If you spend big on a new Android smartphone or tablet, it will probably come with 32GB or more storage. That’s enough to keep a lot of content saved locally, but not all users have such a luxury. Many mid-range phones come with scant internal storage, and maybe a 4-8GB SD card. That's not enough to carry around all the images, videos, music, and apps you might need. So what’s a user to do?
You might not be able to live large on a device with 8GB of storage space these days, but with a little help from the cloud, you can have a good multimedia experience.
There are a lot of great apps in the Google Play Store, but when you’re cruising along with too little on-device storage, you need to keep an eye out. Some games could eat up as much as 1GB of your storage space. You certainly don’t want to pay for that when you lack the storage.
It is common for complicated games to use an external data download to get game assets in one big chink after an app is installed from the Play Store. Unfortunately, many games neglect to mention that in the description. Google is now allowing developers to host up to 4GB of game data in the Play Store, so the app listing should note that.
Even apps that don’t download a large amount of game data might leave folders on your SD card. To keep SD usage down, take the occasional swing through the SD and remove folders for apps that you no longer use. You’d be surprised how much data might be left over. Watch the size of apps, remove the ones you don’t need, and you should be able to stay in the clear.
Photos and Videos
With most devices shipping with 8MP back cameras, the size of each picture you snap can get quite large. If you’re a real shutterbug, your limited internal storage space can be eaten up blazing fast. There are a few ways to save your memories without consuming any storage space, though.
Google’s Google+ social network allows all Android users to upload images and videos automatically. Just make sure the app is installed, and head into the settings to turn on Instant Upload. You can specify that uploads only happen on Wi-Fi, or when charging. You don’t have to use Google+ for anything else if you don’t want to. All the files go into a private album that you can access at any time from the phone’s Gallery app, or on the web.
The drawback to using Google+ is that your photos will be scaled down to no larger than 2048-pixels on a side. For an 8MP image, that could be as much as a one-third reduction in resolution. Google+ offers unlimited storage, but if you’re looking for a higher fidelity way to save your images, consider Dropbox.
The Android Dropbox app was just updated to automatically upload your pictures and videos to your Dropbox account, and it will even offer you extra free storage. Go into the Dropbox settings and turn on Camera Upload. Like Google+, this can be set to only upload content when you are connected to Wi-Fi.
The first file you upload from your camera will get you 500MB of additional storage space, and each 500MB of videos and pictures thereafter entitles you to 500MB more space up to a maximum of 3GB of bonus cloud storage. So if you just have a basic 2GB free account, it can be upped to 5GB for free. Dropbox is a great way to save full-resolution versions of your pics.
If you’re in the US, the choice for music storage is easy: use Google Music. Just head over to the Google Play Music site on a PC, and download the Music Manager software. After it is installed, direct it to your music library (be it a folder or iTunes install), and all your tunes will be saved to the cloud. You can keep 20,000 songs in Google Music for free ans stream them to any computer or Android phone.
As long as you have a reliable internet connection, you don’t have to keep any music locally on your device, thus saving a ton of space. From the Play Music app, you can pin any albums or songs you like to the device for local playback, but it’s easy to rotate new content in so you don’t have to keep very much of it pinned at once.
If you don’t want to deal with your own MP3 collection in the US, or you live in another country, you might consider subscribing to Spotify, or a similar service. For a few dollars a month, you can stream as much music as you want from an expansive collection, and cache tracks for offline play.
Maybe you like to backup APK files, or perhaps you need to carry around PDFs for work on your device. For anything that doesn’t fall into an above category, you can still find a place for it in the cloud. If you want to make sure your content is synced to multiple PCs, we would again suggest using Dropbox. The 2GB free account should be fine for most casual users, and the app itself is quite nice.
If you need a little (or a lot) more space, you might want to save your various files in Box.net. The new Box app is clean, has a great tablet interface, and offers you a whopping 50GB of free cloud storage, but only if you sign-up before Friday March 23. Box doesn’t sync down to devices, but it is a reliable hard drive in the cloud for free. Box.net makes money by selling business services mostly based around collaboration, but if you just want the space, it’s free.
Finally, you should pick up a handy little app called DiskUsage to keep proper track of your SD card. DiskUsage will show you a block diagram of your SD usage so you can zoom in and out to find out what is taking up so much space on your tiny card. If you find content you don’t need immediate access to, you can upload it to Dropbox or Box.net and reclaim the bits.
With the increasingly robust options for cloud storage, and the tight integration many of these services have with Android, you can survive on 8GB or less of storage quite easily. Your files are also not as vulnerable to loss or theft when they’re in the cloud, so this is good policy even if you have plenty of storage on your device.