The Biggest Problem with Android: Low Available Phone Storage

LG Optimus One's Available Internal Phone Storage of 172MB After a Factory Reset

So after obtaining an Android phone for an extended period of time and exploring Android and the applications, I found what I feel to be one of the biggest hinderance / annoyance / problem with Android: available phone storage. For many people they may think, just adding a large SD card can solve this issue, but this is not the case. All Android phones have RAM and ROM figures in their specifications that are listed on the manufacturer website or websites like GSMArena but the figure may not be accurate for ROM storage.

RAM (Random Access Memory) is needed to store temporary application data/information and helps a device multi-task smoothly. ROM (Read Only Memory) is where the phone operating system and applications reside and each device comes with a base set of operating system features and applications that cannot be uninstalled. This will take away some of the available ROM from the user leaving them with less than the figure stated on the official ROM amount. A good example is the HTC Desire which has 512MB ROM according to the specifications page but according to PCMag there is “only 117MB of available internal storage“. 117MB isn’t much and this is the main reason that hinders me from recommending a Desire. It is a very good phone but this is a major issue that can’t be solved.

Android 2.2 helps alleviate this problem by allowing applications to be moved to SD cards however this will only work on applications that support this feature and even if they do, they cannot move the entire application to the SD card; there will always be some part of the application on the internal storage. When you get low storage on your phone things get uglier and the phone may not function properly. I had about 20MB of available phone storage and I tried to add a phone number to an existing contact and was greeted with an “Memory Full: Not enough phone storage space”. I was adding a single 10 digit phone number to a contact and there isn’t enough space to process / store it.

I notice slowness below 25mb free, and around 10/15mb free space, it starts rejecting texts. You’ll get a warning message when your space is too low, use that as a sign that you need to dump your old texts/mms messages, and maybe delete a program or two that you don’t ever use.(Source: Samsung Intercept Forums)

“App data including your call history, contacts, etc. contributes to your phone storage space as well” (Source: Droid Forums.net)

This will lead to Android users to ensure that they have sufficient phone storage and this in turn limits them trying new applications and exploring what Android has to offer. Some people may argue that you don’t need so many applications and that you should delete the apps that aren’t frequently used, but that isn’t solving the problem and if you’re testing out applications you can easily hit the over 200MB (I hit the Optimus One’s ~150MB ‘limit’ of 172MB after installing applications that I wanted to test and a handful of games). I found it very frustrating when I could have a huge SD card with 10+GB free that can’t be fully utilized for applications. It honestly feels like such a waste of space.

I think this is where Android could learn from Windows Phone 7 here where the SD card is fused/combined with the internal storage. This fusing would allow users to upgrade their internal storage at any time allowing users to be in charge of their device. This fusing would also solve the problem of applications not supporting moving to the SD card as the fused SD card would be treated as internal phone memory. This would give the opportunity of the user to upgrade their storage if needed, as opposed to putting the responsibility of the the developer to support moving the application to the SD card as it is now.

Perhaps this is an issue that manufacturers have not decided to take action upon or perhaps they feel that it isn’t a real big issue. Just due to the fact that it hinders exploration of new apps really gets to me. Newer phones come out with larger ROM sizes but how much is available to the users? I checked a friend’s new HTC Desire HD with only a handful of applications install and there was 0.9GB of phone memory still available (specifications of ROM state 1.5GB, thus assume ~1GB available for applications). Will this problem only be for budget phones in the upcoming future? The HTC Desire was by no means a budget phone when it was released (and still isn’t a budget phone) but it has a low amount of internal storage. Could current phones suffer this same problem in the future? Only time will have the answer and in the mean time, this is a big point of contention for me and makes choosing an Android device a bit more challenging. Follow up post on “Things to look out for when buying an Android phone/device” should come soon.

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27 thoughts on “The Biggest Problem with Android: Low Available Phone Storage

  1. Good article.I found it after doing a search on the issue because I’m experiencing storage shortage problems on my optimus after just buying it.does seem ridiculous.

  2. I also bought optimus one recently, and experience difficulties with sms text when internal memory getting low.
    Some friend of mine suggest using custom rom and dalvik sd, said it can increase internal memory space a bit, larger than 150mb.. I think it worth a try..

    • With a custom ROM you can delete some apps that come preinstalled, but I don’t think that there is that much more memory you can reclaim (basically you just delete apps, it doesn’t increase the memory space). I think all you really need is to root the device in order to delete unused preinstalled apps so check out z4root for rooting.

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  6. I’ve had an Optimus T for about a month, and ran into this storage issue too. All downloaded apps are on the SD card, my Google Voice, ChompSMS and call history caches are empty, but I still get the messages, and I have an app that automatically clears apps; caches. One forum suggested clearing the browser cache. I did that a few minutes ago, so I don’t know yet if that works.
    I had a MyTouch for two years and never had this problem. Is it unique to the Optimus line?

    • The problem of low storage is is usually limited to lower and some mid-range Android devices. Perhaps the MyTouch didn’t have a problem because it came with more space or that the apps and that time didn’t take much space. I use DiskUsage to see which apps are taking the most space. Go into settings > SD card & phone storage settings and check the Available Space for the Internal phone storage: anything above 20MB should give you no error messages.

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  8. Hi,

    I fully agree with you. If you can’t download apps, what’s the point of Market? To narrow the experience down to 4 or 5 apps?

    I can no longer recommend Android. The memory ceiling is too low and it brings down your productivity (for instance, I shouldn’t have to waste time searching the web about this issue). Besides, Android doesn’t really comes with good diagnostic tools, so the user has to fix stuff by trial and error!

    Since Apple only has one tablet model, and since Android is broken due to this memory problem), a Windows mobile is starting to look like a good choice!

    • I think this problem should only occur in budget devices. At the end of the day it is the manufacturers who set how much space for apps there are. Perhaps in this aspect, Google has been too lenient to manufacturers on making devices. Running into this problem if you buy an expensive phone can truly make one hate Android: I’m sure there are many people who have had a bad experience like this and have sworn off Android because of the bad experience.

      But for tablets this seems to be solved with Android 3.x Honeycomb (I don’t have an Android tablet personally so I can’t verify). I hope it gets solved in the next version of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich) as well so that this is no longer the problem.

      • I find your comment regarding those disgusting “budget devices” elitist, entitled, consumerist, and arrogant. FYI, most people in this country do not find the Optimus T to be in their “budget”. My sister is an R.N. making 60 grand a year with two kids to support and she cannot afford this phone. So get out of your techie nerd ivory tower, push yourself away from your best friends the puters and smart-ass phones and deal with real people and maybe the size of your brain and world will grow.

  9. It is too bad. I have a brand new mytouch4g. The available memory is never about 319mb and that is only because I constantly use Task killer. If I don’t hovers around 119m and is very sluggish. Maybe they should slow down the pace of new new new and take the time to create a more efficient base.

    • I think you may have misunderstood the difference between RAM (which you are talking about) and app storage (that I’m talking about in the post). Both are important and RAM is important for multi-tasking and smooth operation in general. App storage space is basically the amount of space that can be used for installing and storing applications =)

  10. I visited your post hoping to learn how to solve the problem we all know exists, only to find that your post is nothing more than pointing out the obvious.

  11. No kiddin- its not a useful post just diarrhea of the mouth. Get your phones rooted people.otherwise there is no solution and it’s useless discussion.

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  14. My Xperia Play actually locked up trying to update itself under low storage conditions (which i couldnt seem to get rid of) leaving me without a phone for a week while it was sent off for fixing. it’s a BIG problem

  15. I didn’t read beyond “ROM (Read Only Memory) is where the phone operating system and applications reside”

    Dead Wrong… do some basic research before you post articles that pollute the net with such nonsense. And better yet make sure the next phone you buy has enough internal storage not “ROM”.

  16. Have a Samsung Galaxy SII which has on board:according to the Android Assistance tool:
    1) Memory RAM 564 MB used + 262MB Free => Total 820 MB
    2) Phone Space info (ROM) used 1.75GB + 219 MB Free => Total Space 1.97GB
    This is the problem!
    2) Internal storage info 5.85 GB used + 5.66GB Free => Total Space 11.5GB
    3) SD Card Spaxce used 3.31 GB + 26.4 GB Free => Total Space 29.71GB

    Downloading of even relatively small apps or updating already installed versions is amost impossible. All App’s that could be moved to the SD card have been moved already.

    I am afraid that the real issue is indeed very inefficient usage of available HW resources.

    Would welcome an APP that tackles this a.s.a.p.

    In case someone can advice please do.

    Kind Regards GJM_bas

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