How to Quickly Reclaim Your Smartphone Storage Space

How to Quickly Reclaim Your Smartphone Storage Space
Are you constantly plagued by warnings that your phone is running out of storage? We're here to help.

Storage woes are common for smartphone owners, perhaps particularly during the summer when we're snapping more pictures, playing more games and feeling generally more unwilling to take on big organization projects.

So we went in search of (relatively) quick ways to free up space on your phones. I tried a lot of strange tricks in the course of putting together this piece, downloaded some regrettable apps and got to know my settings better than I ever thought I would. In the end, however, I ended up mostly with back-to-basics tried-and-true methods.

Real storage management will take real work - a permanent solution may require you to plug your phone into your computer and actually deal with some files at some point. But if you're really hurting for space, try some of these quick tips to give yourself more room.

Take stock: The best thing to do when trying to figure out how to make more space on your phone is to actually look at what's taking up space.

You can do that on the iPhone by heading to Settings > General > Storage and iCloud Usage > Manage Storage. On Android phones, head to Settings > Storage and you should see a breakdown of how your phone's storage is being used.

This can be revealing in a couple of ways, but I often find it's most instructive in seeing what media can be removed from your phone. Speaking anecdotally based on the experiences of friends who've asked me this question, looking at the apps that take up the most room on your phone often reveals a podcast problem, audiobook affinity or enthusiasm for e-books. This can be particularly bad after trips -- I once kept running out of room on my phone, only to later realize that I'd prepped for a trip by downloading two seven-or-more-book series and never returned them to that big shelf in the sky. Getting rid of those books solved my storage woes that day.

The weird trick: There is a genuinely strange trick you can try to free up space on your iPhone. As first documented on Reddit, users can download a really big file - such as a movie rental of "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers." You have to be sure that you're attempting to download a sufficiently enormous movie, so you don't get charged for it. The aim is to get an error message that tells you that the rental you want is too big to fit. (You can find the size of a movie in the "Information" section of its product page; you want something that is ridiculously larger than the available space you have on your phone.)

Yes, you want the error message. You want this rental to fail, because somehow failing to rent an enormous file gains you more storage space. It's not completely clear why this works - the governing theory is that your phone clears out some of the caches and other extraneous information from other apps to try to make room for the download. Apple declined to comment on the trick, but hasn't debunked the popular theory about it.

A caveat: This has not always worked for me, and can take several attempts to get it to work. But sometimes, it really does free up space - as much as I hate to say it - like magic.

The Android version of this is more straightforward: You can just go in your settings and clear the cache. That frees up quite a bit of space as well, although you may have to log in to some apps again. It's a small price to pay every once in a while.

Let go of old messages: Yes, obviously save the sweet messages you got from your parents, friends or significant other. But, if you're like me, the bulk of messages on my phone are actually messages with a very short shelf life - verifying log-ins at the bank, going back and forth with friends about when and where to meet, etc. Before a big purge, save or screenshot the messages that matter, and then hit that "select all" and "delete." It will feel good, I promise, and a few photos will take up much less space than a year's worth of texts.

The same holds true for messaging logs from other apps. WhatsApp, for example, stores information such as photos and videos from conversations on your phone; Instagram has an option that lets you save the original photos to your camera roll that may eat up space. If you don't need them, get rid of them.

This applies to e-mail, too. Speaking personally, I also found that I'd downloaded a lot of documents onto my work cellphone, from e-mail attachments. Clearing that out from the "Documents" folder on my Android phone brought me back 1 GB of space; that's nothing to sneeze at. And even if you're a digital packrat, you can use archiving features to get things off of your phone, but still in easy reach.


Use the cloud: Speaking of archiving, remember that the cloud is your friend. Sure, it can add a few seconds of extra time when you need to download a document or a picture, but if storage is a problem for you, this is your best option. Use whatever floats your boat, and for your media of choice - Google Photos, iCloud, OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, Evernote - but find a cloud service that works for you at the price (often free) you want.

Take advantage of settings on your phone as well. If photos are a problem for you, for example, try using the iCloud Photo Library, which lets you "optimize iPhone storage." This option will upload full-resolution copies of your photos to the cloud, although you can download them again fairly easily. On Android devices, Google Photos also lets you delete device copies of photos while keeping them in the cloud.

Embrace streaming services when possible, too. If you're somewhere with Wi-Fi, using Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, etc., on your phone rather than relying on your own tracks can really free up space - certainly enough for a playlist or two for your offline lunchtime jog. And if you really can't bear to be without your music, there's no shame in investing in a dedicated music player. Really.

Delete apps: OK, this sounds like it should be pretty obvious, but it's really not an easy thing to remember to do. It's much easier to accumulate apps and to hold on to them just in case you need them for whatever specific purpose prompted you to download them in the first place.

But pruning out apps is really the best way to keep your storage in check. Google is reportedly testing a feature that actually suggests which apps should get the boot when you try to download a new one, based on how frequently you use them. The firm also is working on a way to to let you instantly download just the part of an app you need to use, then get rid of it just as quickly.

It's a smart move, and a good approach for others to adopt. (Apple, it should be said, will automatically delete and then reinstall apps when you update your software - but hasn't announced a feature similar to Google's.) When looking at your apps, think about how you really use them. You may surprise yourself. For example, I kept an app for my insurance provider on my phone for a long time essentially so I could reference the policy number a few times a year - times when I needed the actual insurance card in my purse anyway. I gave it the boot.

I also often find airline apps aren't worth keeping on your phone unless you're on a trip - if you're not a frequent flier, you can probably get away with ditching these apps when you're not traveling. And some apps are just bad versions of their websites - I realized some financial apps I felt very responsible about downloading weren't actually helping me. If anything, they were just reminders to check my accounts on the desktop or mobile Web, because I often couldn't do what I wanted on the app. I set actual reminders in a reminders app instead.

Shopping apps, too, often serve functions that could as easily be accomplished on the mobile web. Bonus: ditching my shopping apps helped me also cut back on some impulse purchases.

Obviously, there is no one-size fits all solution for managing storage on your phone - maybe you'd rather cut off your hand than be separated from your shopping apps. And that's great: Smartphones, perhaps more than any other device, are really personal, and the things you decide to keep on your phone should reflect your priorities. But using some or all of these tips should help you take stock of those priorities and, one could hope, make room for all those summer selfies with ice cream, swimming pools and cookouts - in other words, the truly important things.

© 2016 The Washington Post


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Further reading: Android, Apple, Apps, Google, Mobiles, Phone Storage, iOS
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