Memory cards: Make your phone more like an iPhone

Our need for storage is increasing, particularly because we want all of our music, videos and photos to travel with us on our phones, but manufacturers typically cut costs by skimping on internal memory. Luckily, the saving grace is expandable memory cards.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
2 min read

There are a dozen good reasons to buy an iPhone, but when you get to the counter at your local mobile phone store you'll only have to make one decision: 8GB or 16GB. Unfortunately, this isn't the same with most other smartphones. While our need for storage increases, particularly because we want all of our music, videos and photos to travel with us on our phones, manufacturers typically cut costs by skimping on internal memory.

MicroSD: one shape but many sizes(Credit: CNET Australia)

The saving grace is expandable memory cards, most notably microSD. If you're a budding digital photographer you'll know there have been dozens of popular memory card formats for cameras — variations on CompactFlash and Secure Digital (SD) cards being amongst the most widely used — but for mobile phones there has only been two, the other being Sony's own Memory Stick Micro or M2 cards, a format that Sony Ericsson is slowly moving away from.

In 2009, we're still surprised at how many high-end phones ship without significant internal memory or a bundled microSD card. Almost all phones, except the iPhone, have the capability to increase the phone's storage via a card and yet if the memory card isn't sold with the phone it's easy to forget the empty memory card slot even exists.

MicroSD cards come in two flavours; regular microSD up to 2GB and microSDHC (high capacity) for all cards 4GB and above. Manufacturers, notably SanDisk and Kingston, package microSD cards with regular SD-sized adapters. These adapters have a tiny slot in the top where the microSD card is inserted, meaning you can use these cards in your digital camera too, if your camera uses this format.

SanDisk also has a range of microSD cards that come with a USB accessory called the MobileMate, which allows you to connect your microSD card to your PC via USB. This way you can transfer music and other media from your PC without having to fiddle around with the often-cumbersome mobile phone PC suites.

A few things to be aware of when buying expandable memory:

  • Check your phone's compatibility — as with all technology, some phones may not be compatible with certain types of memory. Memory cards 4GB and above are microSDHC and usually won't work in older phones or many inexpensive prepaid handsets.
  • Think about how you'll use it — the beauty of expandable memory is that you can take it and swap it over. For most people having one of the largest cards will suffice, but you may prefer to have several smaller cards and use each for a different purpose; one for music and video and another for high-quality photos or one for business and one for the weekend.
  • Don't confuse M2 and microSD — this is very easy to do as both formats look almost identical. On close inspection you can see that M2 is slightly wider, but in a store, inside its packaging, you'll struggle to tell the difference so read the label carefully.