Galaxy S8 storage management

It wasn't long ago we were talking about whether 8GB of internal storage was still acceptable on the Nexus 4, particularly in light of its lack of an SD card slot. And it didn't take long before we slowly ratcheted through 16 and 32GB up to modern high-end phones regularly having 64GB internally. Even most of today's mid-range phones offer 32GB without breaking the bank.

And apparently, that's not enough. We've reached the point where people are now questioning the efficacy of having 64GB of storage in an Android phone in 2018. That seems crazy.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 SD card

So why would you need more than 64GB of storage? Well, it starts with understanding how much free space you actually get out of that. After formatting and installing the operating system, a 64GB Galaxy S8 has 40GB available to use as you wish. Still, how do you fill up 40GB of storage? Typical concerns fall into three categories: big games, 4K video recordings, and local music/video storage.

Most people can fit into 40GB just fine, with plenty of room to spare.

Yup, games are big. If you're an avid gamer, installing perhaps five games at 2GB each (or more likely 10 at 1GB each) at any given time, that's 10GB right there. 4K video recording is a concern, filling up about 5MB per second recorded. Quibbles aside about whether you should record in 4K versus using stabilized 1080p, how many 1-minute (300MB) clips are you going to save on your phone at any given time? Let's be audacious and say you record 20, that's 6GB in total. (Also, please back up your video — the phone itself is the least safe place for it to be.)

Now, audio and video. Unlike Vlad Savov over at The Verge, the average user doesn't have 24GB of local music — or anywhere near that. We use streaming music apps. Even with local caching on those apps to save on data usage, we'll maybe save 5GB of music at any given time. Avid podcast listeners may have 1GB of audio saved. TV show episodes on Netflix are about 100MB each — let's say you download 10 at a time to get through on your lunch breaks, totaling 1GB.

Then you add in apps. I'm not a mobile gamer, and have 110 apps installed — and let's be honest, about a dozen haven't been touched in months. Still, they total only 7GB. Half of that is just four apps: Google Chrome, Netflix, Pocket Casts and Google Photos. (Of course, Netflix and Pocket Casts are already accounted for above, but I'll toss you a bone.)

In sum: 10GB games + 6GB 4K video + 5GB music + 1GB podcasts + 1GB video + 7GB apps. Total: 30GB, leaving you with 10GB free for anything you wish, even though by this calculation your phone is already well-appointed with my apps, games, media, and data. And that's the case on a Samsung phone, notorious for having a very large system partition leaving you with less free storage than most.

Don't blame your data packrat tendencies on your phone's internal storage size.

So maybe it turns out you don't need more than 64GB right now, or even in the near future. Streaming media apps and cloud-based services have reduced our dependency on internal storage, while the typical size of an app, photo or video file hasn't dramatically increased in the past couple of years. And yet, typical internal storage on phones has doubled in that time period.

Naturally, there will be edge cases where people feel they need far more than this amount of data on their phone. But again, I'm not addressing edge cases. I'm talking about the bulk of the market. If you're not willing to do some storage management, nothing short of 500GB will be "enough" for you. At some point, every phone is going to require you evaluate what to keep and what to delete or store elsewhere. I feel that for 2018, 64GB of internal storage is a sufficient amount so that all but fringe cases can easily fit into it.

OnePlus 5T home screen

Of course, smartphone companies could remove all doubt and address everyone's issues for the next 5 years by including a minimum of 256GB in every single phone they ship. But unfortunately, even at the flagship price level, it becomes prohibitively expensive to do so, even in 2018.

So what if companies just offered that 256GB version in addition to its base model with, say, 64GB? Well, history shows we just don't buy them. Samsung infamously dropped SD card support in the Galaxy S6 in favor of offering 32, 64 and 128GB storage options. Apparently, nobody was interested: a year later, the Galaxy S7 offered 32GB internal (and an SD card) with no other options. The Galaxy S8 stayed the course, moving up to 64GB with no choice. The HTC U11 has 64 and 128GB choices, but even this more enthusiast-focused U.S. unlocked phone sold 20% of its units in the higher storage model.

Time has shown that people aren't willing to pay more just to get storage — they want other features.

Time has shown that consumers' elasticity of demand is (of course) negative for phones. As price goes up, demand goes down. Simply adding storage is such a small portion of a phone buying decision that it has almost no effect aside from increasing price, thus lowering demand for the phone. Consumers are far more willing to pay extra for a larger screen, longer battery life, better materials or a more powerful camera — things they can actually see and experience as part of a buying process.

Further to that point, recent phone launches show the minimum amount of storage people are willing to accept in a phone isn't dramatically affected by the cost of the phone. Even the $950 Galaxy Note 8, widely deemed extremely expensive, comes with 64GB of storage — same as the $725 Galaxy S8 and $499 OnePlus 5T. The $999 iPhone X has 64GB of storage, same as the $699 iPhone 8.

The economics of this situation makes the whole argument unnecessary to begin with.

It truly seems as though consumer demand just hasn't reached the point of requiring more than 64GB of internal storage, regardless of price. And that clearly doesn't mean that companies are short-changing consumers for no reason. At this current level of 64GB of internal storage, a vast majority of people can use their phone without spending any time worrying about it.

So really, it's the economics of the situation that makes this whole argument unnecessary. Yes, some people need more storage. But that group is so small it makes no sense for companies to address it by increasing storage to 128 or 256GB, thus increasing price and leading to fewer phone sales. Even offering separate models with more storage is a dubious proposition for companies (and retail stores) trying to reduce overhead, as historically a small portion of people will buy them.

Buy the phone that has the features you want, and place as much weight as you wish on the amount of storage it has. But don't expect storage offerings to outpace the demand of general consumers. Over time, the market will eventually offer 128GB of base storage, and we can have this argument all over again in 2020.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

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