It’s been almost a year since I started using the Google Nexus 5, and despite launching several flagship smartphones since then, the joy of using a pure Android smartphone is still unmatched. The device works smoothly for gaming, playing songs and movies, or processing heavy work files. The battery is good enough to stretch throughout a day. However, there is still one small problem that puzzles me – the omission of a microSD card slot.
Of course, the problem is not limited to the Google Nexus 5, but applies to all Nexus phones, starting with Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus. Only the first Nexus One made by HTC had a microSD card slot. It’s especially bad when you realize that even though its own line of phones and tablets doesn’t support microSD cards, Google has made external storage more useful in Android.
Why did Google remove the microSD card from its Nexus line? No one has a real answer. However, it becomes a huge pain whenever I run out of storage space and end up having to delete music, movies, temporary files, or I have to start deleting some apps to make space on my telephone. When I’m not deleting files, I’m wasting half of my time and internet data plan creating backups to cloud services like Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and even Flickr.
Let me break down my smartphone’s 16GB storage space after a year of use. First, I get about 12.5GB of user-accessible storage, which means 3.5GB is reserved for Android 5.0 Lollipop OS. Of that 12.5GB, the majority of the space is taken up by the 103 apps (7.58GB) I installed and “Pictures & Videos” at 465MB. Just to be clear, it doesn’t acts only a dozen high resolution wallpapers and no videos. I don’t keep any of the personal pictures on my phone – they all go straight to OneDrive.
Next comes the ‘Audio’ section, which takes up 673MB. Again, we are talking about 20 songs, while the rest are streamed online through different music apps. The “Downloads” section is low at 23.52 MB, while cached data and miscellaneous come in at 505 MB and 364 MB respectively. And although I have no use for the new “guest mode” of Android 5.0 Lollipop, the feature still takes up 21.36MB. After all that, my smartphone’s free storage so far has dropped to 2.53 GB, and it is gradually heading towards zero.
As a customer, if I want a Nexus device, I have to pay a huge premium for extra storage because my phone doesn’t support a microSD card. Google only offers users two options: 32GB or 64GB (for Nexus 6) or 16GB and 32GB (for Nexus 4 and Nexus 5) storage variants. The price difference between the two models is much higher than the cost of a microSD card, which puts the choice of storage out of the consumer’s hand.
What’s more disconcerting is that while Google doesn’t seem in the mood to add an optional microSD card in its Nexus devices, its latest version of the Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system comes with native support for moving the applications installed on the storage card. This means that on the one hand Google smartphone hardware is constantly moving away from microSD card slots, but on the other hand operating system updates are making the feature more useful.
To make matters worse, Google offers the expandable microSD storage option in its Android One handsets – Spice Dream Uno, Micromax Canvas A1, Karbonn Sparkle V and the recently launched Android One handset in Turkey. These aren’t as conspicuously Google handsets as the Nexus range is supposed to be, but the company has worked closely with OEMs to create the Android One smartphones.
Recently, Hugo Barra, an ex-Googler and now VP Global of Xiaomi recently tried to explain the omission of microSD cards from high-end smartphones. On the sidelines of the Xiaomi Mi 4i launch in Hong Kong, he said, “For high-performance devices, we are fundamentally against an SD card slot.”
He added that microSD cards are vulnerable to failure and in most cases malfunctioning under various conditions. According to him, microSD cards are generally “extremely poor quality” and slow as well. Barra says that some of the problems caused by microSD cards reported by Android smartphone users are app crashes and data loss.
“It’s going to be a while before you finally accept that maybe the reason it’s not working is because you inserted an SD card, right?” Barra said. “You’re gonna blame the phone, you’re gonna blame the manufacturer, you’re gonna yell and yell and try to fix it, in so many different ways until you say, ‘Actually, just let me pull out the SD card and see what happens.'”
While Barra [and possibly Google] seem to take inspiration from Apple and think the microSD card should go away, most other flagship devices still support this feature. The LG G4 and HTC One M9 are just a few of the recent flagship models that still feature a microSD card slot for expandable storage. One exception is Samsung’s Galaxy S6, which until last year supported microSD card expansion in its Galaxy S5.
I hope Android phones don’t become iPhone clones and continue to enjoy their strength. Apple, at least, has been consistent in not supporting the option in both software and hardware. All in all no matter what Barra says and Google believes I still wish I had an expandable storage option in my handset as that would solve my only problem with the phone and eliminate the need to shell out a huge amount of money to buy a brand new variant just for more storage space.