Explained: What’s the difference between adoptable and portable storage when using microSD cards on Android

4 min read

You see it on many of the spec sheets of new Android phones: expandable storage. It’s a popular feature that Android manufacturers like to promote over other phones like the iPhone and even Google’s Pixels. In most cases, this means that you can pop in a microSD card to expand your storage beyond the base internal space offered internally on the phone. What you may not know is that there are two variations of expandable storage. Many OEMs limit it to basic expandable storage, but there are a few, like Moto and BlackBerry, that offer adoptable storage with microSD. So, what’s the difference? Let’s delve a little further into both and find out.

Portable Storage

This the old standard. It’s been around forever! To put it simply, your phone sees it as a completely separate “drive” for collecting your files and media. Think of it much like plugging in a portable USB stick into your PC. It’s assigned a drive name and acts as a separate entity to the rest of the storage on your computer. Portable storage acts exactly the same but for your mobile phone.

What are the main features? Well, there are many — like the isolated nature of the portable option. Your files are indeed held on an island of sorts that are available when you need them but have no bearing on the internal OS levels. You can pop the microSD in and out of multiple devices with zero issues and share the data being held between those devices at your leisure. Want to place it in your internal reader on your laptop and load up those media files you need on the gone? Done. Want to erase it and use it in your tablet instead of your phone? You can do that too and it won’t affect your daily use of the previous device at all.

Adoptable Storage

While many consumers find this new variant a good solution for their needs, this new kid on the block does take some extra considerations. Adoptable storage is a more holistic approach by letting your phone overtake the microSD and “adopt” that storage as internal memory. This means that the phone doesn’t see the microSD any differently than the storage built internally on the phone. They are one and the same as far as the Android operating system is concerned.

Choosing this method of using your microSD does come with some unique interactions you want to take into account. Since it’s considered part of the internal memory, once you format the card as adoptable, your apps will use this storage to store user data. That means your Candy Crush level 800 will be dependent on the health of the SD card moving forward. It really is an awesome feature for budget users that may only get 8-16GB of internal storage on the phone itself. Most of Google’s and 3rd party apps recognize microSDs formatted as adoptable storage as internal memory and will use them as such.

Speaking of health: this is the most common negative mentioned when you use adoptable storage. If the card dies or malfunctions, it has a much bigger effect on your day to day usage of the phone. What this means is all that great stuff about apps using it for storage can be lost when the card is damaged. That Candy Crush data would be gone if you didn’t have it back up elsewhere. It’s also common that apps that were installed after the SD card was formatted won’t launch at all due to the installation folder being placed on the adoptable device. You also won’t be able to use the SD between your phone and other devices. Once it’s formatted as adoptable it’s only formatted for the phone. You would have to re-format and wipe the card to use it with other electronics.


Both of these options can be used positively depending on the needs of the user. It really is a great thing about Android to have multiple options to solve the tedious problem of storage. However, users will need to decide which format they want to use on their SD card. Many times the manufacturer may make the decision for you and only offer portable storage. This is mainly due to the negative results it may present with app data we covered earlier. Personally, I prefer adoptable storage with a high-speed microSD. The added data with full OS access for all my apps and data outweigh the fact that the card may act up. What about our readers? Which option do you use to expand the storage of your Android phone? Let us know in the comments!