How to Use Android's Storage Manager

Manage your files and free up space by dipping into your settings

Multicolor files in a clinic drawer

Linda Raymond / Getty Images

Quickly clear up phone storage on your Android device using a storage manager located in the Settings app. Before Android Marshmallow, third-party apps were needed to manage files, but when you upgrade the OS to 5.0 Lollipop or newer, you no longer need to download anything. Clearing out space on your phone is an essential part of its maintenance, especially if the phone is low on internal storage or doesn't have a memory card slot. Here's everything you need to know about managing files and storage on Android.

The directions below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

How to Free up Space With the Storage Manager

When you free up space on your Android device, the phone has more space for new apps, photos, videos, and music, and often, faster performance. When a phone is close to full, it tends to get sluggish. Android refers to this feature as storage, but file management is what it does.

  1. To access your files, go to Settings. The Storage section displays how much room is available: X% used - X GB free.

  2. Tap Storage.

  3. Tap Free Up Space to display files organized by category: Backed up photos & videos, Downloads, and Infrequently used apps, along with how many gigabytes each uses.

    Storage, Free up Space button, downloads list on Android
  4. The Backed up photos & videos option is all or nothing; you can't select specific files.

  5. Tap Downloads to see a list of PDFs and other documents.

  6. Tap Infrequently used apps to display a list of apps organized by how recently the apps were used, with the apps that have been ignored the longest at the top.

    Downloads and Infrequently used apps
  7. Optionally, to turn on Smart Storage, which automatically deletes old photos and videos when the phone is close to running out of space.

  8. Finally, there's a list of everything on your phone, in categories including music & audio, games, files, and system (files need to run your OS). Tap a category to view the apps associated with it, tap an app, and clear the cache or clear data (files, settings, and accounts) These actions can often fix problems with an app that's acting up.

To delete an unwanted app or one that isn't functioning properly, go to the Google Play Store, tap My Apps, select the app, and tap Uninstall.

See all 46 apps, Firefox, uninstall button in Android

Another method is to drag unwanted apps from the app drawer to the trash icon that appears when you press and hold an app. You can't delete many pre-loaded apps, otherwise known as bloatware, without rooting the device. Backup your data first, though, in case something important is deleted.

Another way to make space on an Android smartphone is to back up your pictures to Google Photos, which offers unlimited cloud storage and provides access to your images on any device. For other files, offload them to Dropbox, Google Drive, or another cloud service.

How It Stacks Up

The Android file manager is minimalist and doesn't have the features found in third-party apps such as ES File Explorer (by ES Global) or Asus File Manager (by ZenUI, Asus Computer Inc.). ES File Explorer has an array of features including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi transfer, compatibility with popular cloud storage services, a remote file manager that accesses phone files on a computer, a cache cleaner, and more.

Asus File Manager shares many of those features including cloud storage integration, as well as file compression tools, a storage analyzer, and the ability to access LAN and SMB files. 

If you want to access the system files, root the smartphone and install a third-party file manager. Rooting your smartphone is a straightforward process, and the risks are relatively small. The benefits include the ability to manage files on the smartphone, remove bloatware, and more. ES File Explorer has a Root Explorer tool, which controls the file system, data directories, and permissions.

If you just want to do a quick cleanup, as you would on a computer, the built-in tool does the trick.