It's 2015, and the entry level phones from both Apple and Google still come with only 16GB of storage. It's an unreasonably tiny amount for anyone who regularly uses their phone to take photos and videos, or play games, or even just install a lot of apps. That includes myself, and yet — because I refuse to pay for additional space — I continue to find myself with a phone that's inching ever closer to full storage.
But over the past few years, I've gotten a lot better at managing what's on my phone so that I never hit the 16GB mark — in large part thanks to some helpful new apps. It's a bit of a hassle, but it's worth it if you want to save $50-$100 or so when buying your next phone. Here are six key things to do to keep your storage down. Most of you are probably using 16GB iPhones, but these suggestions all work for Android phones as well.
Get photos off your phone
Photos and videos are liable to take up more room than anything else on your phone, especially if you'll be using it for years. Rather than shooting fewer pictures, taking them at a lower resolution, or turning of features like Apple's Live Photos, the solution here is to regularly get your images off your phone and up into the cloud.
Google makes this exceptionally easy
That's actually extremely easy right now thanks to free apps like Google Photos and Flickr. Both include auto-upload features that will upload every photo and video you take. Better yet, both apps will even automatically organize your photos by identifying what's in them. You can view photos inside either app or on their website. The downside is that you won't have access to old photos if you're somewhere without data service, but once you do have service, you can easily access every photo you've ever taken. (It's worth noting that if you do use Apple's Live Photos, only iCloud can back them up.)
Once you start using a photo storage app (or two, if you're paranoid!), you'll have to remember to start deleting the local copies of photos on your phone. Google makes that really easy — if you're low on space, its Android app (and soon its iOS app) will automatically present you with an option to remove every photo that's been backed up. You can always remove photos the old-fashioned way, too, by plugging your phone into a computer and deleting the images you no longer need. If you have an iPhone, you'll also want to turn off Photo Stream, since it'll store an additional 1,000 images locally.
Stream your music
You might be catching onto a theme here: you don't need quite as much storage if you take advantage of cloud services. Music is probably the easiest, since so many people are already using Spotify (or other similar apps). It might be worth keeping an emergency playlist of local music in case of no-data-service emergencies, but for the most part, you should get every MP3 you can off of your phone. Who really knows what you'll be in the mood to listen to, anyway?
If you aren't using Spotify already...
If you aren't streaming yet, it's easy to start. First, you'll want to put all of the music you own into the cloud; that way it'll be available if a streaming service happens to be missing some of your favorite songs. Google offers an excellent free service through Play Music, which will upload all of your tracks and let you stream them back on the desktop or through an app on mobile. Apple Music includes a similar service for paid subscribers, an extension of iTunes Match, but you shouldn't bother with it: it doesn't actually stream your music, it just lets you re-download it, which will once again take up space on your phone.
Once your existing library is in the cloud, you'll want to remove those files from your phone. Apple lets you do that through iTunes (just uncheck the box for syncing music); on Android, you may have to use a file explorer app to delete the contents of your music folder (Play Music also has a "Manage Downloads" section in its Options menu). From there, you're pretty much set. Now you just have the difficult task of choosing which streaming service is right for you. Or, you know, you could just pick Spotify like everyone else.
Use the web where you can
You don't need a dictionary app for looking up words. You don't need a Wikipedia app for browsing Wikipedia. Same goes for news sites you don't often read. If you can easily get what you need on the web or with a Google search, consider deleting whatever dedicated app you downloaded to do it. Both iOS and Android also make it really easy to add websites to your home screen as though they were an app, which can give you the same kind of quick access to a service without taking up the storage space. Just visit the site you want to add and tap Share (the weird box with an arrow sticking out of it) if you're in Safari or the three dots in the address bar if you're in Chrome on Android, and an "add to home screen" option will be somewhere in the list.
Only keep your most replayable games
You'll want to have a few games on your phone for those times you're stuck somewhere with nothing to do and, quite possibly, with no internet connection. So make sure you pick games that you'll want to play. I love Monument Valley, but now that I've beaten it, it's of no use to me. Threes, on the other hand, is something I can play over and over to try for a better score. I know there are some Alto's Adventure addicts on staff, too
Watch your reading list
Only keep what you'll actually read
It's nice being able to carry around an entire library with you, but you probably shouldn't. If you're syncing a ton of ebooks to your phone, make sure you remove the ones you've finished reading — you can always download them again later if you want to go back and check something out.
Another thing to watch for is articles you've stored offline in apps like Pocket. My Pocket queue is — yikes — over 800MB right now. Pocket provides a "delete all" button for those of us who've fallen so far behind on our reading. On Android, it also lets you set a storage cap. You should probably use it.
Get rid of extra files
It's obvious enough that you should delete old apps you aren't using — some of them take up a lot of space; others don't, but will still add up.
The less obvious thing to consider is that a lot of apps will store files offline without telling you. That includes streaming music apps, which will temporarily download songs to give you a better experience. On occasion, those files don't get deleted for one reason or another, so you should check to make sure that isn't happening.
It's easy to miss a lot of stored data
Both the iPhone and Android have a feature in Settings that'll give you an overview of how much storage each app is taking up. If something seems too big, it probably is. Android lets you just tap on through to find a "Delete data" button to clear it all out. On the iPhone, you'll have to dig into each app to see what you can find. Music streaming apps, like Play Music, tend to have a button that'll let you clear out any files that have been cached or downloaded offline.
Looking at those overviews can also help remind you of apps holding old files you don't need. At one point, I realized I had almost 1GB of voice memos, none of which I wanted. You might also catch things like your text messages starting to add up, especially if you often send photos or videos back and forth. If you do a lot with your phone, you may have to be diligent about taking some time once a month to clear things out. But if you do, it's easy enough to get by without buying more storage. Just make sure your Wi-Fi is good enough.