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What is Difference between Internal, Phone and External Storage? Android Storage Explained

Smartphones are getting better and better in terms of technology these days. With that comes a lot of confusion too. We often witness with out devices that we do not get that memory storage that has been advertised to us in terms of internal storage and the companies just say that the remaining in reserved for operating system.

Do you remember the Galaxy S4 where you got just 9GB from the advertised 16GB of internal storage capacity? Customers often get confused with different memory storage options and today we are going to solve that issue for you. There are three types of memory capacities in our smartphones these days: Internal, Phone and External. The first two are often confused for each other while the third is still understood as SD card storage. Let us take a look at what these three exactly are:

Internal Storage


In lay man terms, this the memory available to you for installing your applications (the operating system ones) and data. Applications are installed in this storage and your personal data such as text messages, contact lists, your email settings and the likes are stored on this. This is considered to be quite sensitive information and this is not accessible to you. Remember the memory which you never get? Well, this is that storage. Whenever you reset your factory settings, all this storage gets erased. This memory is reserved for your operating system and personal data. It will never show up whenever you connect your device to the computer.

Phone Storage


This is the storage that is available to you. This is the storage that you get (those 9GB from the S4) from the total internal storage capacity of the device. Your games and applications are installed in this one and it is the default memory for storing your pictures, movies, songs and so on. You can access it when you connect your device to the computer.

Can You Install Apps on Phone Storage?


When you use most of your internal storage, you will get a notification for low storage, asking you to delete some files, even when you have most of your phone storage empty. This message will be triggered by a system file which stores its data on Internal Storage. If you attempt to download more apps, they will be housed on phone storage. So yes, you can store apps on phone storage as well. You can also disable apps which prompt low storage message due to lack of storage space to refresh their app data.

External Storage

Class 10

As the name suggests, this is the external storage capacity of your phone. It depends on the compatibility of the memory card slot and to what extent is it supported. In simpler terms, it is the storage which can be removed easily by you (your memory card) and can be used for storing pictures, music, videos and the likes. You may or may not be able to install applications on it. This is because some manufacturers allow for it while some don’t. To an extent, even your cloud storage can be categorized as external storage.

If you have an OTG support for your device (more and more devices are starting to offer it), you can even use the memory of your USB device for storage  That is all we have for you folks regarding the memory storage capacity questions that keep on pouring in. Do let us know if you still have any other queries.

Recommended: Why Your Android Phone Memory is Partitioned as Internal Storage and Phone Storage

Why You Should Move Apps to SD Card

There are basically two reasons to move your Apps to SD card. The obvious one is because your storage is full and you need storage space. The other time when you need to do so is when you want to speed up your phone. with your Nand Flash storage full or nearly full it takes more time and energy for eMMC Controller to track where your data is stored in the Nand Flash storage.

Even when you delete a file, it doesn’t make much of a difference, unless you are using Android 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher which comes with Fstrim. So in order to enjoy good performance, you should keep at least 20 percent of your storage free at all times. This is one of the main reasons why we are not big fans of 4 GB storage model which OEM’s stick to in India, because after OS takes up around 2 GB, you are only left with 2 GB which doesn’t leave much room for anything else.

Limitations in Moving Apps to SD Card

Not all apps can be transferred to your SD card. If developers check ‘Apps2SD’ option in there apps, only then you can move that App to SD card. Another important thing to note is that complete app will not move to SD card. If you move 25 MB Adobe Flash Player to SD card, only 8 to 10 GB space will be freed on your internal storage.


Everything that you need to run when your SD card is not on your phone including important system apps and widgets has to remain on your phone and thus you can’t transfer them to SD card. Also, you can not transfer preloaded apps and bloatware to SD card. You can use several hacks which don’t require root access to enable apps installation on SD card (sometimes OEMs enable it themselves) and also to enable Apps2SD permission for all apps. The situation varies with different devices. Many manufacturers don’t let you move Apps to SD card for security and performance reasons

How to Move Files, Apps and Data to SD card

You can’t move all apps to SD card. To get a list of apps that you can move to SD card, download Apps2SD APP. The App will give you full list of apps which you can transfer to SD card and will prompt you in notifications whenever you download an app which can be transferred to your SD card.  You can also go to App Info page and tap on Move to SD card button, only if you see it.


apart from apps, you can always move media files and data on SD card using any basic file manager or a USB cable and PC. By tapping SD card as default storage under Settings>> Storage, your data files will be stored on SD card by default.

What Changed with Android 4.4 KitKat

With Android 4.4  Kitkat, apps can’t access just any folder on SD card. They can only save files and write files on their own folders (can read from everywhere).  If you already had apps on SD card, you will have to reinstall them after KitKat update and some of them, which haven’t been updated won’t work. This has been done for security reasons  and has outraged several users worldwide, who claim that Google has done this to force its model of using cloud and phone memory on users. You can not manage files on your SD card using file manager like you could after updating to Android 4.4 KitKat. Basic users might not notice the difference.


Android storage structure might appear to be a big mess and it is. No single set of rules apply to all devices, but with all this basic information, you will get a pretty good idea what you can and can’t do and why you can’t do it. By simply rooting your phone, you get the freedom to use it as you want to, but that voids your warranty. As mentioned before using simple hacks, you can move most apps and other data to SD card even without root, but even that is something basic users shouldn’t have to be bothered with.


Abhishek Bhatnagar

Abhishek Bhatnagar, a known technology blogger & YouTuber from India. A Software Engineer by qualification, now he works as the editor-In-Chief, Webmaster, & Managing Director at Gadgets To Use. He runs a number of other technology websites as well.