Phone storage space – how much do you really get?

Not as much as you think. Buy a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S4 featuring 16GB of storage and you might expect to get, well, 16GB of storage but our tests have found that most phones give you much less than the amount advertised – in some cases half the amount.

Where’s your missing storage?

The operating system has eaten it. Every smartphone has an operating system – such as Google’s Android or iOS for iPhone – and this takes up a certain amount of storage. Throw in some built in apps – and most manufacturers do – and your storage size can be reduced to a shoebox.

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. We found some are far worse than others in hogging storage space – put your hand up the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Mobile storage V2


All phone storage totals have been rounded up or down to the nearest whole number. 

Is phone storage space a big deal?

It’s a poor performance from the Samsung Galaxy S4 – and the reason why the phone is being put on the naughty step in this weeks episode of Watchdog – but all phones are guilty of advertising more space than is actually available.

An operating system needs to take up some of the storage space on your phone – a better, more powerful operating system may – may – need to take up a little more room.

The problem is that manufacturers aren’t making people aware of how much space they’re really getting when they buy the phone. And it’s a bit of a lottery.

Essentially, any phone you purchase will have less space available than the amount advertised. And there is a lot of variation. You might be buying a 16GB phone but in reality you could be getting anything from 15GB of free storage with the HTC Windows 8X to just 9GB with the S4.

Are all operating systems created equal?

There is not even uniformity across operating systems. So the Google Nexus 4 has 13GB of available storage while the Samsung Galaxy S4 has just 9GB – yet both phones run on Android. Samsung has stuffed the device with extra apps.

We found the same issue across different types of phones – 8GB, 16GB and 32GB – as well as in tablet storage space – which we talked about last month.

Ultimately, it’s not fair. You aren’t getting the space you expected and you have no easy way of knowing how much you will actually get from phone to phone.

Is 9GB of free storage on a 16GB phone fair? Have your say on phone storage over at Which? Conversation.

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21 replies

  1. Samsung are asking for this. You can’t advertise a 16Gb phone and have half of the memory taken up by the OS and whatever apps they decided to stuff inside. I have some sympathy with the phones that have taken up 1GB or 2GB – the OS does have to go somewhere but 8GB is stupid.

  2. You’ll be surpresed how very litte so called Memory or disk space is available on any of these Smartphones or even iPhones as most of the space is taken up by all the apps that are usually downloaded and installed . If only you could see the partition that has been formatted. To be quite frank there are exactly three of them. One for the SYSTEM Another for DATA and the rest taken up for files such as music Data, Photos etc. All your own personal files

    The more you download and install silly Apps the more space is taken up and when ever there is an update for any App you’ve installed on your iPhone or Smartphone the bigger it gets hence less and less disk or memory space.

    The only way to get anything out of what you want to and use your mobile phone of to get the most out of it is to successfully Root it. This is usually omitted by the manufacutrer, except for the Developers Edition where its left to that particular users descretion, Where they have a wapping great 64-bit 64GB memory,to play with which that particular mobile phone version is already Rooted & completely SIM Free and not locked to any Network Service Provider.

    The problem is that as we heavily demand everything from our mobile phones these days. Unfortunately this is the price we have to pay if we want our phones to behave like our home & works computers and treat them as if they are Desktop Tower Computer with a massive amount of Disk Space & Memory.

  3. Pah what’s with all the complaining? You don’t buy a PC with an 80GB hard disk and expect it all to be free space. Why should phones be treated differently? Samsung ship extra apps with their phones but they can be removed – in fact, if you’re really concerned, just install whatever version of Android you like on there and have a more custom experience all round.

    I’ll also add to the available data that my Samsung Galaxy Note II (16GB) had ~10.5GB of free space out of the box, which I think is slightly more free space than came with my Asus 901 Eee PC 16GB netbook, which came with Windows XP.

  4. Never ever buy a smartphone or tablet that doesn’t give you the ability to use simcards or microsims to increase the memory available. My ASUS transformer has 32 Gig built in but there’s space for a microsim – mine has 64Gig – and a sim in the keyboard part – mine has 128 Gig. That’s a total of 224 Gig.
    So do I care about the space Android and the apps take – not really!

  5. As a Samsung Galaxy S4 owner who noticed the 9.3Gb of available space as soon as I got the phone, but I was not shocked as I had expected to see around 6 to 7 Gb used by the OS and pre-installed apps. So a bit high but not a problem as the phone comes with a memory card slot and I was about to plug in a 32Gb MM2 card that shipped with my phone as a sweetener from my phone supplier.

    Should phone manufacturers say so, well yes Samsung should have said something like “16Gb (around 9Gb usable after pre installed os and apps,” because customers have the right to expect as much truth as possible in their purchases.

  6. I agree im avin the same trouble myself i dnt dwnload apps that much but wen i do i dnt nexpect it to affect the fones performance but sadly it does. I wish my fone wud ask me do i want the new app to go to my memory card or fone but it doesnt. I av loads off space on the card but wen i recently put a new app on which did store on my card i cudnt receive any incoming messages. So yes manufacturers should tell us ow much fone storage is left to us because we cant even take off sum of the stuff they put on for us. Next time i buy a new mobile or tablet i wil b lukin into this lets hope technology as improved by then!

  7. I have a problem with WHICH and it’s objectivity towards APPLE and it’s products. I have an iPhone 16Gb and a substantial amount of memory is used by the OS and the installed apps. Why haven’t you shown the iPhone on this review?

    At least with the Samsung S3 I can swop the battery quickly (cheaply) and I have added 32Gb of memory that I bought online (£15.99) and the total price of both additions is still well below the £700 price tag of the iPhone 5. You just aren’t even handed in your assessment of products.

    You also consistently rate the APPLE MacBook Pro with the highest percentage of all laptops, but it is almost DOUBLE the price of other manufacturer’s machines and mine hasn’t been very reliable, with keyboard tiles coming off and HD issues.

    No doubt you’ll do a review at some stage about “aggressive” corporate tax dodging. I wait with interest on your comments regarding APPLE.

  8. Hi Paul,

    The reason the iPhone wasn’t in the post was because the test for actual storage was a new one. We have only just added this to our testing programme and so only had results from the phones that were already in the lab being put through their paces.

    We have since tested the iPhone 16Gb and it had 13Gb free – which makes it much better than the Galaxy S4. In future, all phones that we test will be tested for actual storage.

    Let me assure you that we are completely objective in the tests we carry out and the reviews we write based on those tests.

    I personally am an Android user, as are several of the team, while other members of the team use Apple products. There is no bias towards or against Apple, we simply look for the best products as informed by our in depth lab tests.

    Hope that helps.

    1. Sorry, I cannot accept that you weren’t able to review the very expensive iPhone 5.

      As other contributors have mentioned, the Samsung S4 has reduced memory because of all the Apps that Samsung have put on the phone, but if not wanted these can be easily be deleted.

      The S4 is available with, 16 / 32 / 64GB memory + cheap microSD slot (of up to 64GB), and has 2GB RAM.

      Additionally, (and for me this is a winner) it is glove useable.

    2. I really think you should update your graphic to show the iPhone stats. You mention iOS in the introduction but you don’t have it represented in your line-up… That’s not very objective.

  9. Hi Paul,

    We were able to test the iPhone 5 – just not in time for this original post. As mentioned above, our test showed it had 13Gb of free space.

    I agree on phones having additional storage capacity – that’s useful and something I would certainly look for. However, it’s not an excuse for the bloatware on some phones. Manufacturers shouldn’t expect customers to purchase extra storage because only half the amount they expected to get with the original product is actually available.

    1. Rory, looking at the comments, I think you are outnumbered in thinking that the iPhone is a better memory option than Samsung. You can’t upgrade the iPhone memory and the larger memory iPhones are horribly expensive.

      Samsung allow you to be able to upgrade (to 64Gb) with a simple and cheap card and swap your battery.

      This is what I mean about WHICH not being objective in their assessment of APPLE products, phones or laptops. To my mind WHICH slavishly rates APPLE as tops in just about everything whilst ignoring their very high price and constant model updates (iPad three times in 2012).

      Additionally, their has been very negative press about APPLE’S manufacturer (Foxconn) and the pressure some employees felt they were under and very high number of suicides at that company. More recently APPLE’S tax (evasion) row with the US Senate. These are considerations one should take into account when making decisions about what products to buy.

  10. This is a bit dodgey, and I do agree that they should advertise the storage as it is after all the stuff the manufacturers put on is already on. But Samsung do let you put extra memory cards to about 64GB in… And these are fairly easy and cheap to get. I actually thought iPhone was the worst for this though, you have to pay quite an extorshinate amount for more than 8GB storage, and this is lessened by the IOS and stuff and (I don’t really know about the 5, but bear with me) they don’t let you put a memory card in it, so if you don’t have a lot of money and can only get the 8 or 16GB your storage is limited an you have to limit what you do on your phone, there’s literally nothing you can do.

  11. I agree a major drawback of the iPhone is the lack of a slot for a memory card, together with the unforgivable absence of the ability to change the battery! So a big plus for many Android phones – but beware, you can’t put apps onto the microSD on a Samsung S4, but of course you can store all your music, picturs etc there.

  12. To help you make up your mind if Which is Apple-biased or not just take a look at this weeks ‘Tech and Car’ newsletter and it’s “Apple gadgets round up’ featuring all things Apple. Do I remember seeing a Samsung gadgets round-up (a company that makes more, and arguably better, gadgets than Apple. ) – well, no I don’t. Nor the HTC round up, nor the Asus round up….shall I go on, No.

  13. I don’t really understand the problem. Which? has reported the facts. The facts are correct.

    I don’t really see where the Apple bias is. The iPhone is closer to providing the storage it claims than the Samsung Galaxy S4. That is a fact. The post doesn’t talk about anything else apart from this.

    People need to read things more closely before commenting.

  14. People are going off on a bit of an Apple tangent here and I think I can see why.

    I don’t think the Which? review style is suited to technology like this because people have such different needs and priorities that a summarising score (e.g. the iPhone 5’s 83%) really doesn’t mean anything as precise as it would suggest. Yes, it’s a good phone, but no, it’s not definitively better than an S3 or a Nokia 920 (which score lower in the reviews here). The hardware is fantastic and there’s no doubt about that. The OS is intuitive for some, but restrictive for others. The price is simply too high unless the phone really suits you. The Which? score gives no consideration to price points, and the weightings of other qualities are arbitrary. 15% weighting on camera is ludicrous to me – it’s nice to take clear pictures and videos without needing another device, but if you’re a photographer you buy a proper camera!

    I really hope more shops start telling you the estimated usable space on devices, so you know what you’re getting, but I also hope that Which? don’t include this pointless statistic in their review scores. Much better to simply give +5% or so to any phone allowing expansion cards.

    If you like more detailed, rigorous and technically informative reviews, there are some really great other sources out there on the internet. If you like a quick ‘consumer-oriented’ summary to confirm you aren’t buying something terrible by mistake, the Which? technology reviews are adequate – just remember to take the scores with a +/-10% pinch of salt, depending on what your priorities and use cases are.

  15. I have the htc 8s with a minimal storage space of 3.61gb being shown the bit that frustrates me is I need memory to text and with 2.45gb being taken up by something called “system” and the only explanation behind the systems file is “These files make your phone work. You don’t want to delete them. Trust us.” I’m driven mad by the fact half my storage space is taken over by systems a file I can’t delete and the only things I can add to my sd card is photos videos and music I can’t send a text without deleting music or photos as the “apps” taking up my phone I delete never make a difference so can anyone explain why the systems file is so large and how I can remove some if the content?

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