Gaga for Gigabytes: How to Add External Storage to Your Smartphone


We’ve all been there. “Storage almost full.” “Not enough storage available.” “Cannot Take Photo.” “Storage space running out.” No matter how your smartphone chooses to articulate it, the meaning’s the same: your shiny connected companion is full to the point of bursting, with nary a megabyte to spare for a low-res photo or simple app.

The truth is, while our devices have gotten higher-resolution cameras, bigger operating systems, and more complex apps, the amount of storage included has stayed relatively static. And if your handset of choice comes without a memory card slot, you might think that you need to upgrade to a higher capacity model. That’ll typically run you $50 to $200 more, depending on the manufacturer and how much space you want.

If your phone has room for external memory already, great! Head over here to pick out a microSD card. But what if your phone doesn’t have a memory card slot and you don’t want to spend the dough on a higher-capacity model? We’ve got some options that’ll give you the room you need without breaking the bank.

Mobile Storage Drives for iOS

iPhone users, you know why you’re here. None of Cupertino’s iOS-based creations have had microSD card slots, and the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus start at a meager 32GB, which drops by about four to six gigs once you account for the operating system itself. Well, accessory makers have heard your anguished cries. They’ve developed some clever ways to expand your device’s storage. Here are a few.

Looking like normal flash drives from a distance, these drives distinguish themselves, thanks to Lightning connectors in addition to their standard USB connectors. The USB side, typically running USB 3.0 and higher for speedy data transfer, connects to your Mac or PC and the other side goes into your device’s Lightning port. While this does mean that you won’t be able to charge your device at the same time, a mobile storage drive has the advantage of fast transfer speeds and lower battery usage than some other solutions.

Transcend’s JetDrive Go 500 comes in an extremely compact zinc-cased package and has an extra-long Lightning connector to get past bulky cases. Available in gold or silver finishes with 32, 64, or 128GB capacities, its JetDrive Go app for iOS lets you save photos and videos directly to the drive instead of having to move them after you’re done shooting. Its 20 MB/s (megabit per second) data transfer rate enables HD video playback from the drive, as well. The app’s one-touch backup moves your photos and videos to the drive with a single tap. It also supports other file formats, including Microsoft Office files, iWork, and PDF, and is MFi-certified by Apple.

Transcend 32GB JetDrive Go 500 Mobile Storage for iOS Devices

Desktop Solutions for iOS

If you find yourself backing up your iPhone on the daily, put a SanDisk iXpand Base on your desk. With up to 256GB of storage, this base station can slurp up as many pictures, movies, or other giant files as you can throw at it. Just plug your device in using the integrated Lightning cable and lay it down on the rubberized top surface while the iXpand backs up your memories and fast-charges your phone with 15W of power. When not in use, the cable stows in the groove that runs around the base’s circumference.

SanDisk 64GB iXpand Base

Mobile Storage Drives for Android

Many Android users have been vocal about wanting expandable storage in their handsets, and it seems that the manufacturers have listened. Samsung eliminated the microSD card slot from the Galaxy S6 but brought it back for the Galaxy S7 after customers requested its return, and it looks like it’s sticking around with the Galaxy S8/S8+ and Galaxy Note 8. Thanks to the wide variety of Android smartphones, storage cases are less prevalent, but there are still plenty of ways to add a few gigs.

Like those for iOS, mobile storage drives for Android are flash drive-like in appearance, but have additional connectors to communicate with your phone. Many will only work on devices with USB OTG (On the Go), so make sure to check your device with some internet sleuthing or with apps designed for that purpose.

Sandisk’s Ultra Dual m3.0 drives range from 32 to 256GB in capacity and work as “plug-and-play” devices when used with Android devices with USB OTG and micro-USB ports. A free app gives you more control over your data. If you’ve got a newer device with a reversible USB Type-C connector, you’ll want one like the JumpDrive C20c from Lexar.

Lexar 128GB JumpDrive C20c USB Type-C Flash Drive

Mobile Card Readers for Android

Perhaps the least expensive option is a mobile card reader, which works just like a mobile storage drive except you supply the actual storage, typically in the form of a microSD card. These give a little more flexibility in terms of storage sizes but can sacrifice in data-transfer speed.

The StarTech microSD to Micro-USB/USB OTG Adaptor Card Reader may have a long name but it’s pretty small physically, enabling you to use your microSD cards with OTG-enabled smartphones via micro-USB or computers via a standard USB connector. For USB Type-C devices, try the Lexar C1.

Lexar C1 USB Type-C microSD Card Reader

Mobile Storage for Android and iOS

Wireless Mass Storage: If you’ve got a fear of commitment to a single smartphone platform (or if you live in a house divided), then maybe physically connected external storage just isn’t right for you. Devices like the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick create their own ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks, enabling users to stream and send content over the air via the 802.11n wireless protocol. It works with Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac OS and streams to up to three devices at once, making it ideal for long trips with heavy media requirements. And if you’re worried about running out of space, don’t. The Connect Wireless Stick’s most capacious iteration maxes out at a whopping 256GB.

SanDisk 32GB Connect Wireless Stick

Do you have any tips, tricks, or product recommendations for expanding your mobile device’s storage space? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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It's the lack of Internal memory and the inability to move apps and data to the Storage drive that makes these systems so frustrating and inefficient.  I'm tired of deleting Bowling to play Billiards.

After I purchased the Transcend JetDrive, I then looked up the APP for this device to find out what others thought about how it worked, only to learn that the APP will not work with the new IOS 11.  Therefore, I'd not recommend anyone considering this drive until the APP will function properly with the new (and next) IOS system changes.  

What's wrong with these designers.  Something that looks like a USB flash drive sticking out of the bottom of an iPhone doesn't lend itself to safe or convenient transport.  Why not design the memory compartment to nicely fit as an extension of the phone itself maintaining the current shape and style of the phone's base so it looked like a natural continuation of the phone itself.  I have seen well designed external battery caddies that do this extremely well and you would only need one quarter of the space to add memory.  Form follows function 101.