How to Free Up Memory Capacity on your Android Smartphone with USB

How to Free Up Memory Capacity on your Android Smartphone with USB

There’s a lot I like about the Android operating system as a whole, especially (as a web professional) the deep integration it offers with Google services, the best maps software, and the customization offered by its interface through widgets and live wallpapers. That being said, there are a few issues present here that I never really had to deal with back when I was on an iPhone. For example, I’m constantly concerned about my phone’s battery life. Another issue I’ve noticed recently is that my phone is quickly running out of space, apparently something that’s a common complaint among Android users. So how do you free up space to add more of the digital content you really want? Here are a few tips that have worked for me, and hopefully will work for you too.

You’re probably wondering how you ran out of memory on an Android device that has an SD card that can be filled with GBs of data. Well, that’s not always that case. Google’s Nexus S for example has a fixed onboard USB storage capacity. This however, isn’t the real issue.

The problem with storage issues on Android has to do with various components such as non-movable applications, large media files, and an ever growing Contacts database. Even if you had 64GB of storage nowadays, you’ll find a lot of people are still having trouble storing all of their digital property on their phone.

The first real tip I can give you is about the SD card/USB storage. As you’ve already noticed, a large number of Android applications can’t be moved to the SD card/USB storage to begin with. Among these are Facebook, Twitter, and Google Voice, eBay, Amazon, NYTimes, and IMDb, among hundreds of others. In some of these scenarios, the developers have a good reason for disabling the SD/USB storage functionality, but in other cases, the only reason they are locked in place is because the developer hasn’t gotten around to adding that feature just yet.

An easy way to determine which apps can be safely offloaded to the SD card is by using App 2 SD. This is a free android application that will help you quickly move apps to external or internal storage through Settings. It provides a list of movable apps, app sizes, and even lets you clear certain app caches, which can also lead to storage issues. Although you can do this and Android’s own Setting app, the Apps 2 SD features are much better, especially because they allow you to move all you apps at once. There are other ways to move the non-movable apps to SD/USB storage, both on rooted phones and not, but this is more of a non technical user tutorial. Feel free to discuss some of your own methods in the comments section.

Next up, one of the easiest, most straightforward ways to regain storage on your smartphone is to uninstall the apps you don’t need. Seems like a no brainer, but you may be surprised to find apps you had forgotten about saved on your phone, taking up valuable space. If you can live without them, get rid of them. In order to uninstall an app:

  • Go to Settings >> Applications
  • Press “Manage Applications”
  • On the “Downloaded” tab, tap on the application name you want to remove
  • Tap the “Uninstall” button to remove it from your phone

Another way to free up some space on your USB drive is to look at some of the things you’ve got in your media library. If you’ve saved a lot of photos, videos, and music on your Android phone (instead of to the SD card/USB storage), this could be another way to regain some of your space back. Since Android is integrated with other Google services, I’ve taken to periodically cleaning up my Gallery application by sharing the stored media to “the cloud” specifically Google’s Picasa service. Although I also put photos up on Facebook and Flickr, by adding them to Picasa, I can still easily see them on my Android device within the Android Gallery app. Picasa photos are available in the Gallery, but when accessed are retrieved from the Web. Here’s the basic procedure:

  • Launch the Gallery app and tap the “Camera” folder
  • Tap the Menu button (twice)
  • Tap the photos to sync to Picasa individually, or choose “Select All”
  • Tap the “Share” button and choose “Picasa” from the menu
  • Fill in caption and folder info, if desired, then press “Upload”
  • Afterwards, you can remove those items from your phone to regain storage

Another way to isolate disk storage problems is by getting an app to analyze the storage space on your smartphone. The DiskUsage app works great for this. With it, you can see exactly what is slowing down your Android system in terms of space and do something about it. As it turns out, for most people it has to do with their contacts page. Unfortunately, without rooting the phone, the Contacts database can’t be moved permanently to the SD card/USB storage. Instead, you can temporarily fix the problem by exporting the list to the SD card/USB storage, then rebuilding it. After the rebuild, the list will have a smaller file size. Apparently, it will still get pretty crowded over time and this process will have to be repeated. This appears to affect some phones more than others.

To fix this bug:

  • Go to Settings –> Applications
  • Press “Manage Applications” and then the “All” Tab
  • Scroll to “Contacts Storage”
  • Press “Clear Data” (Do not do this unless all your contacts are already backed up in Google or elsewhere first. If you’re not sure, download a backup application from the Market and use it to back up your contacts, or simply launch the Contacts app and choose “Copy to SIM”)
  • Re-launch the Contacts app. It should now be empty.
  • Re-import/resync the contacts you saved elsewhere (either via the 3rd-party app you used, if you don’t use Google to store your contacts, or simply wait for the Google sync process to automatically re-import them for you if you save your contacts in the cloud.) After import, my large Contacts file became a much more healthy 6.34 MB.

Do you have any good tips? If so, please let me know about your suggestions in the Comments section.

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Vincent Clarke

Vincent Clarke is the Universal Serial Bus (USB) Guru for When he's not writing tutorials and catching up on the latest USB news, Vincent is busy preparing his next blog post and answering USB questions from his readers and subscribers.

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