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Android 101: how to free up space on your phone

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Make more room for your data

It can happen all too easily, especially if you’ve got an Android phone with less than 128GB of storage: one day, you try to install a cool new game or an intriguing new app, and you can’t. You’ve run out of space.

Don’t panic. If you’re not ready to buy a new phone, and your phone doesn’t have a handy microSD slot for some extra storage, you can probably still pick up a decent amount of free space with some simple house cleaning. Here are some suggestions on how to get back some of that storage.

USE ANDROID’S “FREE UP SPACE” TOOL

Android has a built-in tool to help you increase the amount of useable storage on your phone. It’s easy to find:

  • Go to your phone’s settings, and select “Storage.” Among other things, you’ll see information on how much space is in use, a link to a tool called “Smart Storage” (more on that later), and a list of app categories.
  • Tap on the blue “Free up space” button
  • You’ll be given the choice of using Google’s Files app (if it’s installed) or the built-in “Remove items” feature. The latter gives you the opportunity to clean out your photos and videos (if they’re backed up), your downloaded files, and your infrequently used apps.

There are other handy tools in the “Storage” section. For example, you can find out how much space each of your apps takes up:

  • In “Storage,” tap on a category (such as “Music & audio” or “Games”). You’ll get a list of all your apps that fit that category, along with how much space each is taking.
  • Tap on the app name. You can now find out the app size, how much of the available storage is being used by user data, and how much space is being used by the cache. Two buttons let you either “Clear storage” or “Clear cache.”

(Note for newbies: it is usually safe to clear the cache. However, before you hit “Clear storage,” check to see what your user data is. You don’t want to accidentally delete any important media or documents.)

Finally, there is a toggle for a feature called “Smart Storage,” which gives your phone permission to automatically remove backed-up photos after 30, 60, or 90 days. It will also automatically remove backed-up photos and videos if your storage is almost full.

CHECK YOUR APPS

A good way to save space is to make sure you’re not clogging up the works with apps that you haven’t used in months. It’s all too easy to download an app, try it out, and then let it sit while you go on to other things.

If you’re curious about how long it’s been since you’ve used certain apps, here’s how to find out:

  • Tap on your Play Store app
  • Select the menu icon (three parallel lines) on the upper left corner, and select “My apps & games
  • Tap on “Installed” on the top menu line
  • Look for the top line that starts “On this device….” On the right of that is an icon that lets you sort your list of apps; tap on that, and choose “Last Used.”
  • The apps that you’ve used most recently will be on top. Swipe down to find out which apps you haven’t used in a while.

You can also find out if there are any apps you haven’t used for a long time by using a file manager (see below).

STORE YOUR PHOTOS ONLINE

Photos and videos can be some of the most space-hogging items on your phone. Luckily, if you’ve got an Android phone, you’re probably already uploading your photos to Google Photos — and can therefore take them off your phone.

First, check to make sure you are backing up your photos to your Google account. When you go to your main page on the Photos app, you should see a “Backup complete” notice on top. If you don’t, you should do the following to start backing up:

  • Open the Photos app. Tap on the menu icon (three parallel lines) in the upper left corner and select “Settings.”
  • Select “Back up & sync”
  • Make sure that the “Back up & sync” toggle on top of the page is set to “On.” You should also check which account is listed under “Backup Account.” If you have more than one account, you can switch to whichever you want to use.

There are other options as well. For example, you can choose the quality of the photos you want to upload and whether you want the phone to upload photos when you’re using cellular data.

Now that you’re sure your photos are being backed up, you can delete them from your phone. It’s very likely that there is already a notice on top of the Photo app’s front page offering to free up memory from your device; if not, it’s easy to do.

  • Tap on the menu icon
  • Tap on the “Free up space” menu selection. You’ll get a pop-up window saying how much memory and how many items will be removed. Select “Free up XX GB.”

USE A FILE MANAGER

If you’ve had your phone for more than a few months, it’s likely you’ve accumulated a load of outdated, duplicate, or simply unwanted files that are taking up a lot of space. File managers such as Google Files let you check your various file folders and see what’s there. Many also have features that will help you search out and delete storage-wasting files — such as junk files, duplicate files, or over-large files — without having to search them out manually.

In most of these apps, you will be given the chance to look through the files that the app plans to delete to make sure that it isn’t getting rid of anything you really want to keep.

Still running out of space? Then unfortunately — or luckily, if you’re looking for a good excuse — it may be time to start thinking about a new phone, one with more storage space and perhaps that also offers you the chance to offload your data onto a micro-SD card.

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