Phone storage compared – Samsung S4 still in last place

Last May we revealed that the 16GB Samsung Galaxy S4 actually has less than 9GB of usable memory. It’s now eight months on but despite testing a bagful of new phones we can confirm that Samsung’s celebrated smartphone powerhouse is still the biggest memory hog we’ve seen.

In fact, out of the Samsung Galaxy S4’s supposed 16GB, only 8.56GB (or 54%) is actually available for you to use.

2 Mobile storage space-01

Where’s all the memory gone?

The reality is every phone has to sacrifice some of its internal memory to the operating system – they never live up to the sales talk of 8,16 or 32GB. But many manufacturers further stuff their phone with pre-loaded apps, skins and bloatware. And no phone has more piping, braiding and frills than the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Running on Android, Samsung has heavily customised the S4 with their Touchwiz interface. This includes many of Samsung’s own features but, while it looks pretty and grabs headlines, most of the stuff is next to useless. Eye tracking technology that pauses video when you look away from the screen sounds attractive but in reality it works badly, gulps down your battery and monopolises your internal storage.

Below you’ll see some of the latest handsets we’ve put through our lab tests to discover their true storage space – read more about how we test mobile phones.

Apple gives you the most

Apple’s more affordable (relatively) iPhone, the 5c, is the most generous of the 16GB phones we’re recently tested, giving you 12.6GB of memory (79%) to play with. Meanwhile Google’s new Nexus 5, which runs on the Android operating system like the S4,, is relatively bloatware free with 12.28GB (77%) of usable space. The iPhone 5s is in bronze position, providing 12.2GB (76%) of usable storage.

Before you rush out to buy any of the three phones just named, you should note that none of them have memory card slots. So while they may have the largest usable internal memories, you can’t add to them by using a cheap memory card. In contrast, you can massively boost the S4’s memory, adding an extra 64GB of storage for only around £40. To combat the S4’s storage issues, Samsung allows you to install apps directly to its memory card.

Does claimed storage size matter?

If you can so easily add to the phone’s memory, does the advertised internal memory size really matter? Well, yes it does. Ultimately, it’s not fair; as you aren’t getting the space you expected or are being promised. And while it’s easy to check whether a phone has a memory card slot, there’s no easy way to find out much actual storage space they have to offer.

Do you agree? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

More on this

Phone reviews – the latest models rated and reviewed
How to buy the best mobile phone – an essential guide on choosing the right phone
Your thoughts on storage – tell us what you think about phone storage

Categories: Phones

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86 replies

  1. While an SD card can be very useful it does not solve the problems, as not everything can be saved to it.

    I bought a mobile on a contract, in the past, thinking that the internal memory sounded ok and it also had an SD card. However, the internal memory filled up just with updating the pre-installed apps and adding a few small ones (within a week or two), and the ‘phone then malfunctioned. There was no way of solving this problem; I could put music and ‘photos on the SD card, as well as some apps, but even leaving just what came pre-installed on the ‘phone, there wasn’t enough space to update them. The ‘phone never worked properly, because of this. It was explained to me that when the mobile was made, FaceBook, for example, which was pre-installed, was a much smaller app, and the manufacturer couldn’t help that it had now expanded and didn’t now fit the ‘phone’s memory. Hence, a ‘phone designed for use with FaceBook, only functioned, in a limited fashion, if this app wasn’t updated. In the future, I will aim for fairly new models, to avoid this problem.

    It’s important to be aware of the limitations of an SD card, before relying on it to expand the ‘phone’s memory.

    1. Hi Marie,

      You are absolutely right. This was a big problem when we first reported the issue of missing storage on phones. Great to have an SD card slot, less great to not be able to save apps on there.

      Luckily, Samsung have since released an update that lets you save apps on to the SD card, in addition to music, videos etc. There is caveat. While apps can be installed on the SD card a small number of critical files will still be installed on internal storage so you do still need a little room there.


    2. The Android system also recommends that you don’t use 100% of the available space from internal memory. I believe that initially, 20% of free space was recommended, so you can have a smooth experience. Now, that soft limit may have been raised to 25%, and a warning gets triggered if you reach that limit. That being said, don’t quote me on those figures, I haven’t double-checked them. I also don’t remember if the Android allows you to still install apps once you’ve reached that initial limit, or not.

      Does your article take these type of soft limits into consideration? Or are we supposed to subtract even more internal space from figures assuming we desire a smooth experience?

      I have no idea if this is also true for iOS or BlackBerry. I’ve only ever been an Android user (before that, I was a Nokia user).

  2. I bought a Samsung Galaxy Ace which claimed to have a decent internal memory and an SD card also. Again, this can only handle one installed App along with the pre-installed ones and the SD card is of little use because nothing can be moved to it (very annoying).

    1. If the mobile doesn’t function as a smart phone, because the internal memory can’t cope with normal use, and you can’t avoid this, take it up with the company that sold it too you. I don’t think that it’s reasonable to be sold a smart phone that you cannot, in effect, use as a smart phone.

    2. You can download an app that enables you to move apps from internal storage to the SD card. It can be done via your application manager on the phone, but if you do it that way you may have problems because not all apps will work when moved to external storage. Search for ‘App2SD’ and this app show you which apps can be moved safely. HTH!!

    3. I used this app on my last phone and it was a lifesaver!! I found it to be extremely user friendly and it really helped to prolong my use of the phone and its super small internal memory. I definitely recommend checking it out :).

  3. It is time that manufacturers were more upfront with this. It should be mandatory that they should quote the available free memory after everything is loaded. This is particularly important for some manufacturers that load such huge (often rubbish) overlays. (Please take note Samsung.)

    This is isn’t just on mobiles as Tablets are just as bad.

    At the same time, please look at the cost differential between 16Gb versions compared to 64Gb versions. Frankly, it is a money grubbing ripoff.

  4. Apple has to give you the most memory because they don’t give you the option of adding an external microSD card to expand what memory is available for your needs. You are forever stuck with whatever is in the phone then you buy it.

  5. The memory issue may be the best reason there is for rooting an android phone and installing a custom version that supports link2SD. Doing this extends the phone’s untenable storage to a special partition on the SD card. As a bonus this also allows you to remove bloatware.

    1. I suspect that the average mobile phone user would struggle with the terminology and technology. Personally, I don’t know what it means and I wouldn’t have a clue how to do it! Fortunately, I was able to upgrade to a mobile that has enough available memory for my needs.

    2. If you root your phone the warranty becomes void and so does any support (one thing positive thing I can say about Samsung is that they do give good (i.e. very friendly/patient/committed) customer support), so not always advisable. Mind you, once my warranty has expired I’ll be rooting my phone immediately – can’t wait to get rid of all that bloatware!

    3. cdj: it’s not about simply pressing a button to move apps to the SD card. Firstly, even if you can move them, not all of them work properly when moved and so shouldn’t be moved (though there are apps that can show you which are safe to move). Secondly, it’s about being able to install them directly to the external storage because some phones force you to install an app locally and it is only after installing on the phone that you can then move it to external storage. This can be a problem if you don’t have enough space to install it locally in the first place.

    4. What are you talking about?? How on earth would anyone know that a 16gb phone had been partitioned so that only 2gb were usable for installing apps prior to purchase?? Unless you’d experienced something like this before you’re not even going to enquire about it.

    5. SDavids, I think that cdj is just displaying attention seeking behaviour. Children do that sometimes, particularly when they are bored! Of course, some continue this into adult life…

    6. cdj: you need to get your facts straight. I’m not aware of anyone saying anything about not knowing OS uses memory. But anyhow, my grandmother for example would not know that, but that is no crime and is not indefensible as you describe it. Not everyone has experience in these things and lack of experience of leading to lack of knowledge is no crime and cannot be helped, unlike rudeness. And a 16gb Samsung S2 has only 2gb available for app installation, the rest is storage only.

  6. I don’t think you added the free space on the data partition where installed programs go. Add that ~4GB to the 8.5GB and you have more free space than on iOS. Also most programs are double the size on iOS, so for the same 16GB you get to install less stuff. A bit biased comparison ain’t it?

    1. Not actually. Every Android phone that comes with Android 4.0 or superior as their first Android version have basically just 3 partitions (not counting the small ones used by other stuff): System, where Android itself is installed, Data, that is divided by software into data itself, for the apps and such, and SD Card, where you can put your stuff, and cache, for other purposes. Data and SD Card are one partition.

      Based on the list above, the Xperia Z1 is the one to offer more storage, as it is the one with more free storage and has a SD Card slot (up to 64 Gb)

  7. I would like to see a comparison with a 16gb Windows phone. Considering my 32gb Lumia 928 came with no bloatware I would assume a 16gb would be free also.

  8. How did you measure this? I’ve had my GS4 for more than half a year with dozens of apps added to the main storage, and I still have 9.72GB available, more than the author claims to have found with no third-party apps installed.

  9. My Galaxy S4 has 12.46gb of internal space, granted it’s the Google Play Edition, but it’s still an S4 and it would rank second on your list

    1. That is ridiculous. The Vanilla Version of the S4 has 12.46GB space available? So you could, theoretically, Windows phone and IOS on there as well and would still sport more free internal space than a TochWiz Version. Marvellous, just plain marvellous.

    1. Do the apps installed on ur Jolla phone work the same way as their android or iOS or even windows phone worked? I mean to ask how is their UX (with UI completely different from that of other platforms with hardware buttons or capacitive buttons), is it still the a good user experience (UX) ?

    2. Android apps work as they would in Android phone, Sailfish OS native apps have different user experience but is quite handy once you learn the different swipes and pulls

  10. Memory’s becoming cheap-as-chips, especially for the likes of Samsung, I note that my Galaxy Note 3 didn’t even have a 16GB option, I suggest this may be phased out with the S5 as well. You’ll find as more memory becomes the standard, the overheads of the OS become less important.

    Don’t also forget that the S4 and many Android phones are sporting 1080p displays these days, whilst the iPhone is sat at 640p. Videos and media shipped with the devices do tend to take a little more space.

  11. How come you did not add the Windows Phones that you have tested to this chart?

    For example, here is your test of the HTC 8x that states that it has “Actual memory (GB) 14.56” Which is higher then the 12.6 GB that the Apple has (and you claim is the “most generous of the 16GB phones we’re recently tested”, when you have obviously tested other 16GB phones that have more actual memory available then the Apple 5c.

  12. Its a shame that under this list is basically the current run of premium phones listed up there except for the exclusion of the HTC One. The 32gb version leaves you with 26gb of usable storage. If we are taking percentages that is 81% remaining which clearly beats the Iphone5c which leaves only 78.75% and that is what is the lead on this page. It at least should get a mention since its precisely in the same consumer class of phones. That and the MotoX which also comes with 16gb. It has 11.9gb of usable storage, would come in 4th place here, is the top rated android device and isnt even mentioned. The HTC One and the MotoX are the two highest rated android phones out right now and they arent even on the list or written about. Its almost like the other lower rated android devices are set up like straw men to help apple shine. I apologize if this is just something to do with differences in the UK phone market that I am unaware of but it seems like a lot of relevant stuff is being left out here.

    1. Comparing the percentage left on a 32GB phone isn’t a fair comparison. The OS and manufacturer apps take up the same amount of space whether the phone has 16 or 32GB of storage. 32-26=6GB used. 16-6=10GB remaining, which is right in line with the HTC One Mini shown in the graphic. That said, I agree that the Moto X is a glaring omission here, and it’s no surprise that it would be right up there with the Nexus 5 and iPhones

    1. If you’re looking for a new employer Kev you’re out of luck, unlike Samsung – who was found and fined in court for such actions – Apple doesn’t pay for comments. Better stay with Samsung if you want to keep your online career.

  13. I have a Galaxy S2 and it supposedly has 16gb of storage HOWEVER, as well as the fact a good part of this is not available for me to use and it’s stuffed with a ton of bloatware that I don’t want or need and can’t uninstall (unless I root the phone but I then void my 2 year warranty and all support so I don’t want to do that), the most annoying part of all is that the storage is partitioned into System Storage and USB Storage. The System Storage is less than 2gb in size and it is only in this partition that you can install any apps!! The USB Storage cannot be used to install apps on, it’s only for storing data etc. I cannot understand why on earth Samsung chose to do this but because of it (and a couple of other major issues, including not being able to link my phone and laptop, which is such basic and crucial functionality) I will not be purchasing another Samsung phone. I have a 32gb SD card but I need to be able to install apps onto my phone BEFORE I can move them onto the SD card. The problem is, I’ve uninstalled almost every app from my phone’s internal storage but there still isn’t enough room to install apps so that I can then move them onto the external storage. Added to that, there are a significant number of apps that cannot be moved to the SD card so have to be stored on the phone’s internal storage. So I am lumbered with not being able to install apps on my phone, nor can I even update any apps, which is a MAJOR problem for me and results in constant errors popping up. Added to that I cannot backup my data and information because I can’t either update the necessary apps nor install those I need in order to do so. If I had known that I would have less than 2gb of storage for apps and that not apps can be stored externally, I would never have purchased this phone!!! :(

    1. PS: I have to say, this partitioning and only leaving 2gb for apps and running OS seems like a glaring and major design fault and as a result I strongly believe Samsung should be offering a free fix for this problem!!!!

  14. I think you need to look at what is included in the”out of the box” handsets.

    The iPhone comes with the bare minimum installed outof the box. Whereas most of the Android handets come with applications (and telco bloatware) pre-installed.

    It is intersting that most of the so-called bloatware on the Android actually gets installed on the iPhone by the user.

    So maybe you should compare the iphones once the “basic” productivity tools have been installed – Maps, YouTube, Gmail Client, Facebook, DropBox, Phote Editor, Translation, Word/Document Processing Applications. FM Radio, Navigation (Offline) etc.

    All these tools come preinstalled on the Samsung. I can open and edit a PDF, Excel, Word Document, PowerPoint straight out of the box without using my data or tethering to iTunes to install these “basics” that I had to do with my work iPhone.

  15. Apple doesn’t give you the most. I have a Nexus 4 with 16 gb and there are available 12.9 gb. You should’ve included more phone in this comparison. I’m sure there are more that leave you with more available memory.

    It is normal for Samsung to have so low memory available. It’s because of it’s TouchWiz and all the bloat that’s in those phones.

  16. I got a HTC 8S (Windows Phone) on contract as I thought it was a good phone. It had space for a microSD, so I was happy with the minimal built in memory. After downloading my apps, the built in memory became full and to my disappointment, I learnt that the memory card is only for Music, pictures and videos. I was furious and really wanted Carphone Warehouse to take it back, but they refused. I think the HTC 8S is a terrible phone, but I have gotten used to having no games or having the entire map of England on my phone!

    1. Have you tried App2SD which can show you which apps can be moved safely to an SD card and will move them for you even if your phone won’t let you?

  17. Two questions:
    Why”s there NO data on the Motorola handsets?


    I’m no football fan…..why can’t I completely remove that annoying NFL Mobile app and free up some space?

  18. I bought a 32GB micros SD card for about 100$ and installed it in my Galaxy S4. Many of the apps I use, like dog catcher for posdcasts automatically store data on the card, and so does the camera.

    The bigger issue here is that with apple phones you cannot put in an extra SD card so you are stuck until you are squeezed to upgrade…


  19. Yes its bad for Galaxy S4 Though am GalaxyS4 users but considering the fact that S4 allow external Card, it shouldn’t be the last on the list, as it allows up to 64GB external memory (SD Card).

  20. Apple actually pays you for this? I mean don’t you have to inform that this is sponsored article? What exactly was the reason for not choosing Lumia models? Oh, wait – Apple wouldn’t be on first position than….

  21. I just got an iphone 5s 16gb.
    When I check the “About” screen, it says the capacity is 12.9gb, and only 10.9 gb available.
    I have put nothing on it yet.
    Are the specs this article mentions available space or capacity before system software and preloaded programs?
    If I had known so little was available, I would have got the 32gb.

  22. I bought both the T-Mobile LG Optimus F3 and the LG Optimus L9, based on T-Mobile’s claims of 4GB of memory plus the potential addition of a 32 GB micro-SD card.

    Turns out all that was a lie. Sure, I added a class 10 Sandisk 32GB SD micro-card, but someone (LG? T-Mobile?) disabled the ability to MOVE the bloatware to that card. Worse yet, you can’t delete the bloatware, and, the biggest insult of all is that you can’t even install apps directly to the SD card.

    So, you get a paltry 0.9 GB of “usable” memory for installing apps, which will be gone in a heartbeat.

    The phone is so useless as a smartphone, that I complained vehemently to T-Mobile, who is trying to work out a replacement deal for me to upgrade to the Nexus 5 on the (brand new) F3. They would only give me $15 tradein for the L9, so I’m stuck with it.

    My advice?
    a) Never buy an LG device from T-Mobile which has less than 16GB because, even then, you lose about 4GB to T-Mobile, LG, and Android that you can’t get rid of.

    BTW, here’s what the T-Mobile LG Optimus F3 comes with (you’ll never use 3/4 of that stuff which you can’t move or delete):

    Application Manager
    File Manager
    Google Settings
    Lookout Security
    Mobile HotSpot
    Play Books
    Play Magazines
    Play Movies & TV
    Play Music
    Play Store
    Polaris Viewer 4
    Quick Translator
    T-Mobile My Account
    T-Mobile Name ID
    T-Mobile TV
    Task Manager
    Video Wiz
    Visual Voicemail
    Voice Dialer
    Voice Recorder
    Voice Search

    1. I have the EXACT same problems with a Samsung Galaxy phone so it’s not just LG unfortunately. I feel conned as I simply can’t use my storage card for installing apps and the internal storage is stuffed with unremovable bloatware!!! :(

  23. I think the real question is: “Do I want to try rooting my phone after the warrantee expires? ” With a decent phone, it’s usually not until a year of ownership that you start running out of internal space and rooting starts to look more attractive as an option. I’d hate to brick a phone… I don’t care about voiding a warrantee, but bricking a good phone would suck.

  24. Samsung S4 i9500…Hilarious! Once connected to a laptop all the huge GB orgy turns into a couple of MBs impeding any kind of interesting app download such as photo or sound editors; due to WI-FI issues I assumed that an USB connection would do the trick…You wish, didn’t know about this compressor feature making out of 14.58 GBs internal mem a lousy 14.30 MBs in mass storage mode; back to Sony Xperia S lt 26i and Samsung back to air con n stuff please!!! Pagliacci…

  25. The problem is the rubbish that is preloaded and aps that can not easlily be removed , I use few of the preloaded ones have run out of space for the ones I want

    Which smart phone is most free of Apps ?

  26. Samsung s4 memory storage is comparatively less but phone is amazing compare to other features my mobile Samsung s4 screen was completely damaged i took my mobile to Elite phones and computers amazing service my phone was completely replaced.

  27. i got a phone off mother as she got new on latwer she got better one and i got her oldish newwish on and they were 1 vodafone 850 which was crap but served its purpous as a brick mobile to answer calls but the second one was samsung galaxy la fluer looks ok good size screen but some app game i want to play wont download or not compatible but the worst part was trying to install games that when i found out that the &*%TY 160mb memory these mobile manufacturse should stop making phones that dont have any memory capasity lower than at least 10 gig free space and google annoy me by auto updating apps without my consent im not going to waste money buying new phones to get more memory just to please these gready companys and to get the apps to work so instead i usebthe mobile as it supposed to be used for text and phone calls and stick with my laptop with internet as i have a better deal then these crappy small memory phones that are just a waste of money and are a insult to sociyity

    1 more thing we need the manufactures to add what size memorys on the box before buying and get google to stop auto updating without our consent and make apps goto micr sd card an d not to phone so we can gave the option to move them to phone or sd card this should be done with all apps that means every one

  28. This will be my last Samsung. Loved them up till now but this phone falls in to ‘unfit for purpose’ in my book.

    Have tried all the ‘fixes’ to no avail and can’t update my apps any more.

    Contacted Samsung support and no response.

    I can see how they are losing market share.

    1. Dougie, you can call Samsung as I had phone issues before and just rang them (free from my landline) and they were really helpful. I rang them several times and was on the phone with them for ages and they made me feel like they had all the time in the world and I was their only customer!

    2. Thanks for your kind reply SD – much appreciated.

      Once again I have managed to get the memory cleared but this time followed a different route as the cache didn’t fully clear following the earlier method I have used.

      The thing to me though, is that I expect to use the phone as a normal customer and not be ploughing through various menus and researching the web to get workable solutions.

      Again it’s only my view, but the phone is woefully short on the memory required – so has been under engineered and poorly designed. Samsung don’t seem to interested in releasing or offering a permanent fix to what is obviously a product problem as can be seen by the number of owners taking to the web to find a solution.

      Hence my next mobile will more than likely be an iPhone – even though I know it’ll not be perfect either.

    3. If you think Samsung phones have design issues then I can guarantee you’ll be begging for your Samsung back if you switch to an iPhone!!! They are the worst designed phones ever, with defaults that begger belief and the only way to even discover they exist is lots of online hunting, and that’s before you even get started of the way they charge you for everything possible. And at least with any other phone you can expand its storage (up to an additional 128GB on some phones) but with an iphone there is no card slot, so buy a 16gb phone and you’re stuck permanently with 16gb – and don’t expect to be able to easily download photos to your pc, they have itunes setup as the interface and you can only copy photos from your pc to your phone – and that is done automatically by default filling up your phone – but who wants to do that?? You have to buy additional software just to be able to get photos off of your phone (there is free software to do it if you hunt about but you have to be careful not to accidentally download a dodgy one). And it will automatically stream your photos, saving the last 1000 for 30 days and by default copying them to all of your devices – including your phone so you’ll have duplicates, the original ones plus another streamed folder with 1000 duplicates – filling up your phone with no expandable storage – and for these and a million other reasons, if you know your onions about phones, you’ll be begging to get out of your contract!

    4. I absolutely agree. Apple have gone from smartphone market leaders to playing catch up in a few short years. They now trade on past reputation (if they ever had one?) and clever marketing. Continually denigrating the larger screen, based on “customer feedback” until … they then launch their latest offering with …. an option of a larger screen! I’ve lost count of the number of iPhone users I’ve met who’ve suffered broken screens, yet never met one Samsung owner. A number of my colleagues have upgraded to Samsung phones and all have said that they made the right move. Non-interchangeable battery, non-expandable memory, iTunes that continues to frustrate etc. I’ll stick with my excellent Galaxy Note 3 thank you.

    5. SD, all these things that you’re talking about are false. You can set your phone so it doesn’t automatically upload, or stream your photos to other devices. You can easily copy photos from your phone to your computer (Mac – use iPhoto, PC – drag and drop). Maybe read up on these things before saying that “that’s how it is and you can’t change it”…

  29. If only Apple would make provision for removable memory!

    I’ve got an iPhone 4s, recently there was a software update – I had to delete lots of music & photos to free up memory before I could download

    Purchased as having 16gb of memory – but checked after a full reset, with only OS & pre-loaded apps (which cannot be removed even if I wanted to) there is only 12.67 available. I’m sure IOS 8 which I’ve just installed takes up more capacity

    So why advertise a capacity it’s impossible to get?

  30. The situation is worse than you report. The residual is further divided onto. Internal ROM where apps work and data area where they won’t. My recent purchase of a 16G phone only had 3.8G available for Apps. Use your cloat to expose this and have makers quote FREE APP SPACE. It would be so helpfull

  31. hi there here is a solution too storage data problem why dont we put our data in black holes holds unlimited googlpix bytes per nano second faster then light speed or use humman brians at 2.5 petabytes or isoliniar chips

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