We now do so much on our phones that it’s somewhat comical that we still call them phones. Yes, they can make and receive calls, but that represents just a small fraction of the purpose they serve in our lives. It would be much better to call them personal computers than anything else.
However, one thing that reminds us that our phones are still phones is when the internal storage fills up and we can’t save anything else. We’ve come a long way since the early days of smartphones. The first iPhone came with either 4GB, 8 GB, or 16 GB of internal storage. Today, for all smartphone brands, the range is from 128GB to 1TB.
No matter how much space our phones have, though, we always run out. And nothing is more frustrating than taking your phone out to take a picture or video only to find you haven’t got any storage space left.
While it’s pretty close to inevitable that you will one day run low on space, there are several different things you can do to better manage the storage on your phone and maximize its space.
Before you start deleting a bunch of apps and files you might need just to try and clear up some space on your phone, the first thing you should do is run a diagnostic check on your current storage situation. Luckily, modern phones make this pretty easy.
If you have an iPhone, you’ll want to go to Settings > General > iPhone storage. Once you’re on this screen, you’ll see a color-coded bar that tells you exactly how your phone’s internal storage is being used. For most people, photos and videos are going to be what’s taking up the most space. But you’ll likely be surprised at how much of your internal memory is being consumed by apps and other media, such as music or videos.
Below this bar is a complete list of everything that is on your phone, as well as the exact amount of space it is taking up. Looking at this information will give you a pretty good idea of what you need to do to make more space in your phone.
For Android users, the process is similar. Simply go to Settings > Storage. Depending on which version of Android you are running, you may find this page under Settings > Device Care > Storage.
Once there, you will be able to get a detailed view of how storage is being used. Android breaks things down by file type, such as Documents, Images, Videos, Audio, Apps, etc. You can tap on each one to get even more information about how space is being used. For example, if you click on “Apps,” you will be able to see how much storage each app on your phone requires. Depending on the app, you may be able to reduce how much space it takes up.
You’ll often be surprised at how much space some apps take up. Spotify Premium users might see that the app is taking up multiple GBs. This comes from all your downloaded music. If you have no other options, then you may need to un-download some of these so that you can reduce the app’s storage load and free up more space on your phone.
However, before you go do this, there are other things you can do to better manage storage on your phone and maximize its space.
For the vast majority of people, the top culprit when it comes to your phone’s storage is going to be photos and videos. Let’s face it, taking quality photos is half the reason we even have the phones we have these days. But when your phone’s internal storage fills up, no one wants to delete these precious memories.
The alternative to this is to use a cloud service, such as iCloud, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. These allow you to upload your photos to an external server, which you can access at any time, and then you can delete the files on your phone, freeing up space without losing the file itself.
However, there are two major drawbacks to using cloud services. The first is that you must have internet access to be able to get to these photos. Considering the ubiquity of WiFi, 4G, and 5G, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But if you have data limits or live in an area with spotty service, it could become a nuisance.
The other is that cloud services are mostly not free. All providers offer a free version, but if you plan to use these services to maximize space on your phone, then you’re likely going to have to spend some money. Fortunately, while not free, these services are pretty inexpensive.
Here’s a breakdown of the different cloud services and how much they cost:
OneDrive is the cheapest, offering 1 TB for $7 per month, but iCloud and Google Drive tend to be better options because they integrate more seamlessly with iPhone and Android devices. In most cases, you can set things up so that certain files, usually photos and videos, upload to your cloud account automatically, saving you money.
For most people, if you’re going to spend the money on a cloud service, you’re better off just getting the 1TB plan for a few extra bucks per month. Considering most phones come with 100 GB — 200 GB of internal storage and we fill those up in no time, you’ll likely be upgrading soon anyway. Might as well get it right from the beginning.
If the idea of continuously paying for cloud storage for the rest of your life (at $10 per month, that’s $120 per year and who knows how many thousands throughout a lifetime) doesn’t appeal to you, then one alternative is to do a physical backup of your device by connecting it to a computer or an external hard drive.
This is much less expensive, at least in the long run. But it won’t prevent you from running out of space when you need it most (like when your firstborn decides to get up and take their first steps). And it won’t allow you to access these files whenever you want, or when you have an internet connection.
The other issue with this is that you’re still backing your stuff up to a physical device. You could drop it, spill water on it, lose it, short circuit it, etc., all of which would cause you to lose your precious files.
In the end, it comes down to personal preference. But in today’s day and age, moving your stuff onto the cloud does seem to be a slightly better option.
One option for improving how you store your photos and videos is to use an SD card, i.e. those tiny little things you put in your cameras and GoPros. While small, these things can hold a ton of data, and they can dramatically expand your phone’s storage.
They can also be taken out of your phone and plugged into computers, TVs, hard drives, etc., making it super easy to move stuff around. And you can also access what’s stored on them whenever you are using your phone, pretty much giving you the best of both cloud storage and physical backups.
The catch? A lot of phones don’t support SD cards. For example, iPhones simply don’t use them. Most Android phones will allow you to use an SD card, though not all. For example, Samsung, which traditionally allowed SD cards, has started moving away from them, saying that cloud storage is the future.
The other issue is that not everything you use on your smartphone can be stored on an SD card. For example, some apps, such as those that stream music and movies, and that consequently take up a lot of space, cannot be put onto an SD card. Others can but it might sacrifice their functionality.
Again, it’s not a perfect solution. But none are. If your phone supports an SD card (check its outer edges for a tray, often the same one that holds your SIM card), it’s worth considering as you try to maximize your phone’s storage.
Once you’ve figured out what you want to do with your photos and videos, the most likely cause of your storage running low, the next thing you’ll want to do is take a look at your apps. The average person has something like 35 apps installed on their phone. But how many of those do you use?
Apps use internal storage in several ways. First, the app itself takes up space, though usually not much. Then, depending on what the app does, it may store additional files that consume even more space.
For example, if you have an app that lets you edit videos for social media, it’s possible that photos on your phone are being stored there in addition to the regular photo gallery, which will consume space unnecessarily.
Using the detailed lists you found under Settings > Storage (or the equivalent depending on which type of phone you have), you can see exactly how much space each app is using.
From there, you can go through and decide what to do. If you’ve got an app installed you don’t use all that often, delete it. Boom.
If one is taking up a lot more space than expected, open it up and see what’s going on.
Returning to a previous example, if you have lots of songs downloaded on Spotify, then that’s going to take up a lot of space.
This likely won’t free up as much internal storage as getting your photos and videos off your phone, but it can have a pretty significant impact.
One thing to note is that after you delete a bunch of apps you should do a full restart of your phone. There may be some residual data on your device that will keep space occupied. Restarting will clear this out and let you make use of all the space you just cleared.
Dealing with your photos, videos, and apps is going to have the biggest impact on your phone’s storage, but there are other things you can do. One is to clear your cache and browsing history.
This usually doesn’t take up that much space, but you might be able to free up half a gig or so, which is most certainly not nothing.
On Android, you can do this in the storage section. Click on each app. If the app keeps a cache, then you should have the option to clear it.
On iPhones, you can do this in your web browser settings. iPhone apps don’t allow you to clear their specific caches.
Something to note is that doing this may impact app performance. As mentioned, apps use caches to improve performance.
When you delete the cache, it has to access information all over again, which can make it slower or buggier. But when compared to your phone not working because it’s all out of space, it’s a much better option.
Another thing that takes up space on your phone is that most people don’t think about their old text messages. Depending on how long you’ve had your phone, there may be years worth of messages stored on your internal memory.
Indeed, individual text messages don’t take up all that much space, but hundreds of thousands if not millions? That can add up.
For iPhone users, you can quickly remove lots of text messages by going to Settings > Messages > Message History > Keep Messages. Once there, you can choose between “30 days,” “One Year,” or “Forever,” which is usually the default.
Changing this setting will delete all the messages sent before that date, and then it will continue to do so moving forward, making sure your phone doesn’t get too bogged down with old messages in the future.
For Android users, go to the Messages app and tap the three dots at the top of the screen. From there, choose “Settings.” Depending on the phone you have, there should be an option for “Storage.” If you don’t see it right away, look for a “More Settings” item. From there, you will be able to select “delete old messages.”
Again, your choices here will depend on what type of phone you have. Newer models will let you do what iPhone users can do and choose how long to keep messages. Others will allow you to delete messages once you’ve sent a certain amount, usually several thousand.
Remember, messages by default don’t consume a lot of memory. But you might be able to free up .5 GB — 1 GB doing this, and that is still something.
Back to photos, another thing you can do to maximize storage space on your phone is to optimize your photo library.
What this means is that your phone will store much lower quality photos on your device but then upload the full versions to the cloud.
This lets you have “physical” copies on your phone which you can access even when you don’t have internet access. But you don’t have to worry about these copies consuming all of your phone’s memory.
This is particularly relevant today when most phones take super high-quality photos that naturally take up lots of storage space.
On an iPhone, this is super easy. All you need to do is go to Settings > iCloud > Photos.
From there, turn on “iCloud Photos,” which means your photos will start backing up to iCloud.
Then, directly below, you should see an option for “Optimize iPhone Storage.” This will automatically start the process of reducing the quality of the photos on your phone.
In many cases, particularly when storage is getting low, your iPhone will automatically ask you if you want to do this. Unless you have some strong objections to cloud services, you should do this.
Unfortunately, for Android users, things aren’t as straightforward. You may need to download a third-party app to do this, such as Shortpixel. But even then you may have to go through and manually optimize all of your photos.
One nice thing about modern phones is that they are becoming smarter and smarter. Makes sense considering we call them smartphones.
When it comes to storage, this is particularly useful because it can detect when space is being used poorly. It can suggest apps for you to delete, remind you to clear the cache, and warn you if a download is going to seriously impact internal memory.
No matter which type of phone you have, you can turn this on on the main storage screen. For Android users, it’s called “Smart Storage.” Once you choose it, you will be able to select several different things for your phone to do in the background to free up space.
You can also use the “Free Up Space” feature which will search for things you can delete to maximize internal memory.
For iPhones, all you have to do is go into the storage settings screen and scroll down. There should be a list of options, which you can choose to enable if you want. The more you choose, the more the iPhone will automatically do for you to reduce the burden on its internal memory.
One option that both phones let you choose is “Offloading.” When enabled, all this does is move app data off your phone while you’re not using the app. It’s stored on the cloud, so when you go to use the app, your phone will download what it needs, but it will offload it again once you’re not using it.
It’s a useful way to save some space, but if you use an app frequently, you need to make sure to have memory available so that it will work when you need it.
Lastly, while there are a lot of things you can do on your phone to maximize space, some self-restraint can go a long way too.
It’s very common to take multiple photos when trying to grab that perfect shot. But it’s much less common to then go through them and delete those that aren’t quite what you wanted. Instead, most of us just leave them there, and then we get mad when we run out of space.
Prevent this from happening by making an effort to pare down the photos and videos you have on your phone as you capture them.
Another thing to pay attention to is download sizes. It’s very easy to just download an email attachment or an image in a text, but you can see how big it is before you do.
Since every download gets stored and takes up space, consider saving the bigger ones for when you’re home and can use a computer.
In the end, it’s nearly impossible to completely prevent running out of storage space on your phone. But if you follow these tips and tricks and become more selective about what you put on your phone, you can free up a lot of memory and make the most of what you have.