In our Android smartphone reviews we often comment that a handset has only 8- or 16GB storage, but can be expanded using an SD card. The ability to use portable storage to expand the capabilities of a smartphone is an absolute boon, but it's not always as straightforward to use such storage as you might think. It is desirable, however.
Keeping files stored on SD card rather than phone makes it easier to swap them from device to device. It also keeps your phone storage free for things such as the OS and apps, which may keep things moving along quickly on an older handset.
Moving apps from your phone to the SD card is almost always difficult, and often impossible. And it isn't always as straightforward as it might be to move files from your phone's storage to the SD card.
Because each iteration- and each manufacturer's version of Android can be so very different, we can offer only general advice here. But here is advice for if you have an Android phone or Android tablet and you want to move apps or data from the phone to the SD card.
How to move apps from Android phone to SD card
Let's address the main issue first: there's a very good chance you might not be able to do this. Because of the way they mount SD cards, many Android manufacturers won't let you run apps from the SD card - you can't on some of the Galaxy phones, for instance. In part this is for performance reasons, and in part because the SD card is outside the walled world of your Google account which may make permissions tricky.
This isn't the case with all Android phones, however. If you can move apps to your SD card, the process is likely to be something like this: go to the Apps menu, find the app you want to move. Then through that particular App's settings, select move to SD card. See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?
How to move files, photos from Android phone to SD card
If you can't move apps, you can definitely move date from your phone storage to the expansion card. By default files such as music, movies, photos and documents will save to the phone. We'll explain how to set each type of file to save to the card a little further on. For now let's concentrate on moving files.
First of all look in your phone's app menu - is there something called 'File Manager' or similar? If so, you are in clover. If not, don't worry - there are plenty of free third-party file manager apps on the Google Play app store. One we like is ASTRO File Manager.
Using such an app you can browse through the file structure of your handset, find the file or folder you wish to move, copy it, paste it into the new location on your SD card, and delete the original.
But here's a simple pro tip: you don't even need an app if you have access to a PC and a USB cable. That being the case you can mount your phone or tablet like a USB drive on your PC. Click into it from the PC and you'll see the file structure, like any other portable storage. Then simply drag-and-drop files to the SD card. This ability to see and utilise your phone as USB storage is one of the key advantages of Android over iOS.
There is one other possibility that is worth considering. In some recent versions of Android, if you go to Settings > Storage, you'll find an option called 'Transfer data to SD card'. Here you can select or all data or certain types of file (photos/music etc), and transfer them from the phone to the SD card via a single click. Do this periodically to keep your phone's storage free.
How to save files direct to SD card on Android
Finally, here's how to set up your Android phone so that new files automatically save to the expansion card. Select the app you use for that type of file - for instance 'Camera' for photos. Then go to Settings > Storage or similar. There should be an option called something like 'Save to SD card by default'. Enable this option. Visit The top 10 best tablets: What's the best tablet you can buy in 2013?