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.