/ 5 min read / android

5 Ways to Reclaim Space on Your Android Phone

I have a Moto E smartphone, which has pretty minimal specs (including internal memory), so I’m regularly looking for ways to make the most of limited resources. It’s barebones, but it gets the job done and I paid $100 for it. 2 years ago. Since that’s what the new Samsung and iPhone models cost every few months on the monthly plan, and I haven't figured how to make money grow in our garden, I’m cool with it.

You’re here, so I can safely assume you’re in the same boat. I mean, unless you searched for “the droid that reclaimed space” or “reclaiming space androids” or something… then this is not the article for you…

Android’s frequently (annoyingly) reminds me that space is running out. It oughta just say “You don’t have much internal memory and there’s not much you can do. Thought you’d want to know!!” The obvious way to make that go away is to just start deleting the apps you really love right?

You do have other options. There are ways you can reclaim some of that space so Instagram and Facebook can keep siphoning off your contacts.

Move Apps to the SD Card

Did you know some apps (not nearly enough) can run (mostly) off your SD Card? It depends on how the developer made the app. If they did it right though, it’s a huge boost for phones with a few gigs of internal memory but tens of gigs on an external card.

How:

Open the Settings and scroll down to Apps. Swipe to the right until you get to the “On SD Card” tab. If any of your apps support running from the memory card (a small portion of them is still on the phone, but much less), you’ll see them listed here.

Select the checkbox next to the apps you want to move. I suggest selecting them all.

Caveat:

Moving an app to the SD Card usually means not being able to use that particular app’s widgets. If you don’t use its widgets anyway, or the space you’ll save outweighs the widget’s usefulness, then this isn’t a problem.


Check for App Settings that Move Data to the SD Card

Many apps cannot be moved to the SD Card, but they may still have individual settings that move some of their data.

How:

For example, Google Maps has a feature that lets you download maps to your phone, but those can take up a lot of room. Open Google Maps, go into the “Offline areas” setting as if you’re going to download a new map area, but then click the gear icon in the upper-right. You can tell it to store map data on your SD Card.

Or if you use Google Play to listen to music, open the settings and look for the option that allows you to store your data externally.

You might be surprised how many apps have small tweaks like these ones.


Reset Android Apps to the Factory Settings

Some of the built-in Android apps are really bloated. I can’t imagine what Google is adding to some of these programs to make them so large.

Sure, some of the updates are for security issues. But “security issues” doesn’t bloat the Calendar app to over 40 MB or the built-in keyboard to over 50 MB. It’s ridiculous that Android and all its unremovable components eats up such a significant slice of a phone’s storage.

Well, you can roll back those updates.

How:

Open the Settings app and find the Apps option. Click on that, find a particular app like the Calendar, and open it up.

You’ll see an “Uninstall Updates” button. Click on that and confirm your selection. Astoundingly, this took the keyboard from 50 MB to 6 MB, Google Maps from 136 MB to 35 MB, and Gmail from 43 MB to 13 MB. In all, I saved over 300 MB doing this with various apps (some are shown below for comparison).

What’s more, the apps look nearly identical afterwards. I tried out Gmail, Calendar, Maps… they all do the basic thing they were meant to do. Sure, Maps doesn’t have the “offline maps” feature, and Gallery and Camera has a few options in different places, but nothing major.

Caveat:

Not every app will handle this gracefully.

Google Drive immediately pops up a message saying it was too old and needed to be updated (although ironically I could see my files listed in the background) – but other apps like Gallery were still able use it to sync photos and such to my Drive account which is the only reason I have it installed anyway, so I’m okay with it.

Google Maps works almost perfectly except tapping the button to “center” the screen crashes the app. Most likely, both of these issues are due to some API changes… the apps are making a call out to Google and crashing because something has changed and the call fails.

If you run into a similar issue, just lookup the app in Google Play and download the latest version again.

As I mentioned, some of the updates to these apps are security fixes. Still, that does *not *explain the extreme size increases of these apps, but if you want every possible security fix then this may not be the option for you.


Disable Automatic Updates

This ones goes hand-in-hand with the above.

By default, Android updates your programs automatically. That’s a nice feature unless you have a reason to not want that behavior… say if you’ve uninstalled updates to certain apps. Android will just reinstall the latest updates again.

Besides that, you may be perfectly happy with the apps you have and the way they work now, and you don’t want to keep receiving updates that take up more and more space. You can stop it from happening.

How:

Open the Google Play app and click the bars in the upper-left to open the Settings.

There are two things to note here.

First, click on “Auto-update apps” and change it to “Do not auto-update apps”. That’ll stop your phone from sucking down app updates you don’t want.

Secondly, there’s an “App updates available” option. Leave that checked to be notified of app updates, so you can pick and choose what you want to update. Or uncheck it, then periodically go into Google Play and manually check for updates to the apps you care about most.

Caveat:

Same security issue as before. Some of the updates are security fixes. Many of them are unnecessary “features” and bloat.


Disable built-in apps completely

If you really don’t want a built-in Android app, the closest you can come to nuking it is disabling it completely.

How:

Open the Settings app, find the Apps option and look for the app you’re interested in. Select the app and you should see a screen like this:

Just press “Disable” and confirm your choice… updates are uninstalled and data/cache is deleted. Click “Force Stop” for good measure to make sure it’s stopped without having to restart the phone.

Caveat:

If you’re gonna do this, stick to the apps you know or can easily figure out. There are a lot of services that you could disable, but doing so would have some adverse effects to Android.

Personally, I’ve disabled the following without a problem:

  • Chrome (I use a browser with an option to not load images to save data)
  • Email
  • Exchange Services
  • FM Radio
  • Google App *****
  • Google Play Movies & TV
  • Google Text-to-speech Engine
  • Google+
  • Hangouts

**** Don’t disable Google App if you want voice-to-text in messaging, the Google Now bar, and a host of other privacy-invading “features” (guess which side I’m on here). It’s basically Google’s version of Cortana or Siri.


What else?

Do you have any of your own suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

Despite some solid efforts on my part, I haven’t been able to kill this phone off yet, so it looks like I’ll be stuck looking for ways to make it work for awhile.


Grant Winney

Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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