How do I free up storage space on my phone?

Annoyed woman with phone

I keep getting the dreaded “your phone storage is full” message on my smartphone whenever I try and take pictures or download something new. What can I do to free up some space?

Alvin B, via email

I used to have a phone that only had 512MB of internal storage (in 2012! I'm still furious at the phone seller who sold it to me), so I know your pain, Alvin. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to free up some space until you're ready to move on to one with a bit more storage.

How to free up smartphone storage space

Here are eight tips to clear out a bit of room on your phone. Chances are you've already done some of them - but have a dig through and see if you can scrounge some more memory.

1. Get a memory card

The obvious first solution if your phone has a memory card slot is to stick a card in it, and use it to store apps and files. Splash out on a bigger card if you need it (so long as your phone can support it). We like this 128GB one here - or go even bigger to 200GB if your phone can handle it.

No card slot? Let's have a look at your other options.

2. Make use of cloud storage

Shift your photos, videos, documents, and what-have-you to a cloud service - like iCloud, Photo Stream, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Then once you're sure they've transferred successfully - check by accessing the service from another device - delete the local files from your phone.

3. …or just move your files elsewhere

Another option is to just move your pic and docs directly to another device using the USB or Lightning port. Transfer them across to a PC, external hard drive, memory stick, or other gadget, then delete them from your phone.

4. Delete apps you don't use

You've probably tried this already, but have another look through your phone and delete any apps you don't use.

On an Android, you can disable ones that can't be deleted - such as all the bloatware your phone came with. Disabling an app forces it to take up the absolute minimum amount of storage space, and it won't generate any more app data.

iPhone 5

5. Delete all that spare data

Using your phone racks up a surprising amount of data here and there. Get it deleted and you could find yourself with up to a gigabyte or two of extra room.

  • Clear the cache and delete app data - On Android, go to Settings - Applications - select an app - Storage, then tap the buttons for clearing the cache and/or app data (will vary depending on your device). On iPhone, you'll need to install an external app to do it for you - or just uninstall and reinstall particularly bad offenders.
  • Delete temporary files and PDFs - If you ever downloaded a PDF on your smartphone, it's probably still there. Browse through your files using the file viewer, and delete any docs you don't need. And don't forget to delete your internet browser data, which you can do in the settings for Safari or Chrome.
  • Delete old messages - Back them up to the cloud or an SD card first if you want, then delete your old texts, iMessages, and WhatsApp chats from your device.
  • Delete books you aren't reading - Often, books will hang around in your Kindle, iBooks, or Google Play Books app long after you've finished them. Head into the app and delete them - they'll still be available to download again later. Same goes for podcasts you've finished listening to.

6. Update your operating system

This'll help you out in particular if you've got an iPhone. iOS 10.3 introduced a new storage system that stores data more efficiently, and iOS 10 let you finally delete the Stocks app to clear a few megabytes.

7. Get a music streaming service

…such as Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, or Deezer. Sign up and add music to your library on the app, then delete the local music files from your phone (making sure you have copies elsewhere first, of course). Apple Music can even match up your library automatically using iTunes.

You can still download songs within these apps, so you can listen on the go without using up your data allowance. Downloading a few playlists takes up far less space than a whole library of tunes does.

8. Change your camera resolution settings

Many new smartphones shoot videos at a high 4k resolution, which due to their finer detail take up more storage space. Change your camera settings to capture images at a lower resolution to save space.

Need a new phone?

If all else fails and you're getting really frustrated, it might be time to get a new phone. Have a browse of some contract deals on our mobile site, or take a look at our favourite phones with lots of storage if you want more than 64GB of room.

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