Guidelines for Marshmallow users - formatting options for external SD cards (Portable vs. Internal modes)

    That thread is now archived, so you can't comment there. But here is a newer thread where you can comment:

    Guidelines for Marshmallow users - formatting options for external SD cards (Portable vs. Internal modes) - part 2

  • M Mooboy 4 months ago Link to comment

    For those running older versions of Android, I use Link2SD to move apps and their components to the SD card. It requires a rooted device and requires you to set up one FAT partition and one Unix-like partition which supports symlinks (e.g., ext2fs). I did not know about the internal memory limitation before purchasing my phone years ago, and Link2SD made it completely usable again. SD card performance is observably slower than the internal memory, but it is a worthwhile trade-off.

  • Personally I would opt for the memory card option any day of the week hands down(along with cloud storage to reinforce).. I have seen so many instances where persons devices has stopped working for one reason or the other and a trusty old sd card saved the day in terms of important information and media stored on such, whip it out put it in another device and recover files. The main concept of expandable storage was never to compete with internal mememory but to compliment it, I don't see what the whole ongoing battle is really about, and as far as read speed goes given u have a decent device the difference is hardly each his own but I'm rolling with my dad card until devices no longer supports them.

  • I use Adoptable storage on my Moto X Pure Edition and have seen no problems. Apps, maps, music, video, etc. just use all the combined memory as if it were internal. I also have no intention of taking the SD Card out to be used as portable storage - of course that is exactly the same situation I'd be in if I had opted for a phone with massive internal storage and no SD Card.

    • Doyou have the 16gb MXPE ??? I have a 64gb card in a 16gb MXPE and I am seeing the insufficient storage message when trying to download an app in play store so that makes me wonder whats the advantage of adoptive sd card feature ???

  • An Droid 7 months ago Link to comment

    Internal storage (UFS 2.0)
    - can read and write at the same time
    - almost twice the speed of eMMC (USB format)
    - is much more reliable than SD card

    I don't mind paying for that!

  • storm 7 months ago Link to comment

    I suspect that manufacturers have purposely limited storage to encourage customers to use the bloatware preinstalled and that is difficult for most users to actually remove. Worse, removing the apps usually doesn't recover storage space on the phone since these apps are installed in the OS partition of the storage. This partition is not available for the user to put apps into or out of short of flashing a debloated ROM.

  • Dean L. 7 months ago Link to comment

    Interesting read, especially the adoptable storage part. I was not aware that once a micro SD card is used for adoptable storage that that was it. That kind of changes things. I would guess the phone logs memory to be set up that way to, but now I wonder if you factory reset the phone and reformat the card if you can start over like new? IMO I'm going to have to rethink it cause I was going to head down that path.

  • Anthony 7 months ago Link to comment

    I have adoptable storage on my Moto X yet I can only move 1/4 of my apps to the SD card. All other apps have to stay on internal

  • Dave 7 months ago Link to comment

    Not sure how many are aware of how SSD's work as well? Even though they don't have moving parts, they can impact the performance of a device if not used correctly.
    SSD's work more efficiently (whether it's internal or a micro SD) so long as they're not filled with data to the maximum capacity (i.e. you don't end up running out of storage space). This is due to the way data is written & retrieved compared to normal HDD's.
    When the SSD gets to around 75% capacity (though others say closer to 85-90%), this is when they have a tendency to start slowing down. Initially, the speed difference in ineligable - yet the more often it occurs, the slower they get.

    If you google SSD's & how they work, there's quite a few articles which really go into depth & surprisingly, keep it simple so the average, non techy, can understand.

    2 tips:
    1. Never use defrag software (or an App) on a SSD
    2. Get the best type of sd/micro card you can afford & the maximum capacity allowed by your device.

    Anyhows, as per the topic - until the manufacturers start releasing devices with serious amounts of internal storage, it's always going to be a case of using either an external drive or an sd/micro card.
    Samsung has shot themselves in the foot (if what you're saying is correct) by not having the adoptable storage option!

    Apps are getting larger, photos larger, recorded video clips huge (yes, you 4k'ers) and storage space shouldn't be the "premium" in todays world.

    I'm rambling again... where's my coffee cup........ ;-)

  • On Nexus 5 there is it is impossible to use micro SD cart, so that question is irrelevant.

  • 18
    anshul 7 months ago Link to comment

    Internal memory is always first preference. I lost Asphalt8 it was stored in SD card when I updated Asphalt8 it automatically uninstalled. The update was around 1070 MB. When I checked in Google Play -> My Apps & Games it was not there. Whole scenario amazed me because I wasted my time & data. Still I am unable to understand what exactly went wrong. :-(

  • Tagont 7 months ago Link to comment

    I know a lot of people love sd card option, I'd prefer internal storage. Last year Samsung took the sd card away and gave us small medium and large internal storage which I didn't have a problem with but gave the phones a pathetic small non removable battery. This year they give us a larger battery but limited us to only small internal. {not even medium option } Seriously I don't get it?

  • What's wrong with using a home nas cloud drive????
    Auto save and never run out of memory...
    The cost of SD cards...
    Why were you so cheap buying your phone if memory is important?
    Just buy the 128 GB version instead of being a cheapskate ...
    You already bought a $700 plus phone !!!!
    If the extra $200 is gonna kill you ... Then why are you buying the phone?

  • I suggest buying a phone with 16 or 32gb of internal storage for installing apps and games and I would use OTG for other media contents.Any of phones didn't have moicrosd support

  • Darcy 7 months ago Link to comment

    I have always used SD cards, I might consider using a phone that has no SD card if there is ever one that comes with a decent amount of storage! I never use "the cloud", so the humble SD card is my best option. I think the important thing is to try and always use a good quality SD card like Sandisk. I use my cards for storing my personal data and large apps. I don't care for the changes Google made to Android with Marshmallow regarding SD cards.

  • Yeah, I think some people may not understand the reason of this new feature in android 6.0... Of course if you buy like the latest xperia x performance and put a sdcard as internal storage you might see some performance issues.... But for cheap phones with low internal memory it's a perfect solution... I have a 128 GB SD card in a moto g3 and I loaded 60gb of data .... It took a while to index everything but now the phone runs okay... And for instance even when formatting a sdcard as internal storage tr phone will try to store apps and app data first in the internal storage and media files will be directly stored in the SD card

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