What’s it like using a microSD card on Android in 2023?


Rita El Khoury / Android AuthorityIt’s not easy to find a high-end Android phone with expandable storage in 2023. As companies scramble to raise their bottom line, the simplicity and lucrativeness of the no-microSD-slot strategy made it a de-facto move: Why let users buy extra storage for next to nothing when they could force you to pay $100 more per meager increase in internal storage?Many midrange and budget phones, though, still offer a microSD slot. And if you look closely enough, you’ll notice some expensive models like Sony’s Xperia series with expandable storage. But what’s it like using that in 2023? Is Android still as open and as flexible about SD storage now as it was a decade ago? And what can you do once you buy a good microSD card and insert it into your phone? I took a dive into the world of microSD cards on Android and here’s what I found.
This article is focused on the stock Android experience with microSD cards. Other phones with their own skins — Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Moto, Sony, and so on — might have a few different settings here and there. Where needed, we’ll mention some of these differences.Insert a microSD card and explore it
The basic experience of inserting a microSD card on Android is still the same as it was many years ago. A notification pops up with two quick actions: Explore and Eject. It’s like putting a USB stick in your computer: You open the file explorer and see everything stored on it.In the case of stock Android, the Google Files app will launch and show you what’s already on the card. If you’ve stored photos, videos, music files, or any other documents, you can open them with compatible apps. And you can copy files from the phone to the SD card or vice-versa. Nothing groundbreaking here, it’s all the basic stuff of using external storage on any operating system. Things get more confusing once we delve deeper, though.
What’s the best microSD card for Android phones?There’s no absolute “best” card for all Android phones. It depends on what your phone supports in terms of class, speed, and capacity. Check your phone’s documentation and specs, then see our guide for the best microSD cards for advice on how to pick the best one.
Should I use the SD card as internal or portable storage?
Android 6.0 Marshmallow introduced one particular microSD feature — adoptable storage — to allow phones with limited storage better access to apps, games, and media. Although it’s not explicitly called that in settings, adoptable storage is still part of Android and essentially does the same thing. It lets you use the microSD card as either portable or internal storage, but it’s not available on all phones. Motorola, Nokia, Xiaomi, Fairphone, and a few other brands support it. Recent Samsung phones like the Galaxy A54 5G don’t.
Pick the portable storage format if you want to be able to freely move your SD card between devices.
You’ll find the option under Settings > Storage > SD card (in the drop-down selector) > ⋮ > Format. The default option is Format for portable storage, which treats the SD card as removable storage, so you can move files to/from it and use it to store offline media. You should pick this option if you want to be able to move your card freely between phones and computers and access all files regardless of the device it’s inserted in. It’s unencrypted, though.

But if you tap Format another way on the bottom left, you’ll be shown the option to Format for internal storage, which completely erases the SD card and starts treating it as a secondary internal storage for your phone. It encrypts it too, so if it falls into someone else’s hands, they can’t access its data. Some of your existing files, like screenshots and photos, will also be moved to it if you select Move content before the formatting is over.However, despite the card still showing as a separate entity under Settings > Storage, you won’t be able to browse it independently or move files to/from it. All files and app data appear as if they’re stored internally, and you’ll have to trust Android to pick the right storage when you download or save anything. By default, apps will be installed on the storage with the largest free space, but you can still move them.
Only use internal storage with a very fast card and if you know what you’re doing. It’s best for people who have lots of apps and games
You should only pick this option if you need to expand your internal storage, have a very fast card, want to encrypt your data, and don’t care about easily transferring it to another device. You can’t access the card on another device without formatting it (and thus deleting it) first. Given the limitations, I recommend testing this for a few days with data you’re not afraid to lose to see if you can live with the limitations before you commit to the setting as a long-term solution.

If you’re confused about these two, here’s a rundown of the differences in table format.
SD card as portable storageSD card as internal storageIs encryptedSD card as portable storageNoSD card as internal storageYesCan be transferred between devicesSD card as portable storageYesSD card as internal storageNoCan move apps and games to the cardSD card as portable storageNoSD card as internal storageYesCan be used for system filesSD card as portable storageNoSD card as internal storageYesCan manually move files from/to the cardSD card as portable storageYesSD card as internal storageNoCan actively choose the card as storage for the camera, streaming apps, and other appsSD card as portable storageYesSD card as internal storageNoRequires faster cardsSD card as portable storageNoSD card as internal storageYesBiggest benefitSD card as portable storageMore flexibility, more controlSD card as internal storageExpands your internal storage for super large games and appsBiggest drawbackSD card as portable storageCan’t install apps and gamesSD card as internal storageHas to be formatted before moving to another deviceCan I store apps on the microSD card on Android? Or play games from the microSD card?
The short answer is yes, you can store some apps and most games on the microSD card on your Android phone, but the real answer is more complicated than that.First, you can’t directly install apps or games on the SD card on Android. You have to install them on the internal storage and then move them to the card. You’ll find the option under Settings > Apps > pick an app > Storage > Storage used > Change.
Most large games can be saved and played on SD cards, but you shouldn’t do that for resource-intensive games.
App and game developers are the ones who choose whether or not their software can be moved to external storage. For example, Plex, Telegram, Instagram, and Adobe Lightroom can be moved to the SD card. But Spotify, WhatsApp, Slack, Pocket Casts, and others can’t. Thankfully, most games and many large apps already support the feature. However, just because you can move something to the SD card, doesn’t mean you should. Internal storage is much, much faster than the best microSD cards, so you should keep demanding and resource-intensive games on internal storage for the best performance. Think of it like this: Candy Crush? SD card. Genshin Impact? Internal storage.
Can I force apps and games to install on the SD card?If an app or game can’t be installed on the microSD card, you can still force the option to show up. To do so, you need to enable Developer Options on your phone and look for the Force allow apps on external toggle. Turn it on. Keep in mind, though, that you’re circumventing the developer’s wishes, so issues may arise.
SD as portable storageSD as internal storageMove app to SD card
The final requirement for moving apps and games to external storage depends on your phone. For some skins like Samsung’s One UI, the option to move compatible apps and games to the microSD card pops up without a hitch.
On stock Android, you need to format the card as internal storage to move apps and games to it. Not on Samsung, though.
But for stock Android (Google Pixel, Fairphone, HMD Nokia, and others), your microSD card has to be formatted as internal storage to even show the option (check the previous section). If you’ve set it as portable storage, you won’t see the Change button under Storage used.Why can’t I move an app or game to the SD card on Android?There are three reasons why the option to move apps to external storage won’t show up on your Android phone:

The specific microSD you’re using isn’t fast or capable enough to allow you to run apps and games. Verify its speed and class to see if it’s compatible.
The developer of the app or game you’re trying to move doesn’t allow it to be moved to external storage.
You have a phone that requires SD cards to be formatted as internal storage for the option to pop up.Can I save photos and videos immediately on the SD card?
This will depend on the camera app, but in general, phones that offer removable storage will have the option to immediately save photos and videos on the microSD card. The default camera app on Samsung, Xiaomi, Motorola, ASUS, Nokia, Fairphone, and other phones allows that. However, on phones that support adoptable storage, the setting is only visible if the card is formatted as portable storage. As I mentioned earlier, when it’s set to internal storage, you can’t control where things go.
Phones with expandable storage let you save photos and videos directly on the SD card. Some third-party camera apps too.
Some third-party camera apps also let you set your default storage, but this all depends on whether the developers implemented it. ProCam X and Camera FV-5, for example, allow it, but Adobe’s Photoshop Camera doesn’t.
Fairphone 5’s camera appProCam XCamera FV5Can I use the microSD card for offline storage in streaming apps?
Again, this is a setting that each app’s developers will have to implement on their own. But, in my experience, most apps that let you save big chunks of data for offline use will let you use the microSD card instead of your internal storage. Again, on phones that support adoptable storage, you can only control this if the card is formatted as portable storage.Music streaming apps like Spotify, YouTube Music, Deezer, Amazon Music, and Pocket Casts, as well as video streaming apps like Plex and Amazon Prime Video let you pick the SD card as the default storage. So you can insert a 1TB or 2TB card in your phone and significantly expand your storage to keep dozens of high-resolution movies or TV episodes for offline viewing.
YouTubeSpotifyPlexPocket Casts
Other apps offer a storage picker too. Google Maps lets you save offline maps to the SD card, Telegram can save chats and media to the card, Amazon Kindle saves books to the SD, and Google Chrome can direct any downloads to the card.
ChromeGoogle MapsTelegram
In general, using microSD cards on Android can be as straightforward as plugging a USB stick into your computer, but things get complicated if you need to store apps and games on it or choose between internal and external formatting. Pick the right option for your use and you shouldn’t have problems.
Frequently asked questions
Why is my SD card not showing in Android?First, you need to check if your phone is detecting the card. Go to Settings > Storage and see if the card shows up there. If it doesn’t, remove it and reinsert it in your phone. If the card doesn’t appear, it may be corrupted. Try formatting it in another computer and see if it works on your phone.If the card shows in storage but isn’t accessible in the Google Files app, then it’s formatted as internal storage. To change it to external storage, you need to go to Settings > Storage > pick the SD card > ⋮ > Format > Format another way and pick Format for portable storage.
What format does Android use for SD cards?Android can use both FAT32 and exFAT file systems for SD cards. The default file system for SD cards smaller than 32GB is FAT32, while the default file system for SD cards 32GB or larger is exFAT.FAT32 is a legacy file system that is compatible with most devices, including Android phones, computers, and cameras. However, it has a limitation of 4GB per file and doesn’t play nice with files with super long names.exFAT is a newer file system that is designed for large files. It does not have the 4GB file size limitation of FAT32 and can handle longer file names. However, not all devices support exFAT, so it is important to check your Android phone’s compatibility before formatting your SD card to exFAT.If you are not sure which file system to use, it is best to format your SD card to FAT32. This will ensure that your SD card is compatible with most devices.

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