How To Move Files, Pictures & Apps To An SD Card

SD cards help clear internal storage so your device will perform better

A close up of two rows of blue and black SD memory cards
Mario Gutiérrez / GettyImages

One common theme with computing devices – PCs, laptops, smartphones, and tablets – is the way they tend to feel increasingly sluggish over time. You’re always going to get peak performance when they’re brand spanking new out of the box. It's all the accumulated apps, files, photos, and updates that end up utilizing more system resources, which results in slower operation.

With proper upkeep and the right hardware, you can maintain optimal performance on your Android smartphone or tablet if it supports (both):

Those two features will allow you to free up storage space – high-quality high-capacity SD cards, ranging from 4 GB to 512 GB, aren't very expensive at all. Just double-check the maximum capacity of microSD card your device is compatible with before you buy. It’s helpful to first have an understanding of smartphone storage and RAM (and the concept of virtual memory). More available storage space means more virtual memory, which is leveraged when the device's apps and/or active processes/tasks demand extra. Increasing the available storage space can be accomplished by:

  • Moving files to SD card
  • Moving apps to SD card
  • Changing default camera storage to SD card

While there’s no set rule about how much internal storage space a mobile device should keep free, you can’t go wrong with "more is better." The other benefit of saving files – particularly music, videos, and photos – to external storage (e.g. the microSD card) is the ability to swap it to another smartphone or tablet.

This is useful for those times when you want to efficiently upgrade your device, share data with another device, and/or transfer/copy the files to long-term storage/backup. Here’s what to do (most Android devices should follow a relatively similar process):

Move Files to SD Card

Files tend to be a huge culprit when it comes to taking up storage space on Android smartphones and tablets.

We’re talking about (in descending order of average size) all the videos, music, pictures, and documents you’ve managed to collect and save over time. There are two basic methods of moving files from internal storage to a microSD card on Android: quick & effective, and deliberately organized. The former option is like a collective transfer that dumps all of the selected file type into a destination folder. While the latter option involves more work, you’ll be able to keep your files/folders grouped together (e.g. music tracks for artists/albums) as intended.

Quick & Effective:

  1. Open the App Drawer (also known as App Tray) by tapping the Launcher Button to bring up the complete list of apps available on your device.

  2. Scroll through the apps and tap to launch the File Manager. This may be called Explorer, Files, File Explorer, My Files, or something similar. If you don’t have one, you can always download one from the Google Play store.

  3. Look at what the File Manager presents and tap the icon/folder labeled with the file type (e.g. audio, documents, images, videos) you want to move. You should then see a list of those files in alphabetical order.

  4. Tap the Menu Icon (usually located in the upper-right corner) to show a drop-down list of actions.

  1. Choose Select All from the drop-down list of actions.

  2. Otherwise, choose Select from the drop-down list of actions. You should then see empty check boxes appear to the left of the files as well as a single empty check box at the top (usually labeled "Select all" or "0 selected").

  3. Otherwise, tap and hold one of the files to make the aforementioned empty check boxes appear.

  4. Tap the check box at the top to Select All (repeat taps toggles selecting all/none). Files that are selected will have their check boxes filled. You should also see a number at the top, which reflects the total amount of selected files.

  1. Tap the Menu Icon again to show the drop-down list of actions.

  2. Choose Move from the drop-down list of actions.

  3. Navigate the device’s (local) storage until you find the desired destination folder on the (external) SD card. If it doesn’t currently exist, you can tap the Create Folder action (either by a button at the top/bottom or from the drop-down menu) to make and name the destination folder.

  4. Tap the destination folder.

  5. Tap the Move Here action (either by a button at the top/bottom or from the drop-down menu). You may also see a Cancel action, just in case you change your mind or want to start over again.

  6. Wait for your device to finish moving the files

  7. Repeat these steps for the other file types, and then you’re done!

Deliberately Organized:

  1. Open the App Drawer (also known as App Tray) by tapping the Launcher Button to bring up the complete list of apps available on your device.

  2. Scroll through the apps and tap to launch the File Manager. This may be called Explorer, Files, File Explorer, My Files, or something similar. If you don’t have one, you can always download one from the Google Play store.

  3. Look at what the File Manager presents and tap the icon/folder for Local Storage. This may be labeled as Device Storage, Internal Memory, or something similar.

  4. Navigate the device’s (local) storage until you find the desired files or folders you want to move. (Camera photos can be found in the DCIM folder.)

  5. Tap the Menu Icon (usually located in the upper-right corner) to show a drop-down list of actions.

  1. Choose Select from the drop-down list of actions. You should then see empty check boxes appear to the left of the files/folders as well as a single empty check box at the top (usually labeled "Select all" or "0 selected").

  2. Otherwise, tap and hold one of the files/folders to make the aforementioned empty check boxes appear.

  3. Tap empty check boxes to select the individual files/folders you want to move. Selected items will have their check boxes filled.

  4. You can tap the check box at the top to Select All (repeat taps toggles selecting all/none). You should also see a number at the top, which reflects the total amount of selected files/folders.

  5. Tap the Menu Icon again to show the drop-down list of actions.

  6. Choose Move from the drop-down list of actions.

  7. Navigate the device’s (local) storage until you find the desired destination folder on the (external) SD card. If it doesn’t currently exist, you can tap the Create Folder action (either by a button at the top/bottom or from the drop-down menu) to make and name the destination folder.

  8. Tap the destination folder.

  9. Tap the Move Here action (either by a button at the top/bottom or from the drop-down menu). You may also see a Cancel action, just in case you change your mind or want to start over again.

  10. Wait for your device to finish moving the files/folders.

  11. Repeat these steps until you’ve moved all the desired files/folders from your device’s internal storage to the SD card.

Move Apps to SD Card

Your average mobile app doesn’t really require much storage space by itself, ranging from 40 MB to 100 MB in size.

But after downloading a dozen of them, you can be looking at 480 MB to 1.2 GB instead. Then you have to consider that many popular apps (e.g. Amazon, Chrome, Dropbox, Facebook Messenger, mobile games, etc.) require more space for saved data, which is in addition to the download size. Saved data can end up quadrupling the total amount of used-up space.

Thankfully, Android OS allows you to move apps to and from the SD card. Not every app can be stored externally, mind you – preloaded/critical/system apps will stay put (you can’t accidentally move these ones, so don’t worry). Don’t forget that that apps moved this way are accessible only while the SD card is in the device.

  1. Open the App Drawer (also known as App Tray) by tapping the Launcher Button to bring up the complete list of apps available on your device.

  2. Scroll through the apps and tap to launch Settings (the icon resembles a gear). You can also access Settings by opening the slide-/drop-down panel from the top of your device’s screen.

  3. Scroll through the list of various system settings and tap Application Manager. This may be called Apps, Applications, or something similar. You should now see an alphabetical list of all the apps on your device.

  4. Scroll through the list of apps and tap the one you want to move. You should now be presented with details and actions/buttons for the app.

  5. Tap the Move To SD Card button. (You should also see similar-looking buttons labeled as: Force Stop, Uninstall, Clear Data, and Clear Cache.) If the Move to SD Card button is greyed out and/or does nothing when you press it, it means the app can’t be moved. If the button is labeled as Move to Device Storage, it means the app is already on the SD card.

  6. Otherwise, tap the text labeled Storage. You should now be presented with storage-related data as well as buttons labeled: Change, Clear Data, and Clear Cache. If there is no Change button, it means the app can’t be moved.

  7. Tap the Change button. You should be presented with a box that lists storage options: Internal Storage and SD Card.

  8. Tap the SD Card option. Follow any prompts/confirmations that appear. (Choosing Internal Storage would move the app from the SD card back to the device.)

  9. Wait for your device to finish moving the app.

  10. Repeat these steps until you’ve moved all the desired apps from your device’s internal storage to the SD card.

Default Camera Storage

You probably take a lot of photos on your smartphone, so it would be such a hassle to move photos and video every single time. Solution? Change your camera’s default storage location. Do this once, and all the photos and video you take on your device will be saved to the DCIM folder on the SD card. Most – but not all – stock camera apps offer this option. If yours doesn’t, you can always download a better, more comprehensive camera app (e.g. Open Camera, Camera Zoom FX, Camera VF-5) from the Google Play store.

  1. Open the App Drawer (also known as App Tray) by tapping the Launcher Button to bring up the complete list of apps available on your device.

  2. Scroll through the apps and tap to launch the Camera.

  3. Tap the Gear/Menu Icon to access the camera settings. You may have to tap an additional Menu Icon to bring up the full and complete list, depending on your particular camera app.

  4. Tap the option for Storage Location.

  5. Tap the option for Memory Card (may be called External Storage, SD Card, or something similar, depending on your device).

  6. Take pictures to your heart’s content, knowing they’re all being saved directly to the SD card.

Transfer Files to Long-Term Storage

Eventually, the SD card can get full and run out of space. So maybe you want to make more room on the card and/or backup files for safekeeping. The easiest way to move/copy files from an SD card to a laptop or desktop is through a memory card reader. From there, you can move/copy files to a high-capacity external hard drive (HDD or SSD) and/or upload to an online storage site (e.g. Box, Dropbox, Google Drive). Modern memory cards are considered quite reliable – on rare occasion you might need to troubleshoot an SD card – so you can continue using them in your mobile devices.