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How To Better Manage Your Smart Phone's Storage Space

By Matthew Braga

Considering what we use our phones for today, it's hardly surprising when all that space fills up. The trick is managing all that space smartly. Here's how.

512Mb of storage? Absolutely archaic by today's standards. You'd be lucky to fit a few albums on a card that size, let alone an entire movie. Looking back to the dark days of 2005, you might wonder how we ever managed.

Today's phones, however, are entirely different beasts. Our iPhones can handle entire seasons of TV with ease, and our EVO's are packing more music than a dance-floor DJ. Most importantly, We actually measure that storage in gigabytes now — with the latest iPhones packing a whopping 32GBs. That's a lot of LOST.



Apps

If you're one of those lucky people with an expandable memory card slot, use it to your full advantage. BlackBerries, Windows Mobile, and soon, Froyo-packing Android phones can all store applications on a microSD card, making it easier to  keep your internal memory in check. And if space is still a problem, try and move larger, less-frequently used applications to your computer instead. GPS navigation apps, for example, are notoriously large and only necessary for the occasional trip or adventure. 
 
Apps are the heart and soul of the modern smart phone. It's what differentiates them from feature phones or plain old MP3 players. These apps take a lot of space too. Most apps are under 10MB, but we've seen games take up over 200MB (Rock Band for iPhone is 168MB, for example). That means it makes sense to reserve a significant portion of your phone's storage capacity for apps. If you have a 16GB iPhone, 4-6GB reserved for Apps makes sense, because unlike music or photos, you're less likely to cycle them out of rotation.

Photos

Huge collections can become a big drain on storage and speed, so it makes sense to organize them properly. Apple has confirmed that the size of the iPhone's camera roll can affect backup/restore speeds if if not regularly synced, so try and move photos to your computer when possible. Most people forget to regularly organize and manage their phone's photo collections, and leaving every photo on your phone can take its toll in the long run, especially if you're taking 5MP photos now with the iPhone 4. Our recommendation is to take non-essential photos off your phone every month, keeping only a folder of photos you know you'll want to regularly revisit. You really don't have any excuse to not do this, since the iPhone (and other smart phones) connect to PCs as digital cameras, so you don't even have to use iTunes to extract photos. 

One really useful tip is to create a Dropbox account specifically to host your photo collection. You can move photos to and from the Dropbox for easy management and access, and they don't need parsed or indexed by syncing apps for ease of backup.

The same goes for BlackBerries and Android phones — not only will it speed up performance, but free up space for more pictures too. Also, cloud-based storage like Flickr or Facebook albums are great ways to keep your photos close at hand, without devoting all the added space. 
 
Stream music on your phone, instead of storing it locally (if possible). 

Music

Love it or hate it, iTunes has some great tricks that make listening to your music on the go as simple as possible. Manually managing your library means you can create playlists that only sync a specific number of songs, freeing up space for other files. Also, there's the handy ability to convert your music to 128Kbs AAC files on the fly, sending the smaller tunes to your phone, while leaving your library untouched.

Phones with smaller storage may find streaming particularly useful as well. Mobile apps from Pandora and Last.FM can stream songs, artist and albums on demand, leaving only the most essential albums to be stored locally.
 
Our point is that you really don't have any reason to cram your entire music collection into your phone. Yes, the iPhone is the best iPod--fuctionally-- but it's not a jukebox replacement. Train yourself to regularly rotate playlists off your iPhone, while keeping only your favorite albums on the phone at all times. One fourth your Phone's storage capacity is a good target (on a 16GB phone, that's still 4GB of music). Think of the phone as a large iPod Shuffle. You don't even need iTunes to do it!
 

Video

All those episodes of Arrested Development can choke what little storage you have in an instant. What's worse, those videos are probably higher-quality rips for viewing on your television or computer screen — resolutions far bigger than what your phone can actually display. As we've mentioned before, Handbrake is a great tool for converting those gargantuan videos into phone-friendly sizes, saving space and making room for more media in the process.

Of course, the cloud can come in handy here too. If there's a series or movie you can access via Hulu (assuming your phone has Flash), Netflix, Air Video, or even BitBop, keep them off your phone and stream them instead (assuming you have Flash) — you're better off saving that space for last night's episode of Fringe. 
 
Again, as with music, the trick here is to regularly rotate media off of your phone. Videos take up the most space relative to any other form of media, and you're less likely to watch videos over and over again. If you subscribe to season passes on iTunes, configure your phone to delete videos that you've watched already, loading only new episodes for the next day's commute. And with movies, we recommend no more than one synced to your phone at all times, and only during long trips. Long videos are huge battery drains anyway, and when left unwatched, are just a poor use of storage space.
 

App Files

Despite their small size, documents, attachments and other errant files can build up quickly, making it all the more important to stop them before they do. Dropbox, available for Android and iOS, can keep those files synced to the cloud, allowing you to remove them from your device instead. You might also try limiting the accumulation of local files as much as possible. Limit emails to only 25 or 50 messages at a time, instead of 200, and clean out browser cache and temporary files regularly for some extra breathing room.

Free space

Much like your average PC, it's a good idea to keep a little bit of free space on your mobile device. Putting aside anywhere from 10-15% of your total space not only keeps your phone running smoothly, but provides room for ever-growing browser caches, temporary storage, and last minute additions to songs or apps. Remember too that many applications come compressed, and once installed can take up more space than you realize — having a buffer means no surprises when things are actually installed. 
 
On the flip side, having too much free space on your phone is a bit of a waste. Check your storage usage. If you have more than 50% free space on your 32GB iPhone, than maybe it would've been a better idea to save $100 and just get a 16GB phone.
 
How do you manage your phone's storage? How much space do your Apps, photos, music, and video take up? Share your own practices and experience in the comments below!

Images via Flickr user Thibaut Ninove, last100.com, Pandora, Technipages.