How to use a MicroSD as internal storage on your smartphone

How to use a MicroSD as internal storage on your smartphone

Do you want to use your MicroSD card as a real memory extension and install apps on it? Then you need to format it as internal memory. Easy enough on most phones, but unfortunately, some manufacturers such as Sony, LG or Samsung, can't do this by default. However, if your smartphone's OS is Android Marshmallow, a command-line prompt will help. Avoid grief from system updates by following the new tips at the beginning of this article.

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The easy way

If you're lucky, your smartphone will allow you to do this without having to connect it to a PC. This method is likely your only hope, if you run a newer version of Android (7.0 Nougat or 8.0 Oreo). Here's how to check:

  • Put the SD card on your Android phone and wait for it to be recognized
  • Open Settings > Storage
  • Tap the name of your SD card.
  • Tap the three vertical dots on the top right corner of the screen.
  • Tap Storage Settings.
  • Select format as internal option.
  • Tap Erase & Format at the prompt
  • Android will then offer to migrate your data

If your smartphone doesn't allow you to do this, then it gets somewhat more complicated. We'll get to this in the method outlined below.

What to do if your phone doesn't allow you to format microSD as internal memory

Some unhelpful smartphone manufacturers disable Android's default function to format microSD as internal memory by hiding the option from your phone. However, it's still possible to activate this using a PC, no root or special privileges required.

The exact steps vary depending on the Android version of your phone. This technique worked well with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and Android 8.0 Oreo, however, we encountered difficulties working with Android Nougat.

For phones using Android 6.0 Marshmallow

When a MicroSD card is formatted as internal memory, apps can be fully stored on it. This means that if you download applications with a total size of 2 GB, then there should be 2 GB of space taken up on the SD card. If, however, the MicroSD card is only formatted as a backup memory, this is not the case, as PLATYPUS_DIARRHEA writes on Reddit.

Just because the menu option is invisible doesn't mean that it doesn't work. A few days after the Reddit post, a command-line prompt became known, with which you could also format MicroSD cards as internal memory on the Galaxy S7. We have successfully tested the instructions with the Samsung Galaxy S7, the Sony Xperia Z5 and the LG G4, while running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

All three smartphones run on Android 6.0 Marshmallow and have a slot for MicroSD cards. In addition, the menu option for formatting the MicroSD card as internal memory is missing. The entry is only available on HTC One A9 and on Motorola in all Moto smartphones.

Darth Vader micro SD ANDROIDPIT
Come to the dark side of memory expansion. / © NextPit

Why Samsung, LG and Sony do not show us this menu option escapes me. I connected each of the three smartphones to the computer, and each had one MicroSD card inside.

Then I typed into the ADB tools the command-line commands that Paul O'Brien described in his blog post. As soon as you have the command line window open and the smartphone connected, you can enter the first command:

  • adb shell

Now the command line is ready for you to issue system commands to your smartphone. In this case, we want to format the SD card or a part of its memory as internal memory. Even if Sony, Samsung and LG deny us the possibility via the UI, we can still transfer the command to the smartphone as a console command. First, however, we need the ID of the SD card. You will find it with the following command:

  • sm list-disks

In my case, the disk is called 179.64. For you, perhaps, it is different. Note the exact identifier. In the next command, we will format and partition the MicroSD card. Your content will be deleted. If important files are on the card, copy them to another disk. If you want to keep the MicroSD card permanently in the smartphone, you can now partition all of your memory. To do this, type:

  • sm partition disk: 179,64 private

The operation takes several seconds or minutes, depending on the capacity of the memory card. If you want to use a certain percentage so that it can be read by other devices, you must exclude it from the private partition. The 50:50 partitioning command looks like this:

  • sm partition disk: 179,64 mixed 50

This is the end of Paul O'Brien's guide, but not the end of the work. If you now want to use the adopted memory as such, you must also migrate apps and data. This can be done through the storage section of your Android settings menu. Tap the MicroSD card, then move to the top right of the menu and click on Move data. You cannot select this menu item before partitioning.

internal sd move data 1
Migrate the data after partitioning the SD card. / © NextPit

Now, and in the future, downloaded apps are fully written to the MicroSD card. Only system apps and updates use the internal memory. This means that you should never again get error messages due to lack of space if an app update is pending.

internal sd move data 2
With the Sony Xperia Z5, the total memory is strangely displayed. The memory of the SD card is the one you must keep in mind. / © NextPit

Problems with system updates and Nougat

Some readers have reported difficulties when installing system updates from Android 6 after using the methods above. The update to Android 7.0 Nougat specifically doesn't seem possible with the manually partitioned MicroSD cards, as described below. Our test devices with Android 7.0 Nougat do not even respond to the console commands shown below.

In the absence of documentation on the net, we can therefore only advise you to reverse the steps described below before a system update. Back up photos or music on your computer or in the cloud and free up as much memory on the SD card and smartphone as you can.

Uninstall unnecessary apps and migrate your data back into the internal memory. Then format the MicroSD card as removable media. Only then is it safe to install an Android update.

What's the catch?

MicroSD cards are not as fast as the internal memory of the smartphone. So don't waste money on the cheaper ones, and instead get yourself memory cards with a reasonable read throughput. The Extreme Pros and the Extreme Plus MicroSD cards by Sandisk have proved to be the best value for the money, in our opinion. With 74 MB/s write throughput, you should not experience any delays in everyday life and benefit from considerably more memory.

Interestingly, only the LG G4 was able to correctly read the acquired memory. Samsung showed unnaturally high amounts of occupied memory and Sony's value was even negative. Nevertheless, we did not have any complications, and even when we were connected to a computer, we were able to access all of our data properly. However, we could only see the shared, and not private, portion of the memory there. Difficulties arose only when it came to system updates (see above).

Storage space gain: a complete success

We have subjected the manually partitioned devices to a uniform endurance test. We have installed Final Fantasy IX on all devices. The game is 1.8 GB in size. After installation, it's easy to see which of the two memories, internal or SD card, had its memory space used. In all cases, after the installation on the SD card, 1.8 GB less space was available. A success of this extent cannot be achieved with SD cards formatted as interchangeable memory, since complete data migration is not possible.

Compare the values of the internal memory and the SD card memory in the screenshot for proof.

internal sd move data 3
Here's the picture proof: only the memory of the SD card is affected by the game. / © NextPit

What happens if the microSD card is removed?

Of course, the question is what happens when the MicroSD card is removed from the system. Actually, it creates a serious problem for your apps. After all, they can no longer access their data. Since the partitions with your operating system and the information for a factory reset are still stored in the internal memory, a removed or broken SD card can't do any harm. When we removed the MicroSD card, app icons were quickly replaced by a placeholder, which were immediately restored when reinstalled.

If you lose the SD card or it has a defect, your data is lost. Since these are encrypted as the internal memory, you should not hope for a data recovery. Instead, regular backups are appropriate. But this rule applies anyway. So have fun with the cheap memory expansion on your Marshmallow smartphone.

Safely remove an internally partitioned SD card

To safely remove the SD card from the smartphone, you must reverse the above process. Since your storage space on the internal memory is probably not sufficient, you first have to transfer pictures to another form of storage and uninstall apps.

Then you go back to the Memory & USB settings and tap Move data under Internal memory in the menu. Then you go to the SD card and format it as mobile memory. Perform both steps (backing up and formatting) so that your data cannot be lost and you can use the SD card on other devices.

Has this process worked for you? Which MicroSD card do you use? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • The manufacturer's that disabled the internal storage option did so for a few reasons. For Samsung it was a weak card reader. It was older and slow. It was never meant to be used as a full speed interface to storage. Just backup and transfer and because of this, many units that bypassed and ran even a good SD card would eventually overheat and occasionally burn the reader.
    I know LG did it due to issues with having to explain to consumers needing a specific rated card speed. It wasn't worth the aggravation.
    As for Sony, cheap reader once again, and from a company that makes fast SD cards it's better to avoid that entire situation.

  • My lg pnone does not add the space as internal memory to the internal storage but creates two sd carfs one internal and one external sd card. I foget exacly what card it is but its a 32 g sandisk ultra high speed. Can I get it to add to the internal storage.

  • why some manufactures disable this option? to let the internal flash memory wear fast and so they can sell more

  • I seem to have followed all of the steps correctly but cannot migrate data. I have an lg x power 3, android 8.1. I am showing internal 16gb, sd card 65 of 128gb (its a 64). I'm not concerned about the size being wrong as that's a common error. when I try to migrate the data the system app crashes. I can individually move apps back and forth fine. I have tried with the private and a mixed 50 option. Should I factory reset and do it first? could it be any updates that block this now? Thanks for any help.

  • update , my storage shows as internal, internal sd, and portable storage. File manager no longer works, but ofther managers such as cx explorer do. Any apps i try to download default to the internal storage so not enough space. ( incidentally had to use the -s serial option to get adb shell to work) I have tried the adb set-installation command but gets the 2000 error and apparently as is not rooted cant use su.

  • I have done this on my LG K4 (model m151) using a sandiskextreme pro 32 g sd and it seams to be working okay. Notice a little bit of a lag but only a few seconds

  • Galaxy J7 V running Android 9: after running sm partition (...), sm list-volumes says that the newly created private volume is unmountable. Tried again with same results. Restarted phone several times. Card no longer appears in settings app. Any suggestions?

  • guys if u root ur device then there's no issues with the storage and moving data

  • Billqs I get the same kind of problem with the Migrate Data selection (which I assume is the same as the "move data" they referred to. I get "settings has crashed" as well. Mine is Oreo as well.

  • On a KEY2 running 8.1, no matter what I do seems to generate: Error: java.lang.IllegalStateException: command '111 volume partition disk:179,64 private' failed with '400 111 Command failed'

  • billqs May 11, 2019 Link to comment

    I just tried this with an LG V30 I just picked up to use as a DAP. I put in a 128G SD Card and the phone has 128G internal. After doing the above, the internal storage reads as 256G, but when I go to "Migrate Data" I keep getting an error message telling me that "Settings has crashed". Does anyone know why? I am using Oreo. I don't know if it's some sort of protection LG put in or what?

  • Hi I have a 32 gb sd chip and my phone is a cheap prestige 2 zte with little to no space to handle much access outside of the basic call text and repeat. My question is of much importance to me and if any tech or android sauva/knowledgeable person could kindly break this down for me or dumb it down, I installed my chip 32 gb the device recognizes it so I now and faced with "just having it in my phone" or "formatting as internal" < kinda scares me. I just wanna throw my photos from from the deivce on it so not to lose any. Also gives me an option to just formatting it. I want to be able to move my photos, documents from my phone to the card and from the card to my harddrive etc. IF I FORMAT AS INTERNAL,? A. what does that incline. B. will I be able to do what I want? and C.If so or not Once Formatted to my device / phone can I clean or reset it to be able to use the SD one perhaps a newer phone later on when I upgrade my device? Please guide me to my answer oh and I dont wanna break this chip so any other advice would rule thanks and please help

  • Umm what about Android 8.1 I'm using my Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2 and can't move internal applications to external (Update plss)

  • My SD card is nomore shown... and the device internal memory still shows the same 16 gmb. note that i dont see the sd card on the pc as well .... please help.
    Specifics.; Realme C1
    16 GB internal , 32 Gb card . Android 8.1 , ColorOS.

  • Error: java.lang.IllegalStateException: command ' volume partition disk:179,12
    8 mixed 80' failed with '400 41 Command failed'

  • joost Jan 8, 2019 Link to comment

    Great ! it worked!
    I had my Asus zenfone 2 (Android ver 6.0.1) equiped with a SANDISK Ultra MicroSDHC/microSDXC 16 GB 98 MB/s Class 10. Then I formatted it 100 % as system memory. All went fine.
    only thing.. Google off line maps cant find an external memory and therefore it is not possible to store offline maps. I might go for a 50/50 format to fix this.
    thanks for the article!

  • You said it worked well on all the phones, but then you said "Interestingly, only the LG G4 was able to correctly read the acquired memory. Samsung showed unnaturally high amounts of occupied memory and Sony's value was even negative." So did it work as intended or not?

  • When I got to the partition part, it was instant and didn't do anything. I'm using the Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S-Pen (16GB internal & 32GB external)

  • Sorin Dec 21, 2018 Link to comment

    For phones that have a relatively small internal memory, the ability to move applications to the microSD card is welcome. And as extra memory can not be added (!), It remains that the move is the only solution. Obviously, except for changing the phone!

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